Wilderness Disappearances

Eric Smith - Strange disappearances from U.S. wilderness

Eric Grady Smith, disappeared November 8th, 2013, Cedar Bluff, Virginia. 

Eric Smith, Cedar Bluff disappearance

On Friday, November 8th, 2013, Eric Smith left his home on West Hurt buggy Road in Cedar Bluff in Virginia to go hunting on his 40 acre property. That was the last time he was seen and over four years later Eric has never been found. 

That evening Eric hadn't returned and with temperatures dropping, his wife first went to see his mother at a local church with her concerns. The congregation of the church then sprang into action to begin the informal search and subsequently authorities were notified.

Eric was a foreman at a local Consol Energy owned Buchanan No. 1 coal mine, in charge of over 500 people. Unusually for him, his wife had called in sick on his behalf for several days before his disappearance saying he had flu-like symptoms. He was blind in one eye. 

He was wearing camouflage-print hunting clothes and a titanium Timex watch and carrying a Thompson Center .50 calibre muzzle-loading gun with a stainless steel barrel and a camouflage-print stock. Unusually,  he left his cellphone behind at his house. 

A Virginia state police helicopter with FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) was used that night and the next day a search began using sniffer dogs.  Several scents leading from the Smith residence were detected but went nowhere. At least one of these trails appear to head back to the home but could have been some days old. 

Cedar Bluff Police Chief David Mills said “Smith carried a muzzleloader with him, with one shot likely already loaded so search coordinators brought explosive detection dogs into the search yesterday from the Virginia State Police and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. These dogs are trained to detect material that goes into explosive devices with includes gun powder.”

By Sunday afternoon, November 10th, around 60 people were involved including trained search and rescue teams from across the region, coworkers from Consol Energy, fire department members, and other members of the community. Six air scent dogs were also used. Cedar Bluff Police Chief David Mills, coordinator of the search said with Smith wearing high tech camo the search was much more difficult. “He can be lying down and he would be impossible to see,” Mills said. The terrain was also a big problem in the search. With thick underbrush and steep hills, it is necessary to cover an area multiple times to be thorough.

Despite a $20,000 reward for information leading to his location and or recovery nothing was found or reported

Eric hunted on his property year after year and knew them inside out. His tree stand was less than a mile from his home so if he was overcome by illness/weakness it would have been expected he would have been found quickly. Yet there has never been any sign of Eric, his clothing or his weapon despite extensive searches. Some believe he was never on the property and may have run off, but this seems unlikely as he was close to his family. Others have speculated that his wife may have been involved, as Eric was not heard from or seen because of his apparent illness for days before he vanished.  Another theory was that Eric was accidentally shot by someone hunting in the area where his stand was and hid his body or he came across illegal hunters or meth producers who may have harmed him. Some have postulated that he fell in a sinkhole or cave and that is the reason that neither his firearm or bones have turned up. It is certainly strange that no trace has ever been found and it does raise suspicions that he was intentionally removed from the area or disappeared of his own accord. 






Harold Drake - Strange disappearances from U.S. wilderness

Harold drake Big sur disappearance

Harold Drake, disappeared July 8th 2015, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California

Harold Drake, 76, was last seen on July 8th, 2015, when he told a friend that he was going on a long hike whilst they were camping together in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in Monterey County, California.

Although Harold was retired he was described as an experienced hiker and physically fit.  He was a high school math professor until he retired.

He took a gallon of water and a small pack containing snacks with him for the hike and planned to return that afternoon to the campsite. But Harold never returned and his friend reported him missing to authorities at around 10pm that evening. 

Pfeiffer Big sur state park

The Monterey County Search and Rescue Team (SAR) along with the Monterey County Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR) conducted a search of Pine Ridge Trail and Mt. Manuel Trail, which are the main trails leading out of the park. California State Park Rangers conducted a search of Pfeiffer State Park and adjacent short trails. Another SAR team conducted a search of the Big Sur River Gorge, which is another popular destination leading away from the park. On August 10th, search and rescue teams from Monterey, Marin, and Santa Cruz County arrived to conduct a further search of the trail and a helicopter from Naval Air Station Lemoore and CHP also assisted with the search.

