National Park Missing

Jerika Binks - Strange disappearances from US National Monuments

jerika binks disappearance timpanogos cave

Jerika Binks, disappeared February 18, 2018, Timpanogos Cave National Monument trail, American Fork Canyon, Utah.

Jerika Binks, 24, was last seen on February 18th, 2018. She was staying at a residential treatment / integrated recovery centre near North County Boulevard in American Fork, Utah. She told a roommate at around 9am she was planning to go for a run in the Timpanogos Cave National Monument. She was a keen long distance runner and often visited the park. On that day she vanished and she remains missing, either as a result of foul play, misadventure in the wilderness or other unknown factors

jerika binks disappearance

Timpanogos Cave National Monument is a United States National Monument protecting the Timpanogos Cave Historic District and a cave system on Mount Timpanogos in the Wasatch Mountains in American Fork Canyon near American Fork in Utah.

The site is managed by the National Park Service. The 1.5-mile (2.4 km) trail to the cave is steep, gaining close to 1,000 feet (300 m), but paved and fairly wide, so the caves are accessible to most. The three caves of the system, one of which is specifically called Timpanogos Cave, are only viewable on guided tours when the monument is open, usually from May through September depending on snow conditions and funding.

TIMPANOGOS CAVE NATIONAL MONUMENT TRAIL, utah

Jerika left behind her ID and bank card and all her possessions apart from her cell phone, AirPods and water which she took on the run, according to her mother, Suzanne Westring.

It was common for Jerika to go running but she would always return back to the integrated recovery centre at a reasonable time. She voluntarily lived there for multiple reasons, for several months, and had been doing well with her treatment (exact issue unknown). She was known to occasionally leave the centre and meet with boyfriends. She used her Snapchat account to meet an individual approximately one week before she went missing, but that man was tracked down by detectives who determined that he was not involved in the case.

She is a white, female, 5-foot-4, 120 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. She was wearing black five-toed running shoes and a two-toned hooded sweatshirt, with dark grey on the back and light grey on the front and dark green leggings.

Her mother, Suzanne, spoke to Jerika the day before she disappeared on the run. The two planned to go car shopping. But when the treatment centre called and said Jerika never returned, she grew very concerned believing that some sort of foul play befell her daughter as the only explanation.

In May 2018 new photo evidence concerning Jerika's disappearance was released, three months after she vanished. Images captured by a wildlife camera owned by the NPS showed her running down the National Timpanogos Cave Trail and up American Fork Canyon on February 18th around 1:30 p.m.

This NPS camera was placed on the closed Timpanogos Trail in fall 2017, and retrieved March 27th, 2018. They were taken in an area that was closed to the public for the winter about halfway up the trail. When park staff downloaded the images, they recognised a woman matching Binks’ description in photos date stamped as February 18, the reported date of her disappearance. The photos were immediately turned over to the Utah County Sheriff's Office.

 NPS camera which captured Jerika Binks 1.30 pm running February 18, 2018

NPS camera which captured Jerika Binks 1.30 pm running February 18, 2018

In his post on the Finding Jerika Facebook page, Jed Binks, Jerika’s brother, said the family has been “waiting for a month to release these photos. Out of respect, and not wanting to step on anyone’s toes who are aiding in the investigation. That’s why our searches have been so dedicated to this area.”

“They say it’s her coming down the trail, there is not footage of her coming up, which leads us to believe she gained access to the trail elsewhere. Furthermore, that leads us to believe someone showed her an entrance prior to her run that day.”

The family released the photos without the knowledge of investigators. Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said deputies believe someone in the family snapped photos with their cellphone while investigators privately showed them the pictures on a computer. The reason the sheriff's office did not want the photos released was to avoid compromising the investigation should Binks' disappearance turn out to be a criminal matter.

A cell phone ping registered in Saratoga Springs at the mouth of American Fork Canyon at 10am, around the same time as she headed up the canyon. The family believes she may have accessed the trail elsewhere.

The family and other donors offered a $10,000 reward for information about Jerika’s disappearance.

