Federal Cold Case squad to look into 33-year-old missing child case

Contributed imageAn updated age progression of a photo of Russell Mort from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Mort would now be almost 36 years old. Mort was a little over 2 years of age when he disappeared from his fenced-in backyard around noon on May 5, 1982.

It's a case that has plagued Niagara County Sheriff's Office investigators for more than three decades.

Now they'll be getting some help in the search to determine whatever happened to Russell Mort.

The Cold Case Working Group from the Buffalo office of the FBI announced Thursday that it will join local investigators already on the case. They will provide additional manpower and forensic expertise to a case that has left local law enforcement baffled.

"One of the missions of the FBI is to provide support and services to the local law enforcement community," FBI Special Agent-in-Charge of the Buffalo Office Brian Boetig said. "So we created the Cold Case Working Group as a service."

Boetig said that every month local police agencies present cold cases to the group and ask for assistance. He said investigators from Niagara County met with the group, made up of 50 agents and support professionals, in November. 

"We looked at the evidence we had from (when Mort disappeared) in 1982 and determined a game plan going forward," Boetig said. "This case has never been closed, it has always just been unsolved."

After reviewing the evidence with criminal profilers, forensic examiners and other experts in the working group, Boetig said a determination was made to try to recreate Mort's Lynch Park Trailer Court neighborhood and locate as many people from that community as possible.

"We're trying to recreate (Lynch Park) from that time," Boetig said. "We're trying to find people who lived there, who dated or were friends with people who lived there, who made deliveries there, who launched their boats from nearby there. It's a monumental task, but it's something we can do."

The physical evidence in the case will also be re-examined in, using technologies that didn't exist when Mort disappeared. Boetig noted the working group was recently successful in identifying a previously unidentified body found 37 years ago in Livingston County.

"With DNA advancements, we were able to identify this Jane Doe and now we're tracing what happened to her," he said. 

Recently, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released an updated age progression of photo of Mort, who would now be almost 36 years old. Mort was just 2 1/2 when he disappeared from his fenced-in backyard around noon on May 5, 1982.

Mort had managed to scale the fence and reach the trailer of a neighbor a couple of days before his disappearance. Some investigators have feared that me may have gotten out of the yard and wandered to the Niagara River, about 100 yards away.

Niagara County Undersheriff Michael Filicetti says the assistance being offered by the FBI is a welcome development.

"To tap into the resources of the FBI will be definitely beneficial," Filicetti said. "When there's a missing child (case), you always want to solve it."

In 2005, a man from Texas contacted authorities saying he believed he was Mort. The man said his adoptive parents gave evasive answers when he asked about his history and he thought he might be Mort after reading a story about the case on a missing persons website. 

However, DNA testing showed no link between the man and the Mort family.

Sheriff's investigators said they have also been contacted by a man from northern New York who thought he might be Mort, but again DNA testing showed no link.

Anyone who had a connection to the trailer park at the time of Mort's disappearance is being asked to contact the FBI at 800-Call FBI or the sheriff's office at 438-3393.

"We have a rejuvenated energy to bring this (case) to a resolution," Boetig said.