By Tamas Mondovics
A statement released by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) earlier this month announcing the identity of human remains found in May of 2020 brought a measure of closure to the case.
Harry C. Rosenberg went missing on January 13, 2013. While the latest development marks an important point in the ongoing investigation, it also raises and reignites some smoldering questions about the circumstances of his disappearance and the discovery of his remains.
The JCSO release stated, “After extensive search efforts in the area of Gentry Creek Falls, the efforts were terminated…the case remained open, and every lead that was developed was followed.”
Fast forward to May of 2020, human remains were located and recovered in a wooded area off of Gentry Creek Road. According to the Sheriff’s office, DNA analysis has confirmed the human remains found were those of Harry C. Rosenberg, who had been missing since going for a walk in the Cherokee National Forest. Rosenberg was 82 years old and reportedly suffered from Alzheimer’s disease at the time of his disappearance. He had been diagnosed
with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007.
Rosenberg lived much of his life in Colorado, teaching mathematics before retiring and relocating to Johnson County in 2002.
Information about the efforts to locate Rosenberg in 2013 revealed that search parties in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina have all looked for his body using helicopters with forward-looking infrared radar, all-terrain vehicles, and dog teams.
Retired Sheriff Mike Reece recalled “probably thirty or more people” on teams that “searched off and on for about two weeks. The rains started. Then the snow. We had a foot of snow that hindered us. It was a mess. But we kept searching through all of it.”
Reece remembered, “Each day, we’d show Mrs. Rosenberg our maps and where we’d been. We asked about where he liked to walk. We covered that country. It was thick, rough country. It was a bad time. We exhausted the search to where he couldn’t possibly have survived that weather.”
Reece lamented about the heavy rains and snowfall that caused extensive flooding, which expanded the search area. “We searched everything downstream, even well into Virginia,” he said. “We had some calls once the story was in the media. We had reports from people in North Carolina saying they saw him. We followed up on all of those.”
Aside from the miserable weather, Reece talked about some of the other challenges of backcountry searches in the Appalachians. “If [Rosenberg] had had a cell phone that we could have pinged—anything along those lines—anything that the helicopter could have picked up on, would have been great. I’ve read about people getting lost along the Appalachian Trail. Often, just a short way off the trail. People just get turned around.”
Emergency Management Agency Director Jason Blevins reportedly had just about everything they could possibly use and was well-equipped.
Reece, Blevins, and the others had hoped the recovery of Rosenberg’s body came sooner. “It’s sad something wasn’t found before his wife, Donna, died,” Reece said. “She passed on and never knew what happened.”
With Rosenberg now accounted for, there remain four missing person cases in Johnson County.
Those are Carlton Edmondson, missing since January 18, 2018; Jade Chambers, missing since February 10, 2006; Julie Lovett, missing since March 23, 2001; and Junior South, missing since December 17, 1998.
For more about the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, please visit www.johnsoncountysd.org.