Since her disappearance, family and friends have spent hundreds of hours walking routes she might have taken, reviewing drone and video surveillance footage from various businesses and homes. Using cellphone tower triangulation data, the family narrowed down the possible routes and areas she might have been in, including routes north of American Fork Hospital, along 4800 West/North County Boulevard, east along State Route 92, and trails and roads crossing the Cedar Hills Golf Course in between.

Using video footage from the Utah State Developmental Center that very possibly shows her running, the family extrapolated Jerika’s running speed at about an 8.8 mile pace. With that pace, she could not have made it to the American Fork Canyon by 10 a.m. But, if the ping data had a margin of error of about 10 minutes, then it possible she could have made it there running. That timing could mean a difference of if Binks made it to the canyon and possibly had an accident, or if she was possibly attacked and carried there in a vehicle, or even if her phone was stolen and moved without her.

A major search of the park and surrounding area lasting several days was conducted by the Sheriff’s Office and highly trained search and rescue teams. The search included helicopters, drones, dog teams and ground searchers rappelling through steep terrain. On weekends and evenings during fair weather in March and April, the family searched the area.

Adjacent scree slopes, animal trails and other possible but unauthorised routes were also searched multiple times. The cave trail gate is locked from below but can be opened from above at all times, leaving open the possibility that she continued down the trail and left the park.

Despite the efforts of professional search teams, family and volunteers, the disappearance remains a mystery and there have been no solid leads for detectives working on the case. Foul play has not been ruled out, according to the Sheriff’s Office. It is unknown what route Jerika took to get above the locked NPS gate and into the closed part of the hiking trail where the photos were taken.

She was clearly alive and well at 1.30 pm when the NPS pictures of Jerika running down the trail were taken. What happened to her after that? Investigators do not have any evidence about happened to Binks, including whether she was abducted, ran away, or whether she was injured somewhere and trapped.

A series of search warrant affidavits has been filed since her disappearance including social media accounts. In one warrant, investigators looked at a second possible sighting of Binks on the same Timpanogos trail taken a few weeks before she went missing. In the photo, a woman with similar features as Binks is seen walking with a man. Police later determined that the woman in the photo was not her.

On the day Jerika disappeared, she left two uncashed checks in her bedroom along with her ID and debit card. She left her cellphone charger and her room was tidy indicating that she probably did not run away or leave town voluntarily. Detectives also checked her bank accounts and found "no activity" since February 18 nor any suspicious activity on her credit union account.

Another case of a runner who mysteriously vanished was Amy Wroe Bechtel in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming in 1997. Theories included that she was killed by her husband or the Great Basin Serial Killer, Dale Wayne Eaton. Read more at: Link to Amy Wroe Bechtel story.

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Sources

https://www.facebook.com/findingJerika/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timpanogos_Cave_National_Monument

https://kutv.com/news/local/police-searching-for-missing-utah-county-woman

https://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/north/american-fork/jerika-binks-family-still-searching-for-answers-and-missing-woman/article_c769c480-f656-5c6a-b09a-d6ba353c67e0.html

https://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/north/american-fork/family-of-missing-jerika-binks-releases-camera-footage/article_c1c8cbf1-1796-5316-9d56-98171ae8490f.html

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900018914/photos-raise-new-questions-in-search-for-american-fork-woman.html

https://fox13now.com/2018/09/04/mother-of-missing-utah-county-woman-pleads-for-publics-help-in-finding-her/

Susan Clements - Strange disappearances from U.S. National Parks

Mitzie Sue “Susan” Clements, disappeared September 25th, 2018, Body found October 2nd, 2018, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North carolina/TENNESSEE

susan clements disappearance

Update October 3, 2o18

Search crews found the body of Mitzie Sue "Susan" Clements approximately two miles west of the Clingmans Dome parking area and three-fourths of a mile south of the Appalachian Trail on the afternoon of October 2nd. Why did she walk away from the parking lot when she separated from her daughter and then what happened? Authorities have dismissed foul play.

Mitzie Sue "Susan" Clements death clingmans dome

Mitzie Sue “Susan” Clements, 53, was hiking with her 20 year old daughter on Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 near Clingmans Dome in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, when she mysteriously vanished after they lost sight of each other.

