Steven Paul Thomas - Strange disappearances on U.S. mountains

Steven Paul Thomas, disappeared April 12, 1976, Mount Marcy,  Adirondacks, New York State.

Steve Thomas Mount Marcy disappearance

Steven "Steve" Paul Thomas, 19,  was hiking with a group of five college students in the vicinity of Mount Marcy on April 12, 1976. The group was composed of Mark Seymour, James Thackaberry, Ken Sherwood, Robert Bromley and Bruce Weaver. At the last minute, Bruce Weaver had invited his childhood friend, Steven, making a group of six. 

On Sunday morning, April 11th, the day Steve left Kayuta Lake to begin the hike, his mother, Mary Thomas, had put too much baking soda in the pancakes whilst cooking breakfast and saw it as a bad omen. She was worried over Steve camping with a group he didn’t know, except for Bruce Weaver and also concerned with the snow. 

When Steve left Kayuta Lake with Bruce Weaver and Kenneth Sherwood, the three drove to Lake Clear to meet the rest of their hiking companions, Mark Seymour, Robert Brom­ley and James Thackaberry. According to reports from the group, Steve didn’t like these guys and he wouldn’t talk to them. Steve's family also said he could have an antagonistic manner. The result was that when Steve and Bruce left Lake Clear for the Adirondak Loj, 37 miles away, they parked the car and hiked the 2.3 miles to Marcy Dam for the night. They stayed in a lean-to which was 87 yards from the junction of the blue (to Indian Falls) and yellow (to Avalanche Lake) trails and 28 yards from the water behind the dam.

Indian Falls trail mount marcy

Steve woke early at 6am, but Bruce only woke at 8am and they followed the blue trail to Indian Falls to meet the rest of the group, Robert, Ken, Mark and Jim.

The six of them hiked from the Adirondack Loj, a lodge near Lake Placid and Thomas had some Colombian marijuana buds which they smoked on the way up to the mountain summit. Apparently, Steve was quiet and hardly talked on the hike, lost in his thoughts for some reason.

By 3.30 pm,  they'd climbed to a the Lower Plateau lean-to (Hopkins), heading for Upper Plateau and could see the summit, about a mile away. But by now, they were cold and wet and the group decided to stay put, build a fire and tackle the summit the next day.

But Steve didn't feel like calling it a day. As the others made camp, Steven lit his Svea stove to make Darjeeling tea and looked at a map. He hung his rucksack in the back right corner of the lean-to and asked Bruce “You want to go for a walk?”. Bruce didn’t want to go.

He then told the rest of them that he going alone out further along the trail . He was wearing just a t-shirt and jeans with a yellow rain slicker over his blue down jacket and boots. He left his backpack with the others and took no provisions or equipment apart from his knife, having not eaten since breakfast. He was without a pack, snowshoes, compass or map.

Mount Marcy is the highest point in New York State, with an elevation of 5,343 feet (1,629 m). It is located near the Town of Keene in Essex County and is is in the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks Region of the High Peaks Wilderness Area. April is the toughest month for hikers on Mount Marcy with extreme weather changes. Marcy's upper trail wanders on and off the crest and at that time of the year the cairns and yellow-paint blazes that mark the trail are buried under snow. Hikers who reach the summit can easily take a wrong turn coming down and can hike into a dangerous 50-foot snow dump known as Panther Gorge.

mount marcy

At that time in April 1976, the snow was hard packed and offered ideal walking conditions with a full moon aiding visibility. It was around 10 degrees, but windy. 

When Thomas walked away from the lean-to, nobody gave it a thought. "As far as I know, he was just checking to see how far he had to go to the summit," Sherwood said. "We just started putting up tents and talking and having a good time. Then it started getting late, and it was like: `Where is he?'"At 6 pm, Weaver told the group not to worry since Steve knew what he was doing.

