It was a cold night in Granville, New York — the temperature would bottom out at 21 degrees — but it was warm inside the Riverside Pub. The pub, situated on Main Street, was less than a mile away from the New York/Vermont border. It was common for people from Vermont to patronize the bar, likely due to the fact that they could drink longer there. Last call in Vermont was 2:00am, while it was 4:00am in New York. The bar was crowded with people taking advantage of this in the early morning hours of January 18, 2014.
Jonathan Schaff, a 23-year-old who lived in Fair Haven, Vermont, was one of the patrons at the Riverside that night. His father, John Schaff, was there as well. Jonathan spent a few hours at the bar socializing with friends as well as his father, and had been in no hurry to leave. When John told his son he was heading home, Jonathan said he was going to stay because he was having a great time. John left around 3:00am to return to his home in Cambridge, New York. Father and son exchanged quick goodbyes, and John told Jonathan to give him a call if he needed anything. He had no idea it would be the last time he would see his son.Johnathan Schaff (Photo provided by Namus)
Not long after John left, a disagreement of some kind took place between Jonathan and another man. It’s unclear exactly what started the argument, but it ended in a fist fight that was quickly broken up by some of the other patrons. Neither of the two men involved in the fight were seriously injured, although Jonathan was hit hard enough to break his glasses. According to witnesses, he sustained a couple of cuts on his face from his broken glasses, but he appeared fine otherwise.
Once the fight was over, the bar settled down. Police would later categorize the fight as “a misunderstanding” between two intoxicated individuals. Neither man left the bar right away, and there didn’t appear to be any hard feelings between them. Jonathan remained at the bar until last call, and he left around 4:30am. He walked out with a 33-year-old female and a 26-year-old male, both from the Fair Haven area. He had just met them that evening, and they had offered to give him a ride home. The couple had parked their car in the Loomis Trucking Company parking lot, which was located right over the state line in Vermont. It was just a short walk down Route 149, but somewhere between the bar and the parking lot, Jonathan disappeared.
Jonathan lived with his mother, May Winchell, at the time he went missing. She started to get worried when he never returned from his night out, and when he didn’t show up for his scheduled shift at Walmart that afternoon, she reported him missing.
After interviewing several people who had been at the bar the night before, police learned about the bar fight that had taken place, but didn’t believe it had anything to do with Jonathan’s subsequent disappearance. Witnesses said that the fight hadn’t been serious, and there were no major injuries. After the altercation, Jonathan had a few cuts on the bridge of his nose, but that was about it. Both parties involved remained at the bar and there was no further trouble between the two of them.
Chief Bassett spoke with the two people who left the bar with Jonathan, and they explained that they had lost track of him when they stopped for a moment to light their cigarettes. Jonathan continued walking, but wasn’t at the parking lot when they got there. They were questioned extensively, but police said there was no reason to believe they had anything to do with the disappearance.
No one could say for certain if he made it to the parking lot or not, but he had definitely been headed in that direction. Chief Bassett was concerned, because the Mettawee River was extremely close to Loomis Trucking, with some of their trailers parked within 40 feet of the water. There was a steep, 10-foot embankment that dropped down to the river at the back of the parking lot. If Jonathan had gotten too close to the water and fell in, he may have been too intoxicated to get himself back out.
Searches took place in both New York and Vermont, and investigators worked to establish the last confirmed location of Jonathan. The two people who had been walking with him believed that he had made it over the state line into Vermont, a command post was set up in the town of Wells, Vermont, only minutes away from Granville. Vermont State Police, New York State Police, and Granville Police would all be taking part in the search.
Jonathan’s cell phone records indicated that he had been somewhere in the vicinity of Sheldon’s Concrete or the Newmont Slate Company, both on Route 149 in Pawlet immediately after leaving the bar. With no idea which direction he went from there, police were unable to narrow the search for him.
The weather wasn’t helping the search effort. The area had gotten a couple inches of snow between the time Jonathan was last seen and the time he was reported missing, and up to five more inches were expected to fall on Monday. While the police dogs were still able to track in the snow, it hindered the human cops because it could cover up any footprints, items, or other evidence that could be related to the case.
On Tuesday, they got their first bit of evidence: Jonathan’s cell phone was found. It had been in the cab of an abandoned truck in the Loomis Trucking parking lot. There were a lot of unused trailers and trucks on the property, and the one his phone was in had not been moved for a while. They couldn’t know for sure if Jonathan left his phone there or if someone else had, but they were working under the assumption it was him. This meant that he was last seen in Vermont, and the Vermont State Police would be the lead investigation agency on the case.
The weather cleared up enough on Tuesday that helicopters were no longer grounded, and an Army National Guard helicopter was used to conduct aerial searches of the roads, fields, and rivers in the area. They were unable to find any relevant evidence, but would continue to conduct sporadic searches throughout the investigation.
Since Jonathan’s phone had been found so close to the Mettawee River, investigators spent a considerable amount of time concentrating on the area of the river that flowed directly behind Loomis Trucking. The river had been running unusually fast at the time Jonathan went missing, making it even more dangerous if he had fallen in while intoxicated. The Vermont State Police brought in their dive team to check the river, but they were only able to conduct a limited search due to the extremely cold weather and the fast-flowing river.
The land search for Jonathan was expanded, and searchers covered all possible roads he could have taken from the area around the parking lot. Teams searched five or six miles in each direction, looking for anything that could help them pinpoint Jonathan’s location. Police also asked for people who lived in the area to walk their property and check for anything out of the ordinary. Residents carefully went through their land, checking sheds, outbuildings, and vehicles in case Jonathan had tried to seek shelter out of the elements. Unfortunately, no one was able to find anything that was suspicious or out of place.
