Norwegian rescuers search for Marvin Judy

Rescue workers comb the countryside around Rosendal, Norway, in September 2017 for signs of Marvin "Mark" Lee Judy, a Charleston businessman who disappeared while vacationing there a month earlier. The massive search failed to locate Judy. Håvard Røyrvik/Haugesunds Avis/Provided 

On a breezy August morning, Marvin Lee Judy Jr. checked out of his hotel along a glistening fjord at the foot of the Rosendal Alps, a towering range of mountains in western Norway.

The Charleston businessman, ever the curious and independent soul, had traveled alone to explore this remote corner that’s home to the vast Folgefonna glacier. He planned to spend the last day of his vacation hiking. He told locals he was particularly interested in seeing some cascading waterfalls.

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Rosendal, Norway

Then, he vanished.

More than a year later, Judy’s whereabouts remain a mystery. Norwegian authorities have scoured the rugged Scandinavian countryside but have found no trace of the 58-year-old entrepreneur, other than the rental car he left behind with his luggage and passport in the trunk.

“We couldn’t find anything,” Kvinnherad Sheriff Sigurd Børve said of the extensive search. “We don’t know anything for sure, but we think something happened to him.”

The lack of answers has been difficult for Judy’s family and friends, not knowing if he is alive or dead.

In August, his family held a remembrance service in Charleston around the first anniversary of his disappearance, noting on the Facebook invitation: “We may never know what happened, but we feel it is time to celebrate his life.”

His son Lee Judy told The Post and Courier that his family didn’t feel comfortable discussing the case for this article due to the uncertainty still surrounding his father’s fate.

Marvin Judy, who went by Mark, was known as a clever, charming and outgoing man who could hold forth on many topics and display great passion about exploring new pursuits that caught his fancy. He followed his own compass in life, friends said. And some wouldn’t bet against him reappearing at some point, full of tales of adventure trekking across northern Europe.

“Mark was a character,” said Jim Haley, who used to play cards with Judy and others from their neighborhood. “If he found something that interested him, he would go after it and pursue it.”

But as the months drag on with no word from Judy, hopes for his return dim with each passing day

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Marvin Lee "Mark" Judy

Marvin "Mark" Lee Judy of Charleston, seen in this undated photo, mysteriously disappeared while on vacation in the Rosdenal area of Norway in August 2017. Provided 

A curious, clever man

Judy, the son of a longtime Charleston funeral director, had deep roots in the community. The 1983 Citadel graduate owned several homes in West Ashley and various businesses, including a company that produced Honeyspark Blueberry Juice, a gourmet beverage he concocted from South Carolina-grown berries.

A 2015 article in The Post and Courier quoted Judy as saying he had discovered the “super fruit” qualities of the blueberry after working in the health and science fields. Others who knew him said he had a background in finance, as well.

Noel Richardson, who rented a home from Judy in the Huntington Woods neighborhood, said he was highly intelligent man who loved to talk and seemed to know a lot about everything. He reportedly spoke several languages and showed an uncanny ability to fix things, she said. One demonstration of his skills came the last time she saw him, when Judy made a July 2017 visit to her home to repair the motor on her air conditioner.

During that visit, Judy, as he often did, spoke openly about his Christian faith, and he mentioned that he was going on a trip to Norway to visit a tiny village populated by just 750 people. He said something about wanting “to talk to people in the mountains about Jesus,” but she was preoccupied with a chicken dish burning in the oven and didn’t catch the whole gist of his talk, Richardson said.

“It seemed to me he had been planning this for a bit,” she said. “Looking back on it now, I would love to be hypnotized and remember everything he had to say that day.”

Judy left for his trip, with planned stops in Iceland and Norway, on Aug. 18, 2017, according a Charleston police report. He was due back on Aug. 28 but never showed. His ex-wife and son filed a missing person report in late September 2017 after he failed to return home or contact anyone, police said.

His family explained that Judy didn’t own a cell phone and usually went off the grid when he traveled. He often traveled alone and ventured to different locations, but he always came back. This time around, he was both excited to travel and return home for some planned events, his family told police.

Judy’s family also contacted the U.S. Embassy in Norway and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s office, whose staff proved crucial in getting information and securing the FBI’s involvement in the disappearance, according to a statement the family shared at his service.

Scott's office and the FBI declined to comment on the case for this story. 

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Search for Marvin Lee Judy

Rescue workers search for countryside around Rosendal, Norway, for Marvin "Mark" Lee Judy of Charleston after his disappearance in August 2017. Håvard Røyrvik/Haugesunds Avis/Provided 

Massive, futile search

Norwegian police combed the countryside with the aid of the nation’s military and volunteers, using drones, dogs and divers. Judy’s rental car turned up in the lot of the hotel where he was staying, Rosendal Fjordhotel. No other trace of him was found.

Haugesunds Avis, a daily newspaper in the region, reported that Judy had talked with several people after checking out of his hotel on the morning of Aug. 26. From all indications, he was planning to go hiking before making the 2½-hour drive to Bergen to fly home the next day, Norwegian media outlets reported.

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Marvin Judy's abandoned rental car

Investigators found a car rented by Marvin "Mark" Lee Judy for his Norway trip in the parking lot of his hotel after his disappearance in August 2017. Håvard Røyrvik/Haugesunds Avis/Provided 

Judy’s sister, Juleanne Judy Bryan of Sullivans Island, and his son Lee ultimately traveled to Rosendal to meet with authorities and retrieve his belongings. They stayed at the same hotel where he had vacationed.

In a brief interview with a local television outlet, they explained that Judy was a strong outdoorsman and a friendly soul who likely would have talked to anyone he encountered the day he disappeared.

“I had hoped and thought that perhaps he was living on the mountainside, but … I don’t know that that’s too likely,” his sister told an interviewer.

“You can’t write him off until there is solid evidence that he didn’t make it,” his son added.

Judy’s neighbors agree, Richardson said, adding one neighbor strongly suspects Judy is in the Norwegian countryside somewhere, ministering and spreading the gospel to Syrian refugees who have settled there.

Børve, the local sheriff, is not sure there will ever be a clear answer in the case, but he doesn't put much stock in theories about Judy roaming the land undetected. His best theory is that Judy slipped on a steep, slick climb and tumbled into a fast-running river swollen from recent storms in the area.

“Our main theory is that he was walking along by a waterfall and he dropped into the river and was carried out to sea,” he said. “We don’t think he has gone to other places. There is no trace of that.”

Judy’s family confirmed that in their note to friends, indicating his bank accounts have gone untouched and he has made no attempt to contact anyone. He sent a shopping purchase from Norway home before he disappeared, and he had looked forward to returning and becoming a grandfather — further evidence he intended to come back to Charleston, they said.

“We may never know what happened, but we do feel he had every indication of coming home,” the statement read.

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Rescuers search for Marvin Lee Judy

Rescue workers search for countryside around Rosendal, Norway, for Marvin "Mark" Lee Judy of Charleston after his disappearance in August 2017. Håvard Røyrvik/Haugesunds Avis/Provided 

Reach Glenn Smith at 843-937-5556. Follow him on Twitter @glennsmith5.