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Body of missing woman found in Pine Barrens preserve, police say

Jean Taber, of Riverhead, is shown in an

Jean Taber, of Riverhead, is shown in an undated photo. Taber, who is 82 and has dementia, was last seen Thursday, April 3, 2014, walking her red and white cocker spaniel, authorities said. Credit: News 12

An elderly East End woman with mild dementia, who was last seen walking her dog on Thursday, was found dead Sunday afternoon in a heavily wooded area of the pine barrens, state police said.

The body of Jean Taber, 82, of Riverhead, was found about 3:40 p.m. "in the rugged terrain" of the David A. Sarnoff Pine Barrens Preserve, state police said in a news release.

Taber's red and white cocker spaniel, Freckles, was sitting by her side. The dog was taken to a veterinarian for examination, said State Trooper Stephen Campo.

State police, local fire and police departments, and others had conducted air and ground searches to find Taber, who was last seen around 4 p.m. Thursday, said State Trooper Tammy Mickoliger.

A security camera at the mobile home park where she lived showed Taber leaving on foot with her dog, said her daughter, Susan Duffin of Cutchogue. She was not carrying a purse or wearing a coat.

The preserve where Taber was found is "several miles" from her home, Mickoliger said. It features hiking and horse-riding trails, and is popular among seasonal hunters.

Going into the park south of her home was an unusual route for Taber, Duffin said. Two men told troopers that they had seen Taber in that area, had spoken with her briefly and petted the dog, Duffin said.

In addition to mild dementia, Taber had bipolar disorder, for which she took medication, Duffin said. She had not been taking the medication since she went missing, which had left her family concerned that the lack of treatment might have affected Taber's decision-making abilities.

Duffin described her mother as outgoing and social. She said Taber often carried candy in her pockets that she would give to people she encountered during her walks.

"They called her the candy lady here," Duffin said.

An aide visited Taber twice a week to help with her medications and housekeeping, and she was frequently visited and called by family, Duffin said.

State police said in the news release the family wanted "to thank all of the agencies and volunteers for their efforts."

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