Polaroid found in parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe Florida in July 1989.
Tara Calico’s disappearance has baffled investigators for decades. In July 1989, a color Polaroid of an unidentified young woman and a little boy was found by a woman in a convenience store parking lot in Port St. Joe, a beach town approximately one hour south of Panama City, Florida.
The woman who found the photograph in a vacant parking space said she saw a man driving a windowless Toyota cargo van parked there when she arrived at the store. The man was described as being in his 30’s with a mustache. The photograph had recently been taken. Officials at Polaroid said the picture was taken after May 1989 because it was not available until then.
In the picture, the young woman glares at the camera, her mouth covered with black duct tape, hands bound behind her back, alongside a young boy who looks scared, his mouth taped and hands bound behind his back as well.
Pictured alongside the bound woman is a copy of V.C. Andrews book, My Sweet Audrina, a 1982 best-seller about a young girl who is haunted by her sister’s death. The thriller touches upon rape, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and autism.
The photograph made the national news and a “Current Affair” where family and friends of a young missing New Mexico woman saw a haunting resemblance. Tara Calico vanished in Belen, New Mexico, 10 months earlier on September 20, 1988. They contacted Tara’s mother, Patty Doel, who insisted she meet with investigators and see the photograph firsthand.
After viewing the photograph, Patty insisted the picture was her missing daughter, even noting a discoloration on the leg of the woman pictured being identical to a large scar on Tara’s leg she had sustained in a car accident. Not to be overlooked, V.C. Andrews was also Tara’s favorite author.
The photograph has been carefully analyzed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation who felt the photograph was not of Tara while Scotland Yard declared it was her.
On Tuesday, September 20, 1988, Tara left her home at approximately 9:30 a.m. to go on a daily bicycle ride along New Mexico State Rd. 47 in Belen, a route she took almost every morning. A small town, Belen only had a population of 7,152 in 2015.
Tara Calico missing from Belen, New Mexico since September 20, 1988
Sometimes accompanied by her mother, Patty had warned her daughter to carry mace with her when she rode but Tara rejected the suggestion. On the morning of Tara’s disappearance, she playfully told her mother to come and get her if she did not return by noon because she had plans to meet her boyfriend at 12:30 p.m. to play tennis.
When Tara did not return, anxiously Patty drove south along Tara’s usual bike route but could not find her. In the process of searching, she spotted a Boston cassette tape lying on the side of the rugged road. She immediately called the police.
Several witnesses told police they had witnessed an older light-colored pickup truck, about 1953, with a camper shell following close behind her as she rode along the highway. Quite possibly, Tara would not have even noticed if a vehicle was following behind her while she listened to Boston on her Walkman.
The boy in the disturbing photograph remains unidentified to this day. Initially, when the photograph was found, the mother of Michael Henley said she was “almost certain” the boy in the Polaroid was her missing son. Sadly, Michael Henley was found deceased in June 1990 in the Zuni Mountains near where his father and he were hunting when the child vanished in April of 1988. It was determined he died of exposure.
Another missing child case has caught the attention of law enforcement as the picture strongly resembles David Michael Borer missing since April 26, 1989, from Willow, Alaska, about five hours south of Fairbanks.
Resemblance between missing child David Borer and the unidentified boy in Polaroid
David was last seen walking along Parks Highway about 11 miles on his way to a friend’s home or to the Kashmitna River sandbar.
David once hitchhiked to Wasilla, approximately 30 miles from his home and described as a very independent young child,
Canine searches tracked his scent to Parks Highway, but the scent was lost at the road and there have been no signs of him since.
A missing lead
In 2008, the Sheriff of Valencia County claimed he had received information about what happened to Tara. A witness came forward telling law enforcement two teenagers had been following Tara in a Ford pickup truck, trying to talk to her and grabbing at her. Apparently, they accidentally hit Tara and panicked, then killed her. No further information surfaced from this allegation and no arrests were made.
Tara’s stepfather, John Doel, disputed the sheriff’s claims telling media the sheriff should not have released this information without enough circumstantial information to make an arrest.
More haunting photographs surface
In 2009, twenty years after the Polaroid was found, pictures of a young boy were mailed to the Port St. Joe police chief, David Barnes. The sheriff received two letters with photographs included, one postmarked June 10, 2009, and the other postmarked August 10, 2009, from Albuquerque New Mexico. One letter contained a photo copy of a young boy with very light brown hair with a band of black ink drawn over the boy’s mouth as if it were covered in the 1989 Polaroid.
The second letter contained the original picture. On August 12th, the Star Newspaper in Port St. Joe received a letter, also from Albuquerque, with the same picture, with the same hand-drawn mouth covering. Law enforcement has never been able to confirm the original Polaroid and the pictures received in 2009 are of the same boy. None of the three letters contained information indicating the child’s identity. Though there was not a reference to Tara’s case, police felt confident it was potentially connected.
