Hunting disappearances

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. 


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:


Eric Smith - Strange disappearances from U.S. wilderness

Eric Grady Smith, disappeared November 8th, 2013, Cedar Bluff, Virginia. 

Eric Smith, Cedar Bluff disappearance

On Friday, November 8th, 2013, Eric Smith left his home on West Hurt buggy Road in Cedar Bluff in Virginia to go hunting on his 40 acre property. That was the last time he was seen and over four years later Eric has never been found. 

That evening Eric hadn't returned and with temperatures dropping, his wife first went to see his mother at a local church with her concerns. The congregation of the church then sprang into action to begin the informal search and subsequently authorities were notified.

Eric was a foreman at a local Consol Energy owned Buchanan No. 1 coal mine, in charge of over 500 people. Unusually for him, his wife had called in sick on his behalf for several days before his disappearance saying he had flu-like symptoms. He was blind in one eye. 

He was wearing camouflage-print hunting clothes and a titanium Timex watch and carrying a Thompson Center .50 calibre muzzle-loading gun with a stainless steel barrel and a camouflage-print stock. Unusually,  he left his cellphone behind at his house. 

A Virginia state police helicopter with FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) was used that night and the next day a search began using sniffer dogs.  Several scents leading from the Smith residence were detected but went nowhere. At least one of these trails appear to head back to the home but could have been some days old. 

Cedar Bluff Police Chief David Mills said “Smith carried a muzzleloader with him, with one shot likely already loaded so search coordinators brought explosive detection dogs into the search yesterday from the Virginia State Police and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. These dogs are trained to detect material that goes into explosive devices with includes gun powder.”

By Sunday afternoon, November 10th, around 60 people were involved including trained search and rescue teams from across the region, coworkers from Consol Energy, fire department members, and other members of the community. Six air scent dogs were also used. Cedar Bluff Police Chief David Mills, coordinator of the search said with Smith wearing high tech camo the search was much more difficult. “He can be lying down and he would be impossible to see,” Mills said. The terrain was also a big problem in the search. With thick underbrush and steep hills, it is necessary to cover an area multiple times to be thorough.

Despite a $20,000 reward for information leading to his location and or recovery nothing was found or reported

Eric hunted on his property year after year and knew them inside out. His tree stand was less than a mile from his home so if he was overcome by illness/weakness it would have been expected he would have been found quickly. Yet there has never been any sign of Eric, his clothing or his weapon despite extensive searches. Some believe he was never on the property and may have run off, but this seems unlikely as he was close to his family. Others have speculated that his wife may have been involved, as Eric was not heard from or seen because of his apparent illness for days before he vanished.  Another theory was that Eric was accidentally shot by someone hunting in the area where his stand was and hid his body or he came across illegal hunters or meth producers who may have harmed him. Some have postulated that he fell in a sinkhole or cave and that is the reason that neither his firearm or bones have turned up. It is certainly strange that no trace has ever been found and it does raise suspicions that he was intentionally removed from the area or disappeared of his own accord. 


Aaron Hedges - Strange disappearances from US Mountains

Aaron Joseph Hedges, Disappeared September 7th, 2014, Remains Found August 8th, 2016, Crazy Mountains, Northern Rocky Mountains, Montana.

Aaron Hedges Crazy Mountains

Aaron Joseph Hedges, a 38-year-old hunter from Bozeman, went elk hunting in the Crazy Mountains in Montana in early September 2014 with his two friends, Greg Leitner of Idaho and Joe Depew of Bozeman.

The hunters began their planned week long trip at the Cottonwood Lake Trailhead on Thursday, September 3rd 2014 , around 20 miles north of the town of Billings in Montana. Hedges carried a bow and arrows as well as a handgun in his pack, whereas his companions were armed with rifles. They intended to base themselves around Campfire lake and the group had two horses and a mule, though Aaron walked in.

Aaron was last heard from on September 5th, 2014 and nearly two years later his body finally turned up, 15 miles from Sunlight Lake, his original destination, in strange circumstances.

crazy mountains sign

According to the most popular legend, the Crazy Mountains in Montana were named in memory of a woman whose family of homesteaders were massacred by some Native Americans whilst she was out walking. When the alleged perpetrators returned a week later, she burst from the cabin and attacked them using a tomahawk that had been used to slay the oldest of her three sons. The raiders retreated, watching in dismay as the “Crazy Woman” fled into the wilderness, never to be seen again. 

