This book was not what I expected. David Paulides recorded many cases I had never heard of, some of them going back a century or more. Some of those people are not listed with law enforcement or on missing persons databases anywhere. Many of his stories were remarkably creepy and made me want to never go anywhere near a national park again. I mean, I’ve gone on hiking trips in national parks in both the U.S. and Canada and nothing terrible happened, but…dang.
What was creepy about the book was not so much the stories about people who disappeared forever — after all, I read and write about missing people every day — but about people, mostly children, who disappeared and then were found in places where they should not, could not, be. Mind you, many of the adult disappearances were creepy too, but it was the children that struck me: small children and toddlers vanishing from campsites, etc., and turning up far outside the search grid, miles away and thousands of feet uphill. In one case, a kid turned up twelve miles away, nineteen hours after he disappeared, with numerous fences and creeks and two mountains between him and the place he’d disappeared from. Many adults could not have walked that far over that kind of terrain in that amount of time. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t. This boy was two.
The children were often naked or semi-naked when found (but none of their missing clothes were ever located) and sometimes they were covered in scratches but sometimes they didn’t have a scratch on them. If they were dead the cause of death was generally given as exposure, dehydration etc. If they were alive they were often in remarkably good shape for the time they’d been missing and either couldn’t remember any of it, or told some very strange stories.
Obviously, it would be difficult if not impossible for a two-year-old or whatever to walk for miles and climb thousands of feet up steep mountainsides in rugged wilderness areas. It also defies logic: lost children tend to travel downhill, that being the path of least resistance, and if they’re old enough they also realize civilization is likely to be in that direction. Furthermore, if by some miracle a child was able to travel that far undetected, you’d think they would have considerable scratches, scrapes etc. on them. This was often not the case. Some of the children were barefoot when they disappeared and barefoot when they were located, but their feet were in good condition, not like you’d expect from someone who’d walked all that way in the woods or mountains or desert. The implication is that these children were carried to wherever they were found.
Undoubtedly some of these cases, both deaths and disappearances, must be foul play, abductions. In fact, both Thomas Bowman and Bruce Kremen, two of the people profiled in the book, are presumed victims of the serial killer Mack Ray Edwards, a fact Paulides fails to mention (an odd omission on his part, IMHO). It’s equally likely that at least a few of the disappearances and deaths are suicides. But certainly those theories cannot explain all of them.
When Paulides wrote about Michelle Vanek, an adult woman who vanished without a trace during a mountain climbing trip (and whose disappearance is much creepier than I realized), he carefully discusses and then rules out foul play at the hands of her climbing partner, natural causes, or even the idea that she’s still on the mountain somewhere — he says tracker dogs couldn’t pick up a scent, the mountain had no trees and it was “saturated with searchers” as well as helicopters. No one ever found a trace of her, not even one of her ski poles. Paulides concludes, “Something catastrophic happened to Michelle Vanek, something that none of us could have probably survived.” I’m in agreement there…but what was the “catastrophe” that happened?
The book is sold by the North American Bigfoot Search website and the author has written books about Bigfoot, so I figured he would implicate Bigfoot in some of the disappearances. Although he never actually says “Bigfoot” he does imply it on several occasions. Bigfoot or some other unknown wild creature. (He discusses known wild creatures, bears and stuff, but says their behavior would not lead to these kind of events.) Or something else, something paranormal, evil — something that seems to be hunting people. And, if everything he writes in this book is accurate, I can’t say he’s wrong.
Equally disturbing is the National Park Service’s attitude about people missing on their land. They do not keep adequate records of disappearances and don’t even have any list of all the people that vanished and are still missing from their parks. Paulides claims they blocked most of his efforts to research his book and told him they’d do the research themselves, if he paid them
$37k $35k. He also believes they’re too quick to write off an MP as dead — perhaps, he says, it’s so they can close the case and forget about it. And if a person turns up, even under bizarre circumstances (like the two-year-old marathoner I mentioned above), there is no further investigation. The two-year-old was pretty much dusted off and handed back to his parents.
I understand the NPS is not a law enforcement agency, but their refusal to even keep a list of people who have gone missing seems quite negligent. I understand they don’t want to scare people away from visiting the parks, but they ought to be equally concerned about visitor safety.
This book has given me a lot to think about. And it will be a rich source for Charley updates, since he writes about scores of my cases.