Sunday, May 13, 2012

Whatever happened to Duncan MacPherson?

When author John Leake set out to tell the story of the disappearance of Duncan MacPherson, it is doubtful that his intention was to write a love story.
But that is exactly what he penned with Cold A Long Time: An Alpine Mystery.
Oh, this isn’t a love story of the Erich Segal or Harlequin Romance variety.
Rather, it is the story of the love between a mother and her son, and it is unlike any such story you will have read before now.
MacPherson, a native of Saskatoon, was a terrific defenceman through three seasons (1983-86) with his hometown Blades. In his third season, he had 64 points and 147 penalty minutes in 70 games. Yes, he could play on the power play; yes, he had his teammates’ backs.
The New York Islanders liked this good, honest hockey player enough that they took him with the 20th overall selection in the NHL’s 1984 draft.
MacPherson never got to the NHL, however, and after four mostly injury-plagued seasons in the minors, his contract wasn’t renewed and he looked overseas.
In the early summer of 1989, MacPherson agreed to coach the Dundee Tigers, a team in Scotland owned by Ron Dixon, a big talker who also had ties to the WHL (he had been involved in the ownership of the New Westminster Bruins and Tri-City Americans).
However, before reporting to the Tigers, MacPherson chose to do some travelling in Europe.
On Aug. 4, 1989, MacPherson visited George Pesut, a former Blades star, who was in Nuremberg, Germany. MacPherson called home and said he would phone again in 10 days.
That phone call never came.
On Aug. 8, 1989, MacPherson left the home of Roger Kortko, another former Blades star, in Fuessen, Germany, and headed south into Austria.
None of his friends or family heard from him again.
In Saskatoon, Lynda MacPherson, Duncan’s mother, felt something was wrong as early as Aug. 11, 1989. That was the night she awoke from a deep sleep and found herself screaming.
She and her husband, Bob, driven by Lynda’s undying love for her son, would spend the next 14 years working to find out what had happened.
Duncan’s corpse was discovered on July 18, 2003.
Even after that, the MacPhersons, spearheaded by Lynda’s bulldogedness and her driving need to learn what had happened, spent another seven-plus years pushing, pulling and grinding away as they attempted to get to the truth.
All told, the MacPhersons would spend more than 20 years on the trail of what had happened. They used up a lot of their retirement savings, most of their energy and about a third of their lives as they fought to find out what had happened to their son, who was 23 years of age that summer of 1989.
Duncan, as it turned out, had stopped at the Stubai Glacier, a major recreation area outside Innsbruck, Austria, for a snowboarding experience. It was there that he was last seen and where the car he had been driving was found on Sept. 20, 1989. The car, a red Opel, had been sitting in a parking lot at the glacier for about six weeks without anyone noticing it or, at least, without anyone reporting it to the authorities.
Strange?
That was only the beginning of the story, one that would be filled with untruths and obfuscation and a whole lot of people talking in circles for a long, long time.
At one point, before even the red Opel had been discovered, the MacPhersons visited the Canadian Consulate in Munich in the hopes of getting some help. An official there told a receptionist: “I don’t care how you do it, just get rid of those people.”
And then there was the official at the Canadian Embassy in Vienna who told them: “I think you and your family should get on with your lives. Life is for the living.”
That was just as the MacPherson’s odyssey was beginning, about 14 years before their son's body was even found.
Little did authorities in Austria and in various Canadian government agencies understand that you simply could not get between this mother and her need to find out what had happened to her son.
Leake is an American writer who lived in Austria for 10 years. It was that connection that attracted the MacPhersons to him when they were looking for someone they hoped would investigate their story and then turn it into a book.
Through Leake, the MacPhersons came to understand the importance of the Stubai Glacier to the economic viability of that area of Austria and how there would seem to have been a coverup involving the death of their son.
To provide more details, would be to spoil what is a solid and heart-breaking read. But here is a hint of what went on — authorities indicated to the MacPhersons that Duncan’s body had been found in a crevasse in an area that was out of bounds to area skiers and snowboarders; in truth, the body was found in the middle of a ski slope, about 25 metres from a tow lift.
Near the end of this book, Lynda tells Leake: “You may think I’m boasting, John. But I’m not afraid of anyone.”
It turns out that Duncan once suggested to Lynda, a smallish woman, that because of her size, or lack of it, she should perhaps work at being a little less confrontational.
“And I told him that size doesn’t make the man,” Lynda said.
Or, in this case, the woman.
Because as much as this book details the quest to learn what happened to Duncan MacPherson, it is just as much the story of Lynda’s love for her son, and how that love kept driving her on a search for the truth.
“To cease looking for him seemed like abandoning him, which was unspeakable,” Leake notes, adding “ ‘Don’t give up mom,’ she imagined him saying, and she knew that if it had been the other way around, he would never have given up trying to find her.”
———
Leake has said that 25 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Lynda and Bob MacPherson. The book is available right here.
It’s worth noting that Cold A Long Time won a bronze medal in the True Crime category of the 16th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards.
And right here is a trailer for Cold A Long Time, as narrated by Bill Paxton.
As well, there is a website right here that is dedicated to Cold A Long Time.
I guarantee that two things will happen as you read this book — you will shake your head in disbelief on more than one occasion, and you will wipe more than one tear off your cheeks.
This is a memorable book.

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2 comments:

Lynda MacPherson said...

Gregg,

Thanks for the great review of John's book; and for giving me so much credit. I do hope everyone recognizes that without the support and love from Bob and Derrick, I could not have done what I did.

Lynda

Doug said...

Gregg

Thanks for the reminder.I saw the CBC Fifth Estate piece and was going to buy John Leake's book.I just bought the book direct from John Leake a few moments ago.I admire the courage and tenacity of the MacPhersons and am deeply disturbed by the reaction of the Canadian authorities.I thought these authorities presented us!

And the late Ron Dixon.There was an article in the soccer magazine 442 a few years ago about Ron Dixon concerning his ownership of Dundee FC.He was always in a mess.

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