One month later: Marquette County woman still missing

The Michigan State Police said 65-year-old Helen Kontio was last seen on the side of Highway M-35 in Palmer on May 9.
Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 8:57 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2022 at 9:01 PM EDT
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PALMER, Mich. (WLUC) - A woman who disappeared from a Marquette County group home one month ago Thursday has yet to be found.

65-year-old Helen Kontio was reported missing by Marigold Adult Foster Care Owner and Operator Kathleen Conklin on the evening of May 9. Kontio is 5′5″, about 195 pounds, with hazel eyes and dark blonde hair that is graying.

Kontio has cognitive impairments that make it hard for her to speak with people she does not know. Conklin said she last saw Kontio sitting at a picnic table on the side of Highway M-35 in Palmer on May 9 around 1:00 p.m. Michigan State Police (MSP) Negaunee Post Assistant Commander Lt. Mark Giannunzio explained the situation.

“Kontio went missing early in the afternoon on May 9,” Lt. Giannunzio said. “She was wearing basically all blue, blue jeans, a blue jacket, a blue shirt, white shoes and she was carrying a backpack with her.”

Kontio has lived at the Marigold Adult Foster Care Home for over 30 years, and Conklin said the day of her disappearance started off like any normal day.

“She had a routine,” Conklin said. “She got her bath that morning, I combed her hair, gave her a little shave, told her she was looking good for the day and she just kind of went out to do her thing.”

Conklin explained that Marigold Adult Foster Care Home is a lot different than a nursing home, allowing residents more freedom to do as they please in their day-to-day lives.

“This is not like a nursing home, it is not even close,” Conklin said. “It is a family home and a group home; they are our family.”

Conklin recounted what Kontio usually did during the day, picking up after she finished with her bath.

“She loved to go over to her little picnic table across from Vick’s Little Store,” Conklin said.

Vick’s Little Store is right next to the Marigold Adult Foster Care Home, at the intersection of Highway M-35 and Kirkpatrick Ave.

Conklin continued, “We called the picnic table her ‘office,’ she was very comfortable over there and she would spend all day over there on a regular basis.”

Conklin added that it was not uncommon for Kontio to walk three blocks south to The Cade Bar and Grill before returning to the table. Conklin recalled that it was early in the evening on May 9 when she noticed Kontio was not sitting at the picnic table like usual, which Conklin can see from her side porch.

“At supper time it was not unusual that she was not back to the house yet, so I walked out onto the deck, hollered over to the picnic table and realized she was not there,” Conklin said.

After looking around town with her son and husband, Conklin said she called 911. After which, Lt. Giannunzio added that troopers and deputies immediately responded, deploying K9 teams and air patrol in the nearby woods in search of Kontio.

“For the next couple of days, we scoured the area with search and rescue,” Lt. Giannunzio said. “There were several members of the public that came and tried to help us find Kontio.”

Kontio is still missing. Lt. Giannunzio emphasized that the MSP has stepped up its investigation.

“Normally in a missing person case like this where somebody walks away from an adult foster care home they are found within a couple of days, if not sooner,” Lt. Giannunzio said. “We are going on one month now and Kontio has not been located, there has been no sign of her in the Palmer area. Our detective unit is heavily involved in this case. They are looking at all possibilities on her whereabouts and if there is any foul play involved with her missing status.”

Lt. Giannunzio said there aren’t many leads but asks the public for their help as the MSP continues its investigation into Kontio’s disappearance. If you have any information on Kontio’s whereabouts, contact Negaunee State Police Post detectives immediately at (906) 475-1131 or (906) 475-1145.

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