Temperatures in the area were dropping below zero in the overnight hours, and this cold weather was a huge concern. No one could survive very long under those conditions. Capt. Patch noted that they still had no conclusive evidence showing that Jonathan wasn’t alive; the fact that no one could survive long in such temperatures was left unsaid.
A week after the search for Jonathan began, police were no closer to finding him. Except for his cellphone, they hadn’t been able to locate anything to give them a clue about where the missing man had gone. Many of the officers involved in the case believed Jonathan had ended up in the Mettawee River, but the weather conditions made it impossible to search the icy waters.
On January 30th, the Vermont State Police SCUBA team and a police dog team conducted an extensive search of the Mettawee River and its banks. While the divers were unable to enter the water due to the weather, they used an underwater camera to see if they could locate anything. They covered a stretch of the river near Loomis Trucking, but found nothing.
It wasn’t until February 28th that dive teams were able to fully search the Mettawee River. Representatives from agencies in both New York and Vermont worked together to coordinate the search. They were focusing on an area of the river that was adjacent to the parking lot where Jonathan’s cell phone had been found. Search dogs were brought through the area on several occasions and had indicated interest in a certain area multiple times. Police brought in a backhoe so they could break through some of the ice on the river, but found mostly logs and debris. Still, they went through the site thoroughly, hoping for even a small clue, but came up empty-handed.
The investigation hit a standstill until May 6th, when conditions were finally ideal for a massive search of the river. Water levels had subsided as the heavy runoff from melting snow eased up, and the trees and vegetation in the area hadn’t started to bloom yet, making it easier to see. Around 60 people from various agencies assisted in the search, and much of their focus was on the river. Detective Sgt. Matt Denis floated down the river in a raft along with Otto, his dog. Otto was a Korthals Griffon, and one of only two cadaver dogs in the state of Vermont. Once Otto alerted to a spot, it would give the dive team a starting point for their search. While divers waited to see where they would need to dive, around 35 state police recruits conducted a ground search of the area.
About a dozen of Jonathan’s friends and family members were watching the search effort when Otto alerted near a tree with a large root ball in the river. The tree was located behind Loomis Trucking, very close to the truck where Jonathan’s cell phone had been found. Police brought in an excavator to move the tree so divers would be able to search the area. They were able to lift and roll the tree out of the way, and divers combed through both the root ball and the surrounding area, but found nothing.
Months went by with no movement on the case. January marked an entire year since Jonathan was last seen, and police didn’t know much more than they had on the morning he was reported missing. It had been hard on all of his friends and family members, particularly his mother. May Winchell told a reporter that she had started picking up every heads-up penny she found. It was something Jonathan had always done, and whenever May found one, she hoped it would bring her good luck and bring Jonathan home.
Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Todd Wilkins was assigned to Jonathan’s case in April 2016. As he was doing some research and familiarizing himself with the case, he noticed that a quarry close to where Jonathan was last seen had never been searched. While the police conducted an extremely thorough investigation of the river in 2014, a quarry off Route 149 wasn’t included in the search because it was believed that it had been frozen at the time of Jonathan’s disappearance. On June 6th, divers from both the Vermont State Police and the New York State Police conducted a search of the quarry, which was owned by the Sheldon Excavation Company. Nearly a dozen divers spent around five hours in the water, but were unable to find anything.
In July 2017, Vermont State Police conducted a search of a second quarry, this one located off the York Street Extension in the neighboring town of Poultney. It was not an easy place to search. Though it only covered a couple acres, the water was 50 to 60 feet deep, and too cloudy for divers to be able to see anything. Loose rocks and other debris in the water made it impossible to use sonar equipment. Investigators did their best, but were unable to find anything related to Jonathan’s case.
It’s been more than six years since Jonathan walked down Route 149 and disappeared. From the very beginning of the case, police — and Jonathan’s friends and family members — had to deal with numerous rumors about what happened that night. Early on, people claimed that Jonathan never made it out of the bar alive that night, but had been killed and buried in a new concrete floor in the bar’s basement. This one was relatively easy to squash, as no such floor existed.
Rumors that the bar fight was to blame for Jonathan’s disappearance were ruled out by police fairly early on. They did extensively interview the man who was involved, but they are confident he had nothing to do with it. When Jonathan’s phone was found in a truck at the Loomis Trucking Company parking lot, people began whispering that an employee there was to blame. Detectives interviewed all the employees there, and none were ever considered suspects in the case.
When the investigation first started, police believed that Jonathan had most likely fallen into the river and drowned, and they spent months trying to prove this theory. They no longer believe this is the case. The past few years the water levels in the river have reached historic lows. If Jonathan had been in the river, they would have found his body by now.
Of all the possible theories, there are only two that police seem to believe are viable at this time: either Jonathan was the victim of foul play, or he voluntarily walked away from his family, friends, and life. No one who knew Jonathan believes that he would have vanished on his own, and even police seem to think this is a long shot. Foul play is the most likely cause of his disappearance, but the culprit remains unknown.
Jonathan Schaff has been missing since March 2014. He was 23 years old at the time, was 6’0”, weighed 170 pounds, and had brown hair and blue eyes. He wore glasses but they were broken at the time of his disappearance. When last seen, he was wearing a light blue or gray hooded sweatshirt, a dark brown of black Carhartt jacket, dark blue jeans, and brown work boots. If you have any information about Jonathan, please call the Vermont State Police at 802–773–9101 or the Granville Police Department at 518–642–1414.