Each year, hundreds of people are reported missing in national parks and forests. Most are eventually found, but there's a smaller category of cases that are never solved, including a few close to home.
Most of those who have disappeared are children ages 20 months to 12 years and the elderly ages 74 to 85. Not one person carrying a firearm, and only one carrying a transponder device, has disappeared. Typically, a search is initiated and run for about ten days then dropped.
50% of the children who go missing are found dead, and the ones who are found are found miles away from where they disappeared, in areas seemingly impossible for them to get to on their own.
Yosemite National Park, with 40 to 45 cases, has the largest cluster of vanishings and oddly, in most areas where the disappearances have occurred, huckleberries are almost always in great abundance.
In all cases, the parents say that the child was right behind them when they disappeared.
The majority of children who have disappeared had dogs with them. In some cases, the dogs returned, but the children never did. Children found alive won’t talk about their experience or say they don’t remember what happened to them. They’re found usually running a low grade fever and appear traumatized. In all cases, the parents say that the child was right behind them when they disappeared. Usually, the children are wearing bright, colorful clothing when they disappear, and even if they are found miles away without the shoes they were wearing, their feet are not scratched or bruised.
Many of the areas that people have disappeared from carry such names as Devil’s Gulch, Devil’s Lookout, Twin Devil Lake and Devil’s Punch Bowl., perhaps named to reflect the evil people have sensed in these places over time.
95% of the cases, bad weather strangely follows a disappearance, washing out footprints and other clues and making it impossible to carry on a search until the weather clears.
98% to 99% of the cases, tracking dogs are unable to find a scent or simply refuse to track.
Almost 98% of the disappearances occur in the afternoon. Searchers have been known to cover an area over 100 times, only to later find the person, alive or dead in the same area they searched before.
A few cases follow:
In the Rocky Mountain National Park in 1938, a husband and wife hiked high into the park and sat down to rest. Looking up high above them on a cliff in an area called The Devil’s Nest, they spotted a small boy all alone. Thinking the foolish parents were nearby, the couple moved on and later drove home. As they arrived in the valley below where they had hiked they saw as many as 2500 people mulling about, but didn’t stop to ask what was going on. The next morning they saw a photo of the missing child in the newspaper, and recognizing him as the child they had seen, they drove back to the park to tell the searchers but the young boy was never found.
In April 1952, a two-year-old boy, named Keith Parkinsin in Ritter, Oregon, who vanished near Umatilla National Forest, was eventually found an astounding 12 miles away. He was found unconscious 19 hours later in a frozen creek bed. The journey, would require the toddler to venture over two mountain ranges, as well as fences, creeks, and rivers. This case, is just one of many where children disappear and are later found “several hundred percent” outside of the grid system carefully designed by search and rescue teams. Additionally, there are some rare cases where, after tracking dogs have led rescuers to a large river, search teams will explore the other side and “miles away, they find the kid.”
The FBI refused to give any information on the disappearance of another small two year old boy who disappeared in Yosemite in 1957. In that case, the boy simply vanished as he walked around the perimeter of his family’s camp site. Bloodhounds and hundreds of people searched for him. He apparently climbed 3000' straight up a mountain. He was found dehydrated and suffering from exposure with a tee shirt, no pants, one sock and no shoes.
One of the strangest finds by rangers was a missing man, Charles McCullar, who was found leaning against a log, his pants around his ankles. The only parts left of him were part of his tibia in his right pant leg and part of his skull and his scapula bones in one inch by one inch pieces.
On May 28, 1966, 6 year old Larry Jeffrey who was vacationing with his family, walked away from his brother near Mt. Charleston and never returned. The local authorities set out on a 5 day search made up of a few hundred men. There were no large animals in the area or car access. So if Larry wasn’t eaten by a predator or snatched by a kidnapper, then just what happened to the boy? That remains a mystery today as he was never found and with no solid explanation for his disappearance. It’s as if he simply vanished into thin air.
In a few cases, Green Berets have surprisingly shown up to join and/or take over searches. This happened in 1971 in Newcomb, New York when an 8 year old boy vanished while walking back to a lodge to change his clothes. His scent was lost in a swamp and he was never found.
Young girls also disappear in the national parks. In Yosemite in 1981, a 14 year-old girl, Stacy Arrass of Saratoga, was backpacking on horseback with her parents and a group of people up 9200' to Sunrise High Sierra Camp. When they stopped to rest, the girl asked if she could go with a 70 year old man on the trip 50' away to take some photos. The old man sat down on a log, and the girl went to the edge of an elevation to take a photo of a lake down below. She walked down the hill and never came back.