Two other Polaroids have been found over the years some believe may be of Tara. The first was found near a construction site. It was a blurry photograph of a seemingly nude girl with tape over her mouth, light blue striped fabric behind her, similar to the fabric seen in the original Polaroid. It too was taken on film not available until 1989.
Copy of Polaroid found in Montecito, California.
The second photograph is of a terrified woman bound on an Amtrak train (possibly abandoned), her eyes covered with gauze and big black framed glasses, with a male passenger taunting her in the photograph.
Of the many photographs and unidentified remains Patty had to view to help police throughout the country rule out, these three could never be ruled out by her mother.
Sadly, Patti Doel passed away in 2006, never finding out what happened to her daughter. Tara’s father passed away in 2002. However, with advancement in technology, Tara’s remaining family and stepfather still hold out hope they will one day find out what happened to her.
Valencia County Sheriff’s Office is not actively pursuing any of the photographs as possible leads. Instead, they are working with the FBI analyzing local suspects given the information provided to the sheriff’s office years ago that Tara was killed by local residents of her small community. Supported by witness reports claiming Tara was followed prior to her disappearance and she was also receiving threatening notes placed on her vehicle prior to her disappearance.
Michele Doel, Tara’s stepsister, told People Magazine when asked if the Polaroid with the young unidentified boy is Tara she responds, “If I had to say yes or no, definitively, yes, that is her,” says Michele. However, she added “Does that make sense? No. That’s not the story that makes sense.”
Current lead investigator Sgt. Joseph Rowland at Valencia County Sheriff’s Department said the vehicle in the first polaroid was identified as a van and the sheriff’s department received many tips about vans that were not fruitful.
Mother never lost hope
Patty Doel died in 2006 after suffering several strokes after relocating from New Mexico to Florida with her husband John.
Friends and family say her daughter was always on her mind, never giving up hope she would one day find her.
She and her husband John even had a bedroom they kept for Tara, placing passing birthday and Christmas gifts there.
Even after the strokes, Patty would see a young girl on a bicycle and point and write her daughter’s name. Her husband would have to tell her it wasn’t Tara.
Tara’s older brother Chris told People Magazine he believed the stress of his sister’s disappearance and lack of resolution significantly shortened his mother’s life.
“The police would send photos of every possibility, including pictures of bodies, dismembered bodies, and every time mom got an envelope with the newest pictures, she had to look at them,” Chris told People. “She couldn’t not look , but it tore her up every time.”
The first Polaroid told Patty her daughter might still be alive, she survived whatever and whoever abducted her.
A case that is not exactly cold, Tara’s family holds onto hope; and many of the missing person investigators have taken the case into retirement with them. A case that happened long ago but is never forgotten.
At Lauth Missing Person Investigations, we specialize in complex missing person investigations of endangered missing children and adults.
The investigative team at Lauth Investigations has over 40 years combined experience working closely with the families of missing persons, local, state and federal law enforcement, along with national media and missing persons organizations throughout the country and internationally.
Founded in 1995, Thomas Lauth is a nationally recognized Missing Persons and Human Trafficking Investigator and graduate of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, who initially served as Senior Criminal Investigator for Marion County Public Defender Agency located in Indiana.
Lauth has served as both a prosecution and defense witness on numerous missing persons and homicides at the federal and state levels, including being appointed by state and federal courts to conduct independent investigations of homicides, robberies, and other serious felony matters.
In addition, Thomas has attended various U.S. Department of Justice conferences on missing persons, human trafficking, and child abduction. He served as a volunteer Advisor to the Nation’s Missing Children Organization and the National Center for Missing Adults for nearly twenty years.
In addition to working with local and state law enforcement, Lauth has worked cooperatively with Interpol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. State Department, the U.S. Consulate and various foreign embassies.
Lauth is considered an expert in missing persons by national media and has appeared in publications like Essence Magazine, USA Today, Los Angeles Daily News, San Diego Tribune, New York Times and more.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the United States.
Missing persons are entered into various categories such as Juvenile, Endangered, Involuntary or Non-family Abductions, Disability, Catastrophe and Other. Though it is not mandated for law enforcement to enter missing persons into NCIC, it is beneficial to both the missing person and the private investigation. Lauth Investigations verifies all missing persons investigated are entered into NCIC making the missing person’s information available to all law enforcement throughout the country to include, medical examiners and Coroners.
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Liz Mallin, mother of Brandon
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From the desk of Kym Pasqualini, Feature Crime Writer for Lauth Investigations
15.8 million tourist visited Dubai during 2017 and considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), is where you will find nightclubs on the same street as mosques. Some describe residing in Dubai as “living in a bubble” where there as is an attitude of “live and let live.”
Dubai is one of the main and most populous cities in the UAE where islands have been built with beautiful luxury hotels and extravagant shopping centers that are attractive tourist destinations. Located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf, Dubai is the capital of the Emirate of Dubai and considered one of the most fascinating and developed cities in the Middle East.
