Forest Disappearances

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:


Donnell Vista Point - Strange disappearances in U.S. National Forests

Nita Mayo, 2005, Patricia Sue Tolhurst, 2014, Breck Phelps, 2016, Donnell Vista Point,  Highway 108, Stanislaus National Forest, Tuolumne County, California.

Donnell Vista Point, california

Three people, Nita Mayo, Patricia Tolhurst and Breck Phelps have mysteriously disappeared in the area of California's beautiful Donnell Vista Point in the last 12 years. Though the area has dangerous terrain it seems possible that foul play was involved in one or more of the cases. To date, no sign of these missing visitors has ever been found despite huge searches in the area.

Summit District Ranger Molly Fuller said “It is dangerous, but there’s a lot of dangerous places in the forest. There’s really no explanation for why people have parked there and disappeared. I have no explanation.”. Strange cases indeed!

Donnell Vista is 15 miles east of Strawberry and 12 miles west of Kennedy Meadows Vista point in Tuolumne County, California. Between them is a backcountry with Highway 108,  situated close to it. 

The viewing vista is down a winding quarter mile trail from the parking lot and is a surrounded by meandering tracks of pines and cedars, granite rock formations. It is a picturesque location to catch amazing views of the Dardanelles, the Middle Fork Stanislaus River Canyon and the Donnell Reservoir. It is at the top of a steep, rocky slope with slippery rock. It’s a day-use area, not a campground, so you can’t stay there overnight.

The tract of land around Donnell Point id described as “large and vast” with “extreme changes in elevation, deep canyons with heavy foliage and cold, fast, running water that filled crevices and ledges."

Donnell Vista Point Sign
Donnell Vista California

Nita Mayo

Nita Mayo Donnell Point

Nita Mayo, 75, was last seen at the Strawberry Store near Pinecrest on Monday, August 8th, 2005, and her vehicle was found at Donnell Vista.  She left her home for a day trip over Sonora Pass to do some shopping and sightseeing.

Nita Mayo was born and raised in England and married an American soldier in the Air Force. The couple moved to the states and settled in Oklahoma.

She would drive over to Yosemite or go over the pass to Tuolumne County, take a picnic basket, and she was writing her life story.

A Caltrans worker saw her car that Monday night and again the following morning. Because backpackers often park at Donnell Vista overnight, the worker didn’t think too much of it.

When Nita didn’t report for work Tuesday, August 9th, her co-workers at Mount Grant General Hospital called the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department in Hawthorne, as well as the Tuolumne and Mono County sheriff’s’ departments.

On Wednesday, a Tuolumne County sheriff’s sergeant spotted Nita Mayo’s 1997 Mercury Sable station wagon at Donnell Vista and began a search of the immediate area before nightfall.

By then, Mayo’s children, Cindy, Shelley, Tracy and Pete, had flown in from Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota. When they heard she was missing, they figured she had run off the road somewhere, but then they got the call her car was found at Donnell Vista on Sonora Pass.

Nita had bought souvenirs from the Strawberry General Store on August 8th that were found in her locked car, along with her purse, wallet, glasses and the keys to the car. The car was locked via a keypad on the door. Missing from the car was her camera and prescription sunglasses.

When dogs searched the vista point area, they picked up no scent of her other than right at the car. Nita Mayo’s children searched for her for three or four months. Large, organised searches with volunteers were held every weekend, and Pete Mayo said he was out every day searching for his mom.

The family think she met with foul play, and have always suspected a man who had been a patient at Nita’s clinic in Hawthorne who showed up there claiming he’d heard Nita Mayo had disappeared but had been found. The man later failed a polygraph, but no arrest was ever made. Her daughter Tracy, said “They hadn’t even started the searches yet. He was really weird.”

Tracy drove 21 hours from her home in North Dakota to Midland, Texas, where the person of interest now lives. “I didn’t tell him I was coming,” she said. “I went alone, which probably wasn’t too smart. When I had some questions that needed answers.” She went to his place of work, sat there and waited for him. “When he saw me, I didn’t say a word,” she said. “He said, ‘Hello, Tracy. How are you?’ ” He was nervous as they talked, she said. But she extracted no new or potentially incriminating information from him.

Her family maintain that Nita was scared of heights and so wouldn't have likely ventured to a precarious point for photographs.

Search teams found no trace.

News reports about Nita Mayo’s disappearance appeared in California, Nevada, Oklahoma and on news wires. Nita's sister in Cornwall, England, was interviewed by British news agencies. The search was also broadcast on “America’s Most Wanted” television show.

