The Yuba County Five: 'An American Dyatlov Pass' Incident (1978)

CuriousIdent

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#1
Hi all,

So my other half pointed this one my way at the weekend. A thread over on Reddit's Unresolved Mysteries forum, started 6 months ago. But it's about a case from 1978. And for those of you who are familiar with the Dyatlov Pass incident in the 1950s you'll probably see why the comparison was being drawn.

To my knowledge, I don't think this has been discussed before on here. If I'm wrong feel free to move this.

So the touchstone here appears to be based on an article from the Washington Post's archive, from July, 1978. I was unsure when I saw it posted on Reddit, because the article does have a fair few typos throughout. It relates to a case of 5 mentally handicapped men, all of whom were part of a basketball team, who after going to see a basketball match ended up in the snowy levels of the mountains. Dead.

Nobody knows why they went there, instead of straight home. Only one of their bodies was found complete. 3 Others appeared to have been eaten by the local wildlife, and one was never found. The most complete body was found in an some kind of Ranger's station Cabin, having been alive for up to a month after their disappearance, dying of starvation and exposure - despite being in a cabin with fuel for heating, books which could have been used for building a fire, and enough food only meters away to have fed all 5 for a year.

Article pasted below:

5 'Boys' Who Never Come Back

By Cynthia Gorney - The Washington Post, July 6, 1978

There was a half moon that night, a winter moon in a cloudless sky. Up in the mountains above the Feather River, the snow-drifts sometimes rose to 15 feet.

"You need a coat," Ted Weiher's grandmother had said, watching him go.

"Oh, Grandma, I won't need a coat," Weiher had said. "Not tonight."

Two hours before midnight last Feb. 24, when the basketball game ended at the California State University at Chico, five young men from the flatlands 50 miles to the south climbed into a turquoise and white 1969 Mercury Montego and drove out of the parking lot. They were fans of the visiting team, which had won. They stopped three blocks away at Behr's Market, mildly annoying the clerk (who was trying to close up), and bought one Hostess cherry pie, one Langendorf lemon pie, one Snickers bar, one Marathon bar, two Pepsis and a quart and a half of milk.

Then they walked out of the store, got back in their car, drove south out of Chico and disappeared.

Ted Weiher's woke up afraid, at 5 the next morning. She cannot say what woke her up, except that maybe the Lord decided it was time to end her one last night of solid sleep. Ted's bed was empty.

The house was still and it was not quite light and this is how the horror began, as it often does: no crash, no wailling, just a dim morning chill in a small house on what ought to be an ordinary day.

Imogene Weiher got on the phone and called Bill sterling's mother as fast as she could.

Juanita Sterling had been up since 2 a.m. "Bill didn't come home either," she said.

Mrs. Sterling had already called Jack Madruga's mother. Jack also had not come home. Mrs. Weiher called Jackie Huett's mother and Mrs. Weiher's daughter-in-law walked down the street to talk to Gary Mathias' stepfather. All five friends had vanished. At 8 that evening, Mrs. Madruga called the police.

The boys had never done such a thing before.

They were men, really, not boys - Huett was the youngest, at 24, and Weiher was 32 - but their families called them boys, our boys. They lived at home. Three of the five had been diagnosed retarded; Madruga, although undiagnosed, according to his mother, was generally thought of as slow, and Mathias was under drug treatment for schizophrenia, a psychotic depression that first appeared five years ago and that his doctor says had not resurfaced for the past two years.

They were supposed to play a basketball game of their own on Feb. 25, part of a tournament, with a free week in Los Angeles if they won. Their clothes had been laid out the evening of the 24th, before they left for Chico - each had a beige T-shirt, the words "Gateway Gators" emblazoned across the chest, from the Yuba City vocational rehabilitation center for the handicapped where they all played basketball. Weiher had asked his mother to wash his new white high-topped sneakers for the tournament (he had scuffed them while trying them out); Mathias had just about driven his mother crazy with the game. "We got a big game Saturday," Mathias kept saying. "Don't you let me oversleep."

Saturday came and went and no word came. The police began to take interest. On Tuesday, Feb. 28, they found Madruga's Mercury, and from that day on nothing they found, nothing anybody told them, seemed to make any sense.