Sprouting up out of the desert, Gulf News reports a whopping 15.8 million tourists visited Dubai during 2017, making it one of the most happening tourist meccas in the world. Mega-malls, 5-star hotels, a thriving art and design ecosystem, and a constantly evolving food scene, something is always happening.
Home to the Burj Khalifa (the tallest man-made structure on earth), as well as the Marina where the tallest residential buildings in the world were built, the many skyscrapers offer an amazing skyline view.
One of the main draws for visitors is the more than 300 days of sunshine and over 600 miles of white sand coastline, one can simply relax and lay in the sun, skydive, or hang glide over the gulf for an adventurous time. A place where you have the city, desert, and sea in one place.
The country is described as transient. Many come, stay, and leave. However, 97% of Dubai’s population say they feel safe in the UAE, with most having had little to no experience with crime.
Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and Allegations of Abuse
Sheikh MohammedSheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 68, is the billionaire Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. Since his accession in 2006, after the death of his brother, Maktoum has been credited with the growth of Dubai into a global city.
Named one of the “richest royalty” in the world by Forbes, the Sheikh’s personal life is a well-guarded secret, though he is widely known for his love of horse-racing. In fact, he shares his passion for horse-racing with the Queen of England and meets her at the Royal Ascot each year.
Despite the accolades, in March 2018, allegations of abuse were made via video by Princess Latifa bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, a daughter of the Sheikh. The princess alleged being incarcerated for more than three years in a family-owned compound where she was also tortured.
Daily Mail has reported Princess Latifah claims she was drugged in a hospital to stop her from rebelling and escaping. Though Daily Mail has not been able to verify her claims of abuse and incarceration, Mail Online has reported the princess fled Dubai in an attempt to live a normal life, leading some to believe Princess Latifa may be the richest runaway in the world.
Reports recenly Princess skydiving surfaced indicating Princess Latifa received help escaping by a former French spy and was hiding on a yacht off the coast of southern India. She expected to seek asylum in the United States where she had made contact with an attorney.
What may seem like something straight out of a best-selling spy novel, becomes all the more real after watching an emotional video she made prior to leaving that explains, in shocking detail, her reasons for wanting to escape. But has she?
Princess Latifah, 33, is one of 30 children the wealthy Ruler of Dubai has between six of his wives. In an Emirates Woman magazine article, the Princess is described as a daredevil skydiver with an undying enthusiasm for adventure and longing for a normal life.
In her YouTube video, she sits humbly with no makeup, her hair tied back, wearing a simple blue t-shirt, speaking calmly as she explains her reason for fleeing Dubai.
“I do not have the freedom that people have. Freedom of choice is not something we have,” the Princess says. “I am very restricted and cannot even go to another emirate without permission. I have not left Dubai since 2000.”
The Princess says she is not allowed to keep her own passport and if she goes out in Dubai she is assigned a driver.
It has been reported she gave the video to her UK-based attorney Radha Stirling in case of her disappearance or death.
NDTV reported the princess sent her last WhatsApp message to her attorney on Sunday, March 4th from a U.S. registered boat at least 50 miles from India’s coastline.
During a distressed call, the princess told Stirling they were hiding below deck and said, “Radha, please help me, there are men outside,” then frantically claimed to hear gunshots. Stirling asked the princess to record the gunshots but received no reply. That was the last time anyone heard from Princess Latifah.
Stirling says the princess first got in touch with her firm “Detained in Dubai” on February 26th, claiming she had escaped Dubai where she had been tortured for helping another sibling run away. She told Stirling her older sister had also fled because she was denied choices some people take for granted, such as returning home at a certain time or driving a car.
After giving a harrowing account of her life in the video, she warns by the time people watch, she could be either dead or in a really bad situation.
Herve Jaubert, author of “Escape from Dubai.”
Princess Latifah was last known to be with Herve Jaubert, an American who served as a French Navy Officer, marine engineer, and spy who operated for the General Directorate for External Security, France’s external intelligence agency and equivalent to the United Kingdom’s MI6 and the United States CIA.
Ironically, Jaubert has been wanted by the Dubai authorities for alleged embezzlement during the time Jaubert owned a submarine design and manufacturing company in Dubai. Now a resident of Florida, those allegations have been widely discredited. He is also an author of “Escape from Dubai,” a book recounting his own escape from Dubai.
According to Stirling, Jaubert and the princess were on his yacht called the Nostromo. Finnish woman, Tiina Jauhiainen, 41, was also aboard the Nostromo, all three disappearing in the Indian ocean, while closing in on Goa, India, known to be where they were headed to execute their escape.
According to UK police, information about the trio’s disappearance was sent to international liaison officers at the National Crime Agency and Interpol so they could proceed with the missing person investigation.
