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Seen At 11: Finally, A Break In A Quarter Century-Old Upstate N.Y. Cold Case?

ELLENVILLE, N.Y. (CBS 2) – Twenty five years after a local teenager disappeared, a woman has come forward claiming she knows what happened to him.

Her chilling story is bringing new attention to the case of Joe Helt, a young man who vanished one night.

CBS 2's Lou Young recently spoke exclusively to the woman giving police a break in the cold case.

"It's sad. They murdered him," witness Shari Schwartz said.

After 25 years, Schwartz said she can't forget the high school classmate who vanished on the mountain near Ellenville in January 1987. Helt is listed as a missing person, but Schwartz said he was really murdered in a fight over marijuana. She claims two of the last people to see Helt alive essentially confessed to her at the high school shortly after he vanished.

"He said 'Joe's not coming back. Joe's dead,' and (the other person) told him to shut the (expletive) up, grabbed him and pulled him out of the room. He said it to my face," Schwartz told CBS 2's Young.

At the time, Schwartz was 17 years old. She said she told the principal and presumed leads were being followed.

Helt was last seen at the site of an abandoned ski lodge, which has since burned down. Witnesses told police he argued with three other young men, including the two who allegedly spoke with Schwartz, before driving off with them into a snowstorm. They told police he left on foot when the car got stuck. A six-day search turned up nothing.

"No one talked about him. It was like, 'Joe disappeared, let's move on,'" classmate Gina Schuster said.

Former classmates recently set up a Facebook page dedicated to finding out what really happened to their friend.

"The reality is something happened to him. He's the only one that didn't come back," Jackie Manella said.

"He was not mentioned in our yearbook at all. We were doing the reunion and we scrapped it because Joe needed our attention," Schuster added.

Schwartz, who now lives out of state, said she saw the Facebook page and couldn't believe a homicide investigation had never even been opened. She contacted police a few weeks ago and gave a formal statement.

"I don' think they believe me," Schwartz said, adding when asked if she would take a lie detector test, "Absolutely, I welcome it. I would never give a family false hope. That would make me as bad as those three boys that murdered him, 'cause that's what they did."

State police though remain unimpressed. They said whatever happened up on that mountain in Ellenville remains a missing persons case, not a homicide. One detective told Young, "We don't have a body, we don't have a crime."

Private investigators working with the family said the case deserves a new look at possible suspects. Bob Rahn is a former NYPD homicide detective.

"It's the first bit of credible information that we have received or anybody has received about this case since Joe went missing," Rahn said.

Helt's mother died never knowing what happened to her son. His aunt said she believes the silence has gone on too long.

"My feeling is somebody knows what happened to my nephew. Someone knows where he ended up that night," Beth Churchill said.

Was it murder, an accident or something else? State police insisted they have no reason to classify Helt as anything but a missing person.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below ...

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