Mountain Deaths

David Koch - Strange deaths on Canadian mountains

David Koch, disappeared May 25th, 2005, Body found June 7, 2005, Grouse Mountain, British Columbia

David Koch Grouse Mountain death

Dave Koch, 36, a publisher for the technology magazine DM Weekly called his wife at 7.30 pm on Wednesday, May 25th, 2005 to tell her he was on his way from a business meeting in Seattle to one in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He told her he planned to watch the sunset on Grouse Mountain once he got into town.

Grouse mountain

Grouse Mountain is one of the North Shore Mountains of the Pacific Ranges in the District Municipality of North Vancouver and is 1,200 m (4,000 feet) in altitude at its peak. It is the site of an alpine ski area, Grouse Mountain Resort, which overlooks Greater Vancouver with four chairlifts servicing 26 runs.  Public access to the mountain top is by a Swiss Garaventa aerial tramway, or the Grouse Grind hiking trail (Open for hiking May-October.)

Grouse Grind trail

Grouse Grind trail

Credit card slips and video show that Dave purchased a ticket for the Skyride tram at around 8pm. The Skyride operates 365 days a year, departing every 15 minutes from 8.45am to 10.00pm. He was seen riding up by other passengers at 8.30pm, then walking for about 10 minutes in the atrium at the top of the mountain. Later, video revealed he left the atrium and headed to either the visitor's booth or the bathroom. He was wearing sandals and light clothes and no hiking boots. At that point he vanished. 

Dave's laptop, business suit and cell phone were left in the rental vehicle, which was found Friday, May 27th in the parking lot near the tram.

He had been to Grouse Mountain by himself and with his wife Suzanne before as he travelled to Vancouver around twice a year due to his business. Though it was late in the day, he probably knew the route he had in mind and that he could make it back down before it got dark.  

CCTV footage showed him taking long and purposeful strides, knowing he would have to hurry to make his desired destination as he glances at the clock at the upper gondola terminal. Sunset that night was just half an hour later, so he checked the time as he never wore a watch. The clock located near the surveillance camera made it seem like he was glancing around, when in fact he probably was looking directly at the clock. 

Koch's wife, flew to B.C. from Wisconsin shortly after her husband went missing and maintained her determination to find him throughout the frustrating search. She said during the search that her husband was an avid outdoorsman who would "rather be in nature than go for a beer or a round of golf."

More than 400 people spent 10 days scouring the trails and bush on the mountain looking for Dave.  

Grouse Grind trail

On Monday, June 6th, 2005, a solo searcher who had been combing the trails and woods of Grouse Mountain for more than a week looking for clues in disappearance of Koch noted the location of a circling eagle and returned first thing Tuesday morning. That day he had hiked up and down the mountain three times. The 50 year old, worked independently of North Shore Search and Rescue, but cooperated and communicated with the team and was very familiar with the trails on Grouse Mountain.

Just before noon, the anonymous searcher discovered the body in a drainage gully east of the Grouse Grind, 650 metres east of the Bluffs Trail, where it had likely been carried down the mountain by rainwater and snow melt run-off. The steep gully was strewn with rocks, logs and other debris.

Strangely, searchers and dogs went over the area where Koch's body was found several times but failed to turn up any clues. The team speculated it was because the body was submerged in a pool of water. George Zilahi, the operations manager for the volunteer-based North Shore Search and Rescue said "Those gullies are usually dry except in areas where there are depressions in the rock where there may be pools of water. He more than likely was in a pool and then when the heavy rains came on Sunday the water level would have risen and then he would have been carried downstream and then onto this portion of the creek-bed."

It appeared he had left the tram station and walked towards the top of the Bluff Trail, arriving at around 9pm, sunset. The authorities believe he fell at that point due to his footwear. 

Dave's body was airlifted out to the coroner's office Tuesday afternoon, where the precise cause of death was determined as hypothermia. 

North Vancouver RCMP Const. John MacAdam said there was no evidence of foul play and "it appears to have been an accidental death."

What happened to Dave Koch that day? He was clearly in a rush to get to somewhere on Grouse Mountain since he arrived at the Skyride terminal late in the day at 8.30pm, with sunset less than half an hour later. Did he trip whilst on the Grouse Grind trail in fading light and fall into the steep gully? As MacAdam said, probably accidental death but who knows what happened on that mountain that evening.

It was strange that his body was discovered in an area searched twice before, but the search and rescue blamed the fact that Dave's body was apparently obscured by water. A case which on the face of it appears to be misadventure whilst hiking without the right footwear and clothing but who knows.


