Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery

"Duncan was a great guy and the thoughts of his former teammates will always be with him and his family."

 -Wendel Clark, former Saskatoon Blade and later captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs


When his mother Lynda contacted me in the summer of 2009 and asked me to write a book about her son, the first thing I did was read his Wikipedia entry, which gives an accurate snapshot of his resume as a pro hockey player. Chris Jones of Esquire magazine wrote a lyrical piece about his life as a sportsman. Eric Adelson of ESPN also wrote a touching tribute.  As Adelson noted, Duncan was a fan favorite while playing for his home town team, the Saskatoon Blades, which recently announced Cold a Long Time by playing this video on the arena monitor.


Neither of these reporters went into the suspicious circumstances of Duncan's death. Lynda was deeply moved by what they had written about her son, but she was looking for writer who could help her and her husband Bob in their ongoing search for answers. She began by contacting a Viennese reporter named Florian Skrabal, who is to be commended as the sole Austrian journalist to have covered the case.  His piece in Datum magazine carefully documents the suspicious circumstances of Duncan's death, as well as the highly questionable way in which the Innsbruck authorities had handled it. Ultimately Lynda concluded that nothing short of a book could present the entire story, in all of its strange complexity. As I settled into the project, I quickly realized that she was right.

At first, my primary interest was in solving the mystery of Duncan's death, but as time passed, I found myself longing to know more about him as he'd been in life. His parents found it difficult to talk about him, as they hadn't entirely come to terms with his death. The mystery and their sense of dread about it had in some way hindered them from going through the normal stages of grief. Duncan's friends told me that his sponteneous, devil-may-care style made him irresistibly likable, and they unanimously described him as brave. Even the biggest and baddest of goons understood that "MacFearsome," as he was known, could not be intimidated.

But what was Duncan like as a vital presence? One night I had the wistful realization that, for all of the hours I'd spent looking at images of his corpse, searching for clues about the cause of his death, I knew precious little about how he'd been as a living, breathing young man. To try to get a sense of it, I frequently watched a video of the last TV interview he gave, just before his departure to Germany in the summer of 1989. A month later he would vanish without a trace in Europe.