As the group started on the trail towards Campfire lake, their mule spooked and started bucking, and threw the supplies and kit it was carrying off trail, including Aaron’s sleeping bag.

On September 5th at 10am, Aaron decided to head up towards Sunlight lake to try and replace his lost sleeping bag. His plan was to seek shelter where they had a hunting camp the previous year and where the group had placed a cache including a spare sleeping bag. Greg and Joe told Aaron he needed to come back into camp as the area is isolated and dangerous at night. He explained he was going to grab the supplies and return to his friends that evening. Unfortunately this plan didn’t come to pass.

The others called him at 4pm on their Garmin walkie talkie and the equipment showed their respective GPS positions on the screen. The GPS position of Aaron was on the very edge of the screen as he had missed the fork in the trail towards the lake and was instead walking north-east for some reason. That was the last time that the group heard from Aaron.

On September 6th, his friends realised Aaron was definitely missing when he failed to return to the camp and then a snow storm came in on September 7, with 18-24 inches of snow, and the temperature falling dramatically from 40-50 degrees F to 10-15 F.

Crazy Mountains Montana

Whilst the hunters realised Aaron was missing on September 6 or 7, Hedges wasn’t reported missing until his wife, Christine, notified the Sweet Grass County Sheriff’s Office on September 8th, after she was called by Greg and Joe. The time between Aaron's disappearance and the time when authorities were informed is somewhat puzzling. The two companions justified their decision by saying that they looked for Hedges and he was armed and an experienced woodsman. 

Corporal Gregg Todd, who headed up Park County’s Search and Rescue, was unable to draw any firm conclusions at the time. “I can’t,” he said. “It’s the million-dollar mystery we have right now. We just have so many unanswered questions that it really just doesn’t give us much of a direction. To me, that just seems too long to report somebody missing, I can understand if your buddy’s missing, you can go out and look for him for a day, but after that, (you) need more help. I might have waited a day - he might have killed something, and it might take some time to get back to camp, so I’ll go look for him the next day, see if he needs help getting stuff out. If I can’t find him by the end of the day, I’m getting the hell out of there and asking for help.”. “I can’t speculate or second guess,” Todd said. “I’ve been doing Search and Rescue for a while now, and people react differently. In the situation at hand, I can’t speculate on the thought process.” But the group could blame the remoteness of the area and the lack of cellular phone coverage. 

Aaron Hedges death Crazy Mountains

By the time the official search had started, the bad weather which hit the area on September 7th, hindered efforts to find Aaron. The continuing storm made air searching almost impossible for the first couple of days and horse back riders were initially sent out before others joined in. Search and rescue teams focused their efforts on the area that stretches from the Cottonwood Lake Trail to Trespass Creek.  Twenty dog teams, seven horse teams, 59 ground searchers, and National Guard and private helicopters equipped with night-vision equipment and spotlights eventually joined the effort.

Aarons’s boots were found on Wednesday, September 9th, 2014, the second day of the search, way east of Sunlight lake, close to the creek and falls. They were set intentionally side by side. Close by was a Camelback water bladder and just off trail was a fire pit, with a partially burnt cigarette pack. A fire bundle, two waist belts from a backpack which had been cut off were also located but despite an extensive search nothing else. The tube connected to the bladder had been removed causing searchers to believe that Aaron had tried to drink water. Puzzlingly, the searchers were in the same spot a day or two before, but didn’t come across the items.

It was very strange that Hedges had removed his boots in this snow and cold weather. Even if hypothermia had set in causing him to remove clothing and his footwear he would have only got a short distance without his boots in two feet of snow. When people get cold, rather than wrapping up, in extreme temperatures they can paradoxically take off their clothes. Sniffer dogs in the area did not pick up a scent.

Despite finding this tantalising evidence, by September 22nd, officials decided to scale back the search until they received more information.