When Steve didn't return the Robert and Bruce tried finding him by setting out at around 10 pm with flashlights with 55-60mph gusts of wind howling around them.  But with no luck. With a wind-chill of minus 40, exposed skin could be badly frost bitten. They were quickly driven back by the freezing temperatures and unfortunately obscured Steve's trail with their footsteps. On the way back down they took a wrong turn but found their original trail and fortunately made it back to the lean-to.

They had a dog with them "I remember the dog freaked out that night," Sherwood said. "He just kept whining. He wouldn't leave the tent." They got into the lean-to in their sleeping bags and hoped that Steve had found shelter. Nobody slept that well.

As daylight broke on Tuesday the group decided to keep searching for Steve. Weaver said. "The thought was, rather than burn up four or five hours" hiking for a ranger, "with someone who's hypothermic, it would be better to find them right then."

They formed two groups to look for him. Bruce and Ken followed the red trail to Bushnell Falls, looping back to the lean-to along the yellow trail. The others climbed to the top of Marcy, circling as they searched. Neither group found any trace of the lost hiker. 

At 3 pm, Thackaberry, Bromley and Seymour decided to hike out for help as Weaver and Sherwood were exhausted and they decided to stay at the lean-to in case Steve returned.

The three tired members of the group went to get help and hiked back towards the Adirondak Loj where shortly after they met Ranger Gary Hodgson at 8.45 pm on April 13, 1976, to report Steve missing. Unfortunately, it had been two nights since their companion vanished, reducing the chance of a succesful rescue. 

Searchers didn't reach the mountain until the morning of Wednesday April 14 leaving Steve with no gear or food, if he was still alive in the cold temperatures.

Retired DEC ranger, Pete Fish said "You've got 360 degrees to choose from. About 2 degrees are right. If it's snowing, you haven't a clue where to go."

Depart­ment of Environmental Conserva­tion (DEC) rangers and volunteers searched on foot with specially-trained German shepherd dogs and three helicopters. DEC’s chopper flew five days, the State Police’s for three and the Air Force’s for two. The choppers dropped men to likely spots where they’d be fresh to fight through the vegetation. The searchers searched the area around Little Marcy, the Ausable Lakes, the stream valleys of Johns Brook and Feldspar. On the first day of the search, the state helicopter made an air search of the Marcy area, twice circling the area between the Ausable Lakes and Mount Golden. “There was no track,” a ranger said afterward, “no sign of him.”

Steve's brother, Bob Thomas, returned again and again to the mountain after the authorities failed to locate him or his body after 2 weeks of official search and rescue operations finished on April 21, 1976. He walked a total of 2,500 miles and reached the summit of Mount Marcy 600 times, dropping down each time to search the terrain in the area. “Sometimes I’d do it five or ten times a day,” he said, “just back and forth, back and forth, up the trail to the summit and down again. I was possessed. …You’ve got to understand, no longer are we normal human beings.”

Steve's hiking companions were questioned in detail about his disappearance but the authorities did not believe there was anything suspicious about their story. 

There was some speculation that Steve had vanished intentionally as he had returned from an extended western trip only a month earlier and was secretive about it, hinting at future plans which he would not reveal. But there has been no sign of Steve elsewhere in the United States. A cassette in the tape deck of Steve’s car was pushed in weeks after his disappear­ance. Bob said “It was a strange song. It ends, ‘all you hear is the blowing…the lonely wind blowing.’ Weird. It really struck me.” He be­lieves the song was called “Obscured by Clouds.”

Steve's brother Bob said the family was annoyed with the search effort. His frustration had begun with the late notification of his brother’s disappearance. “I was mad about that,” he says. “They took so long to contact us, up all day Wednesday in the helicopter and we didn’t hear about it until night.”

When the intensive search ended, the Thomas family continued to press state and federal officials for more organised efforts and they got four helicopters, which extended the search area, although unsuccessfully.“You know how guys can endure,” Bob said. “I thought Steve hurt himself way the hell out there and he’s just waiting…I could feel what he’s going through, just waiting for somebody to come.” He respected the rangers but still holds a bitterness toward some deskbound officials who called off searches.

Still refusing to give up hope, the Thomas family continued their own efforts. With Sue, sister Marilyn and William Gurley, Bob found the camping gear and then later the remains of a man missing for more than three years.

What happened to Steve? Was it similar to the story of Captain Lawrence Edward Grace "Titus" Oates, British army officer, and later an Antarctic explorer, who died during the Terra Nova Expedition with Captain Scott. Oates, who had gangrene and frostbite, walked from his tent into a blizzard and famously said to his companions on March 17th, 1912, "I am just going outside and may be some time". Like Oates, Steve seemed unusually quiet that day on the hike. Did he walk onto the mountain and intend to disappear and commit suicide. Alternatively, did he intend to start a new life somewhere and vanish off the mountain, but why did he leave his backpack and other gear behind lessening his chances of survival? Maybe it was just bad luck as the wind whipped up that day up to 60mph? The dog in the lean-to seemed very uncomfortable and distressed that night indicating something more sinister. A strange, sad and disturbing story.


Barry Zeldin - Strange disappearances from U.S. wilderness

Barry Zeldin, disappeared October 7, 2013, Warren Grove Recreation Area, New Jersey.

Barnett Barry Zedlin disappeance NJ

74-year-old Hunter, Barnett “Barry” Zeldin, left his Mays Landing home on Monday, October 7, 2013 and told his wife he was planning to put bait at a deer stand near Chatsworth in the Warren Grove Recreation Area.

When her husband didn’t come home or call Monday night, Barry's wife, Janet Zeldin, wasn’t worried because he was known to make spontaneous hunting trips that lasted several days. She said “I didn’t think much of it, I figured maybe he got a deer and he was looking for it. He’s very independent." Two days before the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Warren Grove Recreation Area is an undeveloped wilderness perfect for hiking and birding. This 617-acre area is just west of the town of Warren Grove and straddles Ocean and Burlington counties. The land was acquired from the National Park Service in 1972 as part of their Federal Lands to Parks Program. Access into the recreation area is via several sand roads and old woods roads through the area but no marked trails currently exist. The area also is home to rare and endangered plant species. 

 Authorities believed Barry was in the Burlington County side of the park when he disappeared.

warren grove

Janet started calling him every hour Tuesday and Wednesday, but all she got was his voicemail on his cellphone.  On Thursday October 10th, she tried to drive to the Audubon Gun Club but couldn’t find it. The next day she tried again this time successfully and got several members of the Gun Club to go out looking for Barry.

 Janet Zeldin

Janet Zeldin

“A couple of us went out Friday night looking for him and we couldn’t find nothing. Then we went out Saturday, me and three other members of the club, and we found his automobile,” says Wilbur Swales, president of the Audubon Gun Club.

Inside Barry's  SUV parked at Warren Grove, a 1992 Chevy Blazer, his keys were in the ignition, windows down, cell phone on the dashboard and his dog Taffy was still waiting for her master, having survived on corn and molasses meant for the deer.

 Barry Zeldin SUV location FAA Radio Tower Road, NJ

Barry Zeldin SUV location FAA Radio Tower Road, NJ

Janet speculated that “He must have left (the dog) her to check on the deer stand or to put some apples out and there was a medical emergency. She does what she’s told, so he must have told her to stay put.”

New Jersey State Police and State Park Police searched for the Barry using using helicopters and sniffer dogs. Search efforts originally concentrated on the Warren Grove Recreation Area, but they expanded to include other parts of the wilderness closer to Bass River State Forest in New Jersey. By Sunday October 13th in the afternoon there were no signs of Zeldin and the search was called off by the authorities. 

Volunteers with Burlington County K-9 Search and Rescue went back into the Recreation Area the following Tuesday and planned a larger search the following weekend to try and locate Barry or his body.  

Janet said at the time “I know he’s good in the woods, that’s why I never worried, he knows what he is doing in the woods. He’s a very avid hunter, he probably could survive out there indefinitely!"

The weather at the time of the disappearance was overcast, damp and chilly during the day and night. Temperatures were around 66° Fahrenheit  (18.9° Celsius) with winds in the teens gusting to 30mph out of the East North East, hence with wind chill temperatures would probably have been in the 40's.