Peter Jeffris - disturbing deaths in the mountains and National Parks

Peter Jeffris, body found November 20th, 2014, Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Peter Jeffris death rocky mountain national park

On November 16th, 2014 Peter Jeffris, 25, had planned a solo hike to summit the Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park. He aimed to summit the mountain and return the same day.

Longs Peak is one of Colorado’s "Fourteeners" and has an altitude of 14,259 feet (4346 m). It is located in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and in the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness,  Longs Peak is the northernmost fourteener in the Rocky Mountains and the highest point in Boulder County and Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountain was named in honour of explorer Stephen Harriman Long.

Longs Peak Colorado

Peter planned to hike to Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route. This is described by the National Park service as follows:

The Keyhole Route is not a hike. It is a climb that crosses enormous sheer vertical rock faces, often with falling rocks, requiring scrambling, where an unroped fall would likely be fatal. The route has narrow ledges, loose rock, and steep cliffs.

For most of the year, climbing Longs Peak is in winter conditions, which requires winter mountaineering experience and the knowledge and use of specialized equipment. Disregard for the mountain environment any time of year has meant danger, injury and even death.

The Keyhole Route can experience winter-like conditions at any time, requiring greater skill and judgment. Be prepared to turn back during sudden, drastic weather changes.

The high elevation may affect your condition and judgment. Careful descent is the best treatment.

Don't have summit fever: Enjoy the experience, but be willing to turn around at any time.

For those who are prepared, the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak, one of the most popular routes in Colorado, is an extraordinary climbing experience.

Jeffris was a University of Colorado graduate specialising in mechanical engineering and was working at Broomfield’s Altius Space Machines. He was also an Eagle Scout.

On November 17th he failed to show up at work the next day, colleagues became worried and he was reported missing to the authorities as Peter had fortunately told some of his coworkers that he was going to climb Longs Peak on Sunday. Peter's car was quickly found at the Longs Peak trailhead and searches of the area were launched. 

There was three days of intensive searching of 20 square miles around the peak in extreme weather conditions with winds gusting at well above 80 miles per hour and temperatures below freezing. But there was no luck in finding Peter. Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue Teams were assisted by Larimer County Search and Rescue, Rocky Mountain Rescue, Alpine Rescue Team, Diamond Peaks Ski Patrol, Douglas County Search and Rescue, Search Dogs of Colorado and the Colorado Search and Rescue Board. Park staff also worked with the US Air Force Rescue Coordination Centre.

Then the weather cleared up enough for helicopters to conduct a sweep and on November 20th Peter's body was found about 200 feet below an area called The Ledges. Four Search and Rescue team members were flown to the Glacier Gorge drainage and climbed approximately 1,800 vertical feet to Jeffris' body.

The Ledges Longs Peak

There were freezing temperatures and high winds in the area at the time of Peter's hike and he did not carry clothing and shelter for an overnight stay in the mountains. The Boulder County coroner later determined that he had died of hypothermia and that his death was an accident. Peter's death was the third fatality on the mountain that season.

Background the the hike

Peter had tried to get a group together to scale Longs Peak but when none of his friends could make it, he decided to climb the mountain by himself. He had solo climbed Longs several times before.

He was skilled at winter survival  but decided to pack light in the hopes of being able to move quickly and make the summit and back in less than one day which given the weather conditions and early darkness would be a major challenge. "He left a lot of gear behind at home," Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said at the time. "When people move light, they go fast, but when something terrible happens, like they get lost or injured, that certainly can have a significant impact on how you might be able to cope with the elements and spend the night out. He was not prepared for that -- no tent, no heavy jacket." 

The camera found on the body had a selfie video he took from the summit around 4.30pm the day he died. Normally for Longs Peak, hikers will camp out and start hiking around 5am so they can summit by noon and be back off the mountain by dark. Peter reached the summit only shortly before sunset. 

On the way back down, about a 1/4 mile from the “Keyhole” Peter for some reason left the marked trail and was climbing above the normal trail across the “Narrows” (a narrow ledge leading about half a mile above sheer drop-offs), when he fell over 600 feet to his death.

