Friday 6 April 2012

The Curious Case Of Duncan MacPherson

His name probably isn't known to many, but I received a very interesting email today from Jocelyn T. who thought I might be able to help her. The man to the left is Duncan MacPherson, a former New York Islanders first-round pick from the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. MacPherson was a star with his hometown Saskatoon Blades as a defensive defenceman who would literally put himself in harm's way in order to help the team. He blocked shots, he played tough, and he looked like he could be a solid addition to the Islanders' line-up when ready. MacPherson bounced between the AHL and IHL and found himself often injured because of how he played, and he was bought out by the Islanders. Not wanting to give up his chosen profession, MacPherson jumped to Scotland where he was asked to be player-coach of a team based out of Dundee, Scotland. And that's where this story takes a dramatic turn, and is chronicled by author John Leake in Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery. The dates are debatable below according to their various sources, but there is no denying that the first two weeks of August 1989 was the start of a mystery.

Before I go on, I won't deny that this article is a little bit of an advertisement for John Leake's book, Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery. I'm hoping to acquire a copy to read, but this story is quite strange considering the amount of time that it took to unravel this mystery. I want to get the message out that Lynda and Bob MacPherson have been trying to convey for a long time, and the voice that Mr. Leake gives Duncan in his book. As the release sent to me states, "[t]he book goes into detail the cover-up pretaining to Duncan's death and the overwhelming evidence of wrong-doing; it is unbelievable the length at which people went to keep the truth from surfacing. And, our hope is someday, the person/persons responsible will be held accountable." Let's take a look at what has been uncovered by Mr. Leake, the MacPhersons, and several other journalists.

Duncan left for Europe alone at the beginning of August of 1989, shortly after that interview, with thoughts of visiting friends and doing some sight-seeing before committing to Dundee's team. He was to arrive in Dundee on August 12, but that day came and went with no sign of Duncan. According to, MacPherson landed in Nurenburg on August 3 where he met George Pesut, an old teammate from the Blades. The two men left Nurenburg on August 6 for Prague, Czechoslovakia where Pesut would be playing a tournament. MacPherson was going to explore the area by car.

On August 7, he met up with friend and former teammate Roger Kortko in Fussen, Germany. He stayed a day before heading to Bolzano, Italy on August 8 to meet up with more friends. He was to return the car to Nurenburg on August 10 before heading to Dundee, Scotland. On August 10, MacPherson called Ron Dixon, an entrepreneur who was backing the Dundee team, to inform him that he would take the player-coach job, and that he would arrive on August 12 to begin his new role with the team. He was to fly out of Frankfurt once returning the car to Nurenburg.

Somewhere along the way, MacPherson's plans to visit Italy changed because he hadn't arrived in Bolzano two days earlier. His arrival in Dundee on August 12 came and went without a phone call or message to Dixon. His family, Dixon, and his friends had had no contact with MacPherson, an unusual trait for a guy who was sociable amongst his friends and family. The worst was feared when a search party organized by police began.

So what happened to MacPherson? After an exhaustive search turned up nothing, the MacPherson family was notified that Pesut's car had been found. It was found in a parking lot at the bottom of the Stubaier Glacier in Austria six weeks after MacPherson initially went missing. At this point, the worst was feared about MacPherson's whereabouts, but there was no indication as to where he was or what had happened.

There have been articles on MacPherson that have provided little information as to exactly what happened and where he is. Chris Jones from Esquire magazine wrote an article about Duncan MacPherson in 2004, but it doesn't really provide any information about Duncan or what happened. Rick Adelson of ESPN wrote a much better article about Duncan's whereabouts and the story of how the MacPherson's tried for years to get answers from the authorities in Europe.

CBC's The Fifth Estate had a spectacular piece on Duncan MacPherson, and it was based on a lot of John Leake's work in Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery. The first piece, entitled "The Iceman", is not embeddable, but I do have a link to it here. It's approximately 42 minutes long, but the information in the piece is powerful and moving. I recommend watching it.

The second piece done by The Fifth Estate is embeddable, and I recommend watching this one as well. A lot of the questions raised in the first piece are answered here. It's another long piece as it times out just over 45 minutes, but it's another powerful piece of investigative journalism. Highly recommended, and a credit to the CBC's work in journalism.
After seeing both pieces, I am not sure that the MacPhersons and Mr. Leake are off in their search for the truth. It doesn't sound like Duncan to have wandered from the safety of the ski run nor does it sound like Duncan to take an unnecessary risk. Why didn't the rental shop account for the missing board? If the board wasn't missing from the shop, where did he get his board? The questions are still lingering, and there seems like there are pieces missing from this puzzle.

If you have an opportunity to pick up Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery, please send me an email or leave a comment regarding the book. I am very interested in reading this story and learning more about the mystery of Duncan MacPherson. This is a mystery that seems to have a lot of information buried on the glacier, and I commend the MacPhersons and Mr. Leake for digging further into a death that seems to be swinging closer to murder than accidental death.

This is one case that has me curious about what may have happened to Duncan MacPherson, and I'm hoping that the MacPhersons can find an answer soon in order to bring them peace.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Peter Santellan said...

The Macpherson story doesn't get quite as much press as some other stories, but it is a fascinating one that I think would be good for hockey fans and true crime (as I understand it from reading the piece) readers alike.

Maclynda said...

For anyone that is interested, check out the website for the book:

Lynda MacPherson (Duncan's Mom)

Maclynda said...

Check out the website for the book:

Lynda MacPherson (Duncan's Mom)

Vidocq said...

Join the discussion re Duncan here and tune in Sept 7 on Twitter for a chat dedicated to Duncan MacPherson (hashatg #cclivechat noon-1pm EST).


Anonymous said...

Ron Dixon's fingerprints are all over this one. He was (or still is ... after his mysterious "death" in Mexico)an EVIL man and would stoop to anything against anyone who crossed him.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous: Why do you say this. I have the same feeling but I just can't put my finger on it.

When I heard about the accident my reponse was "check the body, either it isn't him or there's a 22 calibre bullet in his brain..."

Margo Talbot said...

I just discovered this story via Fifth Estate Segment Two. It is jaw-dropping mountain intrigue at its finest (or worst, as this case seems to be.) I've got the book, and am ordering several more for friends and family who will be very interested in this tale of coverup, lies and betrayal that goes all the way to the top of the Austrian tourist industry food chain.