 Inkberry bushes Warren Grove Recreation area

Inkberry bushes Warren Grove Recreation area

Inkberry Warren Grove

Zeldin’s daughter-in-law, Debbie Zeldin, said“It’s like he just vanished. His car was found with his dog, Taffy, inside. She’s okay, but we’re afraid of what might have happened because he loved that dog. He would have never left her anywhere if he wasn’t going to be right back."

In November 2013, Janet said “Every weekend and sometimes during the week, there is someone out looking for him. There’ve been different rescuers, state troopers, neighbors, friends and the fire department. In two weeks, the shotgun hunters will be going out, and there should be about 1,000 of them pushing for deer. Between the newspaper coverage, TV and word of mouth, everyone out there will know he’s missing and will look for him. As time goes by, I guess I get less hopeful.”

What made Barry leave his dogTaffy inside the car with his cellphone and belongings in the SUV? Clearly he planned to be away a short time. Did he suffer a stroke or heart attack because of his age and fall into the dense undergrowth in the area? Was he attacked by persons unknown? But if so why didn't they steal his car or wallet? What is strange is that he was never found despite his car being located and sniffer dogs being deployed without heavy rain which would have given search and rescue workers a clear start point to their efforts. To this day no sign of Barry or his gear has been found. Another strange hunter disappearance of an experienced outdoorsman who knew the area well. A weird one. 


Andrew Warburton - Disturbing disappearances and deaths in Canadian wilderness

Andy Warburton, disappeared July 1st, 1986, Tucker Lake, Beaver Bank, Nova Scotia, Canada

Andrew Warburton disappearance nova scotia

Parents Doreen and Tom Warburton from Hamilton, Ontario in Canada took their two sons Gary and Andy to see relatives in Beaver Bank, near Dartmouth in Nova Scotia in July 1986.

They were staying with Aunt Helen and the Bulger family on Tucker Lake road. On July 1st, 1986, Andy (9) and Gary decided to go swimming with the twins at the Carr residence on the same road at the nearby Tucker Lake. Violet Carr the twins mother told the children at 3.40pm that they could go swimming for 20 minutes. Three of the four children headed off towards the lake but Andy was delayed for some reason and the others left without him. They were wearing their swimming outfits.

Warburton disappearance family pic
 Doreen Warburton

Doreen Warburton

 Tom Warburton

Tom Warburton

Just behind the Carr house is a pathway to Tucker Lake through woodland with a fork, the right heading towards the lake and the left fork moving deeper into the woods. Violet saw Andy at around 4 pm on her back step but after that, he vanished. Never to be seen alive again.

Helen and Doreen started dinner and noticed that Andy was nowhere to be seen and the other children did not know where he had gone as they had not seen him at the lake.

Tucker lake Nova Scotia

The family checked with neighbours, the path and lakeside then called  the RCMP and officers arrived at 5.45pm. The RCMP saw a young boy called Hobb Mcdonald who had just come back from summer camp that day and said he seen Andy earlier that day by a stream called Beaver Bank River. He had apparently taken his tennis sneakers off, crossed the water and then put them back on. But Andy's mother was surprised at this story as apparently he was scared of the river because he had got covered in leaches the last time he went in it. Andy was never far away from the twins but the RCMP never questioned them for some reason.

At 6.30pm tracking dogs went in to the woods, went across the river and circled back. They were never taken in the area of Tucker Lake. Waverley search and rescue arrived with around 100 searchers in the wood, most of them across the Beaver Bank River. 

Andy Warburton searchers

The Canadian Emergency measures organisation (EMO) coordinated the search, directed by Bernie Marshall, only his second search in the role and he had no formal training.

During mid-afternoon on day 2, July 2nd, it started raining and the temperature dropped to 53 degrees F (12℃).

