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Search of ponds fails to find women Tips from neighbors sent out dive teams

Police dive teams searched a half-dozen ponds this week near Irish Road in the Town of Colden in an unsuccessful effort to locate two missing Southtowns women.

By Wednesday, investigators from the State Police and Erie County Sheriff's Office were back in their offices following up on leads in the disappearances of 87-year-old Geraldine Jackson of Colden and 69-year-old Nancy G. Phelps of Marilla.

"To be thorough, we were checking the ponds and the woods," said State Police Lt. Rick Allen. "We're still running down leads."

Allen said dive teams from the State Police, Sheriff's Office and Buffalo police "cleared" several ponds in the area after authorities received tips from neighbors that they heard all-terrain vehicle activity in those areas. Searches also were conducted from the air, Allen said.

Weather has hampered the efforts of divers and search teams this week. Allen said the ice on some of the ponds was up to four inches thick. Water under the ice was clear enough to see up to 30 feet under some of the ponds, he said, but others were very murky with heavy vegetation.

Jackson has been missing since at least Dec. 22, when her house was set on fire. The charred shell of the building still remains at 7491 Irish Road. Authorities found no trace of her in the rubble.

Phelps was last seen Jan. 14 at a Bible study session in Alden. She was reported missing by family members Jan. 17. Police found blood and a tooth on her Eastwood Road property in Marilla, but DNA results on those items have not come back from the police laboratory.

Personal items belonging to Phelps were found last week on Irish Road, which is where her sister lives, which led police to that area and brought the two cases together.

Meanwhile, Irish Road resident Robert J. Henchen, 42, is still being held on a parole violation and is considered a "person of interest" in the cases of the two missing women.

Allen said there are no plans to return divers to ponds in the area unless additional leads prompt authorities to do so.

Allen encouraged any residents with information to contact State Police in Boston at 941-9300 or sheriff's officials at 662-6150.


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