STONEHAM — Acting on recent tips, police with search dogs scoured the Middlesex Fells in Stoneham on Saturday for the remains of a Woburn High School freshman last seen at a party in the woods in 1989.
Family members of Melanie Melanson, who would have turned 38 this year, served hamburgers and cold drinks to the search volunteers and expressed hope they might soon find closure.
“She didn’t even have a respectful burial,” said Mary Ann Masciulli, an aunt of Melanson’s who lives in Woburn. “She deserves that.”
Police dogs identified an area of interest, which a private investigator plans to revisit next month. The dogs did not, however, signal that they had zeroed in on human remains, as three did last November at a site in Woburn.
Tipsters have suggested that Melanson’s body may have been moved from the Woburn site to the Fells in Stoneham, private detective Michael Garrigan said.
Garrigan, a friend of Melanson’s family, stood near the parking lot staging area Saturday as teams combed an area of about 150 acres.
“I won’t stop until I die or we find her,” Garrigan said.
Melanson was last seen by friends at a party in woods in Woburn on Oct. 27, 1989.
Police did not charge anyone in connection with her death and the case largely went cold for two decades, Garrigan said.
But after a long period in which Garrigan received about two or three tips a year, information began picking up late last year, he said.
“At about a 20-year mark, people who have been holding something inside say, ‘I can’t do this anymore,” Garrigan said.
On Aug. 17, an excavation team will dig in Woburn at the site where dogs alerted investigators to possible human remains last fall.
The same day canine teams will also return to Stoneham to explore the site where dogs showed interest Saturday, said Alan Tate, founder of Mission for the Missing, which is funding the August dig.
“We want so badly to find Melanie,” Tate said. “We see the grief the family is going through.”
In the staging area on Saturday, two large maps of the Fells were taped to a large vehicle belonging to the six-team search delegation from Connecticut.
Two canine teams and a unit from Maine also participated in the search.
Standing nearby with other family members, Karen Montgomery, another aunt of Melanson, said she hoped the family’s long search for answers would soon reach a conclusion.
“We just want closure,” Montgomery said. “We just want to bring her home.”
Aunts and uncles say Melanson, whose parents have died, was an adoring sister with a radiant smile. Time has not eased the family’s pain, said aunt Ruth “Punckin” Townsend.
“We’ve been asked, ‘After 23 years, why are you still looking?’ ” Townsend said.
She paused, shaking her head.
“It’s the worst thing someone could ask,” she said.
Adam Sege can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamSege.