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Five long years: The search for Peter Achermann

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch (left) talked while Desiree and Jorg Achermann embrace at the site where Peter Achermann’s car was discovered five years ago today. He has never been found. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls2 / 3
Peter Achermann disappeared on July 24, 2009. The Cass County Sheriff's office continues to offer up to a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the disappearance, if the disappearance is the result of foul play. Submitted photo.3 / 3

Five years ago today Peter Achermann left his Leader home to pick up groceries and his wife's medications in Staples. He never returned home.

The missing man left his wife, Delaine, and 11 adult children behind. He left their lives in turmoil without them knowing where he was and with the likelihood they may never know what happened to him the day he disappeared.

Every time Desiree and Jorg Achermann, Peter's children, see a man with a long beard who looks like their father they have to go up and see who it is. They always hope that it may be their father, only to find disappointment.

"I am not the same person I was five years ago," Desiree said earlier this week at the site where Peter's light blue 1995 Chevrolet Caprice Wagon was located off Cass County Road 32 on July 25, 2009. She has not been to this site, located at the end of a minimum maintenance road, for four years.

"What happens if we never know what happened to him or if we have to go the rest of our lives without knowing. This eats at you every day," she said.

Desiree said since her father disappeared on July 24, 2009, she has gotten a divorce, changed jobs and her immediate family has been in upheaval.

"Trust is a big issue," she said.

"We were naive, trusting people," said Jorg, the youngest child whose beard resembles his father's. "I have a problem with the whole trust issue. ... It sucks. You shouldn't have to worry about trusting your neighbors and friends."

Even though Desiree still does not know where her father is, she remembers to stop and hug her babies and to pray.

"Church has a whole new meaning to me now," she said. "Dad taught us a lot about nature, the environment and to work hard, to go the extra mile. ... He would have loved to seen how well this corn crop is doing."

The corn crop that was full and mature along the minimum maintenance road was just a field five years ago. The tall Jack pines and brush along side the road that travels about 1 ½ miles is still as thick as it was on the day of the disappearance.

"Dad had no reason to go back here," Desiree said of the road that served as a logging road years ago. "I don't believe he ever was back here."

It was around 2-3 p.m. on July 24, 2009, when family members became worried that Peter had not returned home from his errands. Cass County Sheriff authorities found his vehicle buried in a mud hole a day later.

Jorg said an acquaintance of his called him and said the sheriff's office may have found his dad's vehicle, but they weren't sure. He said when he heard the news he rushed out to the site and found the vehicle.

"It's very odd that the vehicle was found on this road," Jorg said. "It looked like he got stuck and left it. If he was stuck he would have rocked it and got it out. It wasn't hard to get it out. ... It looked like someone was trying to get rid of the vehicle."

Desiree saw her father the morning of his disappearance. She said her daughter was scheduled to get married the next day and he was helping her get some things ready.

The family said their father had no enemies or money to provide a motive for anyone to want to do anything to Peter.

Peter also had no medical issues.

"He was fine," Desiree said. "He was in very good health. Physically, he had a few things. ... He had hip replacement and walked with a cane, but he didn't have any dementia or anything. ... We saw him on the surveillance cameras at Ernie's in Staples picking up groceries and he was fine.

"He wouldn't have been in the woods."

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said extensive searches were conducted once the vehicle was located. Hundreds of people in the community came out to help search an area about six square miles looking for signs of Peter. Volunteers included Peter's family and friends, members of two fire departments, two dive teams, members of two mounted posses, the DNR with aircraft and vehicles for traversing wetlands, the Minnesota State Patrol, the Minnesota National Guard and search and rescue dogs.

Burch said the sheriff's office, along with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is committed to solving this case and continue to follow leads. Burch said while several leads have been followed up on, there hasn't been anything substantial to help solve the circumstances surrounding Peter's disappearance.

The sheriff's office continues to offer up to a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the disappearance, if the disappearance is the result of foul play.

"We would like to get this case solved for the Achermann family," said Burch. "Living in a small town the rumors can fly and that has to be hard on the family.

"I don't believe he is here. I'm not sure if he walked away or was taken, we don't know. You just don't disappear. Someone has to know something and we just have to find that person. The family deserves it as well as Peter. ... We keep hoping that someone will call who knows something to help solve this case."

Law enforcement searched the area several times and the family said they are appreciative of all the work they've done.

"We were finding business cards and garbage from the deputies and other people who were helping in the search that had fallen out of their pockets while they were searching," said Jorg. "Of all the people and dogs that searched, none of them found anything.

"You'd think if he was getting hypothermia or something we would have found an article of clothing or his cane, his hat or something."

Desiree said, "I believe he was taken. I don't think he was on Warner Road either."

Peter and Delaine purchased a farm in the 1960s and knew a lot of people in the rural Leader and Staples/Motley areas. The family hopes that someone will give authorities information in locating him.

Desiree said, "We are hoping we will get closure ... We want answers.

"We still have hope. We will bring him home one way or another."

"Alive is the question," Jorg finished.

If you have information on Peter Achermann

Peter Achermann is a white man, about 5-foot-9, 175 pounds and has a black and gray beard and generally walks with a cane. Anyone with information, tips or leads on Achermann's whereabouts is asked to contact the Cass County Sheriff's Office at 800-450-2677 or 218-547-1424 or to call 911.