Peter's mother, Jeanne Jeffris, said he had planned the climb of Longs Peak carefully and researched the route. She said he'd done this climb several times in winter and had recently purchased new gear for the hike. She said she spoke to him, when he said he'd run with his boss but was "saving his legs for the climb on Sunday." She also said he was in great shape and was a well-prepared climber

Jeffris' former scoutmaster, Tim Le Brun, says Jeffris was in great shape and prepared for such a climb."Through scouting we had been on rock-climbing adventures, on mountaineering adventures in New Mexico, we had been on survival hikes where you prepare for things like this,"

Le Brun says he's not sure what may have led to Jeffris' death,"He was a cautious person, but not at the expense of the adventure".

What happened to Peter Jeffris on Longs Peak?

It seems that Peter Jeffris was well prepared for a fast hike to the summit of Longs Peak but moving down the 14,259 feet peak at 4.30pm in darkness without support was pretty foolhardy, even for an experienced winter climber. When the weather turned bad with gales and low temperatures lacking equipment for an overnight stay he was probably doomed. Why he left the Keyhole and went off trail is a mystery but perhaps by then hypothermia or altitude sickness or even panic may have caused Peter to make rash decisions as he moved down the mountain. Perhaps something else caused Peter to tackle the area climbing above the normal trail across the “Narrows”?

Solo mountain hiking in winter is not a hobby to be recommended without adequate equipment and good weather. Peter had all the right skills, he was a cautious person, had the hike planned but even then he very sadly succumbed to the Rocky Mountains.



Katherine Wong - Strange deaths on U.S. mountains

Dr. Katherine Wong disappearance bear valley

Dr. Katherine Wong, Disappeared February 19th, 1999, Body found June 10th, 1999, Bear Valley Ski Resort, California.

Dr. Katherine Wong, 48, was a San Jose paediatrician and Milpitas resident who mysteriously disappeared from the Bear Valley Ski Resort, south of Lake Tahoe in California. Dr. Wong had gone skiing with her husband, 52-year-old paediatric dentist John Wong, two relatives and two of her three children, a 9-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. She was an intermediate level skier and visited California's ski resorts on a regular basis.

She was last seen February 19, 1999 at the ski resort, south of Lake Tahoe. It is located on Highway 4 between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite in the Central Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and is described as a family-friendly resort that accommodates skiers and riders of all levels and abilities. It has more than 75 trails, 1,680 skiable acres and 1,900 feet of vertical drop, all serviced by a total of ten lifts. It was the family's first visit to Bear Valley, as they had heard it was one of the quieter resorts.

Katherine ate lunch with the group about 11.30 a.m. and skied for the next few hours with her husband, whilst the kids went their adult cousin.

About 3:45 pm, Katherine took a ski lift up the mountain with her husband, but then they separated and she took a different path down using the Mokelumne West Run, an intermediate slope. When John reached the bottom of the slope his wife was nowhere to be seen. Dr. Wong was wearing a light gray jacket and light blue pants and ski boots when she disappeared. She had black hair, brown eyes, is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed about 118 pounds.

Bear Valley  lifts and slopes

John and their son looked for Katherine for about 30 minutes and then notified resort officials that she had gone missing. The Alpine County Sheriff's Department and Bear Valley ski patrols searched for her with the assistance of two helicopters, ten winter-trained dog teams and about 50 search experts from nearly a dozen law enforcement agencies.

Two days later, the search was called off a winter storm brought in heavy snow and officials told the family that the chances of surviving such a storm were slim to none. After such a significant search for Katherine, the authorities believed she may have met with foul play or left the resort. ''There are no tracks going out, except for animal tracks,'' Deputy Sheriff Matt Streck said. ''But if she's here, she's not able to respond to us.''

John Wong and the rest of the family were interviewed and, he voluntarily took a lie detector test and authorities subsequently confirmed that he was not a suspect. He confirmed that Katherine was a cautious skier and after over 20 years of marriage he believed it was highly unlikely she had run off with another man, especially leaving her children behind. John complained that officials gave up too soon in the initial search for his wife.

The FBI was involved to help detectives review surveillance tapes. FBI spokesman George Grotzsaid said "Absent evidence of foul play or possible interstate aspects, we will not be involved (further). We've discussed it with them, and we can assist when asked."

The Alpine County Sheriff's Department interviewed ski lift operators and other employees who may have seen Wong that day. Although credit card receipts prove that Katherine did purchase lift tickets at Bear Valley on February 19th, ski lift operators did not recall seeing anyone fitting her description. A review of surveillance tapes from the ski resort did not show anything suspicious.

