Let’s talk about it: Gary Mathias and his four friends

When I initially wrote up the 1978 disappearance of Gary Dale Mathias and the deaths of his four friends several years ago, the case seemed, although incredibly horrific and tragic, to be pretty self-explanatory:

Five mentally disabled guys get lost while driving around in a blizzard, get their car stuck in the snow in a wilderness area, try to hike to safety but instead wind up dying slowly and horribly of exposure and starvation. Only four bodies are found, but that’s no surprise, given the timeline and the wilderness surroundings.

Sad, but not all that mysterious.

Then a little over a week ago I stumbled across this Washington Post article about the disappearance of Mathias and the deaths of his friends (Jack Madruga, Jackie Huett, Theodore Weiher and William Sterling), and I realized the case was a LOT weirder than I had originally thought.

Let’s break down some of the weirdness here:

  1. At least two of the five men were higher-functioning than I had originally believed. Although they were all enrolled in a day program for mentally handicapped adults, Mathias wasn’t (contrary to what I’d heard) mentally handicapped but instead had schizophrenia. And he was apparently quite high-functioning when he was on his meds. Madruga was considered “slow” but hadn’t been diagnosed as mentally disabled. Both Mathias and Madruga had served in the Army and had driver’s licenses.
  2. The group’s car, although it was stopped in the snow on a mountain road, was NOT truly stuck. The engine worked, the car had gas, it was still on the road, and if the men had tried they could have gotten it going again.
  3. There’s evidence to suggest that whoever was driving that car at the time it was abandoned was not lost and knew what they were doing. All the maps were in the glove compartment — you’d think that if they had been lost they’d have consulted the maps. Furthermore, the article notes, This heavy American car, with a low-hanging muffler and presumably with five full-grown men inside, had wound up a stretch of tortuously bumpy mountain road – apparently in total darkness – without a gouge or dent or thick mudstain to show for it. The driver had either used astonishing care and precision, the investigators figured, or else he knew the road well enough to anticipate every rut. Except this definitely doesn’t apply to Madruga, Mathias or any of the five.
  4. They found Weiher’s body in a forest service trailer nearly twenty miles from where the car was abandoned. He’d died of starvation and exposure. Yet inside or near to the trailer were matches, propane, items that could be used for fuel (books etc.), and enough food to last a year.
  5. Next to Weiher’s body in the trailer was a watch that didn’t belong to any of the five men.
  6. Perhaps strangest of all, there was a witness who may have seen the men on the mountain road the night they disappeared. A guy named Joseph Shones drove up the road at 5:30 p.m. and his car got stuck in the snow, just 50 meters from where Madruga’s car was later found. While he was digging himself out, he keeled over from what turned out to be a mild heart attack. He got inside his car and waited there for several hours, with the lights on and the engine running, and at some point he heard “whistling” noises and saw what he thought were a group of men and a woman with a baby, walking in the light of another vehicle’s headlights. Shones called for help and the lights turned off and the whistling sounds stopped. A few hours later he saw flashlight beams outside his car and called out for help again, but immediately the lights went out. Shones stayed in his car until it ran out of gas, then walked eight miles down to get help, passing Madruga’s car on the way. He didn’t think much about what he’d seen until he heard about the disappearances.

The whole thing has me scratching my head — I don’t understand how these young men could have fallen so badly to pieces that they would have abandoned an operable vehicle in the middle of a blizzard, and then starved and froze for months in a building with food and fuel, then abandon said building when one of their number died. And the business with Joseph Shones’s account throws an even bigger monkey wrench into it.

I wonder if they saw something, or thought they saw something, that night that scared the bejesus out of them and made them behave this way. Perhaps some kind of group psychosis.

There’s no evidence of foul play here and no evidence that Gary Mathias somehow survived. I just wonder what caused all this to happen.

Let’s talk about it.

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Let’s talk about it: Bryan Hayes and Mark Degner

I find the disappearance of best friends Mark Anthony Degner and Bryan Andrew Hayes puzzling and troubling. They’ve been missing from Jacksonville, Florida since February 1, 2005 — twelve years, nearly twelve and a half.

