UPDATE: We have made some corrections and clarifications to the content of this story as provided by Jill Turanski.

 

This was a first for me.  Going into the home of Geoff Partridge, the local Villanova, PA, man who has been missing since December 5, 2018. 

My goal is to find out about Partridge and what happened on the day that he went missing more than a month ago.

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Jill Turanski, Partridge’s longtime fiancee, has been hit hard by this tragic event. It’s visible on her face the moment we meet. And I’m torn. I want to help her tell her story to get as many people in the community informed and ready to help keep the search for Geoff alive. But I also don’t want to add to the burden and pain she is now carrying.

So many questions are swirling around:

  • How and why does a man drive his car into a river?
  • Why are there no signs of him in or out of the water?  
  • What happened before the car was found and he went missing?

 

The story behind the story.   

Partridge and Turanski have been together for 15 years.  They met while attending Goucher college — a private liberal arts institution in Towson, MD. Turanski was majoring in classical dance studies and Partridge in Studio Art.  

They both took the same pottery class called Intro To Clay.

From there, things grew organically between them as the relationship flourished. They lived in Center City Philadelphia, while she attended Drexel for her Graduate degree in “Creative Arts in Therapy.”  They shared an apartment in Philly.

At one point ten years ago they got engaged to be married.  Today they still are engaged and the night before Partridge went missing they were discussing having children.   

They wanted kids.

After getting engaged they started having logistical and other problems that many couples have when setting the date and deciding the venue, the guest list, and all the other wedding planning details that such an event includes.  

The stress wasn’t worth it and as time sped on the couple never set an official date. The relationship remained solid and as I meet Turanski to do this interview I note she still wears her engagement ring.

“We would have gotten around to it,” said Turanski of the wedding.  

With bloodshot teary eyes, she sat on her couch clutching a throw pillow as if it were a life preserver and was surrounded by her two dogs one a red nose pit named Rufus and the other a blue-nosed Staffordshire terrier named Ella.  Both were as friendly as can be but clearly, they were there to protect their owner.

Partridge and Turanski share a rented cottage on the grounds of the Appleford Estate.  It took about 45 seconds for me to drive over the winding road along the acreage and find my way to the Cottage. 

Appleford is owned by the citizens of  Lower Merion Township. It sits on 24 Acres and the country estate and land are all part of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit owned by the citizens of Lower Merion Township.  Sometimes people attending weddings and parties pull into Turanski’s driveway or park at the carriage house. Sometimes people are curious to see what the garden of paradise holds and who could live there.

After I arrived I was met by Mark Hopkins from the Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue unit.  Hopkins helped arrange the interview with Turanski and has been in contact with her throughout his team’s investigation. Wanting to help find Geoff, Hopkins uses his experience with missing person cases, including many in the area, to act as an intermediary with the police.  

Turanski has a visible bond of trust with Hopkins.  

He is like an old family friend or maybe that wise older neighbor.  He sat with us during the interview and rarely spoke.

I told her how beautiful the property is.  She agreed and started to open up about the allure such a picturesque setting has for her. She told me of long walks that she takes a few times a day with her dogs.  Since Partridge went missing these long meandering walks give her time to reflect. Often the peace and quiet of the greenery give her a chance to handle the emotions she’s feeling head-on. She says that she is in utter disbelief that Geoff is not with her. When those feelings well up she just cries and cries.  

At that point, she laughed said that if she had neighbors she "would be called the wailing walking lady."    

Carefully, I started asking this young woman further questions about this painful day.  The first is the most likely the same for any journalist: “How are you holding up?”  

The answer is raw emotion:  “I am stuck at December 5th,” she said.  “Every day is December 5th. I am just waiting for Geoff to come back to me.”

Then we get into the details of that day.

 

Jill’s story.

Turanski appeared stoic and she provided heartfelt answers to my questions.  Rufus, their one-year-old pit bull paced back and forth in front of her. Ella, her blue-nosed  6-year-old Staffordshire terrier sat guard right next to her. She appeared to gain strength from these two loving creatures.

Partridge woke first that day.  He ran errands; the pharmacy, the bank, and the store.  Nothing was unusual or off-kilter. The morning was routine and normal. Turanski worked at her desk while he ran the routine errands.  It all changed around 12:15 PM.