Harold Drake in his younger days

Harold Drake in his younger days

After an intensive 5-day search by air and ground, the Monterey County Sheriff's search and rescue team called off the search effort.

No sign of Harold was found and to this day his body remains missing in the wilderness. An acquaintance said Drake was not the kind of hiker to get himself into trouble, having hiked the John Muir Trail, parts of the Pacific Crest Trail and finishing the Tahoe Rim Trail. But at 76 years old anything could have happened. But it seems unusual that his body was not recovered given it would seem unlikely he walked voluntarily off trail. 





Rodney Letterman - strange disappearances in the US wilderness

Rodney Letterman disappearance Devil's Den

Rodney Letterman, disappeared 28 August 2017, Remains found February 25th, 2019, Devil's Den State park, West Fork, Arkansas.

Rodney Letterman, age 33 of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, was last seen hiking on the Butterfield Trail in the Devil's Den State Park in Arkansas with a friend Sunday 28th August 2017, when they were separated.

Rodney's friend went back to the car around noon to get high blood pressure medication for him. When he returned to the point on the trail where he had left him, his partner was gone. The weather was fortunately mild in August, but plenty of drinking water is advisable at that time of the year in the park.

Butterfield hiking trail Devils den sign

Butterfield Hiking Trail is a 14.6 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near West Fork, Arkansas that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail gets its name from the Butterfield Stagecoach.  It starts at the Devil's Den State Park.  The terrain is pretty rough, lots of uphills and loose rocks with downed trees covering the trail and overgrown vegetation.

Rodney was carrying water (only 1.5 litres) but no back pack.

Butterfield hiking trail Devils Den

Search and rescue teams from several counties as well as the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism scoured the area of Devil’s Den State Park on foot as well as using ATVs and horses. Searchers located the cellphone belonging to Rodney but other clues were not disclosed. His wife Stacia said “He wasn’t feeling good before he went and was exhausted and didn’t have his medicine and we know he doesn’t have his phone; it was found at the campsite.”

As of December 2017, no trace of Rodney has been located. Like many similar cases, a group of hikers become separated and one individual disappears for good. It was interesting that the cellphone was found at the campsite. Foul play or just wandered off the trail waiting for his friend?

Update March 13th, 2019

On February 25th, 2019, a hiker came across a human skull and remains at Devil's Den State Park, Arkansas, near a hiking trail, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

The remains were sent to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory for a DNA profile. The cause and manner of death hadn’t been determined at this point.

Park officials said the area where the remains were found is three miles away from the visitors center and is actually on private land surrounded by U.S. Forest Service property.

That area is generally inaccessible, and Tim Scott, Devil's Den Park Assistant Superintendent, said he was surprised the hiker found the remains because the terrain is very rugged. "As remote as that area is...there might be some hunters going there and a few hikers, but the location doesn't get much foot traffic or even wheeler traffic," Scott said.

Park officials did re-evaluate search records and found the area where these remains were found was searched back in 2017.

Nearly two years on could this be Rodney and a conclusion to this mysterious disappearance at Devil's Den. If the remains are confirmed by DNA to be Rodney, what happened that day in 2017?



Update March 29th, 2019

The skull found in February was confirmed as being from Rodney Letterman by authorities.







Roy Loren Stephens - Strange disappearances from U.S. Wilderness

Roy Loren Stephens, disappeared November 16th, 2005, Waldo Lake, Oregon

Roy Stephens disappearance

Roy Stephens, 48, was last seen in the evening hours in the vicinity of Highway 58, near the town of Crescent, Oregon.  His grey, 1991 Ford Taurus wagon was later located on November 25, 2005, at the Waldo Lake access road off Highway 58 in the Willamette National Forest.  

Waldo Lake is located in Lane County at an elevation of 5,414 feet (1,650 m) above sea level with access via Forest Service Road 5897 from Oregon Route 58 approximately 18 miles (29 km) east of Oakridge. The forest road travels 12 miles (19 km) to the lake.