On day 3 searchers were looking in ever-widening circles. There were three separate accounts that Andy was seen or heard north of Hamilton Lake, on the Chesapeake road and directly west of Tucker Lake, focused the attention of rescue teams. Searchers reported seeing a boy running away from them and being "Spooked". But these reports were possibly false and the calling of porcupines could be mistaken for a boy screaming or a fawn running through undergrowth, which were common in the area. Still no luck in locating Andy with time running out because of the cold and wet conditions.

By day 5, fourteen organised search and rescue teams were deployed but were not co-ordinated and were using different maps and radios. Hundreds of volunteers turned up to help, but were often left waiting for instructions. On Day 7 the military were finally dispatched in the area and Andy's sneakers were located.

On Day 8, after 165 hours of search operations, Andy's body was found north of Square Lake in Rasley Meadow, a 3 mile (4km) walk from the area of Tucker Lake at around 5.30pm. The body was in an alder thicket in a gully of marshy ground and outside the primary search area in a curled up foetal position. He had bad scratches on his legs. The coroner reported he probably died on day 4 or 5 based on the autopsy. results The searchers had never thought to look in Rasley Meadows as he had wandered further than they expected.

Tucker lake to Rasley Meadow

Expert trackers say the average person leaves behind two thousand clues for every mile travelled, from broken twigs, to footprints to twisted blades of grass. A team of well-trained searchers spaced ten feet apart can usually pick up ninety-five percent of these clues. But they found nothing.

Professor Ken Hill, a child psychologist from St. Mary's University in Halifax was asked by the RCMP to help in the search by giving information as to how a child would behave when lost. After Andy was found dead he was determined to do more research into disappearances and used the data of William Syrotuck, a researcher in the United States and conducted interviews with survivors to ascertain the psychology of those who get lost. 

He found that many children between seven and twelve years are "Stranger Resistant" and won't respond to rescuers and will tend to run, usually covering between 0.92 and 1.7 miles. They are often afraid of punishment and won't answer searchers until they are cold and hungry.

The search for Andy Warburton was criticised for being chaotic and unplanned. Stranger Resistance may have been a factor but also the primary search area was wrong because of reports of sightings near Hamilton Lake. What exactly happened near Tucker Lake and why Andy ended up in Rasley Meadows is the mystery, a distance of 3 miles which is further than most children of his age would travel when lost. Why did the other children take so long in noticing that Andy was not with them swimming in Tucker Lake, particularly his brother Gary? Despite thousands of searchers and hundreds of hours, the effort failed to locate Andy in time,. What kept Andy hidden for so long? A sad and disturbing tale which led to further valuable research in missing persons by Hill and Syrotuck which helped subsequent search and rescue operations.


Documentary 8 days in July

The Survivors Club: The secrets and science that could save your lifeBy Ben Sherwood

The Cowden Family - Strange and disturbing murders in the U.S. wilderness

The Cowden Family murders Oregon

Richard Cowden (28), his wife Belinda (22), their children, David (5) and Melissa (5 months) and dog Droopy, went camping in the Siskiyou Mountains near Carberry Creek, Copper, Oregon, on August 30th to September 1, 1974, over the Labor Day weekend.

Seven months later, in April 1975, their bodies were discovered around 7 miles (11 km) from their campsite. The case remains unsolved and has been described as one of the most mysterious murder stories in American history.

The Cowden family lived in White City, Oregon and Richard worked as a logging truck driver. They travelled to the campsite in their 1956 Ford pickup truck.

The Cowdens loved to camp, but they had not planned to go camping that Labor Day weekend of 1974. Richard had planned to haul a load of gravel for his driveway and spend the weekend getting the job done. Unexpectedly, the truck broke down, so instead they decided to go up to the Siskiyou Mountains for a family trip away.

Carberry Creek, Copper, Oregon

On Sunday, September 1, Richard and David went to the Copper General Store on foot at approximately 9 am to buy some milk. They left the store and headed back to their campsite. This was the last sighting of the Cowden family.