Partridge was last seen on December 5th at 12:15 PM when he took Jill's 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo to Bridgeport, PA to visit a local vape shop.  

He went to Bridgeport for a special blend of juice - that they made on site called Golden Graham flavor.  This trip was part of his routine, she said, as he usually went there two times per week but sometimes more.

Turanski vividly remembers how the last conversation went. That day as he left, they said goodbye the way you do when your significant other is leaving to run an errand.  “Bye,” they said.

Turanski then said "I love you. You're the best."

Partridge replied, "I love you."

And she hasn't seen him since.

Another mundane detail surfaces, wrapped in powerful emotion. Excited that she found a lost pen that she treasured, she texted Partridge at 12:40 PM. The text message to Partridge said simply “I found the pen.”  

Uncharacteristically Partridge didn't reply to the message.  At the time she didn't really think about it. He had only been gone about 20 minutes. And while it was uncharacteristic to not get a reply, it was also a very run-of-the-mill text.

She then switches her memories onto the vehicle that authorities would find sticking up out of the Schuylkill River that afternoon.

“He would never take my car and damage it knowing that it would strand me here,”  Turanski said. The statement is so effortless and matter-of-fact, like a lot of the details of that day. It highlights how sincere she is when recounting the details for me that she likely told police multiple times. And it adds to the eeriness of Geoff’s situation, where he seemingly vanished without a trace from ice cold but very shallow rushing river water in the middle of broad daylight.

The car is extremely important to Turanski. With their cottage being tucked away into a verdant environ purposely off the beaten path, she needs reliable transportation to get to work. She works in Radnor with emotionally damaged kids that are in a Residential Treatment Facility.  

At this facility, she specifically works with sexually abused girls ages 13-18.  She is a professionally trained dancer and they use dance as a means to treat these young girls.  

On December 5, at 2:30 PM, is when the first of many visits and conversations with the Lower Merion Police took place.  

Two LMPD radio Patrol cars arrived in her driveway, the officers knocked on the door and asked Turanski if they may come in.  Turanski fearing the worst allowed the officers in. They warily entered the home letting their training take over as they looked about.  Then they conveyed to Turanski that her car has been found in the Schuylkill River.

They wanted to know who may have been driving it.  

At this point the fear gripped her hard, she said. She felt like she was going to be ill and pass out.  

Turanksi told the officers about Partridge having the car, but she suspected that they may have already known.  With Turanksi’s permission, the officer's looked through the home while asking further questions.

“Is there anyone else here,” one asked.  Turanski tells them no one is there except for Rufus and Ella her two dogs that she rescued and who now will help rescue her.

The uniformed officers’ questions shifted toward Partridge.  

Where did he go?  What was his state of mind? Did they have a fight?

She explained that he left to run errands and he was fine, and no they didn’t have any fight or disagreement.  The officers eventually left and settled into their cars in the large parking area outside of the cottage which is attached to a 4 bay garage.

At roughly 3:30 PM a detective from the LMPD showed up.  He wanted to start the missing person paperwork. He has her clear an area off at her desk.

On autopilot, she does what he asks. “Can this really be happening,” she said she asked herself.

She cleared off the area so the detective can sit and write and together they started the process of filling out the “paperwork.”

Much of those details found in the paperwork have been reported already. But I swing back to the car because of both the role it plays in the search and how important it is to Turanski’s daily routine and responsibilities.

The car had been in custody since that day but was finally processed and released to her this past week. 

The silver 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4X4 has been impounded for investigation by the LMPD.  Without that car, she has no vehicle to use for day-to-day living. She is stranded except for the help of friends and family.

According to police the seats of the vehicle were not even wet when they arrived on the scene.  

The driver's door was open, windows were down, the vehicle’s ignition was on, and the car’s gear shift was in drive.  Partridge’s cellphone was in the car.

The police have reported that the investigation suggests the vehicle hurtled off the bank of the river into the fast-moving, cold and murky water.  Speed caused the vehicle’s front to careen into the bed of the silty river. The grill of the Jeep is still embedded into the silt — almost as if it remained behind as a marker of where the car went into the water.

Tire tracks marked the spot where the car left the road and they lead in a straight line stopping at the water's edge.  

