Olympic National Park

James Griffin - Strange deaths in U.S. national parks

James Thomas Griffin, disappeared December 22nd, 2014, body found January 25th, 2015,  Boulder Creek hiking trail, Olympic National Park, Washington.

James Griffin, Olympic national park

James Thomas Griffin, 60, of Port Angeles went hiking in the Olympic National Park in Washington State just before Christmas 2014. He was last seen by other hikers at Olympic Hot Springs at around 4pm on December 22. He was reported missing on December 24 when he failed to show up for a Christmas Eve dinner as planned with friends.

James was  retired, single and lived alone. The weather was rainy and in the mid-30s on December 22 and 23.

Ten rescuers from the park and Olympic Mountain Rescue were aided by state Department of Emergency Management search dogs and their handlers. Joining the hunt for James was his own dog, Bud. Family members said Griffin was an avid hiker but makes slow progress because of an old leg injury, but he knew the park trails very well as a frequent visitor.

Olympic Hot Springs - Boulder Creek Trail Olympic National Park

Griffin’s daypack was found on Christmas Day about a half-mile from the trailhead of the Boulder Creek hiking trail in the Olympic peninsula’s Elwha Valley and 50 feet off the trail itself. The pack was leaning against a log, looking like items had been removed and contained his camera, stove, food, water, snacks and fire-starters.  A towel was lying on the pack and a nearby log sat a coke can and a plastic coffee mug as well as an unfinished bag of prepared freeze-dried food which had been resealed.

There were no signs of a struggle in the area and the camera contained an image of a nearby waterfall.

Despite a week-long search no other clues were found until Sunday, January 25th, 2015, when James' body was finally recovered about a third of a mile and nearly 1,000 vertical feet above the trail.

According to park officials, it appeared Griffin had stepped off the trail to prepare a snack but at some point became disoriented and could not find the trail again. Spokesperson, Barb Maynes said “There is nothing to suggest anything other than someone who lost his location and couldn’t find his backpack again, where he stepped off the trail, and became lost and disoriented,” As to why he climbed the steep hill, where his body was found, Maynes said: “If it’s dark and you can’t see anything, it’s easier to walk uphill. You’re more in control.”

The Clallam County forensic pathologist Dr. Eric Kiesel issued an autopsy report that indicated that James had died from hypothermia. His brother Robert said in an interview that the result was "really odd,”.  “It's just one of those things that happened, and nobody will ever know what the reasons were for him going up the hill.”

The case of James Griffin is strange. Why did he leave his pack and food just off the trail and climb 1000 feet up a steep hillside and then die of hypothermia? Investigators say he just got disorientated on his way back to the car and then got lost in the dark. Yet the trail is well marked. The autopsy confirmed there was no drugs or alcohol involved. Another mysterious death in the Olympic National Park. 






John Devine - Strange disappearances from U.S. national parks

John Devine, disappeared September 7th, 1997, Olympic National Park, Washington State.

John Devine was a 73-year-old hiker who lived in Sequim and  visited the Olympic National Park in Washington on September 7th, 1997. He was said to be an experienced hiker and had intended to go to climb 6,796-foot-high Mount Baldy in Olympic National Forest using the extremely steep and rugged Maynard Burn Trail. 

He failed to show up after the hike as planned and family reported him missing to the authorities.

Mount Baldy, Olympic national park

During the search a Bell 205A-1 rescue helicopter crashed killed three people and injured five at the 5,000-foot level of Mount Baldy, 20 miles south of Port Angeles. It fell shortly after taking off from the mountainside. Kevin Johnston, 35, the pilot, Rita McMahon, 52, a search volunteer who trained dogs to help with rescue missions and Taryn Hoover, 31, a seasonal park employee were killed and several others seriously injured. . 

Maynard Burn trail Olympic national park

Meanwhile, officials said the chances of finding John  alive had dropped sharply as snow and cold have swept through the mountainous area. The area was steep and rugged with super thick bushes. Sgt. Don Kelly of the Clallam County Sheriff's Office, which coordinated the search with the National Park Service, said  "If he was walking around up there, we would have found him by now."

Unfortunately John Devine was never found. Another strange disappearance in the Olympic National park.

Stefan Bissert - strange disappearances from U.S. national parks

Stefan Bissert, disappeared January 20th, 1992, Sol duc Hot springs, Olympic National Park, Washington State. 

Stefan Bissert, 23, of Bad Oeynhausen in Germany, was an exchange student at Oregon State University and a Fulbright scholar. He and another German student were hiking on January 20th, 1992, in the Sol Duc area on the west side of the Olympic National Park. They had planned to hike to Deer Lake, located four miles southwest of Sol Duc Hot Springs.

