Official search finds no signs of missing Waldoboro man

The rear window of a van reminds the community that Douglas Barter is still missing in Waldoboro on April 9. (Photo Bisi Cameron Yee, LCN file)

Six teams with Maine Warden Service human remains detection dogs found no signs of missing Waldoboro resident Douglas Barter on April 20.

“The weather has worked out well for the search,” said Sgt. Maine Warden Service’s Josh Bubier. “It was perfect – sunny conditions, decent breeze, which helps the dogs carry the scent.”

Barter, 54, has been missing since Nov. 8, 2021, when he left LincolnHealth’s Miles Campus in Damariscotta against medical advice, according to a Nov. 16 interview with the Waldoboro Police Chief, John Lash.

Searches prior to the time of Barter’s disappearance, including a marine search, remained empty.

A community search organized by friends and other clam seekers on April 9 focused on the area around the hospital and an area around the Lady Slipper Lane trailer park where Barter lived. This search also turned up no evidence regarding Barter’s whereabouts.

Bubier said that after reviewing the area where Barter disappeared with the Waldoboro and Damariscotta police departments, “it was only natural to think he might have tried to walk or go home.” Route 1 is the most direct route Barter could have taken, and the Route 1 corridor became the focus of this latest research.

Canine units from the Warden Service and the nonprofit Maine Search and Rescue Dogs (MESARD) volunteer organization searched more than seven miles from Damariscotta to Nobleboro and Waldoboro, covering both sides of the road up to 100 yards . They also searched a few small blocks in and around Waldoboro.

The teams gathered in Damariscotta around 8 a.m. and set up a gendarmerie command post there. Waldoboro Police provided logistical support and a cruiser to help reduce speed on Highway 1 during the search. The dogs work off-leash, which Bubier says is always a concern when searching on highways.

Dog handlers are usually assigned an area, a 40 to 60 acre block of wood or a one to two mile stretch of road. Bubier said they work the dog into the wind to cover as much ground as possible. If the wind is blowing well, dogs can sniff up to a quarter or half a mile from the source.

According to Michelle Fleury of MESARD, six months is not a long time when it comes to research efforts by specially trained and certified dogs.

She said it’s not uncommon for searches to be suspended during the winter when the weather can prevent dogs from getting a scent. Since snow can preserve evidence and insects and predators are less likely to impact a scene during the winter, spring searches still have the potential to be productive.

Fleury said MESARD teams have been searching for missing people for years. Dogs are even deployed in historic tomb excavations, with some tombs dating back more than a century.

Canine team members, primarily Black and Yellow Labs or German Shepherds with occasional Bloodhounds or Rottweilers, are trained in all-purpose search which may include tracking, air scent, evidence retrieval and the detection of human remains. They are certified by the Maine Association for Search and Rescue and spend an average of 16 hours of training per month.

Fleury said there has been a marked decline in the need for their services since cell phones and GPS became prevalent. Most often they partner with the Maine Warden Service when more resources are needed to perform an area search for someone who has been reported missing.

According to Fleury, 99% of what the dogs do is clear areas, confirming that the missing person is not in the search grid. GPS tracking is used to leave a trail of the area covered and to create detailed maps that help determine locations that still need to be searched.

“In Maine we have a lot of tough terrain,” Fleury said. “The variables are many and they affect how the scent travels. On a nice cool, dry day with a nice breeze, the scent travels. In thick vegetation on a hot, humid summer day, the smell doesn’t travel that far.

While a dog can be 95% efficient in training, those results don’t always translate to the real world. “It’s a tool that can be used like anything else,” says Fleury. “But with the planning and execution of the Warden Service, we’re doing quite well in the state bringing people home.”

The search for Doug Barter ended at 3:30 p.m. at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 32, with no sign of Barter found.

“At this point, it’s a bit of a needle in a haystack,” Bubier said. Searches are more difficult when there is no specific “place last seen”, no abandoned vehicle to indicate the direction. “When people leave on foot, where to start?”

“The situation is unfortunate,” Lash said in an April 25 email. “I really wanted to get some closure for his mom and his friends. “Being a small department, we rely on state agencies to help us, which they have done…That being said, we need new leads.”

If credible information emerges that warrants another search, Bubier said the Warden Service is open to a new search.

Barter was last seen wearing blue jeans and a navy sweatshirt with a marijuana leaf on the back. He is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs around 150 pounds. Community research organizer Brian Bennett said Barter usually wore white athletic shoes and carried a gray and brown bandana in his pocket.

Anyone with information about the barter can call the Waldoboro Police Department at 832-4500. Bennett is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to Barter’s discovery.

Brandon D. James