The vehicle did not zig or zag, there were no skid marks in the grassy wet soil of the Flat Rock Park.  Tire tracks lead thru the park right to the Schuylkill, the car had zeroed in on the water.

If the driver escaped, there were no signs of him returning to the water's edge.  

These tracks have investigators asking themselves the same questions anyone would when seeing them that way. Just standing at the river's edge or leaving the water would have left some indication that a human was there.

Were there footprints?  No.

Was there any disturbed grass?  None.

There were no indications that anyone escaped the chilling, fast flowing waters.

 

The investigation so far.

On December 16, Det-Sgt. Vice said“I am confident that we have left no stone unturned in the investigation. We have searched the water above the vehicle’s entry point downriver to the Flat Rock Dam." This was 11 days after Partridge was first reported missing and is a reflection of the effort local authorities have put forth to find Partridge.

"The investigation will stay active until such time as the victim is recovered,” Vice added that day to underscore how committed the police were to this investigation. Often missing person cases get a lot of attention in the beginning but as time goes on they can struggle to stay at the top of the list. New crimes occur and more investigations spread the force thin in a variety of directions.

But in Partridge’s case, the investigation has really been bolstered by the actions of local residents that banded together to search the river by boat each day, the Lower Merion Police and Vice who is leading the investigation and all of the specialist teams that have been on and around the river — including the Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue team, the Gladwyne Fire Company Special Services Unit, and the Telford Diving Unit in Montgomery County with assistance from the Phoenixville Underwater Search Rescue & Recovery.

The police received a call at 1:47 PM on December 5 reporting that a car was half submerged in the Schuylkill River at Flat Rock Park in Gladwyne.  

The police alerted the Gladwyne Fire Company water rescue team and both responded, heading out to the scene.  There they found the Jeep was impaled in the river’s muddy bottom. There was no driver or passengers in sight, the 2009 Jeep Cherokee sat at an eerie thirty to 45-degree angle.  

The driver's door was opened as if someone had gotten out. The car was in drive, the keys in the ignition which was in the on position and the battery were still working when the first responders arrived.

When rescuers got to the car they put it in park and turned off the ignition. No one was in sight at the river's edge.

Naturally, the question arises: Did someone survive the crash and exit the vehicle?

Mark Hopkins, Chief of the Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue team surmised that yes, in those circumstances someone could easily have survived.

GPSAR was called in to consult on the missing person case.  After learning the particulars of the case Hopkins consulted with the investigative unit of the Lower Merion Police, where Det-Sgt. Mike Vice was in charge of the investigators.  

A plan was devised to search areas of the river where a body could be underwater and hung up on some unseen tentacle of tree branches.  Cadaver dogs would be brought in with the searchers from the GPSAR team. An aerial drone would be employed to best determine the search areas on the fast-moving waterway.

The strong flow of the water and the under forty-degree temperatures made room for one possibility; that a body could stay submerged and out of site.  

That prompted the investigators to focus on the question: Was Geoff Partridge still in the river?  

If he was there and not found, investigators said he may stay submerged until spring when conditions in the river change and the water temperatures rise.

A working theory of the investigation was hatched that first week. This theory suggests that Partridge may have exited the vehicle under his own power.  Once he stepped foot into the river’s swift current he lost his footing and was swept under the partially submerged vehicle. He may have been dazed from the crash.  

If that happened he may have been stuck under the vehicle or swept downstream.  

Either way, investigators believed that divers would need to be called in to look under the surface for any clues.

Turanski said she is open to the investigation’s theory, but like anyone who looks at all of those variables and still holds out positivity and hope, she had questions too. She wondered why the police didn't look for surveillance footage leading up to the park where the vehicle veered from the highway and headed straight into the frigid fast moving Schuylkill River. She wondered why the police didn't search the railroad tracks and areas near the park.  

According to authorities tied to the case, there were no cameras on River Road that would have captured the disturbing event and there were no signs that anyone exited the river at any area.

The river's banks and the park even show signs of small animal tracks since the ground is so full of moisture from this year's exceptional rains. But investigators found no clues of human tracks.

“It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” stated an officer tied to the case, in regards to finding footprints up and down the bank. 

It was day five of the search for Geoff Partridge, missing since December 5, 2018, and the dock at the Flat Rock Park was extremely busy for this time of year.

On the river, the investigators felt they had their best chance of finding clues. The cadaver dogs and searchers assembled at the water's edge on December 10. The Greater Philadelphia Search and Rescue Unit deployed with a small armada of rubber boats, 15 humans and 3 cadaver dogs. The Gladwyne Fire Company Water Rescue Unit was also there with two watercraft.

This flotilla of six small rescue crafts loaded with manpower and equipment were slated to search quadrants of the Schuylkill River.  Det-Sgt. Mike Vice of the LMPD oversaw the operation.

The goal that day was to bring the full force of the specialists assembled to see if Partridge was entangled below the water.  

A drone from the GPSAR team was piloted overhead and assisted the police and rescue teams.  The drone’s powerful optical system assisted authorities in mapping out locations where it was possible a man’s body was trapped under water.  

One boat equipped with a powerful sonar sensor, the cadaver dog named Flash, trained to locate bodies underwater.  The team’s searched upstream, above where the car went into the ice cold water which was approximately fifty yards above the dock.

“This little dog, Flash is one of the best but the handler is as an equal part of the picture," said Hopkins.  "Flash can find bodies if they are there nearby. We have had him all over the tri-state area finding people.”

Holly Morrison, Partridge's mother, stood vigilant on the shore that day watching the work of the searchers.  She kept to herself and occasionally spoke with Det-Sgt Vice. She looked lost at times, just standing, watching and hoping.  

Christmas was two weeks away at this point.

During the water search, Flash made a signal — he changed behaviors three times.  The dog never sat, which Hopkins explained was the signal to indicate a human body. But Flash did make the behavior change and the team logged those actions.

Hopkins added context to the difference between what the team saw from Flash that day and what would be an indication that a human body was noticed. “The cadaver dogs have a unique sense that allows them to find humans when they are concealed, even when they are underwater,” said Chief Hopkins of GPSAR. Hopkins commands the elite Philadelphia Search and Rescue team.   When they change behavior and they sit that is a real indication that a human was found.

The areas where the behavior changes were noted, were recorded for further investigation. And one area showed promise as the dog's behavior changes were more noticeable.   

The drone was reactivated and dispatched to further investigate the areas of the dog’s interest.  

As the drone maneuvered thru the low hanging branches and trees using its camera to scour the water, the drone was entangled in the trees and crashed.  It was recovered but the damage was unrepairable, so it would never fly again.

After 5 hours on the water, the teams started to pack it in.  It was a cold and dreary December day and everyone was glad to get warmed up. The authorities and investigators would huddle up and plan for another day.  Nobody was giving up hope that Partridge would be found.

Det-Sgt Vice and Chief Hopkins spoke many times.  After the conclusion of the December 10 water search, they conferred about next steps. They discussed the areas where the dogs showed changes of behavior on the water.  They zeroed in on the search quadrants using the images provided by the drone.

At about 7:40 AM on December 16 divers from Montgomery and Chester County made their way to the Flat Rock Park.  Ten days had passed since Partridge went missing.

This day Holly Morrison watched from the embankment near the flat rock dam project.   

To reach the water's edge from this vantage point the searchers and the underwater dive teams had to fashion a safety rope from the top of the hill to the water's edge.  Designed to act as a railing and support system, the authorities hung onto the rope to get to the command post area which was housed under a blue tarp-like tent.

The area was overgrown with vegetation, and low hanging trees.  The ground was extremely moist and the rocks were covered with moss. Just walking without falling was a task in itself.

The Telford Diving Unit in Montgomery County was assisted by the Phoenixville Underwater Search Rescue & Recovery.  

The divers were called in to search underwater for Partridge. These highly trained recovery experts knew that this portion of the river presented challenges.  

The biggest challenge was for the divers and their teams to stay alert and not get hurt.  In parts of their search, they would encounter underwater obstacles that could catch their suits or diving equipment.  Submerged tree limbs present an enormous hidden hazard. The branches can act like fingers grabbing at the diver's equipment causing them to be hung-up or trapped.

Between the two units, 29 people were deployed and 10 certified divers were on hand. The Phoenixville divers had approximately 120 pounds of underwater gear including the self-contained breathing apparatus.

