Forest Disappearances

Jared Negrete - Strange disappearances from U.S. Mountains

Jared Negrete, disappeared July 19th, 1991, Mt. San Gorgonio, San Bernardino National Forest, California

jared negrete disappearance

13-year-old, Jared Negrete, was a Boy Scout who was on his first overnight backpacking trip. He was last seen on Friday 19 July 1991 at about 6 p.m. when he fell behind his fellow Scouts on a hike to the summit of 11,500-foot Mt. San Gorgonio in San Bernardino National Forest, Southern California.

San Gorgonio Mountain, also known locally as Mount San Gorgonio, or Old Greyback, is the highest peak in Southern California and the Transverse Ranges at 11,503 feet (3,506 m). It is in the San Bernardino Mountains, 27 miles (43 km) east of the city of San Bernardino. It lies within the San Gorgonio Wilderness, part of the Sand to Snow National Monument managed by the San Bernardino National Forest.

Mt. San Gorgonio

The eighth-grader lived in El Monte, was 5 feet 2 inches tall and 150 pounds, was wearing green pants and a tan shirt and was carrying a two-quart canteen of water.

Another group of hikers spotted Jared straggling behind and notified the Scout troop leader at the mountain summit but the leader, an experienced hiker, said he would pick up Jared on the way down When the leader finally decided to descend the mountain, Jared was nowhere to be seen.

As soon as the troop leader realised that Jared had disappeared, he accompanied his five other Scouts back to the base camp and then hiked about five miles in the dark to get help.

Mt. San Gorgonio map location

San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies, along with search and rescue teams from as far away as Sierra Madre and San Dimas, began searching a 130-square mile area of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, a rocky, tree-lined terrain.

Within 3 days their search was focused on a six-square mile area, where a footprint believed to match one of Jared's high-top tennis shoes was found. Searchers also discovered beef jerky and candy wrappers believed to have been dropped by the Scout and most importantly his camera was located. On the film roll were twelve pictures.

Jared negrete last picture

Most of the photos were landscape scenes apparently taken before Jared went missing. But the final picture on the roll of film was a photograph of the Scout's eyes and nose, taken with the aid of the camera's flash, possibly at night after he disappeared. Family members said it appeared Jared pointed his camera at his face and snapped the picture. It seemed possible that the boy had lost the camera while sliding down a portion of the mountainside.

At least 70 officers, some of whom were airlifted by helicopter into the forest and horseback riders as well as helicopters with infrared were deployed. Over the next two weeks as many as 3,000 people had logged 45,000 hours scouring 50 square miles of the San Bernardino National Forest from Angelus Oaks to Whitewater Canyon. 

But no further clues were found, Jared had vanished. What happened on that day in July 1991. Did he fall off the trail and slip down the mountainside? But why after an extensive search wasn't the body or remains found? Was he abducted? Despite the discovery of the camera and its pictures, Jared remains missing 26 years on.

Stephen Michael Morris - Strange disappearances from U.S. national forests

Stephen Michael Morris, Disappeared August 2, 2014, Body found March 2015, Billy’s Peak - Stoddard Lake area, Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Stephen Michael Morris Shasta Trinity national forest

Steve Morris, aged 59, and his wife, Carrie, ran a family therapy practice in Santa Rosa, trained and licensed as professional marriage and family therapists.

Steve went camping with a group of friends from the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa around Stoddard Lake in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest on August 2nd, 2014. Stoddard Lake in the Trinity Alps, covers more than 2 million acres and includes Mount Shasta. Morris was an experienced hiker and they went for a hike to Billy’s Peak and back to camp. But, Morris was hiking ahead of the others and for reasons unexplained never returned to camp with his fellow hiker. Only when Steve didn't appear at camp, did they have concerns for his safety. He had some water and energy bars with him.

stoddard lake trinity alps

The group retraced the trail in search of Morris but couldn’t find him. Two campers hiked to where they could get cellphone reception and were able to call for help at about 10:14 p.m. 