Sweet Grass Creek, Crazy Mountains

The following summer on June 22nd, 2015, and around 9 months after the disappearance, Roger Beslanowitch, a butcher from Powell, Wyoming, came across Hedges' belongings while visiting relatives at the Rein Anchor Ranch in Sweet Grass County. Beslanowitch had to wait a while whilst a relative was done fixing a fence in the area, so with some time to kill he wanted to look at a beautiful view and decided go on top of a ridge above.  After taking in the vista, Beslanowitch took a shortcut through a stand of timber and he saw an orange hunting vest, as well as a backpack and clothing.  He said “My first thought when I saw clothes piled up against a tree, I just knew there was going to be a body there. There is a lot of bear activity, where they flip the rocks over to eat the bugs underneath. I just knew there was going to be a body there, but there wasn’t.”  Beslanowitch’s inventory at the scene included a “bow, backpack, socks, shirts, sweatpants and a vest.” The backpack had holes in it, which he assumed were caused by small animals. Wrappers from granola bars, along with other debris, were scattered nearby. Aaron’s gun and driving licence were also in the pack.

“I thought some out-of-state hunter got cold and disoriented and wanted to go home but he couldn’t find his stuff,” Beslanowitch said. “So I gathered it all up to put it in the backpack to haul it back out. When I was just about done, I saw a piece of paper and it was part of his license and it had his name on it. It said Bozeman, Montana.” The gear was only a short distance from the main ranch house and safety.

The area was searched and strangely at the head of the ridge was a thermos cup and an open energy drink.

On August 8th, 2016, near the Sweetgrass ranch, some guests, found a skull underneath a dead tree.

Law enforcement were shown the skeletal remains of a skull and then began a systematic search of the area where they uncovered less than 80 percent of Hedges’ skeleton, all within about 50 to 70 yards.The majority of the remains were concentrated in a 20-yard area. The spread of the remains was not atypical according to Undersheriff Alan Ronneberg, "You have to consider that he has possibly been there over a year. Within that year you have weather events, predation, scavenging, everything from ants to bears.”

“It’s still an ongoing investigation. Are we going to be able to tell what the man died from? Probably not,” Sweet Grass County Sheriff Dan Tronrud said. “There’s not bullet holes in the skull, there’s nothing else that we can see. The forensic pathologist will look to see if there’s knife wounds on the bones, or hatchet marks … but I’m guessing it’s going to go down as one of those mysteries.”

Investigators found a Samsung cellphone on Aaron's body and were initially hopeful to recover data from it to gather further insight into his death. But it was found to be corroded beyond repair by a Bozeman-based data retrieval service in late August 2016, having been exposed to the elements for nearly two years. It was given multiple chemical baths in an attempt to remove corrosion. 

Rein Anchor ranch map Montana

Landowner Rebecca Rein described the location where the items were found as full of pine trees, broken down branches and tall grasses.  "It's pretty low where it was, actually," Rein said at the time. "It wasn't too far off (Rein Road) ... We just would have never guessed it was that close — he could see the house."

Could it be, that being hypothermic and disoriented, Hedges removed layers of clothing and boots and headed in the wrong direction? But if the hunting party began their trip from the Cottonwood Lake Trailhead on the west side of the mountains, and Hedges was bound for Sunlight Lake to the north, how did he end up on the east side of the range? The distance he would have had to walk would be around 15 miles, much of it off-trail and through tough terrain including rocks and heavy foliage. With a big storm battering the area, the decision to travel east along the Sweet Grass drainage would have presented a considerable challenge for even the most experienced outdoorsman.

The distance covered without boots in fairly deep snow in freezing temperatures seems impossible. Searchers were certainly very sceptical that Aaron could walk in bare feet from the creek to the area where he was found. As the crow flies it is around 13 miles from Sweet Grass Creek to the Rein Ranch and probably double that in reality because of the terrain. 

Aaron was also within sight of buildings and close to a road given where his remains were found on the Anchor Rein Ranch. "He was very close, but just didn't quite get there," said Sweet Grass County Undersheriff Alan Ronnenberg. Police believe he may have passed up the opportunity for shelter out of fear of getting caught trespassing. All three hunters were known for trespassing and poaching. When Christine Hedges initially reported her husband missing, she told dispatch he had entered the area by trespassing on the Park County side.

A bizarre case from the Crazy Mountains of Montana.