Man's body found in Chester River

December 11, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

CHESTERTOWN -- The Chester River confirmed yesterday the worst fears -- expectations, really -- of families and friends of one of two longtime Kent County buddies who went fishing Nov. 20 and never returned.

The body of Allen E. Pinder Jr., 36, was found at an edge of the river's cold, choppy waters by searchers who were part of an effort that has continued since Nov. 21.

Those knowledgeable about open water expect that yesterday's finding means that the body of Mr. Pinder's friend since childhood, William "Tom" T. Baxter, also 36 and presumed drowned, is likely to surface soon.

Laura Baxter, Mr. Baxter's wife of just over 10 years, is prepared. Earlier this week, she said she had developed a sixth sense about his whereabouts.

"If he were anywhere in a five-mile radius of me, I'd feel him," she said. "But I don't feel anything."

After yesterday's discovery, Ray Clark, a cousin of Mr. Pinder and one of scores of people who have helped search for the missing men for three weeks, said: "I'm glad they found Allen for my family's sake. My family's been pretty torn up about this."

They've been far from alone.

In the small, close Kent County communities near Chestertown and Melitota where the men -- both of them only children -- lived and worked, sadness has dampened the holiday season.

"Everybody's in limbo," said Larry Adams, a junior varsity football coach at Kent County High School in Worton, where Mr. Baxter helped train student athletes when he wasn't working as a manager and fitness trainer at the Kent Athletic Club in Chestertown.

The two men had left Cliffs City, a small community on the Chester River, in a 12-foot, pointed-bow aluminum boat at sunrise on Saturday, Nov. 20, in an attempt to catch striped bass before the sport-fishing season ended the next day.

A strong wind storm ripped across the river that morning, and the two men failed to return to shore that afternoon. A search party found the boat, which Mr. Pinder owned, on the 21st about 10 miles south of the landing where the men had put the boat in the water.

Despite persistent efforts since then by Maryland Natural Resources Police, family members, friends and volunteers using helicopters, boats, diving equipment and rescue dogs, no other signs of the men had been found until yesterday.

The fruitless recovery efforts had searchers baffled. They are unsure even about where the boat flipped, because its outboard motor, which presumably fell off when the 12-foot craft capsized, has not been located.

As the daily searches continued, the men's families grew increasingly despondent. Family members said that Mr. Pinder's father and Mr. Baxter's mother both have been hospitalized, with grief being a factor.

"Every day I wake up, I hope it's the day I get the answers," Laura Baxter said earlier this week.

"Sometimes when the phone rings, I think it will be Tom saying, 'Ha, ha, what a joke.' We still have that hope, but every day it gets a little smaller."

Mr. Pinder and Mr. Baxter grew up in Kent County. The two played football in high school together and remained close friends after graduating. Both were married and fathers.

The Baxters have a daughter, 12, and a son, who turned 8 three days after his father disappeared. The Pinders have a son, 6, and are the godparents of the Baxter children.

Although the men were expected to have returned the same day they went fishing, they were not reported missing until the next morning when Mr. Pinder's wife, Tina, notified the local sheriff's office.

"I didn't worry too much, because you know how guys are when they get together," said Mrs. Baxter, who thought the two friends had stayed out late and decided not to come home that night. "We knew they were together, so we didn't worry a lot."

Once searchers found the boat, however, news of the men moved quickly. For two weeks, at least, false rumors that one or both bodies had been found bothered the families.

Outside the men's immediate families, employees at Kent Printing Inc. in Chestertown may be the most saddened. Mr. Pinder was a pressman in the shop, where Mr. Baxter's mother-in-law also works.

"We're all family here," said company owner John Spry.

Both men were described as safety-minded about their work and outdoor sports. Why the two went onto the Chester River in a small boat when weather forecasts called for high winds as a cold front moved in still bothers their friends.

"Allen was cautious in everything he did," said Mr. Spry. "You'd watch him work around the press and see him hesitate, making '' sure everything was right.

Natural Resources Police speculated the men were fishing off Eastern Neck Island -- across the river from the remote beach where Mr. Pinder's body was found -- when the storm struck, capsizing the boat and throwing the fishermen into the cold water.

Gale warnings yesterday afternoon ended the search to find Mr. Baxter's body. But efforts are scheduled to resume today.

Natural resources police Sgt. Morris "Bunky" Jones said Mr. Pinder's body was spotted between the mouth of Reed Creek and Piney Point in Queen Anne's County, about 10:45 a.m. yesterday by a member of the Kent-Queen Anne's Rescue Team, who was riding in one of six boats in a search party.

The area had been searched repeatedly during the past three weeks because it was near there that the capsized boat, a pair of life vests and a cooler belonging to the men were found on Nov. 21.

Sergeant Jones, who earlier had speculated the men had drowned and were beneath the water, said yesterday that Mr. Baxter's body could be recovered within 48 hours if foul weather does not prevent search teams from going back onto the water.

Mr. Pinder's body showed no signs of foul play, Sergeant Jones said, and was taken to the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore for an autopsy.

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