In the months and years to follow investigators followed leads on the ground and from the air, but to this day those involved in the investigation will tell you the disappearance of Orville Seaton, who is now presumed dead, is the most baffling case of their careers and one they've all but given up on solving.
Washington, TX is a small and quiet community along the Brazos River where for the exception of a passing car from time to time, you can feel like you're the only person around for miles. It's that peace and quiet that 71-year old Orville Seaton never wanted to leave. Seaton grew up there and came back to his roots after retiring as a school teacher in Houston. He moved into a small shack alone and mostly kept to himself. From time to time, Seaton would hitch a ride into town to do laundry and buy groceries.
On December 23, 1997 he found a ride to Harlan's Food Market about 6 miles away in Navasota, then bought some groceries and walked out the front door with an unidentified man. He then got into the man's car and was never seen again.
"The guy at the store didn't know him and I don't know who it was either," said Lt. Billy Ruemke with the Washington County Sheriff's Office. Ruemke has investigated Orville Seaton's disappearance from the beginning.
"We honestly do not know what happened to Mr. Seaton,” said Ruemke.
After Seaton’s family didn't hear from him for more than a week, he was reported missing and an article with his picture appeared in the Brenham Banner Press and in reports on KBTX.
"We had a lot of information come in. We ran down every lead and every piece of information,” said Ruemke.
Deputies searched a large area around Seaton's home for evidence and took statements from several people who were trying to help.
"We had information that he was killed and his body was dumped in the Brazos."
However, those leads have only taken investigators on one path after another all with a dead end.
"We went up and down the river banks. The river was high at that particular time. We searched it again when it was down. We came up with nothing,” said Ruemke.
Investigators looked deeper into Seaton's life for any clues and discovered one of his favorite places to go was Brown's Tavern, not far from Seaton's home on FM 1155.
"I'd sit over there and wait on him when he would come,” said Mary Nolan, owner of Brown’s Tavern.
Nolan remembers Seaton who loved to play dominoes and grab a cold refreshment.
“He would sometimes pop up and drink him a cold soda or a beer and sit and talk with the other guys. He would sit there laughing, talking and crack jokes and everything. I've never known of him to have any trouble or be in any trouble,” said Nolan.
"How can someone be here one day and gone the next,” said Seaton's former neighbor and distant cousin, Angela King. King says everyone was shocked once they realized a familiar face had gone missing.
"He's catching a ride with a stranger and then all of a sudden you don't see him again. That's weird,” said King.
"I thought one day he would show up and then after months and then years,” said Seaton’s Cousin Jake Milam. However Orville Seaton has never been found and is presumed dead. His family, including Cousin Jake Milam, created a memorial for Orville, hoping one day it can be his final resting place.
"It's hard to face reality, but that's just how it is,” said Milam.
Investigators believe foul play was involved with Orville Seaton's disappearance, but don't have any hard evidence or a motive.
"We found his wallet and cash in his house,” said Ruemke.
Even with the help of the Texas Rangers and DPS no one has been able to solve this puzzle that at times has consumes this seasoned investigator.
"People just don't disappear for no reason. It's baffling. I still lay in bed and think about this case. "I'd love to be able to call his family and them we found out what happened,” said Ruemke.
If you have any information about this disappearance of Orville Seaton you contact the Washington County Sheriff's Office or Washington County Crime Stoppers. Orville Seaton was officially declared dead in 2005, seven years after he was reported missing. Seaton leaves behind a wife and three children.