The three had maintained regular contact with Stirling until March 4th and had told the attorney they were 50 miles off the Indian shore, with plans to disembark the yacht and fly to the U.S from Mumbai. Seven hours later, Stirling received the distress call from the princess saying she was hiding inside the yacht, and men were outside. The princess then reported hearing gunshots. Directly after, their communication stops permanently.
Princess Latifa and Tiina Jauhianinen had become good friends prior to the princesses’ disappearance.
According to the Jauhianinen family, Tiina and the princess had met each other through their passion for skydiving and over the years became close friends. Princess Latifa referred to Tiina as “my angel” and the only person “I can talk to about anything.” Tiina was also the princesses’ martial arts instructor and personal trainer.
After learning of Princess Latifa’s tortuous life, Tiina and the princess set out to find Jaubert, now a public figure and famous for his book. Tiina needed help getting the princess out of Dubai and Jaubert was a logical choice to ask for help.
Tiina had maintained regular contact with her family, but the last time Tiina was seen online was the day before the princess’s distress call to Stirling. The following day, one of Tiina’s friends told the family they had heard there was a possible raid on the yacht. The family immediately contacted Finnish Police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and filed a missing person report.
After weeks of being reported missing, in April 2018, Jaubert and Tiina suddenly surfaced.
They both claimed to have been blindfolded and beaten after a hostile boarding. They were both in jail and told they had broken “Islamic Law” by assisting Princess Latifah in her quest to escape Dubai because she is the property of her father.
Herve Jaubert and Tiina Jauhianinen surface to tell their own harrowing stories of being detained by Dubai authorities.
Speaking to Pakistan Defense News from London, Jaubert claims he had attempted to bring the princess to a western country. He confirmed Tiina was on board, along with Princess Latifah and three Filipino nationals who were part of the crew.
Jaubert indicated he was en route to Mumbai and planned to fly everyone to the US from there. However, near Goa, the Nostromo was intercepted in a joint operation by India and the UAE, an act Jaubert considers a criminal conspiracy.
Jaubert tells how he noticed three vessels ghosting him on radar and he knew he was being followed. Then, two speed boats containing six to eight men carrying laser pointed assault rifles, faces covered in helmets and masks rushed the yacht. They proceeded to use stun guns and smoke grenades to neutralize the crew.
He was ordered to raise his hands above his head or they would kill him. With an assault rifle in Jaubert’s face, he complied and the men proceeded to handcuff him and beat him.
“No warning, no warrant, no charges, no explanations, no questions, nothing, just unnecessary brutal force by thugs,” said Jaubert.
The men proceeded to go to Princess Latifa’s cabin and said, “Come on Latifah, let’s go home.” Jaubert described how they forcefully grabbed her while she was screaming she would rather be killed right there on the boat than go back to the UAE. She repeatedly claimed political asylum but was ignored.
Next, at least ten people from the UAE boarded the vessel, some crew, and a captain, the others were special forces, not a private contractor Jaubert recalls. They were surrounded by the men on speedboats, and three coast guard warships. Later it would be reported there was a minimum of five Indian and Emirate warships, two military airplanes and a helicopter taking part in the attack on the Nostromo.
The authorities transported Jaubert to a secret prison where he lived in constant fear he would be executed for stealing a daughter away from their father, the ruler of a country nonetheless.
Once freed, Jaubert sailed for 13 days to Galle, Sri Lanka, abandoned his boat and flew to London. “I was in fear all day we would not make it, as it is easier for the UAE to blow up the yacht with a missile strike to eliminate witnesses and destroy evidence,” says Jaubert.
He claims they let him go due to Princess Latifa’s video, and scandalous stories released in the news. “They also let me go because I was filed as a missing person and the U.S. was looking for me, “ Jaubert said.
While the Indian authorities have denied any paramilitary mission occurred, the UAE has refused to comment. Concerns are growing, the Princess of Dubai is the victim of an “enforced disappearance” after attempting her dramatic escape. Jaubert believes she is being held captive and drugged in isolation for repeatedly misbehaving according to her father, the Sheikh.
The scandal has raised questions about women’s treatment in Dubai. In a seemingly idyllic place, there are clearly still some women who are treated inhumanely, only creating more concern for Princess Latifah’s safety at the hands of her father.
There has been no activity on Princess Latifah’s Instagram account or other social media platforms since her disappearance at sea.
To raise awareness, according to the Helsinki Times, social media users are using hashtags #FindLatifa #WhereisLatifa? #WhereisNostromo #EscapefromDubai
Unlike the ending of a tragic spy novel, friends of Princess Latifah are hoping for a happy-ending.
It was St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2018, a mother of three boys vanished into thin air in Longmont, Colorado. Rita Gutierrez-Garcia went out to celebrate with friends and family in the evening.
The group went bar hopping to the Speakeasy located at 301 West Main Street and the Breaker’s Grill located at 380 Main Street. Rita was last seen in an alley behind 3’s bar talking on her phone at approximately 2:30 a.m.