The car was 70 miles from Chico, on a deserted and rut-ravaged mountain road. It had stopped at the snow line, and although its tires had apparently spun, the car was not really stuck; five men easily could have pushed it free. The gas tank was a quarter full. Four maps, including one of California, lay neatly folded in the glove compartment. The keys were gone, but when police hot-wired the car the engine started immediately.

Both seats were littered with the wrappers of the food bought at Behr's. Everything had been eaten except the Marathon bar, which was half gone.

And the car's underside was undamaged. 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.

The families say only Madruga drove that car, ever. And the families say Madruga, who disliked camping and hated the cold, did not know that road.

None of the boys knew the road, as far as anybody could tell. Once about eight years earlier, Bill Sterling had gone fishing with his father at a cabin not far away, but he had not enjoyed himself and had stayed home the few times the Sterlings went back. Three years ago Weiher had hunted deer with friends in the Feather River country, but it was quite a way west of the area where the car was found, and his family says he was not keen on the forest either. With the exception of Mathias, who occasionally stayed out all night with friends, each of the lost men led mostly stay-at-home lives of such scheduled predictability that no one could fathom what - or who - might have taken them up that lonely road in mountains. The Deserted Trailer

A storm whistled in the day the car was found, dropping nine inches of snow on the upper mountain. The search teams nearly lost men themselves two days later, as their Snow-cats struggled through the drifts. Nobody found anything, not so much as a shoe, unti lafter the spring thaw, when on June 4 a small group of Sunday motorcyclists wandered into a deserted forest service trailer camp at the end of the road and inhaled a nau-seating smell.

It was Ted Weiher, stretched out on a bed inside the main 60-foot trailer, frozen to death. Eight sheets had been pulled over his body and tucked around his head. His leather shoes were off, and missing. A table by the bed held his nickel ring with "Ted" engraved on it, his gold necklace, his wallet (with cash inside.) and a gold Waltham watch, its crystal missing, which the families say had not belonged to any of the five men.

Weiher had been a tall, heavy-set follow back in February - 5 feet 11, 200 pounds. By the time his body was found he had lost from 80 to 100 pounds.His feet were badly frostbitten. The growth of beard on his face showed that he had lived apparently, in starving agony inside that trailer, for anywhere from eight to 13 weeks.

He was 19.4 miles from the car, Weiher, wearing a striped velour shirt and lightweight green pants, had walked or run, or been somehow taken in the moonlight through almost 20 miles of 4-to-6-foot snowdrifts to reach the locked trailer where he died.

The trailer had been broken into through a window. No fire had been built although matches were lying around and there were paperback novels and wood furniture that would have burned easily. More than a dozen C-ration cans from an outside storage shed had been opened and emptied - one had been opened with an Army P38 can opener, which only Madruga and Mathias who had served in the Army, probably knew how to use - but no one had opened a locker in the same shed containing enough dehydrated Mexican dinners and fruit cocktails and assorted other meals to keep all five alive for a year.

No one had touched the propane tank in another shed outside, either. "All they had to do was turn that gas on," says Yuba County Lt. Lance Ayers, "and they'd have had gas to the trailer, and heat."

All though the spring, the search for the boys had practically consumed Ayers. He had gone to Marysville High School with Weiher and his brothers, although he had not known them well, and there was something about this silent disappearance of five strong men that haunted him like nothing he had ever investigated. Leads were drifting in from all parts of the country. The boys had been seen in Ontario; the boys had been seen in Tampa; the boys had been seen entering a movie theater in Sacramento accompanied by an older man. Ayers could punch holes in all of them. Skeptical but desperate, the consulted psychics: One told him the boys had been kidnapped to Arizona and Nevada; another said the boys had been murdered in Oroville, in a two-story red house, brick or stained wood, with a gravel driveway and the number 4723 or 4753.

For two solid days Ayers drove every street in Oroville, looking for that house. It did not exist.