Odell Lake Oregon

On November 16, 2005, Roy had left his work as a chef at Odell Lake Lodge after picking up his paycheck and had called his wife to ask if she wanted to go have dinner and drinks at the local tavern in Crescent City.  Unfortunately, she was feeling unwell and so she declined and he went ahead and went out and met up with his friends at the bar, and he’d been there a couple of hours since about 5 or 6 o’clock at night. He called her again at around 11 pm just to tell her that he loved her and that he was on his way home.  That was the last time that she spoke with him and the last time he was ever heard from or seen. 

She waited for him to come home for 2 days and reported him missing on the 18th of November, 2005. It was very out of character for Roy as sometimes he would be a little bit later and he would call and say that he was on his way and he’d come a few hours later, but he’d never been away overnight, or definitely never over a 24-hour period.  Roy's wife and son searched the area trying to find him when he didn't show up. Because she had just had triple-bypass surgery this was difficult for her and phoned neighbours and friends, but nobody had seen him since that night of November 16, 2005.  Friends said Roy had left the tavern and was going to stop by a friend’s house before he went home.

Roy had a scar in the shape of a "C" on the left side of his head and a  Scorpion tattoo on his shoulder.

Waldo Lake Road Oregon

On Thanksgiving Day 2005, hikers were walking up Waldo Lake Road found a car and as it looked suspicious they had called it to the Police saying that the car was abandoned.  The car was later identified as Roy's and it was around 10-15 miles from his home. It was completely in the opposite direction that he was going to see his friend's house. Roy's wallet and paycheck were left in the car on the passenger seat. There was vomit next to the car. 

There was some speculation that there was some sort of conflict between the two men that Roy was going to visit. Roy's community was very tight-knit and very closed-mouth, but there were rumours that he was with those two men and they were the last people that have seen him.

Family members tried to rally a community search and rescue effort, and we were told by local law enforcement that they would not be able to go up the mountain because it wasn’t safe.  But nobody in the local community offered or volunteered to help them to do anything. Three different law enforcement agencies had been involved in the case (Lane County, Klamath County and the Willamette National Forest). One, because Roy lived in Klamath County, but his car was found in Lane County and also in the Willamette National Forest. This didn't help the search, but in the end, only fours of searching were conducted and cadaver dogs were not even sent into the area months after Roy vanished. Clearly he was a low priority for search and rescue for some reason.

What happened to Roy Stephens on that evening in November 2005? Twelve years on and no trace has been found in the Waldo Lake area. Foul play seems a strong possibility but it was strange that his wallet and paycheck were left in the car. If Roy wanted to disappear it would seem likely he would take his wallet. Perhaps he was drunk, got disorientated, stopped the car on the road, vomited and then got lost in the woods? 

Geraldine Largay - Disturbing deaths in the U.S. wilderness

Geraldine Largay, Disappeared July 23, 2013, Body Found October 2015, Redington township, Appalachian Trail, Maine

Geraldine Largay death appalachian trail

Geraldine (Gerry) Largay, aged 68, was a retired air force nurse who had hiked long trails near her home in Tennessee. Like many other avid hikers, she decided to tackle the Appalachian Trail in Maine on a thru hike during the summer of 2013 over the course of six months. Initially, she hiked with a friend called Jane Lee but later continued alone.

Geraldine and George Largay

On July 23, 2013 she became lost after leaving the trail to relieve herself and was apparently unable to find her way back. Like Jessie Hoover who vanished in 1983, she was in the area of the 100 mile wilderness, a rugged, difficult to hike area where it is easy to get lost. She was last seen by fellow hikers on July 22nd at the Poplar Ridge lean-to. 

Last photo Gerladine Largay poplar ridge lean to

Last photo Gerladine Largay poplar ridge lean to

Gerry had been walking the length of the famous 2,200 miles (3,500 km) long Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. She had been in constant contact with her husband George until she became lost for small reunions and resupplies. George was not far away on the morning she went missing as he had driven to the Route 27 Crossing, about a 22-mile hike away from the shelter where his wife was last seen. At this point she had already walked more than 1,000 miles. Her trail name was “Inchworm”.