Susan, a mother of three, disappeared around 5pm in an area close to the parking lot, about 1/4 mile from Andrews Bald, on the Forney Ridge Trail in the National Park after her daughter decided to hike ahead a short distance with the intention for her to turn around and meet up. Susan’s daughter wanted to climb up to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower (6,643 feet in elevation), and because she was hiking faster, she told her mother she would go ahead and then meet her back at the parking lot. They weren’t separated for very long but when when she arrived back at the lot, she couldn’t find Susan. She waited a short while, walked around, retraced some of her steps and then contacted the park authorities when her mother failed to arrive some hours later. The two of them intended to do a day hike only so were not carrying supplies or heavyweight clothing.

Clements is white with light brown hair and blue eyes, 5'6" and 125 pounds. She was last seen wearing a green zip-up sweater, black workout pants over black leggings, a clear rain poncho and gray Nike running shoes with light green soles.

Susan from Cincinnati was on vacation in North Carolina when she disappeared. The Great Smoky Mountains lies on the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, and Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park

forney ridge trailhead Great smoky mountains

125 trained searchers with drones, sniffer dogs and helicopters from 30 “search and rescue agencies” helped park staff in a large-scale search of the area but nothing was found including clothing or other clues. The weather was poor with rain, fog, wind and low temperatures in the 40s which hampered search efforts due to limited visibility. Clingmans Dome Road was closed to accommodate the infrastructure needed to manage and expedite the search. The area also has poor cellphone service so Verizon set up a portable cell tower. In a news release, officials said the cell booster is “providing the critical cell and data coverage needed to effectively manage and support the search effort in this remote location.”

As of October 1st, searchers had hiked more than 500 miles on trails and conducted intensive off-trail “grid-searches” of approximately 10 square miles in the steep, rugged terrain that straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border. The searchers were left frustrated by lack of evidence given the resources deployed in the area where Susan disappeared.

search for susan clements morning briefing

Susan Clements disappearance is in the same area as that of Trenny Lynn Gibson who also vanished from the Forney Ridge Trail in 1976 and was never seen again and was believed to have been abducted.

Susan’s disappearance from the trail is strange given the limited time she was away from her daughter and proximity to the parking area. Maybe she was bundled into a car and driven away or left the Forney Ridge Trail for some reason and was lost in the wind and rain? Another disturbing story from the Great Smoky Mountains.

Sources

https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article219306345.html

https://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/hamilton-county/cleves/search-intensifies-for-cleves-woman-missing-in-great-smoky-mountains-national-park

https://eu.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2018/10/01/great-smoky-mountains-searchers-missing-hiker-clingmans-dome-smokies/1486631002/

https://heavy.com/news/2018/09/mitzie-sue-susan-clements-missing/

https://eu.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/10/02/body-cleves-hiker-mitzi-susan-clements-found/1505507002/

Paul Miller - Strange disappearances from U.S. national Parks

Paul Miller, disappeared July 13th, 2018, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Paul Miller disappearance, Joshua tree national park

Paul Miller, 51, and his wife, Stephanie, from Ontario in Canada, were on vacation in California and Nevada including Las Vegas to celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary.

A typical vacation for them was camping in the backwoods, hiking and kayaking and they had hiked across Canada, North America and Mexico.

They were getting ready to leave their hotel room in Twentynine Palms on July 13, 2018, but Paul wanted to take one more short hike in the hope of  photographing some bighorn sheep as he was a keen hiker. He left the hotel alone at around 9am and drove to the 49 Palms Oasis trail in Joshua Tree National park and promised to be back later that morning. Stephanie was going to accompany her husband on the morning hike, but with time constraints pressuring them on the morning of their last day, she decided to stay at the hotel and pack.

The couple had both hiked in the park on the day before the solo excursion and July 13th was the last day of their trip. He hasn't been seen since. 