Deputy Matt Streck of the Sheriff's Department said the initial search for Wong was one of the most comprehensive operations he has seen in years saying that "I've personally hiked miles and miles myself since this happened," Streck said he found it unusual that searchers have not found any signs of the doctor at the ski area. "I think as time goes by, it will become more evident that this was not a ski accident. But I have no proof of that."

On June 10th, 1999, Katherine's body was eventually found, around four months after she went missing. She was found in a steep ravine, in a heavily wooded canyon a half-mile south of the ski area and marked trails. Bone fragments and pieces of hair were found scattered over a quarter-mile square area together with a ski lift ticket, driver's license and bank credit card belonging to Wong as well as a parka, ski pants, boots, a wristwatch, skis and ski poles and other personal effects.

Investigators were baffled how she came to be in the area where her remains and personal effects were found since the ravine is well outside the ski resort, in a remote area about 400 yards away from a group of homes. Police found no evidence of foul play and believed it was an unfortunate accident when Katherine became lost and hypothermic. Searchers had not bothered to look earlier in the area where the bone fragments were found because it was considered highly unlikely that Katherine would have ventured there since it was in an area that would be difficult to reach by accident. Also, the area was covered by eight feet of snow shortly after she disappeared. But the fact that it was not searched, confirmed John Wong's complaints about the thoroughness of the initial search, though recent melting of the snow had made the ravine more accessible.

Because of the dispersal and scarcity of the bones, investigators speculate that wild animals may have disturbed Wong's body after her death. 


Nicholas Randall - Strange deaths in the Scottish Highlands

Nicholas Randall Scottish highlands death

Suffering from depression, 30-year-old, Nicholas Randall, decided to leave his family home in Edinburgh on April 25th, 2005 and headed for the Scottish Highlands to avoid being a burden on his parents. 

Nicholas vanished in 2005 after buying a sleeping bag in a store in Edinburgh and withdrawing £500 from an ATM. The last confirmed siting was at the Tiso Outdoors Shop on Rose Street and after that he seemed to vanish. For two and a half months nothing was heard, until his Silver Audi A2 was found in the Glen Nevis Waterfall carpark near Lochaber. Police believed he was living in the wild hills in the area, especially as he was an experienced climber and hiker, having bagged many of the Scottish mountains called Munros.

Nicholas randall Bridge of Orchy

In the following months there seemed to be some sporadic sitings, including some walkers at Glen Tilt in Perthshire and Blair Castle Carvan Park where a man matching Nicholas' description had asked to pitch his tent. But after that, nothing.

Auch Forest near Bridge of Orchy

His  body was finally found in 2008 by forestry workers in Auch Forest near Bridge of Orchy, Argyll in a pitched tent. The location was around 47 miles from where the car was located. The case was quickly closed by Strathclyde Police who suspected no foul play, but the revelations of an ex-cop Kenny McKechnie, 47, changed all that when he accused former colleagues of a cover-up to save money.

Nicholas Randall death tent
Condom evidence Nicholas Randall

When Randall's tent was discovered, two sleeping bags, a holdall, different sized boots and two sets of clothes in rucksacks as well as a used condom were found. Also what was said to be a  "shallow grave" was found in the vicinity of the tent by an off duty police officer some time before the discovery of the tent.

Hole dug in Auch forest

Police investigators had assumed that Nick had just succumbed to the elements and died in his tent with his mental health issues like anxiety and depression lessening his chances of survival. But had he met someone else in the hills, had sex and then had he been murdered? But why were there two sets of clothes belonging to difference people found in the tent? If he was murdered by the owner of the of these sets of clothes why didn't they take their possessions with them to avoid incriminating evidence being left behind at the scene? What about the pit dug near the tent, did the murderer plan to bury the body in it but changed his mind or was disturbed?



Fiona Torbet and "The Grahams" - Disturbing deaths in the Scottish highlands

Views over Loch Duich Western highlands

Fiona Torbet, disappeared July 7th, 1993, Body Found March 1994, Inverinate, Western Scotland

On July 7th, 1993, Fiona Torbet, aged 62, went missing on a walking holiday in the Western Highlands of Scotland near Kintail, whilst staying in a local Bed & Breakfast in Inverinate. Her husband who had been away on a sailing trip reported her missing when she failed to return.

Fiona Torbet, previously maiden name Fiona Graham, was famous as the co-author of  "The Grahams" also known as 'lesser Corbetts' with Alan Dawson.