The area where the group was camping has an elevation of about 6,000 feet and at night temperatures dropped to around 20 degrees.

Trinity County as well as Marin and Contra Costa Counties Search and Rescue began searching for Morris on the morning of Sunday, August 3rd but were unable to locate any signs of him. Efforts were hampered by the difficult steep terrain, decomposed slippery granite and also a nearby wildfire. The next several days included ground and air searches by CHP helicopters, Marin’s elite Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit, Human Remains Detection Dog teams, Black Hawk helicopters ferrying searchers up to the high peak, and over 100 Certified Search and Rescue volunteers. After four and a half days the Trinity Sheriff’s Department suspended search operations.

Steve Morris trinity alps death

But a huge number of volunteers and family members continued the search for Morris and eventually found the trail and some of his remains.

On August 10, 2014 Jim Higgins, a private citizen and helicopter pilot from Chico, California contacted the Morris family to offer help. When asked what he would charge he said, “I don’t want any money. Just pay it forward someday.” That was the beginning of an extended private search endeavor involving: Ground searching and search support by over 60 family and community volunteers (most from First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa), Analysis of over 5,000 photos of the search zone by 135 volunteers with ASIST (Aerial and Satellite Image Search Team), Three Certified Trackers through Joel Hardin Professional Tracking Services, Seven Certified Human Remains Detection Dog Teams, Over $42,000 raised by 341 supporters to fund the search via GoFundMe.

LAke stoddard, trinity county map

By low-flying helicopter, Mr. Higgins was able to locate a slide area descending from the 7,500 foot peak where Steve was last seen. Footprints were present at the base of the slide. From that point, the team conducted 21 expeditions over 10 months. They painstakingly tracked Steve’s route more than two miles down the mountainside. The team eventually found evidence which ultimately tested positive by cadaver dog “Buster” Dostie, microscopic analysis by Bode Technologies and state of the art forensic analysis by Dr. Arpad Vass (formerly of University of Tennessee). The Sonoma County Superior Court has examined the evidence and issued a death certificate. 

What happened to Steve that day when he became separated from his hiking partner and why did they split up? Was he caught in an unexpected slide as suggested by the location where his remains were found? A strange death and disappearance indeed for an experienced hiker and perhaps in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bravo to the searchers for locating his remains. 

Mike Herdman - Strange deaths in U.S. forests

Mike Herdman, Disappeared June 13, 2014. Body found June 27th 2014. Sespe Wilderness, Los Padres National Forest, California.

mike herdman, los padres national forest

Mike Herdman, 36, was a firefighter in Arcadia, California. On Friday, June 13th, 2014 he went on a  four day backpacking and camping trip in the Los Padres National Forest near Fillmore with his friend and work colleague, Tyler Byars. At some point during the evening of the second day of the trip in the area around the Sespe Wilderness, Mike's dog ran off downhill and he was last seen chasing after the dog called Duke, without any footwear and with only t-shirt and shorts.

Los Padres national forest sign

Byars tried to find Herdman through the night and the next day. He then tried to find his own way out of the forest and got lost. Some fishermen came across Byars "dehydrated, dishevelled and disoriented" and guided him back to the beginning of the trail at Tar Creek, where Byars and Herdman's trip began. At this point Mike was reported missing by Byars. 

Nearly 90 searchers took part in a search over a 50-square mile are, assisted by flight crews and two drones. Several were treated for heat exhaustion and injuries from rock slides. One was bitten by a rattlesnake and needed 52 vials of antivenom to survive.

The dog was found June 23rd in a parking lot where Mike had previously parked his vehicle at the start of the camping trip after being spotted several times by searchers but he was unable to be caught. The German shorthair mix was dehydrated and exhausted.

los padres national forest

His body was found Friday, June 27th less than a mile from where he was last seen after being spotted by a helicopter search crew who noticed "something that didn't belong" in the very rugged terrain near Sespe Creek, according to Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean. The pilot said "It was something that was not meant to be there. It was a change in color." At first, he thought the object was a black sleeping bag. As he got closer, he realised it was a body. It was airlifted to a medical examiner's office, where the identity was confirmed using dental records as the body was well decomposed.

