Pine Creek Gorge

Michael Jose Malinowski - Strange disappearances from U.S. wilderness

Michael Jose Malinowski, disappeared October 24, 1996, Pine Creek Gorge, Pennsylvania Grand Canyon West Rim.

Michael Jose Malinowski disappearance

Michael Malinowski, 37, left his home in Yardley, Bucks County, PA on Thursday, October 24, 1996. It would be the last time he would ever see his home again.

The bearded mental health counsellor, a divorced father with one child, worked at Greater Trenton Community Mental Health Center. He attended a psychology seminar that morning in Chester County, then drove about 200 miles north to spend a couple of days hiking and taking pictures in Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County, Pennsylvania.

Pine Creek Gorge, sometimes called "The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania", is a 47-mile (76 km) gorge carved into the Allegheny Plateau by Pine Creek in north-central Pennsylvania. It sits in about 160,000 acres (650 km2) of the Tioga State Forest. The canyon begins south of Ansonia, near Wellsboro, along U.S. Route 6 and continues south. Its deepest point is 1,450 feet (440 m) at Waterville, near the southern end. At Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Parks, it is more than 800 feet (240 m) deep and the distance rim-to-rim is about 4,000 feet (1,200 m).

Pine Creek Gorge

Pine Creek Gorge

Mike checked in at the Pine Tree Lodge in Gaines near the Canyon at around 4.30pm. The Lodge was built in the early 1930's by President Roosevelts' Grand Army of the Republic and has beautiful valley views over-looking Pine Creek. Each cabin has its own covered porch and cooking facilities and are surrounded by woodland and wilderness. 

He checked in at the lodge for a stay of two nights and that evening he made a phone call to his roommate, Greg Rossi, indicating that all was well. That was the last time anyone heard from Mike.

Pine Tree Lodge Gaines

Pine Tree Lodge Gaines

On October 27, a Forestry Bureau worker found Malinowski's rented 1995 Nissan Sentra in the parking area at the Barbour Rock access, on the west rim of the Gorge. In the car, police found an unzipped day pack on the front seat with a cellphone inside, Malinowski's jacket on the passenger's seat, a nearly two-thirds empty water jug, some apples, a box of low-fat Cheez-its crackers, and an empty camera case on the dashboard. A pair of tan, rubber-soled boots were also found. A cassette was on the car's tape player.

The manager at the Pine Tree Lodge reported Mike missing on Monday, October 28th. The bed in his cabin appeared to have been slept in. He obviously was very meticulous. All his things were put away very neatly. There was enough clothing for a two-day stay. His coat was draped over a chair, and his shoes were carefully stowed beneath the bed. 

Steve Farrell, superintendent of Colton Point State Park, where the canyon is located, said that, despite one of the most extensive searches ever conducted in that rugged, mountainous area, no trace of Malinowski was found. Farrell said that up to 125 firefighters and other volunteers, dogs trained to find people dead or alive, nine rappelling teams, and three helicopters spent five days from dawn to dusk searching the canyon's walls and came up with no sign or evidence at all. "You go home at night, and you can't sleep, wondering where he is. Is he hurt? What have I overlooked?" said Farrell. "We still don't know what happened. All we know is he is not accounted for." Gaines Township Police Chief Mark Resue, who first investigated Malinowski's disappearance, said he was equally frustrated. "It's one of those puzzles you try to fit the pieces together, and none of them seem to work. I'm thoroughly satisfied with the job the searchers did. I've never seen such an extensive search, and yet nothing was found."

The Pennsylvania State Police, said there was no evidence of foul play and no indication that Malinowski would have ended his own life. 

Chief Resue said it looked as if Mike parked the car, perhaps filled a couple of bottles with water, grabbed his camera, and took off for a hike over trails he knew well. A photo album supplied to police showed that he had been at that spot on the western rim several times before, taking pictures during different seasons.

Police and park officials say they had several theories, including that Malinowski had a fatal or incapacitating accident and died in the woods; that he committed suicide after walking far from where he parked his car; that he arranged his own disappearance; that he was killed by a stranger or someone who knew him, either at the canyon or near his cabin; and finally that Malinowski was accidentally killed by a hunter who panicked and fled with the body.

But each theory, they say, had holes. Mark Resue said that he could find no reason for Malinowski to want to disappear, that he was looking forward to moving west within a year to be near his son, who lived with his former wife, and that none of his bank accounts had been touched since his disappearance. There was no evidence of a struggle in the cabin or in and around the car, and there was no indication that Mike was depressed or suicidal. Regarding the hunter theory, it was squirrel and grouse season at the time, and deer hunting was not allowed. Malinowski and his former wife separated three years before his disappearance and were divorced a year before taking their 10 year old son with her. Police said she knew nothing about her former husband's disappearance and had moved to Seattle.

According to friends and family Malinowski had no reason to disappear, and was not suicidal. He was not in debt, nor depressed. He was a vegetarian, didn't use drugs and rarely drank. He wasn't in a romantic relationship at the time. His credit cards show no activity since 1996.

But the thorough searches of the area in and around the The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania failed to find any trace of him and more than two decades on Mike Malinowski remains missing.


The Philadelphia Inquirer,Tuesday, December 24, 1996