“If you go out to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise….” The words of this innocent children’s song, A Teddy Bear Picnic, reflects the American love of family camping. The activity of healthful, recreational bonding has been passed down from generation to generation, all with little worry about the dangers of the forests and mountains. But the public has been practicing this popular pastime without the knowledge that over 1100 people have disappeared from our national parks and open spaces in the past 100 years.
The National Park Service doesn’t keep sufficient records on these vanishings, and in fact, it appears to be hiding this information from the public. Strangely, a big percentage of these disappearances have clues in common: Huckleberries, dogs, swamps and bad weather.
Author David Paulides has written the books Missing 411-Western U.S., Missing 411-Eastern U.S. and Missing 411-North America and Beyond to tell the little known story of these disappearances dating back at least 125 years in this country. The year 2013 saw more national park disappearances than in the past 27 years combined. Paulides has hit several stone walls on his quest to solve the mystery of the disappearances, including the National Park Service (NPS) and the FBI.
Paulides, with a career in law enforcement, first learned of the disappearances from national park employees who confided their concerns to him about the inordinate amount of missing campers from the parks and the mystery surrounding them. When he began digging for information he saw the 28 clusters of disappearances around the country, the number one cluster being Yosemite National Park, near San Jose where Paulides had served as a police officer.
Strange Similarities Between Disappearances
Most of those who have disappeared are children ages 20 months to 12 years and the elderly ages 74 to 85. Not one person carrying a firearm(and only one carrying a transponder device) has disappeared. Typically, a search is initiated and run for about ten days then dropped.
Fifty percent of the children who go missing are found dead, and the ones who are found are found miles away from where they disappeared, in areas seemingly impossible for them to get to on their own. The majority of children who have disappeared had dogs with them. In some cases, the dogs returned, but the children never did. Children found alive won’t talk about their experience or say they don’t remember what happened to them. They’re found usually running a low-grade fever and appear traumatized. In all cases, the parents say that the child was right behind them when they disappeared. Usually, the children are wearing bright, colorful clothing when they disappear, and even if they are found miles away without the shoes they were wearing, their feet are not scratched or bruised.
Yosemite National Park, with 40 to 45 cases, has the largest cluster of vanishings and oddly, in most areas where the disappearances have occurred, huckleberries are almost always in great abundance.
Many of the areas that people have disappeared from carry such names as Devil’s Gulch, Devil’s Lookout, Twin Devil Lake and Devil’s Punch Bowl., perhaps named to reflect the evil people have sensed in these places over time.
In 95 percent of the cases, bad weather strangely follows a disappearance, washing out footprints and other clues and making it impossible to carry on a search until the weather clears. In 98 to 99 percent of the cases, tracking dogs are unable to find a scent or simply refuse to track.
Almost 98 percent of the disappearances occur in the afternoon. Searchers have been known to cover an area over 100 times, only to later find the person, alive or dead in the same area they searched before.
On the Trail-Stone Walls
When Paulides first requested information from the NPS under the Freedom of Information Act about the missing persons, he was told they had no records. Later, an attorney called Paulides and asked him why he wanted the information. Since Paulides was a published author he was entitled to an exemption from any fees associated with obtaining records from the park service, but the attorney told him that the park service would not abide by that rule, since supposedly, Paulides’ books weren’t in enough libraries. (ed note: judging from the amount of reviews on amazon – Paulides’ books appear to be very popular.) Paulides was shocked when the attorney told him that if he wanted the “non-existent” records from Yosemite National Park, it would cost him $34,000, and if he wanted records from all the national parks, the price tag would be a whopping $1.4 million.
The Missing Person Cases
In the Rocky Mountain National Park in 1938 a husband and wife hiked high into the park and sat down to rest. Looking up high above them on a cliff in an area called The Devil’s Nest, they spotted a small boy all alone. Thinking the foolish parents were nearby, the couple moved on and later drove home. As they arrived in the valley below where they had hiked they saw as many as 2500 people mulling about, but didn’t stop to ask what was going on. The next morning they saw a photo of the missing child in the newspaper, and recognizing him as the child they had seen, they drove back to the park to tell the searchers but the young boy was never found.
