Bart Schleyer - Strange and unexplained disappearances from the Canadian Wilderness

Bart Schleyer Yukon Territory

Bart Schleyer, disappeared September 14th 2004, Remains found October 3, 2004, Red Lakes, Yukon Territory, Canada.

Bart Schleyer was a famous outdoorsman, woodsmen and hunter as well as a playboy. He was a trained scientist, who worked for the Grizzly Bear Recovery Project in Yellowstone National Park in the 1980s before moving north to Alaska. He was one of the world's foremost experts at capturing, radio-collaring and tracking Tigers and spent months in Russia working to help save endangered Siberian tigers. He had a Russian girlfriend, Tanya Perova, and they had a son, Artyom.

Bart Schleyer Yukon disappearance

Bart was born to Dr. Otis Schleyer and his wife Lula Rose, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1955. Dr. Schleyer, a physician who practiced in Cheyenne, loved to hunt. He took Bart along from an early age. Bart’s sister Claudia Downey tells of Bart’s childhood obsession with animals. “He didn’t just like them; he wanted to know everything about them, study where they lived and how they lived! My dad took Bart with him on safari to Mozambique when he was 10 years old. He had a chance to witness an incredible variety of animals that he could otherwise only read about. When he finally got a chance to hunt, he was drawn even closer. Hunting seemed to give purpose to his studies.” Bart would draw pictures of animals and continued to develop as an artist into adulthood.

Bart focused his education on wildlife biology and transferred to Montana State University, where he received his master’s degree in 1979. Professor Don Collins taught an undergraduate class called Man and the Environment for more than 20 years. Dr. Collins says, “Out of the 42,000 students who took that class, Bart was a standout! He was knowledgeable in every thing wild, from animals and birds to flowers, trees, and shrubs. Bart spent a great deal of time alone in the mountains while working on his thesis, the activity patterns of grizzly bears in Yellowstone. It was as if he prepared his entire life to do this. He was superbly suited for the demands of the job. To conduct these studies, Bart used live capture techniques, and then placed telemetry radio collars on the bears to monitor their activities.”

After college, Bart stayed in Montana where he worked for Fish and Game and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. He made vital contributions to a team challenged with determining the reaction grizzly bears demonstrate following encroachment by humans. It was also important to know the habitat requirements and birth and mortality rates of the bears, including those living in the remote Bob Marshall Wilderness. His experiences in backpacking and self-reliance fostered through years of bowhunting made the research work easy for him. He stayed out in the mountains for months at a time. Packing meat for bait and heavy cable for foot snares became routine. He didn’t just endure physical hardship; he enjoyed it. 

Schleyer organised his life so that he could spend as much time as possible in the field. and he was about as tough as it gets when he was in the outdoors. He loved using a traditional bow and the arrows he made himself.

Yukon Territory Map

In September 2004, Bart went off for a trip in the Canadian wilderness. His last contact was when a chartered floatplane left him at the larger of the Reid Lakes in Canada's Yukon Territory on September 14. Reid Lakes is on the southern slope of the Selwyn Mountains about 175 miles north of town of Whitehorse and the nearest settlement is Stewart Crossing about 15 miles from the lakes, on the road from Whitehorse to Dawson. 

When the plane returned two weeks later, the experienced woodsman was gone. Strange as he was no "city slicker" and knew how to handle himself in even the most remote wilderness and could be described as a survival expert. He was well-equipped for the trip with three plastic "Action Packer'' crates with enough food for at least 2 weeks, clothing and camp gear such as a tent and an inflatable boat.

Bart Schleyer Yukon disappearance

He was reported missing on September 30th and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) promptly launched a comprehensive search and found nothing of Schleyer. According to the RCMP he had lunch or supper in camp since the remains were found and the rest of the food was still in the crate. He used his boat and paddled it down the lake from camp, and it was found around half a mile from camp. 

The Mounties thought there was a possibility Schleyer might have hiked out to the highway and with deteriorating weather they called it a day. Dib Williams, a friend of Schleyer's in Whitehorse was dissatisfied with the RCMP efforts and got pilot friend Wayne Curry to fly them to the camp after they had departed. 