That evening, Belinda's mother, who lived less than 1 mile from the campground, was expecting the family to come over for dinner on their way home. They failed to show and she went to the campsite to see if there was a problem.  When she arrived there was no sign of the Cowdens and the truck was parked up with the keys on a picnic table. A plastic dishpan full of cold water lay on the ground and Belinda's purse was in plain sight on the table. A diaper bag and camp stove were set up and a half-finished carton of milk was also present, which matched that bought at the store earlier in the day. Richard's expensive wristwatch and wallet were on the ground. There was also an opened pack of cigarettes, which were the brand that Belinda smoked. The truck appeared untouched and contained their clothing, with only the bathing suits missing.

 Siskiyou Mountains, Oregon

Siskiyou Mountains, Oregon

After waiting for about an hour, Belinda's mother left the campground to notify the authorities after which the sheriff, troopers, and the District 3 Office of the Oregon State Police arrived at the scene. Officers searched the area until it grew so dark they couldn’t see a thing. Lieutenant Mark Kezar who headed the case would later state that the investigation had been "delayed for maybe a day" because of the lack of indication that anything violent may have occurred at the campsite. A state trooper, Officer Erickson, recalled: "That camp was spooky; even the milk was still on the table."

The following morning, on September 2, the Cowdens' pet Basset Hound, Droopy, was found scratching at the front door of the Copper General Store.

The search for the Cowdens was one of the largest in Oregon history and included state and local police, Explorer Scouts, the United States Forest Service, and the Oregon National Guard as well as hundreds of volunteers. The U.S. Forest Service searched 25 miles of roads and trails surrounding the campsite, and helicopters and planes were flown over the area equipped with infrared imaging. Despite this very large search effort, no sign was found apart from the dog. The official search of the area was suspended on September 7, but friends and relatives of the family spent many weekends and vacation time to continue looking.

The family had little debts, they were not behind on any payments and Richard made more than enough money to support his family. So it seemed unlikely they had voluntarily disappeared.  If didn't seem like robbery as the wallet, watch etc. were left behind. No bodies were found in the creek which ruled out accidental drowning. What happened to the Cowden family? Kezar and his colleagues were baffled.

Then seven months after the family vanished, on April 12, 1975, two gold prospectors were hiking through the woods near Carberry Creek when they discovered the decomposing body of an adult male tied to a tree on a steep hillside around 7 miles from the location of the Cowden's campsite. In a small cave nearby, the bodies of an adult female, a child, and an infant were discovered. The entrance of the cave was sealed with rocks to disguise it and hide the bodies. Positive identification of the bodies as those of the Cowden family was made via dental records.

Autopsies revealed that Belinda and 5 year old David had died as a result of .22 calibre gunshot wounds, baby Melissa had died from severe head trauma. Medical authorities were unable to determine the cause of Richard Cowden's death. 

Thinking of the possibility that Richard could have murdered his own family, detectives searched the area for a gun or other weapon. If Richard was indeed responsible for the death’s of his family and his own suicide, then some sort of weapon would still be around. No gun or weapon were ever found, not even the smallest clue to give police a lead.

Lt. Mark Kezar said afterwards that "The whole nature of the thing smacks of a weirdo," adding that the police know a lot they didn't feel free to discuss at that point.

The authorities believed that Richard and David returned to the camp after their trip to the store and the family went swimming in adjacent Carberry Creek later that morning. A short time later, probably before noon, the family was abducted at gunpoint, and most likely by someone they did not know. Kezar hypothesized that they were probably driven some distance away, forced up the steep slope where they were found, and at least three of them were shot.

One family from Los Angeles, California had arrived at the campground at 5 pm on September 1 and whilst walking in the park that evening, they witnessed two men and a woman parking nearby in a pickup truck. They said, "they acted like they were waiting for us to leave, and frankly, they made us nervous, so we moved on."

Based on the location of Belinda and the children's bodies inside the cave, Lieutenant Kezar suspected that the person responsible was a local resident who knew the area and was aware of the cave's location. After the family's remains were recovered, a resident of Grants Pass who had volunteered in the search told police that he had searched the cave where Belinda and the children's bodies were found in September 1974 and that they were not there at that time. To confirm the story, police had the man take them to the cave he had searched; it was the same cave where the bodies had been discovered.