100 mile wilderness

She tried to text her husband after she became lost. At about 11am she wrote: “In somm trouble. Got off trail to go to br. Now lost. Can u call AMC to c if a trail maintainer can help me. Somewhere north of woods road. XOX.” Unfortunately, the text was never sent because of poor cell service in the area. Geraldine tried to find higher ground and attempted to send the text 10 more times in the next hour and a half. She eventually decided to camp for the night. The next day she tried to text again, with an undelivered message at 4.18pm: “Lost since yesterday. Off trail 3 or 4 miles. Call police for what to do pls. XOX.” She appears to have lost her GPS tracker which she purchased, leaving it in a hotel room or lean-to.

Geraldine largay Appalachian trail

The following day, George became very concerned and the official search effort started by the warden service including search aircraft, state police, national park rangers and fire departments. Bad weather hit the area at the time with heavy rain which didn't help tracking efforts. They searched side trails, interviewed hikers and used canine teams.

But there was no sign of Geraldine. The wilderness had swallowed her up.

Her initial trail companion, Jane Lee, who had hiked much of the trail with Largay before a personal emergency called her away, told wardens that her friend found navigation difficult with a map and compass and sometimes struggled to keep up.

In October 2015, Geraldine's body was eventually found near the Redington Township, close to the Redington Stream, and it became apparent she had survived nearly a month in the wilderness before succumbing to the elements and lack of food. She waited in vain for a rescue team that never came. However, at least three K9 teams came to about 100 yards of the camp but failed to detect her.

The discovery of her camp was caught on camera by a crew filming Animal Planet reality series North Woods Law, The body was found on a land owned by the U.S. Navy in Redington, three miles away from where she was last seen. The Navy uses the area for its Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program and it is inaccessible and very remote.

Geraldine largay location of body

 What was amazing was that the remains were so close to civilization. Walking south from the campsite, the dense forest became open woods with good visibility after 60-70 yards, and after another 25 minutes there was a clear logging road that led to lodging.

When wardens arrived at the scene they saw a flattened tent, with a green backpack outside of it and a human skull with a sleeping bag around it. 

Geraldine largay location of body

The campsite was difficult to see unless you were right next to it as it was in dense woodland and as the tent was under several large trees whose branches obstructed the sky. Gerry had built a bedding area out of small trees and pine needles to keep her tent out of any water, and had tied a space blanket between branches to provide some cover.

geraldine largay tent found

Largay had also tried to set fires as nearby trees had been charred black.

In the camp, they found maps, a rain jacket, a space blanket, string, Ziploc bags, a flashlight that still worked, a blue baseball cap, dental floss, a homemade necklace with a white stone wrapped in string.

A journal found alongside her body reveals she survived until at least August 18th. It was titled  “George Please Read XOXO”. In it, Gerry explained that she had spent about two days wandering after a wrong turn across a stream and that she had tried to find ridges where she could find her bearings.

The Journal also contained a final request, dated August 6:"When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me - no matter how many years from now. Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of them." 

Wardens believe Largay went to higher ground in an attempt to get a better cellular signal before making camp on a raised knoll. After a month at camp, she finally died from lack of food and exposure.  

Because her remains were inside the tent it seems the sniffer dogs and cadaver dogs were unable to pick up on her scent despite being so close to her camp on several occasions. But since searchers in such proximity to Gerry's camp, it was a mystery that she failed to hear their activity and call for help. Perhaps by then she was too exhausted caused by hunger.

Why Geraldine failed to find the nearby logging road and was undetected by the many search teams is a little strange. The area in which she was located was a U.S. navy training facility and this adds to the mystery.

Why did Gerry get so lost so quickly The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, tasked with maintaining the trails, reroutes several paths every year after flooding events or as part of ecological restoration projects. When they cut a new path there will be a junction where you are on the new trail instead of the old. They try to block it off with tree limbs, and remove the old blazing by scratching it off the trees but sometimes old blazes are still there but faded which can cause confusion.