A Graham is a hill in Scotland between 609.6m and 762.0m high (at least 2000 feet and less than 2500 feet) that has a drop (relative height) of 150 metres or more on all sides. The hills now known as Grahams were first listed by Alan Dawson in "The Relative Hills of Britain", published in April 1992 as a list of hills called Marilyns. All Grahams are by definition Marilyns. Even more confusingly, at this stage, the Grahams were referred to as Elsies. The Grahams are now named after Fiona Torbet, who compiled her own list of 244 hills in the Scottish Highlands, published by The Great Outdoors (TGO) magazine in November 1992. 

The Grahams Scottish highlands

After the list in TGO was published, Alan Dawson and Fiona Torbet got together to discuss the matter. They agreed that it would be unhelpful and confusing for hillwalkers to have two lists with similar lists of Scottish peaks. After some debate, they agreed to use Alan Dawson's list with some minor revisions and to use the name Grahams for that list. After Fiona Torbet's death in July 1993, Alan Dawson continued to use the name Grahams for his list. A book by Andrew Dempster covers them in detail.

The Grahams could be considered the ultimate challenge for those who love Scotland's hills - the ascent of all 720 Munros, Corbetts and Grahams. These smaller hills may not be as famous as the Munros, but they are often more challenging because they are a lot popular than the Munros & Corbetts, they're more likely to be below the cloud line and they frequently give panoramic summit views of their taller neighbours. There were 219 Grahams as of 1 June 2016. 

Location of Grahams

Location of Grahams

Background to Fiona Torbet's disappearance

Fiona Torbet first began staying in Grianan House in Inverinate in the late 1980's with its spectacular views to Loch Duich. She used the Bed & Breakfast as a base for her regular hillwalking expeditions in the hills above Wester Ross. Inverinate is a small village on the north shore of Loch Duich in Kyle of Lochalsh. She returned time and again. The B&B was run by Zena and Donald McMillan Senior, with Donald junior helping around the house and garden. Fiona was last seen alive on July 7th 1993.

Grianan House at Inverinate Scotland

Fiona Graham married gynaecology consultant Dr Thomas Torbet on August 12, 1960. Apart from writing for magazines like The Great Outdoors, she had been trained as a musician in her younger days. Like her husband, she was also interested in sailing, and was a recognised yacht master.

Grianan House at Inverinate

She kept a detailed diary of all the climbs she made and what she saw on her hikes, including making corrections to Ordnance Survey maps.

Search effort

When she failed to return, Dr Thomas Torbet contacted the authorities.

In one of the biggest searches mounted in the Highlands of Scotland. A helicopter was hired to take aerial photographs of the entire area, the Royal Navy and a team of police divers was called in to search Loch Duich, Mountain Rescue along with the local Kintail team Search and Rescue Dogs (SARDA) and RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team. Over 400 hours of searches were completed by teams in Affric, Loch Mullardoch and around the local area. There were huge areas to search in remote areas and were carried on for several months after Fiona went missing. But the search team failed to find her despite this extensive effort. 

Police had been told by the B&B owners son Donald that she had left to start a new life. Many of her friends who knew her said this was not true. He told a story of how Fiona had driven from the guesthouse with another man, leaving her own car behind. She apparently told him she would return in a couple of days to collect her VW Golf. Other theories suggested she may have got disorientated or injured on one of her hills walks and failed to return. 

For nine months her husband and family wondered what had happened to Fiona Torbet, especailly as she was so experienced in the great Scottish outdoors. 

Further investigation

In March 1994 Muriel MacKenzie, from Glasgow, was on holiday in the area and came across a women's belongings in undergrowth. Not realising there importance, she alerted a forestry worker who immediately contacted the police.

The items had been concealed beneath willow trees near the Kyle to Inverinate road and over the winter months they had been covered by snow, but were exposed in the spring. 

The items included Mrs Torbet's handbag, purse, bank cards, her hillwalking bag -- and a single slipper. Still missing, however, was a large canvas holdall which was to prove significant later. The discovery changed the case from a missing-person inquiry into the hunt for a body.

Hunt for the body

Police began to use ground penetrating radar equipment to search the area around the Grianan House and also examined the property in detail in a search for clues.

On entering the guesthouse investigators were shocked to see it had been extensively redecorated and re-carpeted. Twelve hours into the search, during which time the team had even opened blocked-up chimneys, they had still found nothing.

Then, in a downstairs shower room, officers lifted floorboards in a cupboard and found the missing holdall with Mrs Torbet's name printed on the handles. Other materials found in a plastic bag included a slipper which matched the one found by the roadside.

