Details of Disappearance
Derrick was looking for a Christmas tree in the Rocky Point area of Winema National Forest in Klamath County, Oregon on December 5, 1998. He wandered away from his father and grandfather during the day and apparently became lost.
Derrick has never been seen again. Extensive air and ground searches yielded few clues as to his whereabouts. A blizzard hit the area the evening he was reported missing, hampered search efforts and obliterated any tracks that might have been there.
Volunteers discovered a candy wrapper and a Bonanza School bookmark near Rocky Point several days after Derrick disappeared. Blood of an unknown origin was also located at the scene. It is not known if the materials were connected to Derrick's case, but he had been enrolled at the school in 1998.
A crude shelter made of fir boughs under several fallen logs are located on the mountain, but tracker dogs at the site did not seem to detect Derrick's scent. In the days following his disappearance the temperature dipped below zero and there was a great deal of snow and wind; police are of the opinion that Derrick could not have survived long on the mountain. They speculated he succumbed to the elements.
Authorities investigated Derrick's case as a possible abduction shortly after he disappeared. An unidentified adult male was driving a black Honda in the Rocky Point area on December 5. A photo of a vehicle similar to the man's car is posted with this case summary. The individual reportedly asked for directions while in the forest.
A witness allegedly saw an unidentified individual struggling with a young boy near the area later in the day. The witness did not stop because he assumed the man was the boy's father. Investigators do not know if the incident is related to Derrick's case. His father and grandfather have both taken polygraphs and are not considered suspects.
In 1999, police discovered graffiti scrawled on the wall of a public restroom that they thought might have a connection to Derrick's disappearance. They never released the wording of the graffiti, but a portion of the wall was removed and sent to a state laboratory for analysis. Investigators eventually concluded that the writing was a cruel joke.
In 2004, investigators announced that convicted child rapist Frank J. Milligan is the prime suspect in Derrick's disappearance. Milligan, a former aide in a children's psychiatric ward, is serving a sixty-year prison sentence for kidnapping a ten-year-old boy in 2000, raping him, and slashing his throat. The child survived the attack. Milligan also was convicted of sexually abusing an eleven-year-old boy.
Authorities theorize that Derrick made it to the roadside on the day of his disappearance and was picked up by Milligan. An inmate of Milligan's told police and Derrick's family that he bragged about killing the missing boy while in prison.
When authorities confronted him, Milligan confessed to killing the child. He said he would plead guilty to the murder if he was spared the death penalty. He offered to lead investigators to his body, but a search turned up nothing and Milligan later recanted his confession. He has not been charged in connection with Derrick's case but is still considered a strong suspect.
Derrick carried a small hatchet at the time of his disappearance. His father says he is accustomed to mountain terrain and routinely walked distances up to twenty miles through the southern Oregon countryside. Derrick enjoyed reading R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books series at the time he went missing. His case is unsolved.