Deputy Chief Jeff Satur of Longmont Police Department said Rita was overheard telling someone on the phone she would get a ride from “someone else.” Authorities also say there were as many as seven or eight potential witnesses behind the bar that evening.
“Our old standby of tracking the phone is not working for us,” said Satur. “But we are working our very hardest to find Rita.”
Rita is a mother of three young boys, ages 9, 13, and 18, and described by family as a bubbly and busy mom, who is just one college semester away from becoming a paralegal. Something she has worked very hard for.
Satur told Fox 31, “As you can imagine, everybody is concerned,” he said. “This is unusual behavior.”
Police have asked for anyone who may have seen Rita that evening, to call them immediately.
Connection to Beating Victim Dismissed
Longmont Police Department was investigating the possible connection between a young man found with head trauma and the disappearance of Rita. Tyler Bullock was found at the same location eight days after Rita disappeared, at approximately 2:30 a.m.
Tyler Bullock was found unconscious five days after Rita Gutierrez-Garcia’s disappearance in the same area.
According to Tyler’s sister Kristal Beecher, Tyler was in the intensive care unit for head trauma due to bleeding on his brain. Tyler was found behind the bar unresponsive due to serious head injuries. He is now recovering.
“There is zero connection. I just need to stress there are no suspects in my case. It’s really just a matter of the specific block in Longmont needing better security systems, more cops on busy nights, and cameras, maybe undercovers,” said Tyler, still recovering from the traumatic experience.
On March 24, 2018, Longmont Police divers searched a pond at Golden Ponds Parks southwest of Hover Street and Third Avenue but did not find anything. Golden Ponds is a network of ponds and walking paths. Police, Longmont Emergency Unit, and Longmont Fire Department searched from approximately 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Canines were also used in the search.
Police divers searching area of Golden Ponds in Longmont, Colorado. Courtesy of Daily Camera.
Deputy Chief Satur declined to answer what they were searching for. “We were looking for evidence,” Satur said. “That’s all I can say.”
Police are treating the disappearance as a missing person case and “suspicious disappearance.”
“We will continue to work all leads and go from there,” Satur said. “We are going to continue working until we figure out what happened.”
Police have been working long hours in the search for Rita, and rotating staff to ensure fresh eyes are involved in the investigation.
Mom and Sister Plead for Help at Press Conference
Prior to Rita’s disappearance, she was very active on Snapchat but has not posted since her disappearance. This worries her family.
Diane Romero and Jessica Romero please for the public’s help in the search for Rita Gutierrez-Garcia.
“I love you,” said Rita’s mother Diane Romero at a press conference organized by Longmont Police Department on March 22, 2018. Holding a picture of her daughter, “I need you here,” she said.
Rita’s sister Jessica Romero tearfully told reporters, “She’s my older sister and I’ve never had to go a day without her in my entire life,” said Romero.
Family and Friends Hold Vigil
Family and friends of Rita held a prayer vigil on March 25th at Longmont’s Thompson Park. There, they offered comfort to each other and covered a tree with ribbons of different colors and cards with prayers for her safe return.
“I know they are doing all they can do to help us,” Romero said about police investigators. “They are doing a lot to bring Rita home.”
Rita’s sister Jessica said, “I’m trying not to break down.” Rita’s three sons are staying with her and she is trying to be strong for them. “It’s been nerve-wracking just trying to remember to breathe.”
Pastor Choutka, the pastor at the Rocky Mountain Christian Church’s Niwot campus, asked people attending the vigil to gather around the family, asking God to give Rita’s mother strength and help the investigators.
“By the powerful name of Jesus, we do ask for a miracle, that she be found safe and sound,” Choutka said to those who gathered at the park to pray.
Rumors and speculation of what happened to Rita have circulated and the family is trying to protect the young boys and cousins. “We are trying to keep them strong,” Diane Romero said.
Rita was last seen wearing a black long-sleeved shirt with black leggings. She has tattoos on both arms, as well as on her shoulder and on her feet.
Sleeve tattoo with eye and wave design on Rita Gutierrez-Garcia’s arm.
Anyone with information about the disappearance of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia should contact the Longmont Police Department 303-651-8501.
Millions of people are visiting our beautiful national parks each year. They travel from one side of the continent to the other to see the breathtaking tall Sequoia trees on the west coast to the pristine beaches of South Carolina on the east coast.
Attendance numbers at national parks have set record highs in the last few years. According to Los Angeles Times, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Yosemite national parks reported setting attendance records during 2016, with all parks reporting a 330.97 million people visiting our recreational parks – and hundreds, maybe thousands, of those people are now missing.
Shoshone National Forest: Amy Wroe Bechtel
It was 21-years ago, on the afternoon of July 24, 1997, Amy Wroe Bechtel, 24, began her run outside of Lander, Wyoming, training for the 2000 Olympic Marathon she had hoped to qualify for. She never returned.