Pete her son said “I know she’s not right around Donnell’s Vista. I crawled on my hands and knees around that place for weeks and found not one scrap of evidence,. I know that place better than most locals. I scoured it for months. It’s hard to live with the fact that you let her down.”

She was declared legally dead in 2013.  A bench was installed at the Vista dedicated to Nita, located in the rock overlooking the vista point, which took over two years of work and organisation to have installed. There is, additionally, a dedication plaque for her outside the Strawberry Store, which she visited on the way to Donnell Vista.

Patricia Sue Tolhurst


Patricia "Patty" Sue Tolhurst, 48, the owner of Patty’s Shack, a restaurant in East Sonora, was last seen in Twain Harte on April 18, 2014. On April 20, she sent mailed letter to some friends saying she was going to go hiking in the area. Her abandoned white Toyota 4-Runner car with her keys and personal identification inside was found at Donnell Vista on April 22nd.

A friend told authorities Patty planned to visit Kennedy Meadows Resort, 8 miles further east. An over-weeklong search yielded no clues to her whereabouts.

Thomas F. Kelley, Patty’s father, said Pat had been raised in the Bay Area but always had a fascination with nature. “She loved that whole area up there ever since she was very young,” he said. “She liked everything that had to do with the outdoors.”

She has never been heard from again.

Breck Phelps

Breck Phelps Donnell Vista disappearance

Breck Phelps, 68, disappeared from Donnell Vista while on a fishing trip in early October 2016. His Nissan Versa car was found a quarter-mile away near a trail leading down to the Stanislaus River. On October 5, the search was officially “scaled back” after a four-day search.

His cellphone had been powered down so he was unable to be tracked by searchers. Tuolumne County Search and Rescue was assisted by the National Guard out of Sacramento, a Black Hawk helicopter, an unmanned Stanislaus County aerial vehicle, heat-sensing equipment, boats, and California Highway Patrol helicopters and six dog teams, over the course of the search. Boats were used to search the Donnell Reservoir.

Search and Rescue Sgt. Jeff Hunt said his crew approaches each search by the same procedure, but the terrain at Donnell Vista does “make it difficult to search. That area has extreme elevation changes within short distances which can limit areas people can travel in, due to cliff faces, and trying to access areas over the top of large sections of granite to search. So access does pose a challenge."

No sign of Breck was found. 



Ronald Allen Ohm - Strange disappearances from U.S. National Forests

Ronald Allen Ohm, disappeared August 9th, 2012, Mount Jefferson Wilderness, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

Ronald Allen Ohm disappearance

Ronald Allen Ohm, 52,  who was last seen near Russell Lake in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness on Thursday, August 9, 2012 whilst hiking with two friends. On a ridge above the lake he told them he would stay a while to take pictures while they set up camp down below.

The group had departed from the Breitenbush Lake campground trail head and planned to spend the weekend at Russell Lake, which is south-west of Portland.

But Ohm never showed up at camp that Thursday night. The friends looked for him Friday, then hiked out Friday evening and reported him missing.

Ron was an experienced hiker, familiar with the area, and was equipped with a blue and red backpack, tent, sleeping bag and provisions to last for several days. He suffered from a medical condition that required daily medications and he had taken four days supply of tablets with him.

In addition to Marion County Sheriff’s officials, searchers from Linn, Benton, Deschutes, Lane and Polk Counties, as well as Portland Mountain Rescue took part in the six-day search. Search crews are looked for Ohm on foot, on horses, on SUVs and on ATVs focusing in the area between Russell, Scout and Bays lakes. 200 searchers dedicated approximately 3,500 hours to search 300 square miles of the Willamette National Forest north of Mount Jefferson. Efforts were hampered by the smoke and the approaching "Waterfall 2" forest fire, which was moving west from Warm Springs. 

Russell Lake and Mount Jefferson

Russell Lake and Mount Jefferson

The area around Russell Lake is heavily forested and has many ridges and valleys with some snow cover. Daytime temperatures occasionally reached 90 degrees. The elevation of the search area varied from 5,000 to 7,500 feet above sea level.

Salem based helicopters from the Oregon Army National Guard and Cessna 182 aircraft from the Civil Air Patrol flew numerous hours over the search area, but were unable to spot any sign of Ohm. Many hikers were contacted during the search, and fliers were posted at trail heads and along the Pacific Crest Trail.