49 Palms Oasis Trail, Joshua Tree national park

According to the NPS "The 49 Palms Oasis Trail offers a three-mile round-trip hike to a fan palm oasis. It requires two to three hours and is rated moderately-strenuous, ascending about 300 feet each way. This well-maintained trail climbs to a ridge where large numbers of barrel cacti dot the landscape. After winding around the ridge top, the trail descends steeply to the oasis located in a rocky canyon. Towering palms create a canopy over clear pools of water. Large boulders provide a place to rest and enjoy the sights and sounds of this small ecosystem." George Land from the park said “It’s not a real difficult trail. You go in and come out the same way. However, it is a little bit of a rigorous trail.”

When he hadn’t returned by 11 am, his wife grew concerned, but decided to give him another hour and at noon, when she still had not heard from him, Stephanie called park officials who began a search by 12.30 pm. Paul's rental car was quickly found at the 49 Palms Oasis trailhead. His cellphone was left behind at the hotel, but apparently this was not unusual for him.

He was wearing dark shorts, dark grey, almost black Hi-Tec Altitude VI WP hiking boots, black hat and carrying sunglasses, CamelBak hydration pack and a Nikon D5300 camera.

Despite an extensive search involving 600 people putting in 6000 hours in total (90 people at peak), up to twenty dog teams, an ATV search team and a helicopter no sign of Paul has been located and no other evidence other than his car that he was in the park such as his camera has turned up. Park Superintendent David Smith said that "We have a witness who saw (Miller) at the trailhead that morning, but that’s all.” The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputies, detectives, search and rescue and emergency services; California Rescue Dog Association; Nevada Search and Rescue; and the National Park Service with personnel from the Investigative Services Branch, Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley National Park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and Joshua Tree National Park all participated in the search. Due to steep ravines and cliffs, technical specialists with high-angle rescue skills were also deployed.

Despite the large number of K9 teams, the dogs were unable to pick up a scent. The search was scaled back on July 18th after no sign was found.

Park Superintendent Smith said as of mid-August 2018 there were no new clues as to what happened to Paul Miller sating “I assure them, the park service will not forget about Mr. Miller. We are doing all that we can. The FBI is called in only if there is a murder or homicide and at this point, there is no indication that is the case ... nothing to indicate this was a planned disappearance.” 

Stephanie said during an interview "Maybe he finished the trail and came out and something happened. We really don’t know. But if they can’t find him in the park, then what’s to say he’s not out of the park?”

Another national park solo hike with a mysterious disappearance.

Sources

#findpaulmiller on Twitter

https://www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/upload/49siteMap.pdf

https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/local/2018/07/21/missing-without-trace-family-friends-canadian-hiker-paul-miller-hold-tight-hope-hes-alive-joshua-tre/813118002/

https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/local/2018/08/18/guelph-ontario-canada-resident-paul-miller-missing-hiker-joshua-tree-national-park/1032363002/

https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/missing-guelph-man-s-family-urges-search-to-continue-1.4062417

https://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/8854051-wife-of-missing-guelph-hiker-remaining-hopeful/

David Blake - Strange disappearances from U.S. parks

David Blake, disappeared March 9th, 2018, Body found October 22, 2018, Kennesaw National Battlefield Park, Georgia

UPDATE: A skeleton was discovered by a hiker on October 22nd, 2018. The Cobb County Medical Examiner’s Office positively identified the remains as David Blake on October 24th. Foul play was not suspected in Blake’s death, according to Major Dan Ferrell of Cobb Police’s Crimes Against Persons unit. A cause and manner of death was yet to be determined by the medical examiner’s office.

Blake’s remains were located near Stilesboro Road and according to Chief Ranger Anthony Winegar with the National Park Service, the remains were discovered well off the trail to Little Kennesaw Mountain.

What took David off the trail the day he went missing?

See link

David blake disappearance

On March 9th, 2018, police found David Blake’s car parked near an overflow car park off Old Highway 41 in the Kennesaw National Battlefield Park with his hiking bag and keys in the cup holder. David was nowhere to be seen.

David, 25, was an avid hiker and outdoorsman and very familiar with the park and its 16 miles of trails. His camping gear was left behind in the apartment indicating he wasn't planning to spend time camping in the wilderness. 

