Michael Madden - Strange Disappearances from the Wilderness

Michael Madden - Strange Disappearances from the Wilderness

Michael Madden, disappearred August 10th, 1996, Sonora, California


Michael Madden, 20, was a keen outdoorsman and aspiring forest ranger. Friends arranged to meet him after a camping and fishing trip into the wilderness at Sand Bar Flat on the Stanislaus River near Sonora, California on August 10, 1996. The Stanislaus Forest is southeast of the city of Sacramento. He left his family's home in his Chevy Cavalier at around 5 am with his dog Matilda along with camping as well as fishing equipment. This was an area Michael visited many times before and this was the last time he was ever seen alive.

Sand Bar Flat on the Stanislaus River near Sonora

Michael's friends arrived at the sandbar area at approximately 2:00 am on August 12. There was no sign of Michael or the dog, but his gear was found near a freshly made fire. A man called Joseph Tine suddenly appeared at the camp soon after spooking everyone at this time in the morning and in the darkness. He was carrying an automatic pistol and asked the friends if they were looking for "Mikey." "There was a campfire lit, right there in Mike's campsite," said Josh Rocha, one of his friends. "Some creepy guy popped out of the bushes and asked, 'What are you doing here?' "

According to Michael's friends, Tine made the group very nervous by repeatedly cocking his pistol during the next 6 hours as they waited for Michael. The friend's believed that Tine was also wearing Michael's boots or ones that looked similar to his. 

Michael was reported missing soon after he failed to show up at the camp. A search was immediately started with search-and-rescue teams, divers and sniffer dogs, but nothing was found. His dog, Matilda, returned to the campsite 4 days later in a dehydrated state and she could not lead searchers back to Michael.

Tine was allegedly given a polygraph nine months later but the results are unknown and presumably negative since he was never charged with any offence.  

Randy Powell, Larry Madden's stepson and Michael's half-brother, said police reports include statements from witnesses who told authorities Michael had been at a cabin near Pinecrest, not at Sand Bar Flat, the day he disappeared.

Tuolumne County sheriff's detectives suspect Michael was murdered, but the case went cold more than a decade ago. Sheriff's Lt. Dan Bressler said "As far as I know, we haven't had any new information in many years."

What happened to Michael Madden? Murdered by Tine or another killer, lost in the wilderness or fell into the river?