In another more recent Yosemite case, a young woman was found dead at the bottom of a high cliff from where it seemed she had been flung. It was determined that she had been raped after her fatal fall.
A 6 year-old boy who disappeared in 1969 in the Great Smokey Mountains. Two families with the last name of Martin happened upon each other, and their two sons began playing hide and seek in the nearby bushes. When the parents called the boys into camp and one didn’t return, the boy’s father went to find help. A rainstorm began as he ran down the hill. At the same time, further down the hill, another family with the last name of Key heard a sickening scream and looked up to see what they thought at first was a man hiding in the bushes. The boy’s father reached the valley and called the FBI to meet him at the park but the agent told him to meet them at another location, which made no sense. The Green Berets showed up again and took over the search completely. Meanwhile, Mr. Martin stayed in the park two months looking for his son, who was never found. the father, stated that when the Key family spotted the man in the bushes, he or it was carrying something on its shoulder, however none of this information the Key family proffered was included in the FBI report. Paulides was told during his investigation of this case that some “wild men” live in the park that the park service had not been able to control. Twelve other people have disappeared in the same area and the FBI agent monitoring those cases allegedly committed suicide. The phenomena is not limited to the U.S., either. In the Philippines, many people have disappeared, most never returning. When visitors go there they’re told that they must not wear colorful clothing into the jungle. The bright colors seem to attract whatever it is that takes the people. This clue is similar to the American children who have disappeared wearing bright clothing.
Casey Holiday went missing on October 14, 1990, about 10:00 a.m. near Alder Creek St., Maries, Idaho, at age 11. The boy was a developmentally disabled child living with an aunt 8 miles south of Maries and 20 miles south of Spokane, an identified cluster area. Casey was eventually found, 48 hours later and just one mile from his aunt's home, "babbling and seemed in a daze."
Thursday, May 27, 1999 Carl Landers, 69, who disappeared on Mount Shasta while hiking with friends. They were camping at a location called 50/50, a place on the mountain where climbers can stop and rest before reaching the summit. According to his friends Milt Gaines and Barry Gilmore, Carl had complained about not feeling well and decided to take a head start toward Lake Helen. They never caught up with him and never saw him again. Carl was described as a very experienced climber so it was unlikely that he fell. The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department immediately set out on a search with the National Guard covering the air using an infrared helicopter and the US rangers and volunteers covering the ground on foot and skis. No trace of Carl was found. Not even his equipment, backpack, or clothing.
The latest disappearance is of a 34 year-old California firefighter Mike Herdman, who vanished with his dog on Friday, June 13, 2014 in the Los Padres National Forest in California. He was camping with a friend when he ran off shoeless, chasing his dog downhill toward a stream. His friend searched for hours, then had to hike two days out of the wilderness to find help. The area being searched is two times the size of the Grand Canyon. On June 19, the firefighter’s dog was found alive. Herdman, was found dead June 27. Like others who have disappeared into the national forests, Herdman was found at approximately 1200' above the river bottom which he had chased his dog into the day he disappeared. When his remains were discovered authorities were astonished to find him shoeless. Rescue crews spent nearly 5,000 man-hours searching and covered 50 square miles on foot and horseback, as well as by air, including the use of two drones. The sheriff stated it was unimaginable that a shoeless person could have traversed so far in such rough terrain.
One of the more recent and highly unusual cases occurred in South Carolina. In this case, the boy was 21 months old. How well could he toddle and how far could he walk? How quickly could he get out of view? How much stamina does a 21 month old child have?
The boy was in his residence with the family dog and his mother. She left the room momentarily and somehow the boy and the dog got outside. There was a large open field surrounding the residence before reaching thick woods. The mother realized that her son and the dog were gone and ran outside to check the yard. The boy and the dog were not only not in the yard, they weren’t anywhere in sight. The mother called the sheriff and searchers started to arrive in mass. By late in the afternoon, the weather started to change to rain. Searchers continued to walk the surrounding property and found nothing that first night. The first morning of the search, a sheriff’s deputy and a natural resource officer were in kayaks on a river two miles from the victims residence, they were just two of hundreds looking for the boy. A search helicopter was flying above the river looking for a body and had just flown over the kayakers. The two law enforcement officers were paddling upstream from the area of the residence and just turned a corner in the river when they made an amazing find. It was 2:30 p.m. when they looked at a sandbar in the middle of the river. They found the missing boy alive lying on his back in the middle of the sand. They immediately called the helicopter back to the scene to pickup the boy and take him to his residence. The pilot confirmed that he had just flown over that section of river and the boy WAS NOT on the sandbar, minutes later he’s lying there.