Wyoming is called “America’s biggest small town” and Lander is an outdoor enthusiast hub, where climbers gravitate to the unique geological formations in Sinks Canyon within the Shoshone National Forest.
Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming is a climber’s paradise.
Sinks Canyon is part of a magnificent ecosystem stretching from sagebrush and juniper covered foothills, through conifer forests, aspen meadows to the alpine habitat in mid-central Wyoming.
Amy vanished while running along Loop Road, a route that includes Sinks Canyon Road and runs the Popo Agie River approximately 15 miles south of Lander. Her car was found by her neighbors, Todd Skinner and Amy Whisler, parked at Burnt Gulch where Amy was marking her 10K hill climb she was planning for the fall. When Amy had not returned by evening, her neighbors got into their car and headed for the gravel road of switchbacks ascending to Loop Road. At approximately 1:00 a.m., they find Amy’s white Toyota Tercel wagon parked on the side of the road where Loop Road splits to the pine-shrouded Burnt Gulch turnoff.
The weather during July is mild with days averaging 85 degrees and evenings about 54 degrees. There had been rain in the afternoon. Puddles of water surrounded the vehicle. Todd and Amy look for footprints or tire tracks but see nothing. Only Amy’s sunglasses, her keys in the driver’s seat and a to-do list were found in the car. Her green “Eagle” wallet was missing. Panicked, Todd calls Amy’s husband Steve Bechtel.
The search for Amy began early the following morning with her husband Steve and about a dozen of his friends. By day’s end, dogs, dirt bikes, ATVs, and over 100 volunteers had joined the search. The following day, horses and helicopters began searching the rugged terrain. By the third day, police expanded the search to a 30-mile radius.
As with most missing person cases, or missing wives, police turn toward the husband. In this case, Steve Bechtel. A move that, 20 years later, appears totally unwarranted and limited the search with tunnel vision, the enemy of any investigation.
Amy and Steve both graduated from the University of Wyoming with degrees in exercise physiology. They had been married a little over a year.
Steve was a climber. He and Amy both worked at Wild Iris, the local climbing shop. Amy taught a youth weightlifting class at Wind River Fitness Center and worked part-time at the Sweetwater Grill.
By all appearances, Amy and Steve were the bubbly, happy newlyweds and had just bought their first home in Lander, with a population of 7,000.
Police searched Steve’s journals and acquaintances gave conflicting statements about their relationship. Some described them as idyllic, while others stated Steve was often jealous and belittling.
The FBI would make accusations Steve killed his wife. A claim current detectives disagree.
Steve had an alibi backed up by a fellow climber. At the time, he had been about 75 miles from his home in Lander. He met with his friend Sam Lightner and Bechtel’s yellow lab Jonz and rode north to Cartridge Creek area of Shoshone National Forest to scout for a climbing location.
According to a Runner’s World article, “Long Gone Girl,” Fremont County Sheriff’s cold case detective Sergeant John Zerga disagrees with the way the case was handled in 1997. “Nowadays everything is viewed as a homicide. Back then it wasn’t viewed that way. She was just a missing runner. For three days,” Zerga said. “We didn’t close off any routes out of here,” Zerga continues. “We didn’t close off any vehicles. All we had was a bunch of people up here looking for a missing runner. We actually ruined the investigation with the vehicle because we allowed the Skinners to drive it home. [The investigation] was not good for at least the first three days. There was a lot of stuff lost.”
While all eyes had been on Steve, it wouldn’t be until over a decade later when the brother of Dale Wayne Eaton, 57, would talk to police. He had tried to contact law enforcement earlier but no response.
“I think our detectives who were working the case were so adamant it was Steve, they weren’t looking in other directions.” said Sergeant Zerga. Fifteen years after Amy vanished, Zerga spoke to Eaton’s brother who told him Eaton would often camp in the area Amy had vanished. “Few camped in the area, and few outside of Lander even knew about the area” Zerga added. “If we could prove Dale was in the area, that puts him as the number one lead.”
Eaton had tried to abduct a family pulled over with car trouble. After his arrest for the attempted kidnapping, he escaped and was later found by authorities in the Shoshone National Forest. He was incarcerated and required to submit a DNA sample.
In 1988 Lisa Marie Kimmel vanished on a trip from Colorado to Billings, Montana. Fourteen years later DNA would be linked to Eaton. An autopsy would determine Kimmel had been beaten, bound and raped for at least six days, then taken to the Old Government Bridge where she was hit on the head with a blunt object, stabbed six times in the chest and abdomen, then thrown into the river.
Police searched Eaton’s property about one hour away from where Kimmel was last seen alive. They excavated a spot on the property and unearthed Kimmel’s Honda CRX bearing her license plate “LIL MISS.”
Eaton was sentenced to death on March 20, 2004, for Kimmel’s kidnapping, rape, and murder. As for Amy, Eaton had remained tight-lipped but as with everything, justice has a way of coming around.
