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Lancaster police still searching for missing Burgess woman Claudine Jaquier Gifford

Posted on Monday, July 14, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Chris Ronsisvalle and Jen Logan with Joy

Chris Ronsisvalle and Jen Logan with Joy

No clues found after intense weekend search

Lancaster County police were unsuccessful in their hunt for a missing woman after an intense weekend search in two areas of the county did not turn up any clues.

The missing woman, 43-year-old Claudine Jaquier Gifford, moved to the Northern Neck last June, from Orlando, Florida. She had been working at the Kilmarnock Inn and staying with friends in Burgess. Her belongings including a white van remain at that residence.

Gifford was last seen at Pelican’s at the Point beachfront tiki bar at Windmill Point in the early evening on Sunday, July 6. The bar manager said Gifford had a “couple of drinks,” and sat on a railing to watch the band that was playing that afternoon. Witnesses told police Gifford had to be carried out by her male companion, Todd Kessler, that evening. Kessler was the last to see her on the road at the entrance to Windmill Point, police said.

On Sunday, 20 highly-trained search dogs and 100 professional search and rescue volunteers from around the state spread out over lower Fleet’s Island along the Chesapeake Bay searching beaches, marshes and woods. Police also used the dogs to search the woods and swamps along Cox Farm Road behind Corbin Lewis Estate and Close Quarters Subdivision. Gifford’s cell phone transmitted activity, also called a “ping,” from the cell tower on Black Stump Road on Monday afternoon, the day after she was last seen.

The specially-trained, “air-scent” dogs look for any human, explained Chris Ronsisvalle, a handler from Northern Virginia who works with Dogs East Search and Rescue. This new type of training is different from the so-called trail dogs used the last time the county searched for a missing person about 30 years ago.

“Trailing dogs are scent discriminating so they look for only for that person,” explained Ronsisvalle. “These dogs are scenting the air looking for humans.”

Ronsisvalle said dogs are more successful than humans because they can search day in and day out doing their job. “The dogs are just searching for a scent. They don’t process the situation or get upset,” she said.

Lt. Tim Self of the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Department is leading the investigation. He said the last time the county had a missing person was Aug. 22, 1985 when Mary Keyser Harding was abducted from her home in Ottoman. Harding, 24, was a small woman at 5-foot 2 and weighed 107 pounds. After a five-day search, she was found in the Rappahannock River near Morattico. Her body had a rope and chain wrapped around her neck and was weighted with cinderblocks.

Search and rescue teams were organized by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. They came from all around the state including Northern Virginia, Tidewater and as far away as Wintergreen. Police said they searched well into the evening. Local volunteer fire and rescue kicked in to help along with local businesses, which provided food, tables and chairs for the teams.

Mark Eggeman, a search and rescue operations officer for the state, said the Virginia Emergency Operations Center responds about 70-80 times a year to local sheriff’s departments asking for help in locating missing people.

The police are asking anyone with information about Ms. Gifford’s disappearance, “no matter how insignificant it may seem,” to contact the Lancaster Sheriff’s Office or call Crime Solvers at 804-46CRIME


A reward fund is being set up with details to follow.