For nearly three months, Eugene Palmer has eluded authorities, dead or alive.
Yet one of his sons continues to search sprawling Harriman State Park in hopes of finding the Haverstraw man wanted in the slaying of his daughter-in-law, Tammy Palmer.
"I have to be realistic. If he were still alive, we would have heard something by now," Clarence Palmer told Newsday on Tuesday.
Eugene Palmer went into the woods without his heart medication and brought no coat, other cold-weather clothing or winter provisions, according to his 49-year-old son. Clarence Palmer said his father was wearing slippers, green Dickeys pants and a red flannel shirt at the time of his disappearance.
Clarence Palmer, who lives in Grahamsville in Sullivan County, said he believes his father went into the park out of fear.
"It wasn't a suicide mission," Clarence Palmer said. "He was scared."
After Tammy Palmer's children left for school on the morning of Sept. 24, Eugene Palmer, 73, allegedly shot the 39-year-old mother of two outside her home at 570 Willow Grove Rd. and fled into the park.
Tammy Palmer's family believes she was killed because she had brought domestic violence charges against John Palmer, 39, her husband and Clarence Palmer's younger brother. Eugene Palmer urged his daughter-in-law to drop the case, but she refused, sparking heated arguments, her family said.
For his part, Clarence Palmer defended his father.
"It was just a spontaneous fit of rage," the son said. "He didn't even finish his breakfast, his breakfast was half-eaten . . . If it was premeditated he wouldn't have put his dinner out.
"It was totally out of character for him," Clarence Palmer said. "He always practiced that you never point a gun at someone."
TRAIL GONE COLD
Eugene Palmer was last reported seen by his sister, Elaine Palmer Babcock, who told police that he came to her nearby house after the shooting to give her money to pay taxes on his property.
In the days following the killing, Town of Haverstraw police, along with police from the state, Rockland and Westchester counties and neighboring municipalities all searched the woods for Palmer, an avid outdoorsman who is said to know his way around Harriman State Park.
Searchers found Palmer's truck, the keys still in the ignition, about a half-mile from the slaying site, and found a campground in Harriman park where he may have spent a night, but after that the trail went cold.
Now it's the weather that's going cold, and hope of finding the murder suspect alive is dimming.
"We are still looking at all possibilities and following up on all leads," Haverstraw Police Chief Charles Miller told News12 Tuesday morning.
"As the temperatures get colder and winter months come in, the probability that he's still alive if he's in the woods is getting less," Miller said.
Police are not searching the park anymore and only go back there when they receive tips, according to Miller.
"The most recent lead we received was two weeks ago, which took us up to Orange County but turned out to be unfounded and baseless," Miller said. Someone had tipped police that they may have seen Palmer driving his other truck in the county.
On Nov. 19, a Rockland County grand jury indicted Eugene Palmer in Tammy Palmer's murder. The indictment allows authorities to commit more resources to prosecute Palmer in the event he's found alive, Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said at the time. Palmer's name now can be listed on nationwide police databases so that law enforcement agencies around the county will know he's a fugitive if he's captured or detained for unrelated offenses, such as a traffic violation.
What Eugene Palmer allegedly did to Tammy Palmer "might have been barbaric," Clarence Palmer said, "but he was a grandfather, a father, a working man, a good friend to me . . . He still is. He was a good-hearted person. He gave her and his son a place to live for 17 years and never asked for a dime."
The case has brought a lot of sadness into his own home during holiday season, said the second of Eugene Palmer's three sons.
"It's hard to go to bed at night nice and warm, not knowing where your father is," Clarence Palmer said. "It hits hard."
SON NOT GIVING UP
Clarence Palmer, who owns a carpentry business, said he continues to search Harriman State Park for his father.
"I searched every day, every weekend for six weeks after it happened," he said. "But I had bills to pay, so I had to return to work to provide for my family."
Clarence Palmer said he now searches the park on weekends with the help of an outside search contractor he brought in after police called off their teams.
He declined to state specifically where, citing the desire to avoid media coverage. He said the combined efforts of police searches and his own contractor's efforts have covered almost a quarter of the park's 46,000 acres. Though clues are scarce, he said he's hopeful he'll find his father.
"I've gridded 11,000 acres and I'll grid every single one of them until I find him," he said.