Investigators quickly suspected the son Donald following Fiona's disappearance but he was able to to maintain the deceit over many months, repeating the same story over and again to police. He even complained in the press about police harassment when they returned to question him. His lies were sufficiently credible to convince his parents and temporarily throw police off his scent.

But Police were able find his fingerprints on the tape with which Mrs Torbet had been bound after using liquid nitrogen to separate the glue. 

Grianan House Inverinate

At this point Donald McMillan was detained on suspicion of murder. But still he kept the police guessing as to how he disposed of Fiona's body.

Eventually his devastated parents, unable to take the strain any longer, pleaded with him to co-operate. The following day he drew a diagram pinpointing the spot in the back garden where she was buried in a shallow grave, only yards from the B&B. The body was covered with firewood, coal, and sheets of metal near a wood pile. The body was trussed up and and the face was covered with bandages and parcel tape. It was subsequently identified as Fiona Torbet.

In a strange twist to the tale, police photographed Grianan House from a helicopter as they carried out extensive sweeps of the area while the Torbet case was still being treated as a missing person's inquiry. In the picture, Donald McMillan is seen standing in the garden beside a pile of logs, on the very spot where he had buried his innocent victim.

Donald McMillan's motive for murder was sexual. The 33-year-old former soldier, who claimed he wore women's underwear, had a fascination for older women which proved fatal for Mrs Torbet.

Police found pornographic magazines in the caravan where he stayed alone next to the guesthouse run by his mother. The naked models were rated with stars,  with the few pictures of women over 40 awarded high marks.

A letter was given to Fiona with whom he had struck up a totally innocent relationship during her regular trips to Inverinate and who was old enough to be his mother.The last entry in her diary, written on the night she died, read: ''Strange letter awaited me from Donald McMillan. Embarrassing to cope with.'' No trace of the letter was found.

McMillan served first with the Royal Armoured Corps in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and saw service in Germany and Northern Ireland. His career in the service was undistinguished and he left after serving six months in Army detention after going absent without leave.

At his trial in 1994, McMillan was convicted of Fiona's murder. In 2003, Lord Cullen, the Lord Justice-General of Scotland, told McMillan: "You had a fixation for older women and had sexual fantasies about them. It was a sexually motivated assault [on Mrs Torbet] and you must have subjected the victim to a terrifying ordeal. I consider in your case the appropriate punishment part to be 15 years." Donald died in prison in 2007.


Further Reading

Murder in the Glens Jean McLennan

The Mathias Group from Yuba City - Strange deaths on U.S. mountains

Yuba city five disappearances 1978 - Jack Huett, William Sterling, Jack Madruga, Theodore Weiher, Gary Mathias

Gary Dale Mathias, Jack Madruga, Jackie Huett, Theodore (Ted) Weiher and William Sterling, disappeared February 24, 1978, Oroville, Plumas National Forest, California.

On February 24, 1978, a group of friends from Yuba City in California; Gary Dale Mathias, Jack Madruga, Jackie Huett, Theodore (Ted) Weiher and William Sterling; set out on a trip to watch a basketball game, left after it finished and then somehow drove up a mountain into the wilderness and were never seen again. This story has been described as the American version of the very mysterious Dyatlov Pass incident. This involved the unsolved deaths of nine ski hikers in the northern Ural Mountains in the Soviet Union (now Russia) between 1 February and 2 February 1959. The area in which the incident took place was named Dyatlov Pass in honour of the group's leader, Igor Dyatlov.

The group aged between 24 and 32 years of age, had developmental disabilities and were all enrolled in a day program for mentally handicapped adults, but that did not mean that they were unable to function in society. Gary had schizophrenia and was on medication to control his symptoms and Jack had low I.Q.  but hadn’t been diagnosed as mentally disabled and both of them had served in the U.S. Army and had driver’s licenses.

Ted Weiher was employed for a while as a janitor and snack bar clerk but quit at the urging of his family, who thought Weiher's slowness was causing problems. Jackie Charles Huett, had a slight droop to the head, was sometimes slow to respond and a loving shadow to Weiher, who looked after Huett in a protective sort of way and would dial the phone for him when Hyett had to make a call. Jack Antone Madruga, a high school graduate and Army veteran, was laid off in November 1977 from his job as a busboy for Sunsweet Growers. William Lee Sterling, was Madruga's special friend, deeply religious, would spend hours at the library reading literature to help bring Jesus to patients in mental hospitals. Gary Dale Mathias, was an assistant in his stepfather's gardening business and an army veteran with psychiatric discharge after drug problems that developed in Germany five years before.