In August 2013, a year after Ron's disappearance, MCSO Search & Rescue volunteers from Team 18, along with personnel in Jeeps and on horseback, returned to the area to search again in the hope of finding his  remains. A total of 54 people were involved in the search; camping two nights in the wilderness to maximise the time available to search. The search was focused along the Pacific Crest Trail, between the Brietenbush trail head and the White Water trail head. But a  total of 1135 man-hours of searching failed to find any evidence of Ohm.

To this day, no evidence of Ron Ohm's remains, clothing or equipment has been found. Another case of someone vanishing in Oregon and someone taking some pictures in the wilderness that mysteriously disappears despite a large search. Did Ron take his own life and walk off, giving the story to his friends that he planned to take pictures? Did a bear or mountain lion grab him? - but no clothing, camera or equipment left behind. 


Gerren Kirk - Strange disappearances from U.S. National Forests

Gerren Kirk, disappeared December 3rd, 2014, Frog Lake Campground, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon.

Gerren Kirk, Mount Hood disappearance

Gerren Kirk, 31, was an experienced outdoorsman and often took solo trips in the woods. He left home on December 3rd, 2014, to hike in the Mount Hood National Forest, with plans to return December 6th. However, on this occasion, he didn't leave family members with any details. Kirk’s sister Whitney Kirk Altman filed a missing persons report on Sunday, December 7, but the search was delayed until Monday because search and rescue crews couldn't be dispatched until the vehicle was located to establish a starting point.

Kirk grew up in the Milwaukie area and graduated from Portland Public Schools' Vocational Village High School. He lived for a number of years in Arizona, working in admissions for the University of Phoenix. After returning to Milwaukie, he enrolled in Portland Community College, studying business. He had recently transferred his credits and completed his first term of online courses with National University. He planned to complete his bachelor's degree and then go on for a master's.

Kirk was married for several years, but he and his wife Kristin were divorced, shared joint custody of their daughter, five year old Gabriella.

Gerren's gold Pontiac Grand Am was found in the parking lot at Frog Lake Campground off U.S. 26, by a family member on Monday, December 8th, focusing the search on the heavily wooded areas nearby.

Gerren Kirk's gold Pontiac Grand Am was located Monday at the Frog Lake Campground near Mount Hood.

Police also were able to ping his cell phone and locate it east of Frog Lake heading in a SW direction. That route would have brought him from Clackamas County into Wasco County, so jurisdiction for the search switched over to the Wasco County Sheriff's Office.

Gerren Kerk disappearance Mount Hood

An estimated 170 volunteers from across Oregon joined in the search around Frog and Twin Lakes, which lasted for around nine days and was co-ordinated by the Wasco County Sheriff's Office. Sniffer dogs and surveillance aircraft with heat detecting infrared also participated. The weather on the mountain was mostly damp over the period of the search and slightly above freezing, with unusually low snow levels for December.

Mount Hood from Frog Lake

Mount Hood from Frog Lake

Frog Lake Trail Mount Hood National Forest

Frog Lake Trail Mount Hood National Forest

Searchers included Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue, Mountain Wave Emergency Communications, Clackamas County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, Multnomah County Search and Rescue, Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, Lake County Search and Rescue, Wallowa County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, Clatsop County Sheriff's Office, Salvation Army, Trauma Intervention Program, businesses in Government Camp, Zigzag, Welches and Sandy, Bud's Towing of Oregon City, Milwaukie Presbyterian Church.

Mount hood national forest Frog Lake

Despite the search efforts, no trace of Gerren has been found. It was strange that his cellphone was pinging to the South West of Frog Lake, in the direction of Clear Lake, but search efforts seem to have focused on the area to the north east, in the area of Twin Lakes, unless the media misreported the location.

To this day, Brian and Annette Kirk, and siblings keep his memory alive at the FB page Inlovingmemoryofgerrenkirk


Arvin Nelson - Disturbing disappearances in U.S. forests

Arvin Nelson, Disappeared August 6th, 2014, Ventana wilderness, Los Padres National Forest, California

Arvin Nelson disappearance Los Padres National Forest

Arvin Nelson, 55,  began his solo backpacking trip to Big Sur Station in the Los Padres National Forest on August the 6th, 2014, starting his hike at the China Camp Trailhead.

Arvin was dropped off by a friend at China Camp near Tassajara Road and planned to hike the eastern side of the Ventana Wilderness, including the Pine Ridge Trail, an area he had never visited before. He was expected to arrive at the Big Sur Station on August 14 and when he didn’t arrive searchers were notified and they began Search and Rescue operations on August 16th in the area. Nelson was an experienced hiker and he told friends that if he didn’t make contact with them at the time agreed they should report him missing

Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies, the National Guard, the U.S. Forest Service, the California Highway Patrol and other agencies were all involved in the search with the help of three helicopters and approximately 30 foot searchers on the ground every day. 