Anyone with information should call the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office at 307-332-5611.
Coconino National Forest: David Barclay Miller
The Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness is a collection of buttes, cliff, and canyons known as one of the most magnificent places on the planet. The red rock cliffs of the Mogollon Rim mark the edge of the Colorado Plateau in the Coconino National Forest. Sycamore Canyon Wilderness borders on the east, the high mesas of Secret Mountain and Wilson Mountain jut out into lower canyons as deep as 1,500 feet draining out into Oak Creek and the Verde River.
Sedona Red Rocks is one of the most popular traveler’s destinations in the world.
Red is the predominant hue in the 43,950 acres. It is a 360-degree view of wind and water sculpted pinnacles, arches, windows and slot canyons. It is a place where sound bounces back and forth, almost in a musical chorus.
Trails crisscross the area taking one from the deepest gorges to protuberant panoramas overlooking the beauty. There is rock art on the walls from the area’s early inhabitants, along with abandoned dwellings high in the canyon walls.
The area draws hikers, photographers, backpackers, and horseback riders from around the world to wander among the manzanitas and red rocks.
An experienced hiker, David Miller, 22, was last seen at the Beaver Creek Ranger Station preparing to leave on a two-day hike on May 19, 1998, in the Red Rock/Secret Mountain Wilderness area.
At the time of his disappearance, David was employed by the Sedona Forest Service. The weather would have been mild with days reaching 83 degrees and nights about 51 degrees.
David was last seen wearing a T-shirt, black hiking boots, and carrying a forest green Gregory backpack.
It is thought David may have fallen on slippery terrain or became lost. Anyone with information should call Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office at 520-771-3260.
Salmon-Challis National Forest: DeOrr Kunz
It has been nearly two years since 2-year old DeOrr Kunz vanished on July 10, 2015, while on a camping trip at the Timber Creek Campground in the beautiful mountains of Idaho.
DeOrr’s father, Vernal DeOrr Kunz, mother Jessica Mitchell and grandfather Robert Walton, along with Isaac Reinwand, Walton’s friend and fishing buddy, had set up camp in the remote wilderness of the Salmon-Challis National forest.
The Salmon-Challis National Forest contains over 4.3 million acres in east-central Idaho. The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness area takes up 1.3 million acres, the largest contiguous wilderness area in the Continental United States.
Salmon-Challis National Park is not only breathtaking, it is a rugged and remote area in the state of Idaho.
The area is remote, rugged and draws those seeking adventure, solitude and breathtaking scenery. The scenic Salmon River area is popular for fishing, hunting, and white-water rafting.
The winter weather in Salmon-Challis can be brutal, but in July averages 85 degrees during the day and 52 overnight.
The day of DeOrr’s disappearance, Kunz and Mitchell said they took their son to the general store for snacks and supplies. Upon their return, they walked down an embankment to scout a place to fish. Within minutes, they found minnows and quickly turned back to get DeOrr so he could see them and found he was not in his chair and was not with his grandfather. There has been about a 7 to 10-minute gap where DeOrr was not supervised. Panicked, they searched the surrounding campsite and could not find the little boy. They called the police.
Within three hours, authorities from the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office quickly responded and began swarming a two-mile radius with search and rescue crews using ATVs to search the landscape and divers scouring the nearby reservoir.
For two-days, approximately two hundred volunteers responded, searching the wilderness for a tiny toddler to no avail.
“At this point, I have kind of accepted I might not see him, I might not bring him home like I want to,” Mitchell said. “Any answers are better than what we have now.”
Two years later, there is little else to go on. In a KTVB interview, Mitchell says she believes her son is still alive but admits she is losing hope.
Impossible to move on without answers, Mitchell and her husband are named suspects in the disappearance of their son by former Lemhi County sheriff, Lynn Bowerman. A common response for law enforcement is to look closely at all family members. They both maintain their innocence. No arrests or charges have ever been filed.
There is no evidence DeOrr was attacked by an animal. Investigators remain baffled.
Mitchell and her family believe someone abducted DeOrr. She has returned to the campground several times to search but to her frustration has not found anything. “Every time I leave there, and there is still nothing, it just goes back to I think someone has him,” Mitchell said.
Trina Clegg, Mitchell’s mother has spearheaded the search for little DeOrr handing out business cards and flyers with age-progression photos of what DeOrr would look like today.
“In my opinion, he could be anywhere,” Clegg said. “We just want you to care about baby DeOrr. We want you at night to say your prayers for baby DeOrr. We want you to wake up in the morning and hope he’s there,” she added.
Anyone with information about DeOrr’s disappearance should contact Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office at 208-756-8980.
Rio Grande National Forest: Joe Keller
Joseph Keller, 19, was an adventurous young man from Cleveland, Tennessee. He was spending his summer with friends Collin Gwaltney and Christian Fetzner exploring the west between his freshman and sophomore years at Cleveland State Community College. They had visited San Francisco, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon on their way to Joe’s aunt and uncles dude ranch, The Rainbow Trout Ranch, in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
Rated as one of the top fly-fishing ranches in the country, it is based in southwestern Colorado, with private angling along the Conejos River, a tributary to the Rio Grande flowing right through the property.