Sespe Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest.

The death was ruled accidental and caused by "blunt force" injuries, according to the Ventura County medical examiner. Investigators said there were no signs of foul play and Mike appeared to be dead for several days. They theorised that he might have fallen off a cliff, after he tried to climb up in the dark. The area had not been closely examined in the two-week search effort because authorities thought it was unlikely that Herdman would have climbed up there.

The autopsy also found that Mike had ecstasy and alcohol in his system when he died, according to a toxicology report. The coroner’s report shows that at the time he was found he had amphetamine and MDMA,  two primary compounds in ecstasy, in his liver and muscle tissue, but were in low amounts. Chief Deputy Administrator Armando Chavez, of the medical examiner’s office, said“In Mr. Herdman’s case, just because he has that drug or something in his system, that doesn’t mean it is considered as his immediate cause of death. From our office’s standpoint, we’re only required to release the immediate cause of death.”

The science of postmortem toxicology is complex and firm conclusions can be difficult or impossible to draw when examining a body already well into the stages of decomposition.The Ventura County autopsy report noted Herdman’s body was recovered in a state of “moderate postmortem decomposition and mummification,” also noting that animals had depredated the remains.

Chemicals within a human body tend to redistribute following death, making it increasingly difficult as time passes to determine the amounts and significance of drugs in a person’s body at the time of death. As a result, when a drug such as ecstacy is discovered within the system of a decomposing body, it’s difficult to know how much the person had in their system when they died, or whether a person was intoxicated. The amount of Adderall reported in Herdman’s body also did not necessarily point directly to abuse, as such an amount could all within the threshold of a “therapeutic level,” Adderall is a stimulant often used to treat conditions such as narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Alcohol poses it’s own set of challenges in the scope of a postmortem medical examination as the body naturally releases ethanol as part of the decomposition process. Ventura County medical examiners noted a blood-alcohol level of .056 percent. While such an amount does not rule out the consumption of alcohol prior to death, it could also be accounted for by the decomposition process.

Mike's demise has been misreported in some articles as they state he boots were strangely not on him. But his fellow camper, Tyler Byars, stated that Mike ran off after his dog without his shoes. The question is why he decided to bolt off into the forest after his dog with no thoughts of his safety and to climb up a cliff in the dark, perhaps his judgement was impaired by alcohol or drugs as the toxicology report indicated Adderall and Ecstacy were in his system. 

Richard R Lee - Strange disappearances from U.S. forests

Richard R. Lee, disappeared September 9th, 2004, Colchuck Lake, Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest, Washington.

Colchuck Lake, Washingron

Richard R. Lee, 47, of Hobart, King County went hiking alone on September 9, 2004, on a trip expected to take two days, in the Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest in Washington State. He was an experienced hiker in the wilderness and planned to explore the Colchuck Lake area, part of the Cascades. 

The area was rugged but the weather was perfect when Richard set out. During the 2 days, he phoned his brother using a cell phone to tell him all was well. 

On September 11th, Lee failed to return to his home in Hobart and the authorities were eventually informed of his disappearance on September 15th by his wife, who wasn't initially concerned when he didn't return home on the 11th. Searchers quickly set up a 70-square-mile search area focusing on Lake Stuart, Colchuck Lake and the Enchantment Lakes to the southwest of Leavenworth. Unfortunately up to eight inches of snow fell in the area at the same time making the efforts of the search and rescue teams more difficult.  Three planes from the state Department of Transportation were used and Chelan County Mountain Rescue crews were assisted by volunteers from King, Yakima and Kittitas counties.


Searchers found Richard's car and eventually his camp site well off the trail. His kit like his sleeping bag and food was found in a tree to prevent bears getting to it. But nothing else relating to Richard Lee was ever located. No body, bones, equipment, clothing or signs of a struggle/blood associated with an animal attack.  There were reports by some searchers that they had a "uncomfortable" feeling around Lee's camp, but weren't specific on why. 

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?


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."