Monday, October 03, 2016


One of the films we are screening for Grind-Fu Cinema this month is The Blair Witch Project. I freakin' love this film, but the first time I saw it was a frustrating movie going experience for me. I am not going to claim to be the world's most experienced camper, but I have done quite a bit of it, and most of it was remote walk - in camping. We always felt that the farther away we could get from people and society the better the camping. So when I first saw The Blair Witch Project I found myself screaming out advice to Josh, Michael and Heather. The second that Heather says "People don't get lost in the United States anymore" I knew that they were in trouble. People do get lost in the woods.

Author David Paulides is a retired police officer and journalist who has turned his investigative skills to the subject of people who have gone missing in wilderness areas. As you might expect, many of the circumstances surrounding these disappearances can be attributed to natural health related causes, weather, accidents, or wild animals. But Paulides has noted that some disappearances are not so easily explained. Oddly U.S. National Parks do not compile or list visitors who have gone missing from their parks. Paulides claims that he was approached by several off duty park rangers who expressed a need for someone like himself to look into these unexplained disappearances further. They felt it was being ignored by those in power, and that the public had a right to know the danger they might face when entering the wilderness. When Paulides started looking into it he was appalled at the lack of information compiled and began work on making a list himself. That is what his series of books, Missing 411 and his website is all about. Let's look at some examples that Paulides has shared.

Steven Thomas was hiking in the Adirondack Mountains with four friends in 1976. They were all experienced outdoors-man, and Thomas was 19 at the time of his disappearance. The group had camped that night near Mount Marcy and was in the process of breaking camp when Steven Thomas said he was just going to walk up the trail and get his legs moving before they got under way. He said he would be right back, and left wearing a bright yellow rain slicker. He was never heard of again. An extensive search party found not even a single trace.

Kevin O'Keefe planned on photographing a lake he'd been to many times in the past when he camped in a remote part of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. Rangers knew of his plans and location, and he was an experienced hiker and camper at the age of 27. Several days into his trip Park Rangers checked in on his camp site since they were in the area. They found it unattended, but noted that his food cache was away from his tent, and that there were several items lying around the tent itself. No signs of distress were noted, and they assumed he was out hiking. The next day they returned to find nothing had changed or been moved from their visit the day before, and so they began to search for him. Some items of clothing were found in several locations about 100 yards from the tent, including a pair of boots, but not a trace of O'Keefe.

Morgan Heimer was also an experienced outdoorsmen and was a tour guide for white water rafting trips on the Colorado River. He was with a group when he disappeared without a trace. They were walking back along a small creek where they'd been swimming when it happened. Heimer was walking last in line, had a life jacket on, but just vanished. An extensive search found nothing. His co-workers say they don't understand how such a thing could have happened in the location where it did, as there are cliff walls along all the sides.

Six year old Denis Martin was camping with his family in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park when he disappeared. The search for him became one of the largest ever undertaken, and yet nothing at all was found of him. He had been playing with his brothers and had planned on scaring their parents at the campsite by jumping out and yelling BOO! from opposite sides of the camp. The only problem was that in the short time they were separated, Martin seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth. Seasoned trackers said they couldn't even find a track to start with.

So let's just look at a cute kitty for a second and try to distract our 
minds from such frightening events.

Do you get the drift? These are just a few examples of hundreds maybe thousands of unexplained disappearances that occur within the State Park System. Paulides has found a number of unusual coincidences amongst these missing cases. Often the missing people were wearing bright clothes. If a trace of them is found it is usually a piece of clothing that had been randomly discarded. This could be attributed to hypothermia however, for victims suffering from it will act irrationally and remove their clothing even as they are slowly freezing. The missing are somehow separated from the group or last in line and disappear without a sound. Blood hounds are unable to pick up any kind of scent whatsoever. If a body is recovered, it is often found in an area that had been previously searched. If a survivor is found, they are often many miles away from where they went missing and in a state of confusion. There have been cases where very young children will be found in locations that seemed impossible for them to have reached alone. For instance there was a two year old that was found after being missing 19 hours over twenty miles away, over two different mountain tops away and a large river having been crossed. Sometimes these children speak of someone helping them, or of an animal bringing them berries. Many survivors cannot remember everything that happened in the time they were missing and have "holes" in their memories. There are also "clusters" that Paulides has found of these incidents. I apologize for the quality of the map, this is an item that is sold on-line and so there aren't any really good photos for us to reference.

What is the cause of these mysterious disappearances? The theories are all over the place - from bigfoot to aliens to serial killers. As far as I can tell Paulides doesn't have a ready made answer for this himself. Yet you cannot deny the facts that he has compiled, and reading through the case files certainly gives one pause about going into the woods alone ever again. I have to say if you have found this little foray into Missing 411 interesting, then there is a gigantic time suck of a wormhole awaiting you on youtube. Just type in Missing 411, but be sure to do it during the day when it's light out and there are lots of people around. There are numerous interviews and cases studies available. I have even read of a forthcoming documentary. As I write this, the night has gone dark and I can hear the wind blowing outside through the trees. I have spent a great deal of time in the woods, and so much like what frightened me with The Blair Witch Project applies to the Missing 411 cases. I can all too easily imagine these circumstances happening, and that scares me even more. So if you were thinking of going camping this weekend, stick together, have maps and compasses, food and water and be safe. As you can see on the map above, Minnesota does have a few clusters in it.


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