Rainbow Trout Ranch is nestled in the San Juan Mountains with the Rio Grande running through the property.
The young men were in for a treat visiting a place that combines the splendor of the Rocky Mountains with the enchantment of New Mexico.
About four hours south of Denver, the Rio Grande National Forest surrounds the ranch with 1.83 million acres and is considered a jewel of Colorado. The Continental Divide runs 236 miles along most of the forest and the tops of the Sangre de Christo Mountains form the eastern border. In between, sits the spectacular San Luis Valley which is a large agricultural alpine valley. This majestic sprawling land is the last place you want to get lost.
Joe was a competitive runner and obstacle course racer. His friend Collin, a varsity cross-country runner. They had been spending time running together during their travels.
Neither was used to the high elevations, the ranch sitting at approximately 9,000 feet.
It was July 23, 2015, they had planned an hourlong run along Forest Road 250 that crosses the ranch into the national forest, following the Conejos River upstream.
Joe left shirtless, wearing only red running shorts, blue trail shoes, and his Ironman watch. At 4:30 p.m., the friends started out together, but Joe soon fell behind as he was the slower runner.
Collin’s GPS watch shows him turning off Forest Road 250 onto the ranch drive that snakes up behind the lodge. The run became a scramble, so Collin headed back toward the road and upstream. A fly-fisherman spotted Collin about 2.5 miles up the road but never saw Joe. Collin finished his run and began puking due to the high altitude.
Joe never returned.
When Joe didn’t show up for dinner, Collin and Christian drove up the road honking, while ranch hands and guests hiked up the rocks toward a mountain formation called “Faith” towering above the valley. By 9:30 p.m., there were 35 people out searching for Joe.
Sheriff Howard Galvez of the Conejos County Sheriff Department, along with two deputies, arrived about midnight and began assisting the other searchers.
Joe’s parents were notified, leaving their home in Tennessee, along with their 17-year old daughter to travel to the ranch; they were there in less than 24 hours. It was now Joe’s birthday.
Search efforts were upgraded with about 200 people on foot, horseback and ATVs and about 15 canines. The family posted a $10,000 reward for information. Dressed only in shorts, Joe was not prepared for the evenings in the San Juan Mountains, where it is about 62 degrees during the day, down to only 30 degrees at night.
Helicopters and even an infrared-equipped plane was used to search for Joe.
The response to Joe’s disappearance was swift, the resources used in the search for Joe are unmatched by most searches for missing persons, but after a week most volunteers had gone home and after 13 days, the official search stopped. The family left with questions and desperation.
Following is a roller-coaster of emotions, anger, and theories.
May 2016, the search resumed with approximately 30 volunteers, drones and 11 dogs from Colorado Forensic Canines. The search was organized by the Jon Francis Foundation, a Minnesota nonprofit specializing in wilderness search and support. Still no sign of Joe.
An Outside Online article, “How 1,600 People Went Missing from Our Public Lands Without a Trace,” talked to Neal Keller, Joe’s father. “For a lost person, the response is limited to five days on average. There needs to be a plan for applying resources for a little bit longer.”
The Keller family hired two private investigators whose efforts were fruitless.
Nearly a year later, Neal Keller was traveling back and forth from Tennessee to Conejos County, searching for his son every minute he could.
On July 6th, John Reinstra, 54, a former offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, an endurance runner and search and rescue hobbyist, located Joe’s body in a boulder field below a cliff. His body 1.7 miles northwest of the ranch.
Rio Grande and Rainbow Trout area of Colorado. Courtesy Jon Billman Outside Online.
Soon after Joe’s disappearance, Gwaltney told Tennessee’s WTVC-TV , “We went running on a forestry road that was pretty well maintained,” he said. “It was gravel and pretty flat, with a few curves. But if you ran off the road, there were pretty steep places.”
Joe is found, and his family now has answers. He is no longer a missing person in a gray area of estimates with limited resources and minimal government attention.
Extensive searches failed to find him 1.7 miles away. The initial search didn’t last long enough.
Government doesn’t keep track of missing on federal land
Experts believe the public would be concerned and alarmed if they knew how many people simply vanish, never to be seen again, while visiting national parks.
According to the FBI National Crime Information Center, there are currently 86,190 active missing person cases in the United States.
The federal government does not track the number of missing persons in national parks, but experts believe about 1,600 individuals mysteriously vanish each year while visiting parks throughout the United States. While many reported missing are found, it is estimated hundreds remain missing.
Many are found, but many are never to be seen again, leaving families suffering the trauma of ambiguous loss – not knowing. Families who have experienced this say knowing your loved one is dead is easier than the “not knowing” what happened.