Arvin Nelson search los padres national forest

The last known sighting of Arvin was on August 6th, when he met Jack English, who lived for 13 years in an isolated cabin in the Ventana Wilderness, and his son Dennis. When the father and son were picked up by helicopter two days later on the 8th, Arvin stayed and saw them off. He told them he was planning to stay and hike 11 miles to Sykes on August 10th.

Nelson had taken a lot of gear and food with him because of the length of time he had planned for this solo hike. For this reason, the authorities continued their search for longer than they normally would as his chance of survival were higher.

Arvin Nelson Los Padres disappearance

To this day, no sign of Arvin has been found. Another solo hiker lost in the American wilderness.


Derrick Engebretson - Strange disappearances from U.S. forests

Derrick Engebretson, disappeared December 5th, 1998, Rocky Point Area, Winema National Forest, Klamath County, Oregon.

Derrick Engebretson disappearance

On the afternoon of December 5th, 1998,  Derrick Engebretson, aged 8, Dad Robert and 64-year-old grandfather, Bob, set out for a densely wooded mountainside above Upper Klamath Lake near Pelican Butte, about 30 miles from downtown Klamath Falls. This was the last day Derrick was ever seen. 

Derrick was also known as "Bear Boy" because of his love of the outdoors. When he was a week old, his mother put him in a pack and carried him along on a bear hunt. He grew up hunting with his father and mushroom-picking with his mother's father. He'd been to Pelican Butte on several of those mushroom expeditions.

Upper Klamath Lake is a large, shallow freshwater lake east of the Cascade Range in south-central Oregon. Pelican Butte is a steep-sided dormant shield volcano and it is located 28 miles (45 km) due south of Crater Lake and rises over 3,800 feet above the shore of the lake.

pelican butte, Upper Klamath Lake, oregon

The Engebretson family hadn't planned to go to the woods that year to go christmas tree hunting. Lori, Robert's wife, had talked him into using an artificial tree that year despite the fact that he was an enthusiastic outdoorsman who always looked forward to the family's annual Christmas tree hunt. Lori wanted less mess, but when a disabled neighbour asked for a real tree, Robert headed off into the forest.

Pelican Butte Trail

As Bob's red Toyota pickup climbed the Westside Road, Robert remembers telling his father they couldn't hang around as. it was already after 2 pm, and it would be getting dark around 4pm since it was late in the year. Bob pulled onto a turnout at Milepost 12, on the way to Rocky Point Resort. Robert helped Derrick get into his blue snowsuit, and the three of them started up an embankment into the pine forest. Robert walked ahead of the other two, telling Derrick to stay with his grandfather.

As Derrick chopped at small trees with his hatchet he nagged his grandfather that he wanted to catch up with his dad. The grandfather eventually relented and then he was gone. 

About 3 pm with the darkness closing in, Robert and Bob met up and asked each other "Where's Derrick?" Robert remembers asking. "I thought he was with you," Bob said. "He was with you!" Robert turned and sprinted back up the hill as heavy, wet snow fell steadily. He shouted out for Derrick but there was no response

At 4.13pm, Robert flagged down a man driving along the road, Fred Heins , asking him to dial 911 to call for help from the authorities. Heins makes the call from the resort two miles from the area of Derrick's disappearance.

Throughout the night and for the next two weeks, hundreds of people searched through snow several feet thick, looking for Derrick on foot and using snowmobiles and dogs. Lori built a bonfire at the turnout, sleeping in a donated camper van, hoping Derrick would see it and come to her. Delirious from lack of sleep, she once thought she saw Derrick walk out of the woods toward her, waving and smiling. But it was not to be.

In the hours immediately after Derrick's disappearance, Robert and other members of the family found Derrick's tracks in the newly fallen snow. The boy's small boot prints made a short loop from the spot where Robert had last seen him to a clearing near the road, where Derrick had lain down to make a snow angel. Unfortunately, a snowplow had come by, obliterating the tracks that led away from the angel.  No tracks led from the angel back toward the woods. The cuts Derrick had cut in the trees with his hatchet were confined to a small area near the road. Robert felt certain his son hadn't walked back into the trees. By early evening the snow was estimated at 5 to 8 inches on Rocky Point.

