Sante Fe National Forest

Mel Nadel - Strange disappearances from US National Forests

Mel Nadel, Disappeared September 6th, 2009, Elk Mountain, Sante Fe National Forest, New Mexico.

Mel Nadel Elk Mountain

Melvin "Mel" Nadel, age 61, was only 5'2 and 135 pounds and disappeared outside of Pecos near Elk Mountain on Sunday Sept 6, 2009 whilst hunting with two friends. No trace of him or his belongings has ever been found, despite a huge search.

Mel was a Black Belt in Taekwondo, a Pilates instructor and a successful businessman at the time of his disappearance.  In addition, he was a long time hunter in the wilderness. He had lived in Santa Fe since 1991, he was happily married and was the father of an 18 year old daughter called Kristen. 

On the day he vanished, Mel joined two of his friends, Joe Muniz and his brother in law, Eric, on Elk Mountain in New Mexico, in an area around 16 Miles from Santa Fe. The Elk Mountain area is a heavily forested area with trails and logging roads.

He parked his 2001 Jeep Wrangler near his friends' vehicles and walked over to the nearby base camp which was very close to a forest road. Around 4.30 in the afternoon, Mel's friends left to go hunting elk and he decided to build a blind near the camp. To the south, on the other side of the rocky dirt road winding past the campsite, the mountain sloped steeply into a canyon leading to Cow Creek. Hidden by trees to the north was a still steeper canyon filled with broken rock, cliffs and vegetation dropping into Bear Creek and the Pecos Wilderness. The Bear Creek area near the campsite was possibly the roughest country in the Pecos Wilderness and it would be possible to get lost or injured there and never be found.

Elk Mountain, Sante Fe national forest

Mel was dressed for hunting in the wilderness with thermal clothes, a camouflage turtleneck jacket, sweater, shirt and pants and hiking boots. He had injured his knee and was wearing a bandage on it but had no other obvious health issues. Mel was armed with a Martin bow with arrows, a .44 Special revolver and a hunting knife.  

At 7pm, Joe and the brother in law returned to camp, but Mel was nowhere to be seen. They searched the area but since Mel's car was still parked off the dirt road they knew that he hadn't left the area voluntarily - perhaps had somehow got lost?  They started blaring their car horns and firing their guns to try and give him an indication of base camp.  The two men heard 2 shots that were fired back in the distance, but then they didn't hear anything else and could not locate where the sound was coming from.

After some time the two men reported that Mel was missing and a search and rescue team was assembled for action the next day. The search party quickly grew and hundreds of "official" and "unofficial" rescuers searched the area using a grid approach and planes, horses, dogs and helicopters were also used. Despite this exhaustive search, Mel was never found.  He had literally vanished without a trace.

Nadel rarely hunted far from camp after becoming lost a few years earlier on a hunting trip in the Jemez Mountains. On that occasion he had panicked, running through the woods, firing his gun until he was found. Since then he was not known to go without his GPS, but his GPS was found locked in his jeep near the campsite, along with his cell phone and backpack.

On Wednesday, September 9th, a snowstorm moved into the Pecos area and the search was called off and then restarted the next day. Heat-sensing equipped helicopters were never used because the SFPD claimed that none were available at the time of the search.  

Mel's footprints were found by search dogs during the initial stages of the search but the prints led 50 to 150 yards away from the camp down a trail. After this point, the sniffer dogs could find no trace of a scent.  During a  subsequent search that was performed on Sept 13, 2009, which included members of his family, scent was found by police dogs along the Pecos River, but was quickly lost, just like the initial search. 

It was thought he may have been attacked by a wild animal such as bear. But there was no blood or torn clothing. He was carrying a gun so why were there no empty shell casings, animal prints or evidence of his other belongings? 

With no evidence of foul play and no sign of him in the wilderness, some searchers and the police have speculated that maybe he ran off with another woman. Investigators found a new pair of women's pants in his Jeep at the hunting camp, which was locked and had all his gear inside, including his cell phone and GPS. His wallet was also found with all cards, cash, and ID and no money was missing. His wife, Edna, wasn't surprised by the small pants. "My husband is a little guy. He's from the rock 'n roll era and he liked his pants to fit tight. It didn't matter to him if they were women's jeans, if they fit." 

It's possible he carefully backtracked to the camp then to the road and had somebody pick him up, and he then went underground and started a new life, but there were no transactions on his bank account or credit card and by all accounts, his personal life and relationship was very happy. 

If Mel had run off in a panic like on the previous occasion it would be likely that his bow, arrows and gun would be lying near the camp but none were ever located. In the years since his disappearance no evidence like clothes, equipment or bones has ever turned up in the area. Really, really strange!

Further Reading

Mel's daughter Kristen Nadel, has written a book called Freebird about the disappearance and aftermath.

"Vanished without a trace and missing for over 8 years, my dad’s disappearance changed everything for me. While the case is still currently unsolved, I had to learn how to live again. This is my journey, my healing process. I am Kristen Nadel, daughter of missing hunter Mel Nadel, and this is my story. Life without my dad has been brutal, but I had to learn how to keep going. I want to spread awareness for his case and for others like it. Many people are living with battles that cannot be seen immediately on the surface, but trauma is persistent. Through this piece of writing, I want to be real, open, and honest about life. Sometimes, it is the only way to really provide insight on the things that are hardest to talk about."