At first the circumstances of the boys’ cases look pedestrian enough: they were living in a group home, told friends they were going to run away, and apparently did just that. They were even sighted in Holly Hill, a small town south of Jacksonville on the Florida coast, two months later.

And yet.

The boys, at just twelve (Mark) and thirteen (Bryan), were extremely young to have been gone this long. Bryan had run away before, but never for longer than a day, and Mark had no history of running away. Furthermore, they were developmentally delayed, functioning on the level of seven- to ten-year-old children, and both suffered from bipolar disorder.

How could they have remained off the map this long? Did the boys meet with foul play? If they’re still alive, why haven’t they resurfaced and who’s helping them stay hidden? Were relatives investigated? Were some member or members of the boys’ families unhappy that they were living in a group home? Or is it possible they fell victim to sex trafficking? Due to their disabilities. I should think they would have been extremely vulnerable to any kind of exploitation — even more so than most runaways.

The case reminds me of Clayton Lynn McCarter and Rodney Michael Scott, who ran away from a Bowling Green, Kentucky children’s home three and a half years ago and still haven’t been found. They were almost the same age: fifteen and thirteen. Clayton was developmentally delayed and had psychiatric issues, just like Mark and Bryan, and there’s a good chance Rodney had similar problems though I don’t know that for sure. I’m not suggesting McCarter/Scott disappearances are related to Mark and Bryan’s, though, given the distance in both time and space.

So what do you think happened to Mark Degner and Bryan Hayes? Let’s talk about it.

Make-a-List Monday: Runaways with medical conditions

This article with worrying information about Clayton McCarter’s medical conditions prompted me to make a list of runaways with medical problems.

  1. Nova Cierra Awe: “may be in need of medical attention”
  2. Hailey Eli Burns: Asperger’s Syndrome and past behavioral problems, takes medications which she doesn’t have with her
  3. Lurline Michelle Bergeron: history of drug abuse
  4. Emily Bracamontes: “may be in need of medical attention”
  5. Jason Wayne Dennis: suicidal
  6. Martha Wes Dunn: “may be in need of medical attention”, heavily involved with drugs
  7. Shimeaka Renee Gibson: lupus
  8. John Christopher Inman: has a shunt in his skull, needs anti-seizure medication which he doesn’t have with him
  9. Janteyl Danielle Johnson: pregnant
  10. Ashley Renee Martinez: bipolar disorder
  11. Clayton Lynn McCarter: ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, mentally disabled and functions at a five-year-old level, takes psychiatric medication
  12. Cynthia Lorraine Perry: history of drug abuse
  13. Rachel Geraldine Pratt: pregnant
  14. Cindy D. Valle: pregnant
  15. Glenna Jean White: needs medication
  16. Daniel Ted Yuen: depression and emotional problems, possibly a danger to self and others
  17. Elsa Janell Wind: possibly pregnant
  18. Fredrick James Workman: ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, needs medication

Sigh… my old friend Contradictory Sources reappears

Tonight in my updates, for Emmanuel Cornelius Quarles, the various sources I found were giving his age as anywhere from 24 to 28 and claiming he was last seen in either a red car or a white truck. I think the vehicle discrepancy may be related to the unconfirmed sighting after he left Pendleton but I’m not sure. I’d love to get his actual date of birth from somewhere. NamUs said he was 26 to 27 years old, and I picked 27, because of the age of his older son, who was eight years old when he disappeared. Though it is by no means unheard of or even terribly uncommon for 24-year-old to have an eight-year-old child. Who knows? Not me.

