Charles McCullar, disappeared January 1975, body found October 13th, 1976, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
In 1974, 19-year-old Charles or Chuck McCullar left his home state of Virginia for an extended photography and hiking trip, leaving his Volkswagen camper van at home. Charles was a keen photographer.
In late January of 1975, McCullar was in Eugene, Oregon, staying for a few weeks with a friend and he subsequently left on a short hitchhiking trip to Crater Lake National Park to take winter photos, planning to come back to the friend’s house two days later. Several people remember seeing him in the Diamond Lake area, but that is the last time anyone saw or heard from him.
It seems that he planned to hike to Crater Lake along the North Road. A heavy snowfall during the previous two weeks dropped over five feet of fresh snow. Cross-country skiers reported that at the time the snow was so soft and powdery, that even with skis, they were sinking up to their waists.
On hearing the news, Charles’ father dropped everything and flew to Oregon. An extensive air and ground search of the northern section of the Park was started, but no clues as to McCullar’s disappearance are uncovered. His father spent the whole summer camped at Crater Lake, searching extensively for his son but with no trace.
A year later on October 13th, 1976, at the end of the season, two hikers from Texas took a wrong turn and ended up in remote canyon along a little used trail in the Sphagnum Bog area of the Park. The two Texans had been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail when they mistakenly took the abandoned spur trail into the bog they stumbled upon an old dirty ripped backpack.
The hikers called in the park rangers and on October 14th, Rangers Larry Smith and Marion Jack mounted a horse patrol, to search the area where the backpack had been found. At 1.30 pm the radio call came that McCullar’s remains had been found, scattered over and down a steep bank of the Bybee Creek drainage, four miles from Lightning Springs and around 12 miles from the trail head. They quickly discover a Volkswagen key in a zippered side pocket. The same distinct key to McCullar’s Volkswagen back in Virginia after comparing with a Xerox copy of a VW key from the Charles McCullar file. The FBI was called in to complete the investigation.
On the day Chuck disappeared there were seven and a half feet of new snow on the ground, given that he didn't have skis or snowshoes how did he travel so much distance? In 2.6 metres of snow (102 inches) of fresh powder it would be impossible for even a snowmobile to get through. One theory is that McCullar may have followed snowmobile tracks, but the machines are not allowed into remote areas of the Park and secondly, the new snow was so fresh and deep, it would have been impossible for snowmobiles to have travelled the distance.
The skeletal remains were also bizarre. There were foot bones in the socks, but Chucks' jeans were empty except for the broken-off ends of his shin-bones sticking up. The jeans were unbuttoned and the belt left undone. And the rest of him was gone, as if melted away. The crown of his skull was found about 12 feet away but there was no sign of his shirt, coat and importantly his boots. There was just an empty pair of pants sitting on a log, with socks and foot-bones inside! His camera equipment was nowhere to be seen and no money in the pack or on the remains.
Some have postulated it was because McCullar was hypothermic that important items of clothing were missing due to the extreme temperatures. Even when people are freezing cold, they believe they are too hot, and strip off clothing or maybe even pull off their boots - a process called "paradoxical undressing".
The fact that only his feet were there isn’t too surprising. Food is rare in the high Cascades in wintertime and any remains would have sustained wild animals in the area with little evidence in-situ as bones would have been dragged off.
There is the potential explanation that a weirdo backwoodsman attacked Charles in the Crater Lake National Park and stole his camera and cash. Then in the dead of Winter he dragged his body into the remotest part of Crater Lake, took his shirt and boots off and set him up on a log and left him, reasoning that the animals would destroy the evidence by spring. But 12 miles through 2.6 metres of fresh snow?
But the two really unusual things in this story are the location, and the missing clothes and boots. Just how McCullar was able to get into the Bybee Creek drainage remains a mystery, as does his exact cause of death. The family remains convinced that Chuck McCullar was a victim of foul play because none of his expensive camera equipment was ever found.
In July 2016, Charles' brother Steven wrote on the blog Offbeatoregon.com, "This article was about my brother, Chuck McCullar. Some other details...just prior to his disappearance, he visited a nearby store. The clerk remembered him as upset about something and he bought a needle and thread to repair a tear in his coat. There was no snowmobile involved, he was on foot. The sinister conclusion is the correct one and the idea that he died of natural causes is not plausible. He was two years older than me. Our father never wanted to talk about it and mostly accepted the official explanation. Our mother did not accept the explanation and neither do I."
This is one of the strangest stories StrangeOutdoors.com has come across.