Deer lake, olympic national park

Stefan and his hiking partner separated for some reason and Bissert tried to hike out 23 miles to the Hoh River trailhead. When he failed to arrive, the friend reported him missing on January 21st. He was not dressed or equipped to camp overnight in the snow, wearing only jeans, a shirt and a windbreaker.  He carried a day pack with only a few pieces of fruit for food and had no hat, gloves or equipment for overnight camping. That route would have taken Stefan into the heart of the Olympic high country and into a winter storm that hit the area all week long.

The search included park rangers, mountain rescue teams with dogs, and helicopters.  Volunteer searchers including members of the Kitsap-based Olympic Mountain Rescue were deployed. After five days of intensive searching they failed to turn up any clues of the missing hiker and the search was called off.  Search and rescue teams had contended with rain, sleet, hail, snow, cold and extreme avalanche danger.

No sign of Stefan was ever located. 




Gilbert Mark Gilman - Strange disappearances from U.S. national parks

Gilbert Mark Gilman, disappeared June 24, 2006, Olympic National Park, Washington State

gilbert gilman olympic park

Gilbert Mark Gilman, 47,  went on a visit the Olympic National Park in Washington on June 24, 2006. He was spotted by a Park Ranger, Sanny Lustig,  carrying a camera but not a backpack and was wearing a bright green Hawaiian style floral shirt and khaki shorts with flip flops. Lustig had asked him to turn down his music playing in his convertible car. Given his attire that day, it seemed he was going for more of a stroll and opportunity to take photos in the park rather than a serious hike - you don't wear flip flops on a multi mile hike.  He was described as healthy and athletic, but he was nearly blind without his glasses. This was last time anyone saw him alive.

staircase, olympic national park

Gilman was a tough guy. He was a U.S. Army paratrooper and had served military duty in Panama, East Africa and Israel. He had combat experience with the 82nd Airborne and received two Bronze Stars. He also had degrees from the London School of Economics, Union College in New York and Solvay Business School in Brussels so he had brains as well as brawn. He also worked as a civilian contractor for a year in Iraq and was an interrogator fluent in Arabic, Russian and Chinese.

Gilbert worked for the United Nations before he came to Washington state to manage the 2004 congressional campaign for Sandy Matheson, director of the state Department of Retirement Systems. He worked under Matheson as deputy director of the retirement systems department since April 2005, advising her on national and local pension issues.

He was supposed to accompany Sandy to a meeting in Spokane, Washington on Sunday, June 25, 2006, the day after he set out for his visit to the Park. When he failed to show up as originally planned, people started getting worried.  Gilman was reported missing that day.

Staircase trail, olympic national park

Gilman’s vehicle, a 2005 Ford Thunderbird Convertible, was found at the Staircase Ranger Station. Searchers spent 10 days looking for any clue of Gilbert in the Staircase area and examined nearby trails and ridges in the area, which includes steep, rocky hills, dense forest and the North Fork Skokomish River, and found no trace of him.They used tracking dogs, helicopter and a plane equipped with heat seeking equipment along with 62 searchers on the ground.  After 10 days of fruitless searching, he was declared lost by the U.S. Forest Service.

What happened to Gilbert Gilman that day as he took photos in the Olympic National Park Staircase loop trail?

Some theories emerged about him in a couple of TV shots shown over the following years. In 2008, KIRO-TV showed that Gilman had previously worked on top-secret military intelligence assignments and “led a mysterious life.”

Israel Keyes

Israel Keyes

A 2014 episode of “Dark Minds” by Investigation Discovery and hosted by author and investigative reporter M. William Phelps suggested that Gilman was a possible a victim of Alaska serial killer Israel Keyes. Keyes who committed suicide in custody in Anchorage in 2012, was an avid hiker who lived in Neah Bay in Washington from 2001 and was issued “a few overnight backcountry permits” that allowed him access to the Olympic National Park during that time. According to author Molly Koneski, Keyes was competing in a marathon in Port Angeles around the same time that Gilman went missing (he came 90th in the race). Keyes said he killed a couple and two individuals in Washington, dumping them in lakes including Lake Crescent near Port Angeles, 650 feet at its deepest, never to be found. 

Keyes was linked to the murders of 11 people from Vermont to Washington state between 2001 and 2012, five of whom were killed while he lived in Neah Bay. The FBI said Keyes, a carpenter, was arrested at age 34 after admitting he murdered an 18-year-old Anchorage girl, sought many of his victims while hiking and camping and in remote locations. He travelled all over the USA on trips to the wilderness and it seems that on these trips he sought out murders victims and disposed of them very discretely in an effort to avoid detection.