Mathias took Stellazine and Cogentin, both used in the treatment of schizophrenia. Police records showed he had become violent on occasion and was charged with assault twice. After his return from Germany, he would fail to take his drugs and lapse into a disoriented psychosis that usually landed him in a Veterans Administration hospital. "Went haywire," is how Bob, his stepfather, put it.

On Friday, February 24th, they drove about 50 miles north from Yuba to Chico to attend a college basketball game. When the game ended at the California State University at around 10 pm they stopped three blocks away at Behr's Market, mildly annoying the clerk (who was trying to close up), and bought one Hostess cherry pie, one Langendorf lemon pie, one Snickers bar, one Marathon bar, two Pepsis and a quart and a half of milk.

The next day when they failed to return from Chico, their families became concerned and called the police.

They were supposed to play a basketball game of their own on February 25, part of a tournament, with a free week in Los Angeles if they won. Their clothes had been laid out the evening of the 24th, before they left for Chico with "Gateway Gators" on them, from the Yuba City vocational rehabilitation centre for the handicapped where they all played basketball. Weiher had asked his mother to wash his new white high-topped sneakers for the tournament saying "We got a big game Saturday. Don't you let me oversleep."

The county sheriffs department began searching for the men. 

On Tuesday, February 28th, a forest ranger found Jack Madruga’s car abandoned the car on an unpaved road near Oroville, in the Rogers Cow camp area, past Elke Retreat, at an elevation of 4,500 feet. The turquoise and white 1969 Mercury Montego was located around a 2.5-hour drive from Chico, in the opposite direction from the route they would have been expected to drive home and way up in the mountains in the Plumas National Forest.


Police found no evidence of foul play at the site of the car, but the car was unlocked, one window was down and the keys were nowhere to be seen. Candy wrappers, milk cartons and basketball programs were in the car but maps were left in the glove compartment. There was no obvious damage to the car despite the bumpy unmade road, it had around a quarter tank of gas and it was not stuck in the snow. The driver had either used astonishing care and precision, the investigators figured, or else he knew the road well enough to anticipate every rut.

turquoise and white 1969 Mercury Montego

Forest rangers searched the area for five days and found no trace of the men but soon after the search began, a severe blizzard moved into the area, covering any potential tracks. Around nine inches of snow dropped on the upper mountain. The search teams nearly lost men themselves two days later, as their Snow-cats struggled through the drifts. 

A man called Joseph Schons contacted the police after he heard about the disappearance to say he had seen the men between 11:00–12:00 pm on the Friday that the group disappeared. He was driving up the gravel road to his cabin when his car became stuck in the snow and unfortunately whilst trying to push his car out, he suffered a heart attack. The story from here is a little confusing. In one version, whilst he lay in his car, at about 11:30, he saw two sets of headlights coming up behind him - one was a car, and the other a pickup truck. He got out of his car to flag them down. The two cars stopped about 20 feet from him. The passengers then left together in one car. Joseph spent the rest of the night in his car before walking back down the mountain in the morning. In a second more mysterious version, whilst inside the car he heard “whistling” noises and saw what he thought were a group of men and a woman with a baby, walking in the light of another vehicle’s headlights. Schons called for help and the lights turned off and the whistling sounds stopped. A few hours later he saw flashlight beams outside his car and called out for help again, but immediately the lights went out. Schons stayed in his car until it ran out of gas, then walked eight miles down to get help, passing Madruga’s car on the way. He didn’t think much about what he’d seen until he heard about the disappearances.

A woman reported seeing the five men in a red pickup truck on Saturday and Sunday, about an hour’s drive from the site of their abandoned car. She owned a store there, where two of the men came in to buy food. One of them made a phone call from a nearby phone booth, and the other two stayed in the truck.

Then nothing for months as the spring snows melted on the mountains.

In June 1978, a man riding his motorcycle through the area noticed a broken window on a forest service trailer. The trailer was located about 19 miles up the mountain from where the car was found. 19 miles in heavy snow is quite a hike without proper equipment.

A forest service Snowcat ran up the road to the trailer on February 23rd, leaving a packed path in the snow that the men might have followed.

American Dyatlov pass case map

Inside the trailer, he found the body of Ted Weiher. Search and rescue teams then began combing the area around the trailer.

