Out there in internet land is a type of mystery that is likely to be debated forever. On the one hand you have people who see hikers who go missing as unfortunate victims of natural circumstances. On the other there is a whole culture that suggests something other worldly could be going on. So are there really mysterious things out there in the woods or are we just fond of making a mystery out of a tragedy?
Why Would Anyone Exaggerate The Mystery Around Hiker Disappearances?
Money and self esteem are two possibilities. In addition, I suggest boredom. What world is more attractive. One that is full of mystery or one where logical things can kill you out there in the wilderness?
Many of us have rather bland days and bland years. We might go walking in the woods often and see nothing of much interest. I do it all the time. The experience is nice but hardly heart stopping.
Tell me there is a risk that a Bigfoot lives in the woods or that a time travelling hole could swallow me up and that definitely peps up a stroll. If I can gather together mysterious stories and put them in a book, I might well put enough money in my account to go exotic hiking for the rest of my life.
I recently wrote about the case of a man called Dervish Adili. Mr Adili had gone missing in Alaska sometime around 1992. His camping gear and ID were found in 2000 and it is a perplexing mystery. If you look around the internet there are many people making much of ‘hiker disappearances.’ With Mr Adili it is a more sinister looking situation than many. The curious aspects are because so little is known about his disappearance.
Mr Adili was not from Alaska, the last evidence of him being alive was from 1992 and his family did not even report him missing until 2006. He was an ex serviceman, that much is known, but what he was doing there? Who he may have interacted with is a blank page. There is no evidence that he met with foul play, but there is no evidence that can be used to eliminate it either.
Cuddly Animals In A Zoo, Not So Cuddly In The Woods.
A tragic disappearance in vast rural areas is awful. It is awful for the person who finds themselves stranded and it must be hell for the family. It is not a mystery in itself. The range of things that can kill you out there in the woods make an impressive list.
The USA has bears, wild cats, wild boars and snakes. They have poisonous spiders, mosquitos and bees. In the water there are alligators and sharks.
Years ago I was in New York State in January. I was about 100 metres from a house in a tree line. I had just crossed a frozen creek. All around me were cracking branches. One would sound to the left back of me and then a few seconds later another would sound out ahead. It was late in the afternoon and getting dark. The moisture that had settled into the deadwood was expanding. It was very eerie.
I saw deer run across my view from left to right. They were about 30 metres ahead. A short distance from them was an old cabin. I registered that it was an unusual path for them to take if I was the reason they were startled. The next thought was to wonder if something else had caused them to run. Then I saw the Mountain Lion. It was a flash of tawny brown. I saw it turn away from me and run around the side of the cabin. The whole thing was over in seconds.
When I looked for information online ( the internet was just starting to fill out the world with info) it said there were no such creatures in New York. A call to the ranger service changed that the next day. There were Mountain Lions in the area I had been in. In later years trail cameras picked up many images.
What is the point in that tale? Well, speaking as a Brit it is a stark reminder of how different a walk in the woods is in the USA. I have spent maybe a month in the backwoods in that country over the years. I have had two ‘crashing through the brush’ incidents where something large was out in the darkness nearby.
Then There Is The Weather
The USA has mountains up to 6200m (20,000ft) and forests that cover millions of acres. The USA goes from sweltering desert environments to other areas of snow covered wildernesses. Obviously you can see where I am going with this. The USA, like any of the big country nations, has a lot going on in the woods.
As I said you have hot and arid, then every other terrain in between right down to blizzard blown mountains. It is a fascinating country. You have hurricanes and tornados as well. In a recent case covered by That Chapter on Youtube they spoke of a lady called Jerika Binks. She went running one day in Utah, just outside of a city called American Fork.
This video was done before Ms Bink’s body was found.
She disappeared and naturally all manner of possibilities were looked at. Foul play became a real possibility when a witness claimed that pistol shots had been heard on the day she vanished.
A search was set up and followed through, but delays in filing the missing report had complicated matters further. The route she had taken was in American Fork Canyon, a rugged yet well laid out, natural park. Shortly after she disappeared in 2018 the weather became snowy and cold.
In April 2019 her remains were found. She had suffered a serious break to both bones in her lower leg. There were no other signs of foul play. It appears the 24 year old had fallen and become trapped or otherwise incapacitated.
John Donovan, 59, went missing in San Jacinto Mountains in 2005. He had been advised not to continue as bad weather was expected to descend on his intended route. He became lost and injured off the trail. He died out there. Two other people ended up finding his camp after they became lost a year later. The camp contained notes that told of Mr Donovan’s final days. The two used some of his supplies to get themselves out of the situation they found themselves in. After a search Mr Donovan’s remains were found.
The list of missing people where weather could have been the dominant factor is astounding. Astounding that is until you think of the shear size and extremes of temperature in some areas.
In 1996 four German tourists got lost in the desert on the California/Nevada border. No-one had a clue where they had gone. They had driven off main roads, followed tracks and had done so in a vehicle built for the hardtop. After the vehicle had been abandoned they appear to have set out on foot to get to safety. In 2009 hikers with an interest in the case went looking. They found likely remains and later it was confirmed that at least, Egbert Rimkus, 34, was identified. The temperatures for July, when the group were out there, climb to 120 degrees plus. The youngest in the group was Max Meyer, he was only 4 years old. They had no chance.
The Strange Things We Do Out There
Weather, terrain and animals. They are all factors that can have people disappearing in perfectly ‘normal’ ways. It is our desire for an explanation that can see us grabbing any attractive solution. We run through the logical sequence. For example the weather was good, there is no sign of animal activity and the terrain was known to the missing person. If it looks to us like the person should not have disappeared then we are left with one acceptable idea. Someone killed them.
