Witten family patriarch found dead after search
The body of 73-year-old Coal Run farmer Jerry Witten was located in the Muskingum River Monday afternoon, four days after he went missing.
“Mom last saw him before she left Thursday and then he was gone when she got back,” said his daughter, Julie Witten, Monday, before the patriarch of her family was found.
Jerry Witten is survived by his wife Bonnie, and their expansive family including five children and many grandchildren.
The pair were the second generation of Witten farmers who expanded the produce, flowers and beef farming of the family and passed on the horticulture and produce business to their children and grandchildren in 2008, officially retiring in spring 2018. Even after retirement they remained farmers of beef cattle and active at the family’s produce markets.
Chief Deputy Mark Warden, of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed that Jerry Witten’s remains were found in the Muskingum River by a citizen, who noticed his body from the west bank between Lowell and Devol’s Dam.
“He was spotted in the Rainbow area of the river,” explained Warden. “Everything’s matching the missing persons report right now but we’ll still send for DNA.”
Lowell Fire Chief Josh Harris said he was on scene with the sheriff’s detectives Monday to try to determine what happened to Witten.
Prior to officials locating the body, Harris explained that the search continued throughout the weekend.
“Marietta put their boat in, Stockport, Williamstown, Beverly, Reno and Warren fire departments were all helping, too. And with the helicopter up in the air you can see some 200 acres in a matter of minutes–all of this is to find someone of our community. The Wittens are my friends,” said Harris. “Today was a lot of IT work, too, trying to search cameras for his truck.”
The farmer left his residence on Ohio 60 in Coal Run between 7 and 8 a.m. Thursday.
“The sheriff’s office has re-interviewed Mom, we called 66 hospitals,” said Julie Witten, before Jerry was found. “Dad had few interests, it’s farming, cattle, family and he goes to McDonald’s drive-thrus. We just can’t imagine where he’d go.”
She also said Jerry was born in Monroe County and spent his early life there, so the family was thankful for the cooperation of area law enforcement from Monroe, Noble, Morgan and Meigs counties in Ohio.
“And we can’t thank Mark Mondo, Josh Harris or the sheriff’s office enough. They’ve been so giving,” said Julie, noting Mondo’s private aircraft helped search for Jerry. “Mark was with us all Saturday and again went up today.”
She said Witten had been tested for early signs of dementia and had not been diagnosed with the degenerative disease, but noted ongoing facial pain could have contributed to disassociative behaviors.
“When he was in pain, you could see it,” she said. “But no, he wasn’t diagnosed with dementia. He was probably in better health this year than five years ago.”
As of press time no details concerning a funeral for Jerry Witten were available.
Janelle Patterson can be reached at email@example.com.
At a glance:
• The body of Jerry Witten, 73, of Coal Run, was found in the Muskingum River Monday.
• Witten had been missing since Thursday morning.
• Witten was the patriarch of the family farming chain that produces vegetables, flowers and Angus beef in Southeast Ohio.
Source: Times research.