Two months since Gail Palmgren went missing and no signs of foul play

Two months since Gail Palmgren went missing and no signs of foul play

July 10th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Hamilton County criminal investigators search inside of Matthew and Gail Palmgren's home in Signal Mountain, Tenn., in this file photo. Gail has been missing since April 30.

Photo by Jenna Walker/Times Free Press.

Gail Palmgren. Contributed Photo

Matthew Palmgren speaks at a brief news conference concerning his missing wife, Gail, at the Signal Mountain Recreation Department in Signal Mountain.

Photo by Jenna Walker/Times Free Press.

HOW TO HELP

Gail Palmgren was last seen driving a red 2010 Rubicon Jeep with a tailgate tire cover that reads "Life is Good" and with a daisy painted on it. She also had a personalized Alabama tag - "EAZY ST." The couple owns a home near Titus, Ala., on Lake Jordan.

She is 5 feet 8, weighs 135 pounds and has blond hair and brown eyes.

Anyone with information may call Signal Mountain police at 423-886-2124.

More than two months have passed since anyone has seen Gail Palmgren.

Investigators have found no sign of the 44-year-old Signal Mountain mother of two.

There's no crime scene showing any trauma.

Her crimson red Jeep Rubicon is still missing, and she hasn't used her credit cards since she disappeared.

Still, authorities say there is no specific period of time that must pass before they decide that foul play is involved.

"There's no certain time frame. There's no certain time limit," said Hamilton County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Janice Atkinson. "Just when evidence is uncovered during the course of the investigation."

The question, depending on how it's answered, can make the difference in how investigators are able to proceed in the case, a legal expert said.

With the amount of time that has passed since anyone has seen or heard from Gail Palmgren, if authorities wanted to secure a warrant, they could quite easily, said Wesley Oliver, an associate law professor at Widener University who used to practice in Nashville.

Noting the amount of time since she vanished, authorities could say they need to search computer hardware or properties, citing safety concerns for Palmgren, Oliver said. Case law would support a judge signing off on the warrant, he said, citing U.S. Supreme Court case Cady v. Dombrowski in 1973.

However, Oliver pointed out that, in this case, Gail Palmgren's husband, Matt, most likely holds the most information about his wife that could lead to authorities locating her, and a search warrant might not be the right tack to take at this point.

"Until it's clear he's not going to cooperate, the husband is the best ally in finding this missing woman," Oliver said. "As long as possible, they don't want an adversarial edge. A search warrant says, 'We're suspicious of you.' They want to avoid that as long as possible."

Matthew Palmgren has never been charged in connection with the case, and police never have officially said that he is a suspect.

"There is this cloud of accusations put over Matt's head," said Lee Davis, Palmgren's attorney. "Law enforcement will tell you there is not one shred of evidence of foul play in this case."

Five percent of search warrants are declined, Oliver said, but the vast majority of judges or magistrates sign off on them. Many community members have been critical of law enforcement efforts not to obtain warrants to search earlier in the Palmgren case.

Because investigators have no evidence showing foul play, they have entered into a consent order with Matthew Palmgren in order to search the couple's properties, including their Signal Mountain home, lake house in Alabama and a storage unit in Red Bank.

Matt Palmgren has not given a statement to detectives, nor have his two children.

"We have provided Signal Mountain Police and Hamilton County Sheriff's Department with information, investigative leads, physical evidence, DNA samples and access to all physical property owned by the Palmgrens," said Davis. "We will continue to assist law enforcement throughout this investigation."

Soon after his wife disappeared, Matt Palmgren hired a private investigator, Mike Mathis, a retired Chattanooga police investigator, to help locate his wife, Davis noted.

Throughout the search for Gail Palmgren, Davis has accused the public of being critical of Matthew Palmgren. Davis said that, in court papers filed by Gail Palmgren's siblings, his client is accused of "not doing what he can for the children." As an example, he noted that there were accusations that Matt Palmgren did not have his two children in counseling, but they have been in counseling since Gail Palmgren disappeared.

"Mr. Palmgren has been accused of being insensitive. ... So, now what's happening, we are having to put into the public what is really, in many respects for the family and the children, best to keep private," Davis said.

The public also has been critical of Matthew Palmgren, blaming him for Gail Palmgren's disappearance, Davis said.

The couple was on the verge of divorce, friends said. And police responded to a couple of arguments in Signal Mountain in the days leading up to Gail Palmgren's disappearance.

Davis said private information about the Palmgrens continues to be leaked to the media.

"If Gail is in hiding and watching what's happening, all this is going to do is drive her further into hiding," Davis said, noting that she suffered from mental illness.

Even though his client is not charged with anything, Davis said Matt Palmgren still needs an attorney.

"This has got to be one of the most stressful situations somebody can be in. When you haven't done anything wrong and you're under some cloud of suspicion, that's when you most need a lawyer," Davis said.

While it remains unclear what happened to Gail Palmgren, her close friend, Arlene Durham, said as time continues to go by she fears Gail is dead.

"I know in my heart she's not here anymore," said Durham, who lives in Titus, Ala., where the Palmgrens have a lake home. "Until I find a body, I have to look. It's hard."

Durham said she has traveled as far as Florida, checking places Gail Palmgren might have gone.

Authorities have had to string together pieces of evidence after Gail Palmgren gave numerous documents and personal belongings to friends before she disappeared. With the exception of Durham, they all have handed over everything.

Durham is in possession of a hard drive that came from a four-camera surveillance system at the Palmgrens' Alabama lake house. Gail Palmgren hoped the hard drive had footage of an argument between her and her husband, which she planned to use during divorce proceedings, Durham said.

"I don't have to give [the hard drive] to anyone. Gail made me promise not to give it to anyone," Durham said.

As of Friday, Durham said she had made arrangements with the Elmore County Sheriff's Office in Alabama to create a duplicate of the hard drive and send it to Hamilton County Sheriff's Office detectives.

Contact Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406.