There are many confusing aspects to this case. How the boy got away from his residence so quickly is not understood. How a 21 month old can manage to go through thick woods, enter the river and arrive at a sandbar in the middle of the river? Why didn’t the boy respond to hundreds of searchers that were in the woods that first night? The boy did not suffer from hypothermia even though the weather had been in the low 40’s with rain. The boy’s dog did reappear at the residence. This is one of three cases where very small children have disappeared from the interior of a residence while with the family dog. Each case is equally fascinating.
Some of the possible reasons for the disappearances are: Wendigo, a beast-like creature with an appetite for human flesh, variously described with matted hair, glowing eyes, and long yellow fangs, who stalks the "lonely places". The Wendigo legend was prevalent in the northern United States and Canada, largely involving a cannibalistic predator who roamed around woods and forests in the coldest climates where food was scarce and survival was challenging. but also include demons as a possible cause, which goes along with the belief in the Philippines that the Jin or demons are responsible for the abductions. Also suspect are large birds and extraterrestrials.
|Name||Age||From||Date Gone Missing||Went Missing From|
|Bessie and Glen Hyde||Unknown||Twin Falls, Idaho & Parkersburg, West Virginia||October 1928||Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona|
|Katherine Van Alst||8||Kansas City. MO||1946||Devil's Den State Park - Arkansas|
|Paula Welden||18||Bennington College, Bennington, VT||December 1946||The Bennington Triangle - Southwestern Vermont|
|Larry Jeffrey||6||Henderson, Nevada||June 7, 1966||Mount Charleston in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest - Nevada|
|Dennis Martin||6||Knoxville, TN||June 14, 1969||Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Gatlinburg, TN|
|Douglas Legg||8||Baldwinsvine, New York||July 10, 1971||Adirondack Forest Preserve's Santanoni Preserve - Newcomb, New York|
|Charles McCullar||19||Unknown||1974||Crater Lake National Park - Crater Lake, Oregon|
|Kevin Robert O'Keefe||Unknown||Sacramento, CA||October 8, 1985||Glacier Bay National Park - Alaska|
|Keith Reinhard||49||Silver Plume, Colorado||July 31, 1988||Pendleton Mountain - Colorado|
|Jared Negrete||12||El Monte, California||July 19, 1991||San Bernardino National Forest - San Bernardino, California|
|Kenny Miller||12||Ookhurts, California||June 1992||Vicinity of Yosemite National Park - Yosemite Village, California|
|John Devine||73||Sequim, Washington||September 1997||Mount Baldy, Olympic National Park - Port Angeles, Washington|
|Chet Hanson||27||Wilkeson, Washington||November 11, 1997||Mt. Rainier National Park, Deer Creek Trailhead - Pierce County, Washington|
|Derrick Engebretson||8||Bonanza, Oregon||December 5, 1998||Fremont–Winema National Forest - Klamath Falls, Oregon|
|Carl Herbert Landers||69||Orinda, California||May 22, 1999||Lake Helen, Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park - Siskiyou County, California|
|David Gonzales||9||Lake Elsinore, California||July 31, 2004||Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino National Forest - San Bernardino, California|
|James Nelson||31||Chicago, IL||October 3, 2010||Holy Cross Wilderness, Mountt of the Holy Cross - Vail, CO|
|George Penca||30||Hawthorne, California||June 19, 2011||Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park - Yosemite Village, California|
|Ronald Kirk||46||Chicago, Illinois||January 16, 2012||Calico Basin, Red Rock National Recreation Area - Las Vegas, Nevada|
|Wayne Buckley||73||Provo, UT||June 7, 2014||Currant Creek Campground - Heber City, Utah|
|Walter Scheib||61||Taos, New Mexico||June 13, 2015||Yerba Buena Trailhead - Taos, New Mexico|
|Janet Castrejon||44||Las Cruces, New Mexico||June 19, 2015||Rustler Park in the Chiricahua Mountains - Arizona|
|Joe Keller||18||Cleveland, Tennessee||July 23, 2015||Rio Grande National Forest - Colorado|