Before long he could rattle off their names and vital statistics almost automatically. Theodore Earl Weiher, brown eyes, curly brown hair, handsome beer-bellied, friendly in a trusting child's way (he waved at strangers and brooded for hours if they did not waveback); got a good chuckle out of phoning Bill Sterling and reading from newspaper items or oddball names from the telephone book; employed for a while as a janitor and snack bar clerk but quit at the urging of his family, who thought Weiher's slowness was causing problems. Jackie Charles Huett, 24, 5 feet 9, 160 pounds, slight droop to the head, slow to respond, a loving shadow to Weiher, who looked after Huett in a protective sort of way and would dial the phone for him when Hyett had to make a call. Jack Antone Madruga, 5 feet 11, 190 pounds, high school graduate and Army veteran, brown eyes, brown hair, heavy-set, laid off in November from his job as a busboy for Sunsweet growers. William Lee Sterling, 5 feet 10, 170 pounds, dark brown hair, blue eyes, Madruga's special friend, deeply religious, would spend hours at the library reading literature to help bring Jesus to patients in mental hospitals. Gary Dale Mathias, 5 feet 10, 170 pounds, brown hair, hazal eyes, 25, assistant in his stepfather's gardening business. Army veteran with psychiatric discharge after drug problems that developed in Germany five years ago.

[cont...]
 

CuriousIdent

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#2
[...cont]

By late spring Ayers was dreaming about the boys at night. Once he woke in the darkness, arms outstretched: He had almost embraced all five.

"You do a lot of handshaking." Ayers says. "And a lot of drinking." Whistling Noises in the Night

Then there was the man who saw lights on the road. Joseph Shones, 55, told police he drove his Volkswagen bug up that same road sometime after 5:30 the evening the boys disappeared. He said he was checking the snow line, because he wanted to bring his wife and daughter up that weekend. His car got stuck in the snow just above the snow line - about 50 yards beyond the place where the Mercury would be found - and as Shones was trying to free his car, he said, he had a heart attack. (Doctors later confirmed to investigators that Shones had indeed suffered a mild heart attack.)

Shones lay in the car with engine on and the car heater going, he said. Sometime in the night, he heard what he described as whistling noises a little way down the road, and he got out of his car. What he saw looked like a group of men and a woman with a baby, he said, walking in the glare of a vehicle's headlights. He thought he heard them talking. Shones said he yelled for help, but the headlights went out, and the talking stopped.

Shones got back into his car and lay down again, he said. Sometime later, maybe a couple of hours, he saw lights outside his car window - flashlight beams, he said. Again he called for help.The lights went out and whoever was out there went away. Shones said he lay in the car until it ran out of gas, and then while it was still dark he walked back eight miles to the lodge called Mountain House, where he had stopped for a drink before heading up the road. Just below his Volkswagen, in the place where he had heard the voices, he passed the Mercury Montego sitting empty in the middle of the road.

The day after Weiher's body was discovered, searchers found the remains of Madruga and Sterling. They lay on opposite sides of the road to the trailer, 11.4 miles from the car. Madruga had been partially eaten by animals and dragged about 10 feet to a stream: he lay face up, his right hand curled around his watch. Sterling was in a wooded area, scattered over about 50 feet. There was nothing left of him but bones.

Two days later, just off the same road but much closer to the trailer, Jackie Huett's father found his son's backbone. Ayers had tried to talk him out of joing the search, fearing something like that might happen, but Huett, whose first name is Jack, had insisted on going. There were a few other bones around, along with Jackie's Levis and ripple-soled "Get Theres" shoes. An assistant sheriff from Plumas County found a skull the next day, about 100 yards downhill from the rest of the bones. The family dentist identified the teeth as those of Jackie Huett.

Huett's remains had lain northeast of the trailer, like Sterling's and Madruga's. Northwest of the trailer, about a quarter mile away, searchers found three wool forest service blankets and a two-cell flashlight lying by the side of the road. The flashlight was slightly rusted and had been turned off. It was impossible to tell just how long it had been there.

They found no sign of Gary Mathias.

His tennis shoes were inside the forest service trailer, which suggested to investigators that he might have taken them off to put on Weiher's leather shoes - particularly since Weiher had bigger feet, and Mathias' feet might have swollen with frosbite. But that was pure conjecture, which was all they had.

State mental institutions have received a description of Mathias - slender, dark-haired, double vision without his glasses. He was not carrying his billfold when he left the house for the Chico basketball game, so he had no identification on him, and if he is still alive he has been without the drugs he needs for the last four months.

