BONANZA, Ore. — A tree decorated with teddy bears and ornaments remains near the spot where the family pickup was parked the day 8-year-old Derrick Engebretson disappeared in December 1998.
The boy was last seen by his grandfather, who sent Derrick up a hill with a hatchet to help his father cut down a Christmas tree on the flanks of Pelican Butte on the Winema National Forest.
Ten years have passed, but Lori and Robert Engebretson of Bonanza continue to hope that Derrick somehow made it off Pelican Butte alive. The couple still searches on occasion, but the steep, rugged terrain near the northern end of Upper Klamath Lake has become an impediment.
"I am not as young as I used to be," Lori Engebretson said.
Derrick's disappearance led to a massive search with dogs, snowmobiles and hundreds of volunteers. The boy was never found and was presumed to have frozen to death in a snowstorm.
That theory came into question when an inmate claimed that Frank J. Milligan had bragged about abducting and killing the boy, sources close to the case told The Oregonian in 2004.
When confronted, Milligan, who had been sentenced to 36 years in prison for raping and assaulting a 10-year-old boy in Dallas, Ore., confessed to killing Derrick and agreed to lead detectives to the place where he claimed to have buried the boy's body. But nothing was found, and Milligan later recanted the confession, according to police and Engebretson's family.
Lori Engebretson says Milligan continues to be a suspect.
Detective Jeff Lord of the Klamath County Sheriff's Office declined to comment when asked if he has singled out Milligan as a suspect. Lord has hiked the terrain surrounding Pelican Butte several times. He says the area has become more difficult to search as the brush has thickened.
The detective, who keeps a picture of Derrick near his desk, said the case remains open. "We won't give up," Lord said. "You don't give up on these cases."