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Second elderly woman goes missing Connection sought to case in Colden

A massive daylong search for an elderly Marilla woman was suspended Thursday night on the same rural Colden road where another elderly woman vanished last month after her home burned down.

Investigators are trying to determine if there is a connection between the cases of Nancy G. Phelps, 69, who was last seen Sunday at a Bible study group in Alden, and 87-year-old Geraldine Jackson, who disappeared after her Irish Road home burned down Dec. 22.

"A very intense search has been conducted since [Wednesday]," Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard said, adding that there appears to be evidence of foul play in Phelps' disappearance from her home on Eastwood Road in Marilla.

Police found blood in the garage of her home and blood and a tooth outside of the garage, Howard said. It was not immediately known if the tooth and blood belonged to Phelps or another person, he said.

"It appears that she had left the house . . . unexpectedly or in some kind of a hurry, having left various items out that probably would not have otherwise been left out," Howard said. He wouldn't elaborate about the items.

The search shifted from Marilla to Colden on Thursday after police determined that Phelps' sister lives on Irish Road, across the street and not far from the burned-out rubble of Jackson's home.

Authorities were questioning "a person of interest" in the case Thursday who is said to be a relative of Phelps' sister; the person's name was not disclosed.

"Our search switched down here to Colden, where we were able to find other evidence . . . that evidence we believe relates back to Ms. Phelps," said Capt. Mark Koss of the State Police.

Sheriff's authorities said "personal property" of Phelps was recovered on Irish Road, but they wouldn't reveal the nature of that evidence.

No evidence relating to Jackson's disappearance was found, authorities said.

Howard said there were some obvious similarities between Phelps' disappearance and the Jackson case. Both were elderly widows and lived alone, he said.

"The first thing that really drew a lot of attention is the noted relationship between Phelps and the Irish Road area," the sheriff said.

The scene was eerily similar to just a few weeks ago when searchers combed the same hills for any trace of Jackson.

Jackson's house burned down Dec. 22, and she has not been seen since. Police said there was no evidence of her body in the charred remains of the home.

Phelps was last seen Sunday at a Bible study group at Millgrove Bible Church in Alden.

She was reported missing by her family Wednesday after failing to show up for work at the UPS store in Orchard Park, according to Howard.

Besides deputies and troopers, searchers also included 13 area fire departments, the state Department of Environmental Conservation police, rangers and K-9 units, along with search and rescue teams from Western New York as well as Cayuga, Livingston and Monroe counties.

The search was expected to resume at about 8 a.m. today, sheriff's officials said.

David Grainge, pastor of Millgrove Bible Church, where Phelps was last seen Sunday, said Phelps was the widow of a minister.

"We're doing a lot of praying, which we believe is the best thing we can do right now," Grainge said. "We're praying for her return soon."

Investigators and police in Orchard Park also were looking into whether the incidents are connected to a pair of early-morning home-invasion robberies Dec. 29.

Both of those incidents -- on Murphy Road and Ellicott Road -- also involved older women who lived alone.

News Staff Reporter Elmer Ploetz contributed to this report.


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