Mathias took his medicine weekly, as he had for at least three years - stellazine and cogentin, both used in the treatment of schizophrenia. His family says the illness appeared five years ago, while he was in the Army in Germany. Police records show he had become violent on occasion - he was charged with assault twice - and there was a difficult period, after his return from Germany, when Mathias would fail to take his drugs and lapse into a disoriented psychosis that usually landed him in a Veterans Administration hospital. "Went haywire," is how Bob, his stepfather, puts it.

For the last two years, though, Mathias had been working steadily in his stepfather's business and was taking his medication so faithfully that a local doctor who knows Mathias well calls him "one of our sterling success cases." He collected Army psychiatric disability pay, was enormously attached to his family, loved the basketball games he shared with the other four men and listened to the Rolling Stones and Oilvia Newton-John on the record player in the living room. Klopf says his stepson took his medicine the week he disappeared. But he and the doctor say Mathias had not "gone haywire" in two years.

"What I looked for all the time I was up there were his glasses," says Klopf. "I didn't think the bear would eat that."

He is sitting at his dining room table. His voice is gruff. He is tired of reporters and tired of the pain and tired of not understanding what happened to the boy. Ida Klopf, across the table from him, says she had not turned on her television in weeks because she does not want to find out that way. She says she is going back up there on the weekend, back up to see if she can find something the searchers missed.

"There's no place to look, Ida," says Klopf.

"I'll find someplace," Mrs. Klopf says, turning her face away. A Thousand Leads

"Bizarre," says John Thompson, the special agent from the California Department of Justice who has joined Ayers on the investigation. "And no explanations. And a thousand leads. Every day you've got a thousand leads."

They learned that a forest service Snowcat ran up the road to the trailer on Feb. 23, leaving a packed path in the snow that the boys might have followed.

They took on a water witcher from the town up north called Paradise, who said the he had fixed it so his divining rod would pick up traces of human minerals and then led the searchers to a deserted cabin near the abandoned car.

They found a gray cigarette lighter, the disposable plastic kind, about three-quarters of a mile northwest of the trailer. The families said none of the boys carried lighter.

They found that gold watch beside Weiher's body.

They discovered that Gary Mathias knew people in Forbestown, which is about halfway between Chico and Yuba cities, on a road with a turnoff so easy to miss that anybody driving it late at night might have ended up heading north, toward the mountains, and lost.

But none of it helped. The cabin-found by the water witcher was empty, the cigarette lighter might have been dropped by a hiker, the watch might have belonged to a forest ranger in the trailer mouths earlier, and Mathias' friends in Forbestown said they had not seen him for a year.

And suppose they followed the Snowcats' tracks. Suppose that was how Weiher made it through 20 miles of deep snow. Why?

Why abandon a perfectly operable car to strike out into the forest at midnight?

Why press on through 20 miles of snowdrifts and darkness to break into a lock, unheated trailer and die?

Why drive all the way up there in the first place? And how? If someone chased them, why was the car undamaged? What were the whistling noises and the voices Shones heard on the road?

It doesn't add up.

"There was some force that made em go up there." Jack Madruga's mother Mabel says firmly. "They wouldn't have fled off in the wood like a bunch of quail. We know good and well that somebody made them do it. We can't visualize someone getting the upper hand on those five men, but we know it must have been."

"They seen something at that game, at the parking lot," says Ted Weiher's sister-in-law. "They might have seen it and didn't even realize they seen it."

"I can't understand why Gary would have been that scared," says Klops.

Even a fire, he says, "All those paperbacks and they didn't even build a lousy fire. I can't understand why they didn't do that unless they were afraid."

But he cannot imagine what they were afraid of. Neither can the investigators. They can't prove there was foul play and they can't explain it if there wasn't.

They don't even know if Gary Mathias is died. They think he is. They think his body probably lay on the snow until the spring thaw came and eased him down, deep inside some thick green patch of mountain manzanita.


As I say it's an article with lots of error, typos, incomplete sentences... If it had turned up anywhere else you'd dismiss it as creepypasta. But it appears to genuinely be in the Washington Post's archive from 1978.

It's an odd one.
 

EnolaGaia

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#3
Yes, it's been mentioned before ... Most recently (Sept. 2017) someone posted about this in the Strange Deaths thread, but it didn't ignite any discussion.
 