I could list the thousands of such cases. People go for a hike and meet a bad person, sadly it happens often. Certainly it is a plausible scenario. However, I suggest we should also consider the strange things we do that can put us in jeopardy. A murder, like an animal attack, needs evidence on the ground to support it. Sometimes it is a case of the missing person having made poor choices rather than that there is a killer on the loose. Often mystery springs to mind because of nothing more than coincidence.
For example what can be considered if several people go missing in the same place over time?
On 24th July 1989 a search located two missing hikers. This was on Mount Asahi on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. Mount Asahi, also referred to as Asahidrake, is part of a huge national park. The hikers were from Tokyo and were found because a helicopter had seen their sign. A large SOS had been formed out of logs. The hikers had taken the wrong path while trying to trek to the mountain peak.
Pleased, the rescue crew visited the men later as they recovered in hospital. A further mystery unfolded when they said it had not been them that had created the sign. So off the rescue went again. In the efforts to find whoever else was lost out there they finally got a solution.
Kenji Iwamura from Aichi prefecture had been 25 years old when he set off for a hike. He was staying at a lodge while visiting the area. He went missing after announcing he was going for a walk up the mountain. The rescuers returned to the SOS and later found an adult human skeleton. Nearby was a tape recorder on which a plea for help had been recorded.
There were two outstanding questions. First was it Mr Iwamura? I have heard several different answers. Controversy reigns in that at first he was identified, then it is said it was possibly a woman’s remains, finally the cops said it was Mr Iwamura. I have also heard that his family are not sure it is him.
The second question is about the SOS. It was made out of large logs that had to be carried several hundred metres to the clearing in which it was seen. It is believed by many that he could not have done that alone. The belief by some is that there were two people missing and they made the sign.
If you are interested in this mystery try this video by one of my favourite storytellers, Mr Ballen.
However accurate the tales of this situation are it goes to show how complex search and rescue can be. Early on in the article I talked about the case of John Donovan. He went missing and died. A year later two people stumbled on his camp while lost. The area they became stranded in was contained. We can be pretty sure there were three people in total. In the Japanese case we have, potentially, a multi layered mystery.
The ground is much bigger and was dense with bamboo. So can we be sure that only the original two hikers plus Mr Iwamura were involved?
We know the first two hikers were there because they were rescued. I am told that a backpack had Mr Iwamura’s ID in so we can be reasonably sure he was there. It is speculation there was also a woman present. However, the story goes that he left the lodge alone. If he died in company with someone he met them out of the view of the last people who saw him. The SOS is believed to have been a two person job. Can we say that Mr Iwamura did not get stranded and die alone? Not for sure.
Is it possible he became stranded and the SOS was already there? Yes, from what I have heard. If that is the case we have more than three people who have become stranded over the years in the same spot.
Coincidences happen. A chain of coincidences can happen. I recall a student going missing while walking in the Lake District, UK. In 1983, Veronique Marre, was hiking and died. Her body was found a year later but during the search they uncovered a murder. The victim, Margaret Hogg, had been placed in Wast Water in 1976. Her murder was solved but the case illustrates the coincidence point. Veronique Marre was last seen at Wast Water, her body was found near it and comparatively near a murder victim.
By the time you consider illness, erratic behaviour due to cold, spontaneous altering of course, ill thought out short cuts, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and risk taking…Do we need more possibilities?
Beware The Source Of Mysterious Tales
I am not saying there are no bigfoot, alien abduction or time travel issues. I can’t because in order to state that I would be abandoning logic. I don’t know if these things exist. At the time of writing I find them improbable but that is all I can say.
What I am suspicious of is any source of information that skips the more logical explanations to point at a hungry Loch Ness Monster. An easy way of checking if you are reading an account from a charlatan is by cross referencing any article with a quick Google search.
Often you can check if the author has been involved in any deceit before. If they have then surely it is logical to be suspicious. Say they lost their job for the deceit? Where do they get their cash from after that? Most will go and run a mortgage business or similar, some become unsolved mystery experts.
The ones I am most suspicious of are ones that push a variety of improbable explanations to fit any missing case. Notably by trivialising any of the more logical and likely possibilities.
Another thing you can do is read accounts of a disappearance in local media. A disappearance in an area of rough terrain,during bad weather, is often very pragmatically reported by those that know the history and geography. The local cops and rescue workers may well be quoted and by those quotes you can see if this incident was ‘mysterious.’
I look for information that is left out rather than deliberately invented detail. I do this with current affairs as well. In the story about the poor people in Japan imagine I reported it here. Imagine I missed out the bit about the young man being found during the second search?
So we would have a mysterious SOS made up of large logs. We have the first two lost hikers saying they never made the sign. All I have to do is flip to another story across the world and leave detail out of that. If I then add a creative title, throw in a reference to crop circles and alien abductions…What have I created? Am I suggesting aliens picked up the SOS creators and saved them? Did Aliens crash and adopt human form only to be rescued by their own?
A case in Utah involved a young man called Dylan Parker. He was at a party one blizzard like night in 2014. He told his mother he would meet her for a ride home. He was found dead in the woods, minus his shoes. It was sold to me as a mystery. When I went looking at the surrounding details I didn’t find it a mystery. There might have been human foul play but nothing indicated miraculous circumstances. If I missed out a few details the demise of poor Dylan Parker would look very different.
So to answer the question: Are there really mysterious things out there in the woods or are we just fond of making a mystery out of a tragedy? I think it is both and we can enjoy the colour of even the most outlandish tale. I believe there are mysterious things out there in the woods. Maybe.
I think that the explanation is more mundane. The vast majority, if not all, of disappearances are simply a case of bad decisions and lousy luck.