Kennesaw Battlefield Park preserves a Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign and also contains Kennesaw Mountain. It is located at 905 Kennesaw Mountain Drive, between Marietta and Kennesaw, Georgia. The name "Kennesaw" derives from the Cherokee Indian "Gah-nee-sah" meaning cemetery or burial ground. The area was designated as a U.S. historic district on October 15, 1966.

David blake kenneshaw death

Search and rescue first assumed he walked to one of the park's trails and may have been somewhere up on Kennesaw Mountain.

David's mother Neill last saw him on Wednesday March 7th and said he was his normal, calm, easy-going self. "He said, 'Love ya mom, see ya later' like we always do,”  His mom, dad and older brother called it completely unexpected and said David would never just walk off. David Blake’s dad, Bill Blake."No one, roommates, coworkers, family had no inkling we would be standing here."

The family said David wasn't into any high-risk behaviours, or illegal activity and called him quiet and relatively boring. "All they do is stay up till 3 a.m. playing their video games, watching movies, no indication anything was going on from that perspective,” said Stuart Blake, David Blake's brother.

David's phone was last used to send some text messages early on Thursday March 8th. He never showed up to work that day and didn't call in. Since that time there was no activity on his phone or from his bank or credit cards.

Dozens of searchers scoured the Kennesaw area including sixty members of Cobb County’s Community Emergency Response Team, which investigated a wooded area not far from where his car had been found. The area for the search was chosen based on location data from David's cell phone.

“With the county, we organized a search because the family had search volunteers that really wanted to help,” said Chief Ranger Anthony Winegar with the National Park Service. “We organized a search of a couple of small areas over near Stilesboro Road and Barrett Parkway. Evidence early on in the search had pointed us in that direction.”

On March 9th a Georgia State Patrol helicopter was deployed and a bloodhound from the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office that searched from the ground. On March 10,  cadaver dogs found no indication of a decomposing body within the search area.

“At the end of that search (Thursday March 15th, 2018), we sat down with the family, and said, ‘This is all the evidence we have, including concrete, solid evidence, and Facebook tips and everything else. We have exhausted all of that,’” Winegar said. “We haven’t come up with anything new, any sign that he is here. He has left no evidence that he is here with the exception of the car.”

Kennesaw Mountain trail

On-duty park personnel continued the search for Blake on Friday, March 16th, but were expected to go back to normal daily operations the following day unless credible information on his whereabouts is reported. 

Chief Ranger Winegar said “We have a very good idea of where people go in this park, and where people seldom go, and we are concentrating on the places where people seldom go. This place is so busy, my theory is that if he were here and he were hanging out somewhere near the busy places, he would have already been found. So we’re going to the places where we know people don’t go very much, and there aren’t that many of those.”

So far no sign of David which seems a very out of character disappearance. Why leave his keys and bag behind in the car. Foul play or suicide perhaps?

Sources

http://www.mdjonline.com/news/no-new-evidence-at-kennesaw-mountain-park-of-missing-marietta/article_2c7c1f76-2968-11e8-a061-4b6056116f00.html

http://www.wftv.com/news/trending-now/missing-georgia-hikers-car-found-with-keys-in-cup-holder/716259367

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennesaw_Mountain_National_Battlefield_Park

https://www.mdjonline.com/news/no-foul-play-suspected-in-kennesaw-mountain-hiker-s-death/article_e8cfa70a-d7ab-11e8-9fee-13823d129c16.html

Laura Bradbury - Strange disappearances in U.S. National Parks

Laura Bradbury, disappeared October 18, 1984, Indian Cove Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

 

Laura Bradley, Joshua Tree National Park disappearance

On October 18, 1984, three-and-a-half-year-old Laura Bradbury was on a camping trip with her family at the  Indian Cove Campground in the Joshua Tree National Park, California. They were a family of five, cramped in a two-bedroom condominium, so Joshua Tree offered a break, they were regular visitors with parents Patty and Michael.

Indian Cove Campground, Joshua Tree

She went with her 8-year-old brother, Travis, to the portable restrooms near the campground and left Laura outside while he used the facilities. When he came out, Laura had vanished. 