A two year-old boy was visiting his grandparents in Ritter, Oregon in 1952 when he disappeared. He was found unconscious 19 hours later in a frozen creek bed. To arrive there, the small toddler would have had to run non-stop 12 miles across two mountain peaks in those 19 hours, quite impossible considering his age and size.
The FBI refused to give Paulides any information on the disappearance of another small two year-old boy who disappeared in Yosemite in 1957. In that case the boy simply vanished as he walked around the perimeter of his family’s camp site. Bloodhounds and hundreds of people searched for him. He apparently climbed 3000 feet straight up a mountain. He was found dehydrated and suffering from exposure with a tee shirt, no pants, one sock and no shoes.
One of the strangest finds by rangers was a missing man who was found leaning against a log, his pants around his ankles. The only parts left of him were part of his tibia in his right pant leg and part of his skull and his scapula bones in one inch by one inch pieces.
Young girls also disappear in the national parks. In Yosemite in 1981, a 14 year-old girl was backpacking on horseback with her parents and a group of people up 9200 feet to Sunrise High Sierra Camp. When they stopped to rest, the girl asked if she could go with a 70 year-old man on the trip 50 feet away to take some photos. The old man sat down on a log, and the girl went to the edge of an elevation to take a photo of a lake down below. She walked down the hill and never came back. The FBI agent told Paulides he would never get the information on this case, that it was none of his business.
In another more recent Yosemite case, a young woman was found dead at the bottom of a high cliff from where it seemed she had been flung. It was determined that she had been raped after her fatal fall.
In a few cases, Green Berets have surprisingly shown up to join and/or take over searches. This happened in 1971 in Newcomb, New York when an 8 year-old boy vanished while walking back to a lodge to change his clothes. His scent was lost in a swamp and he was never found.
Paulides said the case that really bothers him the most is of a 6 year-old boy who disappeared in 1969 in the Great Smokey Mountains. Two families with the last name of Martin happened upon each other, and their two sons began playing hide and seek in the nearby bushes.
When the parents called the boys into camp and one didn’t return, the boy’s father went to find help. A rainstorm began as he ran down the hill. At the same time, further down the hill, another family with the last name of Key heard a sickening scream and looked up to see what they thought at first was a man hiding in the bushes. The boy’s father reached the valley and called the FBI to meet him at the park but the agent told him to meet them at another location, which made no sense. The Green Berets showed up again and took over the search completely. Meanwhile, Mr. Martin stayed in the park two months looking for his son, who was never found. In researching his books, Paulides visited Martin, the father, who told Paulides that when the Key family spotted the man in the bushes, he or it was carrying something on its shoulder; however none of this information the Key family proffered was included in the FBI report. Paulides was told during his investigation of this case that some “wild men” live in the park that the park service had not been able to control.
Twelve other people have disappeared in the same area and the FBI agent monitoring those cases allegedly committed suicide. The phenomena is not limited to the U.S., either. In the Philippines, many people have disappeared, most never returning. When visitors go there they’re told that they must not wear colorful clothing into the jungle. The bright colors seem to attract whatever it is that takes the people. This clue is similar to the American children who have disappeared wearing bright clothing.
In his books and in interviews Paulides does give some possible reasons for the disappearances. On a recent appearance on the radio show Coast to Coast AM, Paulides listed some ideas, such as sasquatch, large birds and extraterrestrials, but he also mentioned demons as a possible cause, which goes along with the belief in the Philippines that the Jin or demons are responsible for the abductions.
The reviews of Paulides’ books on Amazon show that people are glad to have the information to better prepare themselves to take their families into wilderness areas. Some mention how upset they are that the NPS would keep this information to themselves, most likely to protect income from park visits. New York Times bestselling author Whitely Streiber said the books are sobering and chilling and too well-researched to ignore.