Chiricahua Monument

Paul Fugate - Strange disappearances from U.S. monuments

Paul fugate disappearance Chiricahua National Monument.

Paul Fugate, disappeared January 13, 1980, Chiricahua Monument, Arizona

Another story about a Park Ranger disappearing whilst working.  See also Randy Morgenson who worked in the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park who left his station on July 21, 1996 and was never seen alive again. 

About 2-3 PM on a Sunday afternoon on January 13, 1980, law enforcement ranger Paul Fugate, 41, left the Visitor Centre to "check the nature trail" in the Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona and was never seen again.

Faraway Ranch Chiricahua National Monument

He was the only member of the permanent staff at the Monument on duty that day and left instructions with the only other member of staff, a seasonal employee, that if he wasn’t back before 4.30pm to begin to shut down without him. Fugate walked down towards the Monument entrance to check trails leading to Faraway Ranch, a 400-acre piece of land recently acquired for the Monument and was never seen again. The Faraway Ranch preserves an area associated with the final conflicts with the local Apache, one of the last frontier settlements. Paul left his radio and key behind in the Ranger Station.

Chiricahua National Monument is part of the National Park System located in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. The monument was established on April 18, 1924, to protect its extensive hoodoos and balancing rocks. It is located approximately 36 miles (58 km) southeast of Willcox, Arizona and it preserves the remains of an immense volcanic eruption many millions of years ago.

Chiricahua National Monument balanced rock

Search and rescue teams on foot, with sniffer dogs and in helicopters and light planes searched the area with the help of the National Park Service, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, Southern Arizona Search and Rescue Association, and Fugate’s friends and family. But they found no trace. 

The only lead was provided by an acquaintance of Paul who described seeing him later that afternoon, wearing his uniform and slumped unconscious between two men in a pickup truck. Under hypnosis, the acquaintance described the truck and the men. The acting director of the Park Service's Western Region, Jack Davis, dismissed this saying it ''would have to be questioned because of the speed,'' since the vehicles passed each other at 50 miles per hour, ''and the fleeting nature of the glimpse.''

At home he left behind his wallet, $300, a valuable gun collection, expensive camera equipment and a truck he was restoring, suggesting he hadn't disappeared to start a new life somewhere else. Though there was some speculation that he had followed a pregnant girlfriend to a new city.

He was reportedly seen three years later in 1983 in Bend, Oregon but in July 1983 based on new leads, a Cochise County Sheriff's Office official announced Fugate had been murdered and that the arrest of "more than one person" was imminent. However, no one was ever charged.

Chiricahua National Monument

Following his disappearance, the Park Service declared Fugate missing and posted a $5,000 reward for information. His family matched that sum. The service also started making partial salary payments to his wife, Dody, who was a scientific photographer at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

In early 1981, Howard Chapman, director of the Park Service's Western Region, reviewed the case and decided that Fugate had voluntarily ''abandoned his position.'' Paul was dismissed from his role, and his wife was asked to return the $6,900 paid to her, plus 11 percent interest. Later, the demand for repayment was changed to a deduction on his retirement fund.

Dody was told that no appeal was possible because a termination hearing must be requested within 20 days and the dismissal had been made retrospectively to early 1980. It emerged that on another occasion, in late 1970, Paul had been dismissed by for having long hair and a handlebar moustache. After a dispute with the service, Mr. Fugate was reinstated in 1976 and his back pay and benefits were restored.

For six years the National Park Service refused to list him as deceased and his widow was unable to collect benefits. In 1986, the NPS and an Arizona investigator re-examined the case and confirmed his death.  Dody was finally able to claim full financial support. Not the park service's finest hour!

To this day, no evidence of Paul Fugate's disappearance has been found and speculation has mounted that he was murdered by drug traffickers in the area, that his body was taken out of the park, and buried elsewhere, never to be seen again. Illegal drug activity was apparently common in the vicinity of the Monument in the early 1980's.

In June 2018, the NPS announced it had discovered new information about Fugate’s case and together with the Cochise County Sheriff Department, asked for help from the public in solving the mystery. The NPS also announced it was increasing the reward offered for solid leads from $20,000 to $60,000. There is no further information on what prompted the case to be reopened.