Over 250 people along with horses, dogs and helicopters searched for Laura in the Joshua Tree National Park. A dog followed her scent for about two miles before losing it. After only three days, the official search was called off.

The Bradbury family mobilised their own massive effort, distributing millions of flyers and T-shirts with Laura's likeness on them. They also appeared on radio and television talk shows and the disappearance was reenacted twice on national television. A hot line was established to gather tips and field inquiries.The search for her became a national story and Laura was one of the first missing children to be featured on milk cartons.

 Patty and Mike Bradbury, November 1984

Patty and Mike Bradbury, November 1984

Witnesses claimed to have seen a man in his fifties with a metallic blue van at Indian Cove Campground just before Laura disappeared and a  similar-looking man was seen near Burns Canyon a few hours later. The sheriff’s department even brought in a hypnotist to try to coax out more details from campers who had seen the bearded, pot-bellied man and his van.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department had investigated Laura's disappearance. But Mike had lost faith in the deputies and he'd mounted his own search. Mike grew increasingly contemptuous of sheriff's deputies for not doing enough about the many tips that flowed into the Laura Center. They were incompetent or lazy or both, he told reporters. He even speculated that someone inside the department knew that a kidnapper was involved and was covering it up. 

Mike heard the story of Clifford Leville and Toby Santangelo who were said to have told deputies they had solid information about a man they believed kidnapped Laura. But investigators checked it out and found it not credible. Not long afterward, Leville and Santangelo were found shot to death. 

Along with a private investigator, he combed the isolated communities near Joshua Tree, known for attracting drug dealers and oddballs. His hunt, too, came to nothing.

 In 1986, a skull believed to be that of Laura Bradbury was found by hikers near the parks west entrance, only two miles from the family's campsite (some reports say 5 miles). However, DNA tests were unable to conclusively prove that the skull was Laura's, not even blood type or gender, and the only certainty was that it was a child.

A sheriff's captain publicly speculated it was Laura's and had a theory. Maybe, he said, she meandered away from the toilet, stumbled and was somehow buried by collapsing sand. Only recently, he continued, coyotes or a mountain lion had dug up all that was left. 

In 1990, new DNA tests were said to prove the skull was Laura's with 99% likelihood of a match.

Laura's mother Patty died in 2001 and her father Michael wrote a book about his daughter's disappearance called "Laura Ann Bradbury: A Father's Search" in 2010. 

Michael Bradbury has been trying to have the skull transferred from the coroner’s facility to a mortuary since October 2009, but because the San Bernardino County coroner’s office has not issued a death certificate, he has been unable to claim his daughter’s remains.

In a 2010 interview he said he was  shown about 40 colour 35 mm slides of the skull, and was astonished to find out it is a full-sized skull, about seven inches by five inches, missing the teeth and lower jaw. He claimed that investigators showed him a much different skull shortly after hikers discovered the remains. “My wife and I were shown a smaller, three-inch skullcap in or around 1986-’87 that the sheriff’s claimed was Laura’s skull,” he said. “The two skulls are totally dissimilar; they looked nothing like each other. I wonder now, what or whose skull they showed me then. And why?”

He also had a report on tests that provided inconclusive results on whether the cranium was his daughter’s. According to the report, only one of four DNA tests performed on the skull matched DNA samples from Laura’s mother’s blood. Even hair taken from Laura’s hairbrush did not match DNA with the skull, he said. The two partial skull bones are the only remains Michael was aware of that are believed to be from his daughter. “I am very anxious to put closure to this terrible period of my life,” Bradbury said. “All I want is justice for my daughter. That’s all I care about.”

No arrests have ever been made and the case remains unsolved.

Sources

http://unsolvedmysteries.wikia.com/wiki/Laura_Bradbury

http://www.hidesertstar.com/news/article_32b51599-2916-57d2-9dad-42a1d937c9f7.html

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/19/local/la-me-0920-bradbury-second-20100918-58

http://articles.latimes.com/1990-12-16/news/mn-9244_1_bradbury-family

http://www.lacp.org/2010-Articles-Main/092010-TheMysteryOfLauraBradbury.htm

Mysteries of the Nahinni Park Reserve in Canada

Nahanni National Park Reserve

Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Dehcho Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada, is around 300 miles west of Yellowknife and is 11,000 square miles in area. Part of the Mackenzie Mountains resides within it and the South Nahanni River (Naha Dehé) is at its centre. It was named a national park in 1976, and a  UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. 