But in March 2014, Anchorage-based FBI Special Agent Kevin Donovan said that Keyes was unlikely to be involved in Gilman's disappearance, based on evidence and reviews of unsolved homicides and missing persons cases. However, Koneski's theory about Keyes involvement is quite compelling.

Since Gilman was an ex-paratrooper it seems unlikely he just wandered off trail and got lost especially on the well marked Staircase loop trail. A very disturbing case indeed.

Bryan Lee Johnston - Strange disappearances from U.S. national parks

Bryan Lee Johnston, disappeared August 22, 2013, Ozette trail, Olympic National Park, Washington State.

Bryan Johnston, Olympic national park disappearance

71-year-old, Bryan Lee Johnston, had planned a two- or three-day hike on the Ozette Loop Trail in the Olympic National Park. The park is on Washington's Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest. 

The Ozette Trail is a 9-mile loop that follows a predominantly plank trail which heads out for 3 miles northwest to the Pacific Ocean, then turns south along the beach for 3 miles, then follows a second plank trail inland for another 3 miles to the trailhead. 

Ozette loop trail, Olympic national park

Bryan got up early on the morning of August 22, 2013, in his home in Port Angeles to the West of Seattle and left his sleeping wife a note and took the Edmonds-Kingston ferry across the water. He was never seen again.

Bryan was an Eagle Scout and a very experienced hiker. He wore his white hair in a ponytail because it was so thick it was easiest to just pull it back and glasses but didn't need them for everyday activities. 

After earning a bachelor’s in 1966 from the University of Washington, he served in the Air Force until 1970 and then worked in Seattle City Light until he retired. 

Ozette loop trail olympic national park

His wife and stepchildren reported him missing to Olympic National Park rangers on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013.

His truck was found parked at the Ozette trailhead and inside rangers found receipts from several Port Angeles businesses dated August 22, 2013, the day he left his Port Angeles home. 

Ozette trail, olympic national park

It is difficult to lose yourself on the the plank trail, but the portion of the hike along the beach could be rough, especially if tides are high and one must climb around a couple of steep headlands. It seemed strange that Bryan had got lost on this particular loop.

At least 50 park rangers, along with search teams from Clallam, Grays Harbor and Pierce counties searched for Johnston for three days in and around the Ozette area but found no sign of Bryan. The ground search was called off with no clues. Bryan's family said he didn't plan to disappear but was described as “a quiet man, almost a loner.” When last seen, he was wearing blue jeans and carrying a black day pack.

Despite the search, no sign of Bryan has ever been found. He had disappeared off the face of the earth.

Bryce Herda - Strange disappearances from U.S. National Parks

Bryce Herda, disappeared April 9th 1995, Shi Shi Beach Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington.

Bryce Herda disappearance

6 year old, Bryce Herda, was out hiking with his family on Shi Shi Beach, southwest of the Makah Indian Reservation close to Olympic Park (West of Seattle), when he disappeared on the early evening of April 9, 1995.

Shi Shi Trail entrance near Seattle

At the time of his disappearance, Bryce was 4'0 tall, weighed 60 pounds, with a medium build, brown eyes and light brown hair. He had a medium complexion was of Native America/Caucasian race and had a 1' vertical scar in the centre of his forehead by the hairline and a 1/8" mole on his right temple.

Bryce was last seen on the beach when his family left to walk up an adjacent trail and since he was unable to walk up the trail they agreed they would meet him back at the beach. When they returned he was nowhere to be seen. 

The boy's grandfather was chief of police when he went missing so resources were deployed quickly and in number. People began searching within 45 minutes of his disappearance, with some 30 searchers, including Coast Guard helicopters, combing the area he was last seen.

The search lasted through the night with increasing numbers of ground and water crews equipped with special equipment searching for any signs. Dog teams and more crews joined the search the next day, and within a week thousands of people, including U.S. Air Force personnel, rock climbers and divers had been concentrated in the area. Others searched the coastline and drove off roads. After a week of searching, agencies called off the search, but Bryce's family continues to look for the boy. Footsteps were discovered but were intermittent.

The family believed that Bryce had been kidnapped, particularly since no trace of him or his clothing was ever found. The nearby Ozette Trail led to a homeless community. The police believed he may have been washed out to sea, but his body was never recovered from the water.

The question is why could he not accompany the rest of his family up the trail from the beach and how long was he left on it before their return. Did an abductor have time to whisk Bryce away?