Reid Lakes in Canada's Yukon Territory

They found his tent had been knocked down, either by wind or animals but all the equipment was there. They searched the area around the tent and found his backpack, bear spray, a knife and a VHF radio.

Williams  and Curry got increasingly concerned as they didn't buy the story that Schleyer had hiked out when he left such key equipment behind. On the second day of their search, they found his bow near the inflatable boat. 

About 60 yards back in the woods from the boat, the bow and arrows in a handmade buckskin quiver were leaned up against a tree next to a dry-bag full of gear on which he'd probably been sitting and this was located on flat ground next to a thicket of black spruce and willows. Curtis, an experienced moose hunter said it looked like the sort of place an archer might set up if trying to call a moose into range. A little further on they found a camouflage face mask with blood and hair on it and at this point, they called the RCMP back to the area.

On October 3, the Mounties, Yukon conservation officers and civilian volunteers flew back to the area to begin more detailed grid search. At first, they found little but bear and wolf tracks but then a  baseball cap was spotted by the searchers and then camouflage pants, a camera, part of a skull and just a few small bones. All these items were 60 metres or so from the bow and the Spruce tree.

The teeth in the skull enabled identification of the remains as being Schleyer. There wasn't much more of his body found. Since there was quite a bit of Grizzly excrement in the area it fuelled speculation that Schleyer had been unexpectedly killed and eaten by a bear, as happened with the famous Timothy Treadwell, whose death was captured in a documentary by Wener Herzog in 2006 called "Grizzly Man" based on left behind video footage.

In amongst the bear scat were bone fragments but no fabric in some of the samples. In Treadwell's case not only human remains were found in the bear stomach contents but also large  amounts of his clothing. Most of Schleyer's clothes were never found.

But searchers were sceptical it was a bear attack. First there was no sign of a death struggle, no vegetation or ground disturbed. The remains were found in a little patch of sparse spruce lying on the moss and if a bear killed him this would be unusual as they usually bury their kills in a cache. The remains of Treadwell and his girlfriend were found in such a cache after they were killed. But there was no cache anywhere in the area.

Even if he started off playing dead, a recommended tactic for surviving a grizzly bear attack, friends said he would have known that if the animal continued the attack the only chance for survival would be to fight back and generally speaking a bear attack is prolonged and violent.  A friend said "I think the least likely scenario is some sort of surprise encounter,'' "(But) it's hard for me to imagine having a bear sneak up and get him.''

Almost everyone who knew Schleyer believe he was simply too good a woodsman, too alert while in the forest, to have a bear catch him by surprise and his hat for example was completely untouched. And if one had, it's even harder to imagine the animal killing him without leaving signs of a struggle on a site covered with soft, easily disturbed moss. An attack goes on for a long time. The audio tape of Treadwell's death goes on for a long time, recording the sounds of him being eaten alive.

The balaclava contained little blood and hair, and his pants even less. If a bear attacks a man it won't remove his pants without them being shredded and soaked in blood. Normally bears grab the end especially when attacking from behind, causing profuse bleeding so why wasn't the balaclava blood-soaked? 

The plastic container that held his food there had not been disturbed and bear experts said that if a grizzly had killed Schleyer, it is likely the same bear would have gone to the camp given the proximity and even eat through canned food. Everything points to the evidence being scavenging related not caused by a violent direct attack.

Many agree that the circumstances of his disappearance are very strange, even if they disagree with the cause. Brigittee Parker, a spokeswoman for the Mounties in Whitehorse, said the case remains open, but the organisation leans toward the idea Schleyer was attacked and killed by a bear. "There's no foul play suspected,'' she said. "Everything at the scene suggested a bear attack and did not suggest ... foul play.'' Even for an experienced woodsman, some believe that a predatory bear could sneak up on him and deliver a fatal bite. But the Vancouver pathologist who examined Schleyer's remains found no tooth punctures in his skull nor indications of scratch marks from teeth. When bears attack people, they almost always go for the head. 

Apart from bear attack potential answers include:

  • Wolf attack, but these are even more rare than bear attacks and no physical evidence on the ground and the bag he was sitting on was untouched with no blood

  • Natural death from a heart attack or brain aneurysm with the body later taken apart by scavenging animals. At 49 years of age and at peak physical fitness it seems unlikely.

  • Murdered by the Russian mafia or another assailant