 Dwain Lee Little

Dwain Lee Little

Dwain Lee Little, has been implicated but never charged with the murders.  Little had been paroled from the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem on May 24, 1974, three months prior to the Cowdens' disappearances. On November 2, 1964, he had raped and murdered teenager Orla Fay Fipps, then aged only 15 years of age. State police were able to determine that Little had been in Copper over the Labor Day weekend at the approximate time the Cowden family were killed.

Little's girlfriend told law enforcement that she had seen him with a .22 caliber gun during Christmas 1974 and on January 12, 1975, his parole was revoked after she informed police. Little was paroled again on April 26, 1977 and on June 2, 1980, he picked up a pregnant twenty-three-year-old named Margie Hunter, whose car had broken down near Portland, Oregon. He sexually assaulted and beat her but she survived. and Little was charged and convicted of attempted homicide and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. He was never cooperative with mental health treatment and refused to discuss any of the murders he is accused of.

Police believed that the two men and woman in a truck reported by the Los Angeles family at the campground were in fact Little and his parents, as their truck matched the description provided by the family. Little and his parents denied any knowledge of the Cowdens' disappearances; however, a miner who owned a cabin nearby claimed that Little and his parents had stopped by on Monday, September 2, 1974, and signed a guestbook he kept for visitors.

Floyd Forsberg, an inmate who at one time shared a cell with Little, would later claim that Little confessed to the Cowdens' murders. 

Richard Cowden's father committed suicide a few months after the bodies were discovered but he was cleared of any involvement.

Over four decades on, the facts behind the Cowdens' murders remains unknown. Foul play for certain but was it Dwain Little or someone else. A brutal murder in America's wilderness.


Jerry Lee McKoen - Strange disappearances from U.S. wilderness

Jerry Lee McKoen, disappeared 21 September 2002, Malin, Oregon.

Jerry Lee McKoen disappearance

Jerry McKoen, 48, was last seen at approximately 4.30am - 5:30 a.m. on September 21, 2002 at his home near the 24200 block of Old Malin Highway in Malin, Oregon, halfway between Merrill and Malin.

He drove away from the house in his brown and white 1986 GMC pickup truck which had a distinctive camper shell that runs the length of the bed, with a Honda 185XL motorcycle beside the canopy. He used the motorbike to explore wilderness areas.

McKoen, was no novice to the outdoors and was renowned in the area as an avid outdoorsman. He grew potatoes, alfalfa and grain on his family's farm, and lived with his parents, Clifford and Bertha McKoen. Jerry was single, very independent, and while he lived at home on the family farm, he would come and go as he pleased.

Jerry was planning a hunt with his usual a bow and arrows, preferring this method to firearms. But he never returned home and has never been heard from again.

Medicine lake, Siskiyou County

His truck was found two weeks later on October 8,  west of Medicine Lake Road in a heavily wooded area south of Door Knob Snowmobile Park in Siskiyou County, California, 40 miles south of Klamath Falls.  The area is in the shadow of Mount Shasta.

Some hunters had bought a box of potatoes from a packing shed in the valley, and it had a poster on the wall relating to Jerry's disappearance and a picture of the pickup. When they saw the pickup they knew immediately it belonged to McKoen.

Jerry's friends and family went to the place his truck was found. It didn't take them long to realise something was not right. The radio was off and the heater was on high. There was no sign of him at the scene with no evidence of foul play. 

Jerry's mother, Bertha McKoen, said  "It looked pretty much just like you'd think he'd leave it." Saying his disappearance was "hard to believe. We're doing all right. As good as can be expected, but there's a real puzzlement to it." 

Nearly 100 volunteers combed a portion of the Modoc National Forest with the Sherrif's office saying "No trace of the missing man, no clues whatsoever, were found". The search included dog teams, an air search by the California Highway Patrol helicopter. Searchers used global positioning system devices to make sure no areas were missed with eight to 10 square miles covered in the vicinity.