A week earlier the Cadaver dogs assisting the search showed interest in some spots in the river.  These spots became the focus of the divers’ attention on the 16th. One promising area where Flash showed the most interest was near where the new command post was situated.

The water temperatures were between 34 and 38 degrees and on three separate occasions during the search perilous conditions were incurred,  when divers got “hung-up” in branches under the water.

Fortunately, all were extracted and able to continue their underwater search. 

The Phoenixville team did find something that at first seemed promising, but that turned out to be a decomposing deer carcass.  This very large deer was estimated to weigh well over 125 pounds. It may have been in the water for some time, investigators said, judging by its state of decay.  

This dead animal most likely was the cause of the cadaver dog changing its behavior on December 10, but not Alerting.

 

What’s next?  

Going over the details of the case, and reliving this terrible day takes its toll on her. Turanski’s eyes were bloodshot.  But she was composed and talkative.

When I asked why she is doing the interview she said: “I want to keep the case open in the eye of the public and with the police officials.”

She remains hopeful that Partridge will be found alive but she also understands the possibilities. Still, she is not prepared to give up.  She wonders hopelessly what happens if he is never found. But she comes back to the core of the question.

“I just want to know what happened and why.”

Turanski is not the only one in Lower Merion and Narberth keeping hope alive and waiting to hear any word from authorities on what happened to Geoff Partridge.

When asked to describe Partridge as a person she told me that he is protective and loyal to his family and friends and above all else, he sees beauty and possibility in almost all of his all endeavors.

In turn, Partridge has lots of friends and supporters in the area.  Some have written us here at TAPinto telling us to stop reporting and to leave the family alone while other friends have gone out of their way to help.

Jill hadn’t worked after Partridge went missing.  Her employer was unbelievably helpful to her.

“Come back when you are ready,” they said and she just returned to work this week.

She returned to work for her first shift this week.

"It was nice to be with my work family and to reconnect with the residents," she said. "I saw all the girls in small groups to let them know in general terms what was going on and that I wasn’t leaving them but needed to take care of myself and grieve, process and heal." 

"I got tackled with hugs and a lot of ‘I missed you’ and encouragement to take care of myself."

Support has come from so many in the community. Amrit Gluck, a longtime friend, went into action when Partridge went missing in early December. Gluck helped get the missing person posters printed and posted throughout the area, put together a postcard sent to MaryJo Daley, and organized a vigil for Partridge.

Gluck is a relentless advocate for Turanski. She even started a Go Fund Me campaign to help Turanski.  Turanski asked that the Go Fund Me project be taken down almost as fast as it went up. The link was removed and the project raised about $50, said Turanski.    

Megan O'Hagan started a Facebook campaign and fundraiser to get the word out.  That fundraiser raised about $2300.

When I asked Turanski what the money was for she told me she hadn't been working since this happened and that the money  "is to help me meet the rent and live.”

Goucher College, where they met, is a liberal arts institution.  Geoff is an artsy type of guy that paints and draws.

His artistic passion is evident in the home. The walls of the home were decorated with his work, mostly paintings.  Turanski described him as an accomplished artist who has dedicated his life to his craft.

Turanski also does art and is noted for wrapping crystal with wire.

The setting was warm, welcoming and cozy. The only thing missing was the other half of this fragile hurting woman.   

While this event has her vulnerable and in pain, she still has a core of strength and fortitude. Her strength, she said, is derived from her father and Geoff. Both of them, she said, have unique positivity.   

“He holds me accountable to keep a positive mindset,” she said of Geoff. “Even in the smallest, seemingly insignificant ways,” she added.  

She spoke of his Positive Mental Attitude, “PMA he called them.”  Geoff has taken medicine for years for Lyme disease and other conditions.  His PMA is what gets him through life, she said.

When asked about his state of mind that day as well the time before he went missing, Turanski said that he had been fine for a long time.  His medicines kept him going when suffering from the effects of Lyme disease she said. I asked if they fought and again she looked at me with no anger or emotion.

“No, we are happy together.”


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TAPinto will update the search for Geoff Partridge with more details of the open investigation to find the missing man when they are available. Sign Up for E-News and get the updates as they happen.

 

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