A very sad story indeed and one that underscores the dangers of solo hiking on the Appalachian Trail and the 100 mile wilderness area around Maine.

Jessie Albertine Hoover - Disturbing disappearances from the U.S. wilderness

Jessie Albertine Hoover, Disappeared May 16th, 1983, 100 mile wilderness, south of Baxter State Park, Appalachian Trail, Maine

Jessie hoover 100 mile wilderness disappearance

On November 5, 1982, Jessie Hoover's husband, Eugene, was killed when he was hit by a car. The loss of her husband after 35 years of marriage was tough for her and soon after she began to talk about hiking the Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia. Years before she had seen an article in the National Geographic Magazine about the famous trek.

Although her family was worried about her plans she was adamant that the trail was feasible for a woman of her age.  She created a detailed itinerary of when she would arrive at major stops along the trail to pick up supplies and wire for money. She even made plans with her doctor to get refills of her epilepsy medication. 

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply the A.T., is a marked hiking trail in the Eastern United States extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail is about 2,200 miles long, though the exact length changes over time as parts are modified or rerouted. Between 2 million and 3 million people hike the Appalachian Trail every year,  with around 10 percent of through-hikers starting in Maine, usually in June when the weather has improved. Only a quarter ever finish and according to a 2012 warden service search and rescue report, 1 percent of all people who go missing in the Maine woods are never found. 

100 mile wilderness sign Maine

In May 1983, she headed out towards Maine and to the  100-Mile Wilderness, to the south of Baxter State Park. This wilderness area is so remote that hikers are warned to carry at least eight to 10 days’ worth of food on this part of the journey.

After Jessie failed to call the family to report her progress on the Trail, they reported her missing to the warden service who started a search about six weeks after she left. However, the investigation report says Jessie was woefully unprepared with light clothing and only beef jerky for sustenance. 

Unlike Geraldine Largay who also went missing in the same area in 2013 and whose body was found in her tent two years later, Jessie Hoover's case got little or no media attention at the time.

Searchers found that she had tried to climb Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park on May 20, 1983, but rangers had warned her that the hike was not advisable given her lack of supplies or equipment. Mount Katahdin (pronounced "kə-TAH-dən") is the highest mountain in Maine at 5,267 feet (1,605 m). It was named by by the Penobscot Indians, and means "The Greatest Mountain". 

100 mile wilderness

At the time of Jessie's disappearance, hikers entering and leaving the 100-Mile Wilderness had to pass through the old Abol gatehouse on the Golden Road, a private road built by Great Northern Paper Co. in the early 1970's to carry logs to local mills. An attendant there remembered Hoover and that she had gone in the direction of the trailhead of the 100-Mile Wilderness on the other side of Abol Bridge. That was the first and last time the attendant saw her.

100 mile wilderness

The potential search area was around 15 million acres and within it there were hundreds of miles of trail in which Jessie could have become lost. Because of the density of the trees, amount of vegetation and the fact that in some areas the main trail is not that well marked it is easy to lose your bearings and to become lost for days. Northbound Appalachian Trail hikers were questioned whether they'd seen her all summer, but none said they had.

Temperatures in May regularly hit lows in the 40's and 30's causing potential hypothermia and when Jessie disappeared there was light rain at times.

Park rangers never found a body, clothes or her blue knapsack despite having a large scale search operation in place for another hiker in the same area at the same time. Rangers said “We went over [the woods] with a fine-tooth comb. If she was there, we would have found her. We don’t ignore people in the woods.”

Over 30 years on since she disappeared, no trace of her has ever been found. Jessie was certainly ill-prepared to tackle the 100 mile wilderness in Maine, especially on a solo hike. Lots could have gone wrong - hypothermia, disorientation, running out of food, accident, seizure caused by epilepsy and maybe even foul play. Its a wild, rugged and remote place and the best advice would not be to tackle the Appalachian Trail as a solo hiker.