The day after Weiher's body was discovered, searchers found the remains of Madruga and Sterling. They lay on opposite sides of the road to the trailer, 11.4 miles from the car. Madruga had been partially eaten by animals and dragged about 10 feet to a stream: he lay face up, his right hand curled around his watch. Sterling was in a wooded area, scattered over about 50 feet. There was nothing left of him but bones.

Two days later, just off the same road but much closer to the trailer, Jackie Huett's father found his son's backbone along with a pair of Levis and ripple-soled "Get Theres" shoes. An assistant sheriff from Plumas County found a skull the next day, about 100 yards downhill from the rest of the bones which the family dentist used to identify the remains.

Huett's remains were located northeast of the trailer, like Sterling's and Madruga's. Northwest of the trailer, about a quarter mile away, searchers found three wool forest service blankets and a two-cell flashlight lying by the side of the road. The flashlight was slightly rusted and had been turned off. It was impossible to tell just how long it had been there.

They found no sign of Gary Mathias. His tennis shoes were inside the forest service trailer, which suggested to investigators that he might have taken them off to put on Weiher's leather shoes - particularly since Weiher had bigger feet, and Mathias' feet might have swollen with frostbite. 

Although the men’s bodies were heavily decomposed, autopsy results determined that they had likely died from exposure.

It appeared that Ted had lived 8-13 weeks after his disappearance based on the length of his beard and around 100 pound weight loss. He weighed just 120 pounds at the time of his death. Several bed sheets in a shroud were tightly tucked over his body, indicating that someone else had been with him in the trailer as he could not have bundled himself up in this manner. His leather shoes were off, and missing. A table by the bed held his nickel ring with "Ted" engraved on it, his gold necklace, his wallet (with cash inside) and a gold Waltham watch, its crystal missing, which the families say had not belonged to any of the five men. Ted's feet were also badly frostbitten.

But then the story takes an even stranger turn. Inside the trailer, authorities found heavy clothing, matches, playing cards, books, wooden furniture, and other materials which could have easily been used to start a fire. But there had been no apparent attempt to start a fire despite the freezing temperature on the mountain. A propane tank connected to the trailer, which could have provided a ready source of heat and cooking fuel, was untouched. "All they had to do was turn that gas on," says Yuba County Lt. Lance Ayers, "and they'd have had gas to the trailer, and heat."

In a storage shed outside, there was a year’s supply of c-rations. These were individual canned, pre-cooked, and prepared meals issued to the U.S. military. The men consumed 36 of the meals, but left the majority of them untouched. In addition, there was a huge supply of freeze-dried meals. One of the c-ration cans had been opened with an Army P38 can opener.

"Bizarre," says John Thompson, the special agent from the California Department of Justice who had joined the investigation. "And no explanations. And a thousand leads. Every day you've got a thousand leads."

"There was some force that made em go up there." Jack Madruga's mother Mabel says firmly. "They wouldn't have fled off in the wood like a bunch of quail. We know good and well that somebody made them do it. We can't visualize someone getting the upper hand on those five men, but we know it must have been." "They seen something at that game, at the parking lot," says Ted Weiher's sister-in-law. "They might have seen it and didn't even realize they seen it."

There are many questions about this weird case.

Why did the men get lost that night and end up on the mountain?

Chico to Yuba City is a straight down Highway 70 through the Central Valley in low lying land with no snow at this time of the year. A 46 mile drive, around one hour. The car was found several thousand feet up in an area above the snow line in a completely different direction. Why did they abandon the trip to Yuba? Were the forced to go up the Bucks Lane on the way to Palmetto City, did they decide themselves to take a detour or someone did they take a wrong turn? 

What happened around the car?

The group's car was left open, with gas in the tank and in working order. Did they somehow leave the car and lose the keys. This could explain the strange story told by Joseph Schons where he said he saw flashlights around a car. Could they have been searching in the snow and been freaked out by his cars for help in this isolated area?

How did the group end up around a trailer 19 miles from the car?

Ted Weiher was found in a trailer 19 miles from the car and Madruga, Sterling, and Huett were found in the locality but several miles away. How did they walk in normal shoes without outdoor clothing so far in snow several feet thick? Were the group together and then decided to separate after Ted's death to try and find help?

Why did Ted Weiher apparently starve to death?

Some of the rations in and around the trailer were eaten but much of it was untouched. Ted apparently had a slow and agonising death from starvation having lost over half his body weight. With so much food close by why wasn't he eating. Had the group been abducted and the perpetrator was preventing access to food or was Ted suffering from gangrene caused by frostbite.


Further analysis

A good video by John Lordan Brain Scratch published Jan 5th 2018