Editor’s note — This is the fourth and final part of a story about Virgil “Wade” Tackett, who as a 17-year-old left his family’s Hillsboro home in 1986 to find work in Alaska. Three weeks into his stay working for a local cannery, Tackett and a friend went exploring in the Alaskan wilderness near Chicagof Island. Tackett was never heard from again. Between strange sightings and psychic visions, the search for Tackett has turned up more questions than answers. Information for this series comes from author R.W. Swartz. His book “Cold Water, Cold Hearts” was released last month.
Without support from the Alaskan authorities, the Virgil and Mary Tackett and many of their friends wrote letters to Congressman Bob McEwen’s office, a representative that had supported the foundation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 1984, for help in finding their missing son Wade.
McEwen, a former resident of Hillsboro, was sympathetic to the Tackett’s case. He, too, felt that the disappearance needed more questions answered by Alaskan authorities. But just as the Tacketts were starting to hope the case was going somewhere, they received news that the Juneau commander of the Alaska State Troopers maintained that Wade Tackett had drowned. He said there would be no reinvestigation or following up with potential sightings.
Mary Tackett passed away in 2010, never knowing what happened to her son. In the years since her passing, there haven’t been any new developments. No one has seen or heard from Wade, and the Tackett family has tried to live normal lives as best they can. Dolly Whaley died in 2008, and Frances Cannon in 2009. There aren’t many people close to the case that are living today.
However, there is one man that may be considered an expert in this story — author R.W. Swartz. He has written a novel based on Mary Tackett’s search for her son and the people involved in the investigation of Wade’s disappearance. His book “Cold Water, Cold Hearts” became available in print and online in March 2021. The summary of his book is as follows:
“What happened to my son?
“This question haunted Wade Tackett’s mother, Mary, for over two decades, until her death. Her anguished need to find the answer drove her forward on a relentless quest to solve the mystery of her 17-year-old son’s disappearance.
“On the morning of June 11, 1986, Wade and another teenage boy set out on a 14-foot skiff to explore the islands near the town of Pelican, Alaska. But only one boy returned from the day’s adventure. Searches by land, sea and air yielded no trace of Wade alive, no body and no clue to his whereabouts. Was his disappearance the result of some accident in the cold water of Southeast Alaska? Or was it foul play — or something even stranger? Mary Tackett and the rest of Wade’s family had their suspicions, while the Alaska State Troopers and other authorities stood by their own theory. No one produced solid evidence one way or another.
“After years of research and investigation, including interviews with those who were part of the ongoing drama, R.W. Swartz offers the most convincing explanation to date of what really happened to Wade Tackett. But there is even more to the story. Further revealed is the role played by those who coldheartedly intensified the pain of Mary Tackett and her family: indifferent or callous officials, assorted attention seekers and others with self-serving motives.
“Offering an object lesson for our times, ‘Cold Water, Cold Hearts’ not only elucidates a heartbreaking mystery but also exposes widespread insensitivity to the suffering of others and everyday exploitation of personal tragedy. As they mourned the loss of Wade, the Tacketts came to know all too well how the unkindness of strangers takes its toll on energy and emotions, raises false hope — and, worst of all, robs a grieving family of the peace that comes with closure.”
“The theories for what happened to Wade are numerous. Some believe he’s still out there somewhere, living his life under a different name, perhaps the victim of memory loss. Still, most people believe that Wade drowned that day in 1986, lost to the cold Alaskan waters. We may never know the truth.”
Isabella Warner is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.