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Two years after Ardoch woman vanished, hope has vanished, too

Todd Fee walks through a patch of asparagus at Florence Dumontet's farm near Ardoch, N.D., recently. Fee and his family are taking care of the farm for the missing elderly woman who disappeared two years ago and was last seen in Montana on her way to Washington state to visit her son and grandson. FNS Photo by Eric Hylden

By Justin Glawe

Forum News Service

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GRAND FORKS - It’s as if Florence Dumontet has died.

All the furniture in her home in Ardoch has been moved into storage and a friend’s son lives there now, surrounded by his own belongings. Her Arizona home, coincidentally in the town of Florence, is also being rented out.

It’s been two years since the 82-year-old and her poodle, Peaches, vanished, seemingly without a trace, somewhere in Montana. Her missing-person file remains open and she has not been declared legally dead, but to those who love her, hope appears gone.

“It’s hard to believe that she’d be on the face of the Earth and no one would see her,” said her son, Donald Dumontet, this past week.

He and his sister, Charlotte Medley, are hopeful only for a resolution to the mystery of their mother’s disappearance.

A theory

Dumontet was last seen in Grand Forks on a security camera at a gas station at 7:22 a.m. Oct. 16, 2011. It was the start of an annual 2,000-mile, 20-hour trek to visit her children in Shelton, a town in Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. Her husband, Harvey, died in 2000, and she had made the trip more than a dozen times.

“We tried to talk Mom into (moving) to Shelton for forever, and her response to us was, ‘I live in North Dakota,’ ” Medley said. “When my mother makes up her mind, there is no discussion. You just listen.”

She described her mother as a “strong-willed Polish woman.”

Dumontet was driving a black Lincoln Mark LT, a four-door luxury pickup that was manufactured only for five years before it was taken out of production. The 2008 model she owned sold just 4,631 units that year. It retailed between $38,000 and $42,000.

“She absolutely had to have an expensive vehicle, which I never understood,” said her friend, Tom Fee, who still lives in Ardoch. It’s his son, Todd, who now lives in her house.

From the beginning, Tom Fee has asserted his belief that Dumontet’s disappearance involved foul play.

The expensive vehicle she was driving and Dumontet’s practice of “always” carrying $1,000 may have made her a target, he said. “I imagine that she pulled out a $100 bill, and the wrong person saw it.”

But there’s been no clues indicating that was the case either, and police have not concluded foul play was involved.

“You run a million different scenarios through your head,” son Donald said. “I’ve tried to limit that ’cause it’ll drive you crazy.”

Few clues

His mother was reported missing after she failed to arrive in Shelton the following day or answer her cellphone.

Investigators concentrated their search on the 118-mile stretch between Butte and Missoula, both located along Interstate 90 in western Montana.

Her traveler’s check was used to pay for gas at a truck stop in Butte about 15 hours after leaving Grand Forks. From there, it’s about a two-hour drive to Missoula, where she was known to stop for the night on her trips west. Another of her traveler’s checks was used at a gas station there.

The station’s manager told an investigator from the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department that he had seen Dumontet with a woman, but the search for that woman yielded nothing.

Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost said there are plenty of places she could have run off the road. Police checked parks, lakes and other roadside exits for any signs of her truck but turned up empty.

“We were on it right away, tracing every step she made,” Rost said. “It’s just unbelievable to me that you can’t find the vehicle.”

Her pickup, which had been entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, has not been seen by law enforcement anywhere. Because she’s in the database, if an officer were to pull over a vehicle with N.D. plate number HXY-089, or Dumontet’s actual pickup, the system immediately would alert that officer to the missing-person case.

Investigators don’t believe Dumontet made it past the Idaho-Washington border because a license-plate identification system there hadn’t picked up her license plates.

The system is far from foolproof, however, because there’s no way to tell if Dumontet passed one of the locations or police cruisers outfitted with the cameras that read the plates.

“I can’t speak to the odds scientifically,” said John Mittman, an information technology administrator for the Post Falls (Wash.) Police Department, the agency that operates the system. “It’s not dragnet-type technology. They catch what they catch.”

Dirt on a license plate, the angle of the sun, other reflective material on the front of a vehicle all could prevent a camera from reading a plate.

Still, two years later, Sheriff Rost maintains contact with authorities in Montana, hoping that something might turn up.

“So far, nothing,” he said. “As time goes on, maybe we’ll find some more out.”

Presumed alive

For now, Dumontet is presumed to be alive, at least under North Dakota law. It takes about seven years before a missing person is declared dead.

The rent from her properties still goes into a bank account in her name, Fee said.

Though Donald Dumontet has given up hope of seeing his mother again, he clings to a gift she had flown to him shortly before she began her last journey to Shelton: a Newfoundland-Pyrenees mix named Tank.

“He’s the last thing I got from my mom,” Donald said, “so he’s pretty precious.”

Justin Glawe
Reporting on crime, courts and Beltrami county government. Follow me on Twitter @JustinGlawe.
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