Meanwhile, for Cynthia Ramirez Rico, her NamUs page says she disappeared on June 30, 1987, but the Abilene Crime Stoppers page listed the year as 1983. That issue was settled when I looked at the “investigating agency” section on NamUs and it said her case got entered into the computer on February 23, 1987 — that is, before her alleged date of disappearance. 1983 it was, then. But her age was a bigger mystery, because Crime Stoppers said she was 20 but NamUs said she was 25 to 26. Even given the date discrepancy that didn’t make sense. However, both NamUs and Crime Stoppers give her current age as 53, which would make her year of birth 1963 or 1964. To this end I decided to list her age as 20, because that would make sense with the 1983 year of disappearance.

Cynthia Rico disappeared from a group home for mentally disabled adults. It’s likely that she lived there, meaning it’s likely she was mentally disabled, but because I don’t know that for sure, I didn’t say she was. I just explained about the group home and left readers to draw their own conclusions.

FINALLY another “Let’s Talk About It”

It’s been awhile since I did my last “Let’s Talk About It” case, but I haven’t given up on them. This week is a double disappearance: Diamond Bynum and her her two-year-old nephew, King Rajan Walker, who disappeared on July 25, 2015.

Diamond was 21 and suffered from Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic condition characterized mainly by mental disability and a constant feeling of hunger. If not kept supervised, people with this condition will just eat and eat and eat until they get sick. At 4’10, Diamond weighed well over 200 pounds, and she had the mental capacity of a five- to seven-year-old.

She had recently moved with her parents to Gary, Indiana, and her nephew, King Walker, was visiting. Apparently the two of them slipped out while Grandma was taking a nap. Diamond regularly walked in the neighborhood in the town where she used to live, but that was safer because she’d lived there all her life and the locals knew her and knew she was disabled and looked out for her.

But she wasn’t familiar with Gary, and, well, Gary is an awful place. It’s regularly ranked as one of the ten most dangerous cities in the country and something like one-fifth of the population lives under the poverty line. The city is a swath of urban decay, with all sorts of ramshackle abandoned buildings — it’s really sad.

I think this case would have gotten more media attention if Diamond and King had been white, or more affluent, or at least disappeared from a more affluent area. But I do have to wonder what happened to them.

Foul play seems like an obvious answer…but why? The family seems to be in the clear. An extensive search of the neighborhood, all those abandoned buildings, turned up doodly squat. No one seems to know anything. I can’t think of a kidnapper or a serial killer or a human trafficker who would want BOTH a very overweight, mentally disabled young woman AND a two-year-old boy. It seems like one or the other should have turned up.

So what caused these two to disappear? Let’s talk about it.

Make-a-List Monday: Black/Hispanic

This list is of people who are biracial and of African-American and Hispanic descent. On this entry I wrote about a missing young girl who was listed as Hispanic but “looked” black to me. Someone posted the following comment:

I just wanted mention that being Latino and looking Black are not separate cultural states. There are many Latinos who are of Afro-Caribbean heritage given that a great deal of Latin America takes place in the Caribbean and historically much of the African slave trade took folks to Latin American islands and nations on the Caribbean and near-Atlantic.

This list isn’t that long; I expect there are probably more people on Charley that meet the requirements, that I just don’t know about.

  1. Patrick Kennedy Alford Jr.
  2. Osvaldo Baro
  3. Terrance S. Bonilla
  4. Michael James Borges
  5. Devin Janelle Brown-Bousetta
  6. Kamyle Stephanie Burgos Ortiz
  7. Gebar Lynon Byrd Jr.
  8. Marco Antonio Cadenas
  9. Keyla Contreras
  10. Natasha Paula Corley
  11. Pinkie Mae Davis-Herron
  12. Nadia Lynn Drummond
  13. Acacia Nicole Duvall and Jon Pierre Duvall
  14. Sarah Raquel Elsafi and Tariq Ahmed Elsafi
  15. Youssef Nabil Elsayed Hassan
  16. Kristopher Bryan Lewis
  17. Gustavo Machado
  18. Natanalie Marie Perez
  19. Victor Leonard Richardson III
  20. Rolando Salas Jusino
  21. Abigail Smith and Isabell Lena Smith
  22. Irwin Yafeth Stewart
  23. Jocelyn Emilia Turcios
  24. Elyssa Marie Vasquez