Gary Parker and his wife, Lorraine, are missing. The Ocean County couple was last reported headed into the woods of the N.J. Pine Barrens to ride their ATV.

Police in Stafford have cautioned deep hunters to be “extremely vigilant.” More than 100 trained searchers are looking through the thickly wooded area.

The authorities are not requesting help from volunteers. This is a grid search in the thickly wooded area near Routes 72 and 539, involving air support, drones, ATVs, and dogs. 

Gary Parker is 67. Lorraine is 60. They reside in Warren Grove, which is a small unincorporated community roughly 37 miles to the north of Atlantic City

The search began Tuesday. That is the day that the couple’s daughter, Lindsay Parker, says they went missing. “My parents quad was found along with my father’s shotgun that was attached to it,” Lindsay Parker wrote on her Facebook page. 

Capt. James Vaughan, of the Stafford Police, said that he is hopeful that even if the couple has spent a few nights in the elements, they could survive, because “they are both avid outdoors people.” 

The Stafford police on Wednesday turned the search over to its detectives and to the prosecutor’s office in Ocean County. Deputy District Attorney John Lewis has called the Pine Barrens a “notorious Mafia burial ground” largely for a practical reason. The surface doesn’t freeze. So even in the middle of the winter one can dig a hole there. 

A memorable episode of The Sopranos played on the reputation of the area. Regular characters Christopher Moltisanti and Paulie Walnuts tried to kill and bury a troublesome Russian there. But he escaped. Despite repeated rumors and reappearances in fan fiction, that character effectively disappeared there, never to be heard from again.

A Mysterious Region

Police in Stafford told deep hunters looking for Gary Parker and his wife to be “extremely vigilant.” Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

The area in which Gary Parker and Lorraine Parker may now be lost, with its 1.1 million acres of preserved woodlands — designated as such by Congress in 1978 — is a vast one. It stretches out into several counties.

The Pine Barrens is known as “one of the most haunted forests” on the North American continent. The ruins of deserted mill and mining settlements are dotted throughout, and ghosts are thought to come with such “ghost towns.”

The Lenni Lenape Indians inhabited the area when the first Europeans showed up in the 1690s.

The area produced much of the iron that was used by the infant United States in both the revolutionary war and the War of 1812.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, took up residence in the area after his family’s fortunes suffered their famous reversal in Europe. And it was Joseph Bonaparte who first reported seeing a supernatural creature, which came to be known as the “Jersey Devil,” in the Pine Barrens around 1820.

Beginning around 1840 it became customary to blame the Jersey Devil for livestock losses.

In January 1909 stories of the devil took a giant leap into the status of authentic folk legend. There were 30 different sightings in a one-week period. Some of them had the devil leaving his home state and showing up in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Newspaper articles spread panic throughout the region.

More recently the area has received attention for natural rather than for supernatural wildlife. Between 1978 and 1982 the state introduced 24 bobcats from Maine. It was initially classified as a game species, although in 1991 it was re-listed as an endangered species.

There have been reliable sightings of bobcats throughout the Pine Barrens, including sightings in Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, and Ocean Counties.

Just a year ago, a prosecutor in Los Angeles, Calif., argued that Robert Durst, real estate heir, had buried the body of his wife in the region. From devils to wild mammals and organized crime burials, the Pine Barrens region has always had a sense of mystery.