Bertha said she knew her son was in trouble as soon as she learned he was missing."He's a homebody, Plus, his dad's birthday was on Wednesday, and he definitely wouldn't have missed that." She believed something happened to her son, "I think he met up with foul play. We don't think he drove his pickup there." He would usually leave a note, and that day, he didn’t.

The family put up 2,500 posters across the area, including information about a $20,000 reward within the first week of their son’s disappearance.

McKoen's friends believed he went hunting either at the Klamath Marsh, 50 miles north of Klamath Fall, at the Gearhart or Christmas Valley areas or in the Beatty or Fort Klamath Seven-mile areas.

Friend Terry Guthrie who knew Jerry since he was six years old said, "I hunted with him 18 years and every time he left the pickup he never locked it and this time it was locked. It's just certain things like that that started making me believe there was a possibility foul play was involved." Bertha McKoen said, "It wasn't him that drove that pick up, that's why we think it was foul play."

Guthrie said, "We don't know whether Jerry went down there for a purpose, or that Jerry didn't even go down there, or someone was forcing him to go down there. There's no explanation for it."

Strange that no sign of Jerry was found in the area where his vehicle was discovered, with no evidence of his bow and arrows in an area of low timber and relatively accessible. To date, 15 years on, nothing has been found.


Emerson “Red” Carbaugh - Strange disappearances in U.S. forests

Emerson Edward "Red" Carbaugh, disappeared November 11, 1985, Robertsdale, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania

Emerson "Red Carbaugh disappeared

64-year-old Emerson Edward "Red" Carbaugh, of St Thomas, PA and his brother-in-law, Ralph Issett of Saxton, PA went turkey hunting in the mountains of Robertsdale, Pennsylvania.  They headed to a field off an old logging road on Broad Top Mountain on the afternoon of November 11th, 1985.

Broad Top is a plateau located in south-central Pennsylvania. It extends into Huntingdon County to the north, Fulton County to the southeast, and Bedford County to the southwest. It is bounded to the west by Saxton Mountain and Terrace Mountain, and to the east by Sideling Hill. In Bedford County, Harbor Mountain forms the southern boundary. Trough Creek Valley lies between the mountains.

The men split up at around 2 pm, each taking a different path through the woods on a drizzly afternoon and planned to meet back at Carbaugh’s truck at a specified time.

In the late afternoon, Ralph came out from the woods alone. He waited for a while but, with darkness coming and thinking that perhaps Red had lost his way, Ralph fired 1/2 dozen rounds from his gun into the air hoping Red would hear the gunfire and follow it. Still nothing. He then walked to get help. Ralph Issett's hunting partner was never seen again.

It was too dark already to search that evening, but a search party was formed the next day at a nearby volunteer fire company. For almost two weeks, more than 1,800 people would search 12 square miles of woods for Carbaugh. Volunteers walked arm and arm through the tough, isolated terrain. Two different types of search dogs were brought in as well as scuba divers and a helicopter with heat-sensing FLIR technology. Despite this large search no evidence of his whereabouts was ever found - No hat. No gun. No body.

In 2004, Red's wife, Ida Carbaugh-Stevens, was contacted by someone claiming to have information about his fate. According to this source, Red had been killed and buried on a farm in the Robertsdale area. The person also claimed to have dug up a bone on the farm which was turned over to the State Police at Huntingdon, along with the information the person possessed. The State Police turned the bone over to the Pennsylvania DNA lab in Greensburg, but because the bone was only a small fragment and degraded, it was impossible to extract any DNA from it.

Ida said there were other hunters in the area that afternoon, that her husband had seen five men loading turkeys into the back of a truck near where the two men were planning to hunt. However, no one could ever prove that there was a connection or that the men had been identified. She also said the events of that day ended her brother-in-law’s days as a sportsman.

Red Carbaugh was declared legally dead in 1992. His case remains unsolved and another case of a missing hunter mysteriously vanished in the wilderness, leaving no trace of a gun or clothing.  If he was murdered, why?

For other Hunter's stories see: