About three weeks ago, an 86-year-old North Dakota man sat down on a bench to rest while his wife walked about 15 to 20 feet away to wade into some hot springs at a Costa Rica resort. When she came back about 30 minutes later, he was gone.
And Leo Widicker is still gone.
"The frustrating part is we have not a clue where he was or what happened," said Leo's son-in-law, Delvin Hansen, a Harvey dentist.
Leo and Virginia Widicker, 75, retired Bowdon farmers, were in Costa Rica on their 41st trip with Maranatha Volunteers International, a Seventh-day Adventist organization, said JoAnn Hansen, Hansen's wife and Leo's daughter.
The Widickers and other participants pay their own way on these two- to three-week trips, and have gone to such places as India and Nicaragua and Peru to build churches and schools, Hansen said.
This time, down in Costa Rica, the couple had helped paint a school and two churches in a suburb northwest of San Jose. On Nov. 18, they were moving on to another project, but first stopped to eat at the Tabacon Resort, an area of hot springs.
"Mom decided to go into the pools," JoAnn said. "Dad didn't want to and sat down by the bus on a bench."
He seemed fine and was talkative. They assume that after sitting, he nodded off to sleep, because he could nap anywhere. When he woke up may have been momentarily confused.
Leo apparently started looking for his wife at the resort. Hotel workers remember him. "People saw him ask people if they knew where his wife was at," JoAnn said.
Then guards at the gated resort reported that he walked up to them and asked if it was OK to leave. They let him out and the last time the guards saw him he was walking down the main road.
But JoAnn doesn't know what reports to believe, because "How does a human being totally vanish?"
She said he didn't like to walk. "He wouldn't go for a walk, that's not my dad." He walked rather slowly and if he left the resort, he must have gotten picked up by someone, she said. Within about 15 minutes of the guards seeing him, a friend drove 10 miles down the road and saw nothing. And her father wouldn't have walked off the road, JoAnn said. There was a steep volcanic hillside on one side and fences, which fence in the resort, on the other.
And it was raining hard. "It wasn't conducive to go hiking," Delvin said.
JoAnn said her dad only had $4 in a pocket and had on a $10 watch. Virginia carried the money. "Dad was a farmer, he wasn't used to carrying a wallet in his pocket," she said.
JoAnn and a brother, Rod Widicker, flew to Costa Rica and stayed for 12 days. A personal friend of the family, Dick Hilde, is still down there looking. But still nothing.
JoAnn said the Red Cross came out and searched for four or five days. Local police also hired hunters to go through area, but no clues resulted.
Her father is described as being 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighing 145 pounds, bald, and with grayish blond hair, "What's left of it." He has blue eyes, wears glasses and has hearing aids in both ears. She said the batteries would be dead by now. He was wearing a red-and-blue plaid shirt, a navy blue jacket and a white baseball cap with an farm implement logo on it.
JoAnn said she never really worried about her parents taking these trips. "(The trips) were basically well set up."
She said farming was his work and hobby, and so when he retired two years ago he didn't have any hobbies.
The Maranatha trips turned into his hobby.
"He was a workaholic," she said. To go some place to work, which the Maranatha trips allowed him to do, was heavenly for him.
"Some people go on cruises," JoAnn said. Her parents went on Maranatha trips instead "to help people," JoAnn said.
And the couple made very special friends.
"You got special, special people on these trips," JoAnn said. These are people that gave three or four weeks of their time, paid their own lodging and when there wasn't money enough to pay for pews or windows, they passed the hat.
Her dad didn't have great construction skill: He worked as "a gopher boy, he called himself," she said. Her mom became good at doing finishing work on the brickwork.
She said there have been trips that have been canceled because of unrest in the country. For this particular trip, her parents considered not going because two months ago he had gotten a pace maker because of an erratic heatbeat. They tried to get their money back for the airfare, couldn't, and because Leo started feeling better they decided to go.
Hansen took them to Bismarck Airport at 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 13 and remembers she told her dad she loved him. She last saw him sitting down, putting shoes back on that security had made him take off.
She said the American Embassy has promised to keep the case open, and a Costa Rican who is affliated with Maranatha is committed to looking for him.
Virginia and Leo have been married 55 years. Virginia met Leo when she got a job as a cook for the Bowdon farm operated by Leo and relatives.
"I came and never left," she would laughingly tell JoAnn.
The couple met in the summer, and were married in November.
"They are so compatible," JoAnn said. "I come from a family that didn't fight. I would be hard put to tell you three or four times my folks fought."
Now they are thousands of miles apart.
She said family members are up and down, doing the best they can.
"It's so absurd (the situation)," she said. "There's no word for it."