A candy wrapper and a make shift lean-to shelter made out of branches were discovered but it was unclear whether they were related to Derrick. Family members were convinced that Derrick had made his way to the road and might have been picked up by a stranger. But the sheriff discounted those concerns.

A hole in the ice was discovered in the lake by Bob during the search, and a child's footprint on the bank. Divers searched the next day and an additional search was done in the area during the spring thaw. No luck.

The official search ended eight days after Derrick disappeared, when Klamath County authorities told Lori and Robert that their son was likely dead. Robert, Lori and at least 100 volunteers stayed on the mountain for another seven days. Speculation deepened that Derrick had been abducted. On Dec. 18, 1998, sub-zero temperatures forced the Engebretsons to end the search but every weekend for the next two years, Robert drove straight from his graveyard shift at work to the mountain, meeting Lori. They kept a map marking areas where they'd searched. 

There was plenty of criticism of the search and rescue effort as many believed authorities had been slow to get to the the scene the night that Derrick disappeared. The search was not started for nearly five hours after the first 911 call by the passing motorist, because the coordinator was reluctant to interrupt the Christmas dinner for Klamath County Search and Rescue team annual awards dinner at Mollie's restaurant until he was sure a rescue was actually warranted. 

Robert and Bob both passed polygraphs, but some in the community were convinced that they may have murdered Derrick or been negligent in some way. Robert couldn't speak to his father. He blamed himself for not finding Derrick, but he blamed Bob for losing him. Bob Engebretson was too racked with guilt to even talk about it.  Robert had taken a lot of time off work. At the same time, the couple had spent thousands of dollars searching for Derrick, paying for psychics and a boat to search Klamath Lake. Eventually, they went bankrupt.

Authorities insisted that Derrick had wandered off into the woods and died, that animals had scattered his remains. But the Engebretson family never really believed that, especially as no evidence had been found such as bones or torn clothing. This was supported by a witness who said he'd seen a man struggling with a boy along a nearby highway. 

Then in 1999, some graffiti was scrawled on a rest-area bathroom wall near Burns which said Derrick had been killed and buried. But the FBI insisted it was a hoax.  A boy named Derrick who was found in Texas under unusual circumstances looked a lot like the Engebretsons' son but proved to be someone else. A bone discovered in Pelican Butte in 2000, turned out to be from a deer after a wait of several days to confirm its identity.

In late 2001, a handwritten letter arrived in the family mailbox. It said, "I know who took your son." In July 11, 2000, Frank J. Milligan, a 31-year-old state youth authority worker, approached a 10-year-old boy at a Dallas park and offered the boy $100 to mow his lawn. When the boy reached Milligan's car, the man said to him "Do you want to live or die?" Milligan bound the boy's hands with duct tape and then stopped the car just north of Salem and forced the boy to walk down a dirt road and sexually assaulted him. Milligan choked the boy and pushed his face into the dirt so hard he blacked out. He cut the child's throat and left him for dead.  But against the odds, the boy woke up, covered with blood and got to a road where a passing motorist stopped to help. At the time of the attack, Milligan was out on bail from the Clatsop County Jail, accused of a 1997 sexual attack on an 11-year-old boy in Seaside. Detectives tracked him down, and he eventually pleaded guilty in both cases.

Months later, Milligan's cellmate wrote a letter to police and the Engebretsons saying that Milligan had confessed to abducting and killing Derrick. It arrived at the Engebretson home in late 2001.

An Oregon State Police detective who had investigated the Dallas case and others confronted Milligan. Milligan confessed to killing Derrick and agreed to lead detectives to the body.

Lori and Robert drove five hours to Silver Falls State Park southeast of Salem and waited as the FBI used ground-penetrating radar to scan for Derrick's bones. After several days of searching they came up with nothing. But a Marion County assistant district attorney told the Engebretsons that Milligan had agreed to plead guilty to killing Derrick if they agreed to spare him the death penalty. But when Milligan faced the paperwork a few days later, he refused to sign.

One theory was that the boy's hatchet would be in the lake if he had fallen in. If a hatchet were found in the sediment of the inlet, it could indicate that the boy died there. Portland diver Jeff Preece spent several hours carefully working his way through the shallow water using a metal detector designed to work underwater. He found several metal objects, including an oil filter and a metal road sign. But no hatchet.

Did Derrick die of cold or from an animal attack as the Sheriff thought or was he abducted by Frank J. Milligan or another paedophile? Or did something else happen on that fateful and sad day in December 1998? A mysterious case for certain.