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.
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.