The park is surrounded by huge peaks and features geysers, sinkholes, deep canyons, caves, gorges, and beautiful, untouched forests. Within these stunning vistas lies Virginia Falls, a 96 metre (315 feet) high waterfall, twice as high as Niagara Falls.

The area is true wilderness and has been largely unexplored as it is accessible only by air, water or a long overland journey by food over several days.

Nahanni is from the language of the indigenous Dene people that have inhabited the region for thousands of years, and means “The People Over There,” in reference to a tribe of mountain dwelling people known as the Naha, who were once known to raid lowland settlements before mysteriously vanishing. There is speculation that they may have been the ancestors of the modern day Navajo people.

Over the years there have been many mysterious stories that have emerged from the area.  The names of park areas such as Deadmen Valley, Headless Creek, Headless Range and the Funeral Range, relate to these stories and legends

200 mile gorge Nahanni National Park

The Valley of the Headless Men, the McLeod Brothers and the Lost McLeod Mine

The First Nation people through oral history speak of an unknown evil lurking within the spectacular 200 Mile Gorge, also called the "Valley of the Headless men" and most avoid the area. The name comes from a series of unexplained incidents in the Gorge during the Gold Rush of the early 20th century.

Two brothers, Willie and Frank McLeod left in 1906 in an attempt to reach the Klondike in the Yukon through Nahanni. Nothing was heard from them for the next two years, but there were rumours of them finding a gigantic gold mine. Since then the Lost McLeod Mine, has become legendary, and many have lost their lives trying to find it in the park.

willie and frank mcleod

In 1908, another gold prospecting expedition found two bodies tied to a tree, later identified as the McLeod brothers, both of which had been decapitated. The brothers were found by Charlie McLeod, another brother, and he buried the headless men, planting a cross to mark their graves. There were seven witnesses when the grave was dug, all members of the search party.

Before their murders, a few trappers and hunters in the area say they saw a third man with the McLeods. Whether it was the third man who cut the heads off of the McLeods is unknown. There was speculation claim that the mysterious third man was seen trading gold at several Hudson Bay trading posts.

The McLeods first started  prospecting in 1904, through British Columbia and parts of Southeast Alaska. Upon arrival in the Nahanni country, they ended up on the upper Flat River where they found Dogrib Indians with coarse gold nuggets, some as large as a quarter ounce in size. They made camp in the spring in the area where they were told the gold came from. The McLeods named the stream Gold Creek. The Indians apparently were not happy with their arrival. According to conversations with the McLeods, they said the Indians had probably taken the best finds. The prospect was a small one and the brothers used some small Indian made sluices to aid in the extraction of any gold that was left. They were able to fill a toothache remedy bottle and had ten ounces of gold in a moosehide bag.

They took the sluices, which were made of hand-hewed or whipsawed local timber, and made a crude box-size boat to paddle down the Nahanni. They were about twenty miles down the river near the Cascades of the Thirteen Drops, which later was renamed to the Flat River Canyon. At this point they would have to travel about 110 miles down the Flat River, then eighty miles up the Liard River.

They started out through the canyon, but water entered the boat and they lost everything except the ten-ounce bag of gold and had to return to Gold Creek. They built another boat out of sluice box planks and a trackline from thin strips of moosehide so they could lower their possessions down the worst places in the river. Finally, they were able to make it down the canyon and up the Liard to Fort Liard.

Willie decided to work awhile for the Hudson Bay Company at the Fort, but in 1905 decided to head out in search of more gold. The McLeod’s gold camp in Deadman’s Valley was located in the spruce trees on the left bank of the Nahanni, not far below Second Canyon Mountain. One of the McLeods was in the habit of writing messages on trees. A message was found written on a broken dog sled runner that read: “We have found a fine prospect.”

The supposed third man in the party showed up at Telegraph Creek in British Columbia sometime later, tracked by the Mounted Police, who eventually traced him to Vancouver. It was estimated he had about $8,000 in gold nuggets.

The Lost McLeod Gold Mine has been the focus of countless searches.In 1963, the last group of gold prospectors in the area from Europe vanished without a trace. 

More MYSTERIOUS stories from Nahinni Park Reserve

In 1917, the decapitated body of a Swiss prospector, Martin Jorgenson,  was found next to his burned cabin near Flat River. In 1945, the unnamed body of a miner from Ontario was found in his sleeping bag, without a head. Trapper, John O'Brien, was found frozen next to his campfire, matches still in his hand. 

In 1962, the pilot of a light aircraft miraculously survived a crash unscathed and set about building a camp a short distance from the place where the plane went down. He was so well equipped to survive, with food, fuel, shelter and camp provisions from the aircraft's cargo that he was confident that rescue would come within a matter of days. So he waited and wrote his experiences in his diary. Many times he watched as searching aircraft flew overhead but none saw him. He was only six miles as the crow flies from his destination, although he was probably unaware of his exact location. For around fifty days he sat alone waiting for rescue and then he mysteriously disappeared as the diary entries stopped abruptly. Six months later,  his plane was discovered by chance, followed by the camp and his diary. To this day no further trace of him has ever been found.

Through the years other camps were found with remnants of bones and scattered equipment. It was as if someone wanted the valley to himself. Some of the deaths were investigated and it was discovered the prospectors had developed scurvy and died

The deaths have been blamed on natives, grizzly bears, fights between prospectors or supernatural causes. Attacks by the locals who lived in the valley is most likely, as they would not have taken kindly to white men trespassing on their land.

 Albert Johnson - Mad Trapper of Rat River

Albert Johnson - Mad Trapper of Rat River

But there is another explanation. About forty miles from Nahanni, a loner named Albert Johnson lived in a crude log cabin.  Albert Johnson was a pseudonym and his true identity remains unknown. He too searched for the McLeods’ lost mine. Johnson later became notorious and became known as the “Mad Trapper of Rat River.”

In December 1931, one of the native trappers complained to the local RCMP detachment in Aklavik that someone was tampering with his traps, tripping them and hanging them on the trees. He identified Johnson as the likely culprit. On December 26, Constable Alfred King and Special Constable Joe Bernard, each of whom had considerable northern experience, trekked the 60 miles (97 km) to Johnson's cabin to ask him about the allegations. Seeing smoke coming from the chimney, they approached the hut to talk. Johnson refused to talk to them however, seeming to not even notice them. King looked into the cabin window, at which point Johnson placed a sack across it. The two constables eventually decided to return to Aklavik and get a search warrant.

King and Bernard returned five days later with two other men. Johnson again refused to talk and eventually King decided to enforce the warrant and force the door. As soon as he began, Johnson shot him through the wooden door. A brief firefight broke out, and the team managed to return the wounded King to Aklavik where he eventually recovered.

When Johnson was finally cornered up on Eagle River in Northern Yukon Territory and the border of the Northwest Territories.

The event became a media circus as Johnson eluded the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) team sent to take him into custody, which ended after a 150 mi (240 km) foot chase lasting more than a month and a shootout in which Johnson was fatally wounded on the Eagle River, Yukon. 

In his possession were found some gold teeth extracted from mouths of prospectors found dead in the Headless Valley. It might be assumed that Johnson was involved in their deaths, a theory the Mounties put on file.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahanni_National_Park_Reserve

http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2014/10/the-mysterious-valley-of-the-headless-corpses/

https://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/topic/243515-the-nahanni-river-mystery/

https://buildfutureenergy.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/the-valley-of-headless-men-nahanni-canada-mystery-legend-hollowearth-hmmm-interesting/

http://raven-talesoftheweird.blogspot.ch/2011/02/valley-of-headless-men.html

https://www.icmj.com/magazine/article/the-lengendary-lost-gold-of-the-headless-valley-1541/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Johnson_(criminal)