Coal

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#4
[...cont]

By late spring Ayers was dreaming about the boys at night. Once he woke in the darkness, arms outstretched: He had almost embraced all five.

"You do a lot of handshaking." Ayers says. "And a lot of drinking." Whistling Noises in the Night

Then there was the man who saw lights on the road. Joseph Shones, 55, told police he drove his Volkswagen bug up that same road sometime after 5:30 the evening the boys disappeared. He said he was checking the snow line, because he wanted to bring his wife and daughter up that weekend. His car got stuck in the snow just above the snow line - about 50 yards beyond the place where the Mercury would be found - and as Shones was trying to free his car, he said, he had a heart attack. (Doctors later confirmed to investigators that Shones had indeed suffered a mild heart attack.)

Shones lay in the car with engine on and the car heater going, he said. Sometime in the night, he heard what he described as whistling noises a little way down the road, and he got out of his car. What he saw looked like a group of men and a woman with a baby, he said, walking in the glare of a vehicle's headlights. He thought he heard them talking. Shones said he yelled for help, but the headlights went out, and the talking stopped.

Shones got back into his car and lay down again, he said. Sometime later, maybe a couple of hours, he saw lights outside his car window - flashlight beams, he said. Again he called for help.The lights went out and whoever was out there went away. Shones said he lay in the car until it ran out of gas, and then while it was still dark he walked back eight miles to the lodge called Mountain House, where he had stopped for a drink before heading up the road. Just below his Volkswagen, in the place where he had heard the voices, he passed the Mercury Montego sitting empty in the middle of the road.

The day after Weiher's body was discovered, searchers found the remains of Madruga and Sterling. They lay on opposite sides of the road to the trailer, 11.4 miles from the car. Madruga had been partially eaten by animals and dragged about 10 feet to a stream: he lay face up, his right hand curled around his watch. Sterling was in a wooded area, scattered over about 50 feet. There was nothing left of him but bones.

Two days later, just off the same road but much closer to the trailer, Jackie Huett's father found his son's backbone. Ayers had tried to talk him out of joing the search, fearing something like that might happen, but Huett, whose first name is Jack, had insisted on going. There were a few other bones around, along with Jackie's Levis and ripple-soled "Get Theres" shoes. An assistant sheriff from Plumas County found a skull the next day, about 100 yards downhill from the rest of the bones. The family dentist identified the teeth as those of Jackie Huett.

Huett's remains had lain northeast of the trailer, like Sterling's and Madruga's. Northwest of the trailer, about a quarter mile away, searchers found three wool forest service blankets and a two-cell flashlight lying by the side of the road. The flashlight was slightly rusted and had been turned off. It was impossible to tell just how long it had been there.

They found no sign of Gary Mathias.

His tennis shoes were inside the forest service trailer, which suggested to investigators that he might have taken them off to put on Weiher's leather shoes - particularly since Weiher had bigger feet, and Mathias' feet might have swollen with frosbite. But that was pure conjecture, which was all they had.

State mental institutions have received a description of Mathias - slender, dark-haired, double vision without his glasses. He was not carrying his billfold when he left the house for the Chico basketball game, so he had no identification on him, and if he is still alive he has been without the drugs he needs for the last four months.

Mathias took his medicine weekly, as he had for at least three years - stellazine and cogentin, both used in the treatment of schizophrenia. His family says the illness appeared five years ago, while he was in the Army in Germany. Police records show he had become violent on occasion - he was charged with assault twice - and there was a difficult period, after his return from Germany, when Mathias would fail to take his drugs and lapse into a disoriented psychosis that usually landed him in a Veterans Administration hospital. "Went haywire," is how Bob, his stepfather, puts it.

For the last two years, though, Mathias had been working steadily in his stepfather's business and was taking his medication so faithfully that a local doctor who knows Mathias well calls him "one of our sterling success cases." He collected Army psychiatric disability pay, was enormously attached to his family, loved the basketball games he shared with the other four men and listened to the Rolling Stones and Oilvia Newton-John on the record player in the living room. Klopf says his stepson took his medicine the week he disappeared. But he and the doctor say Mathias had not "gone haywire" in two years.

"What I looked for all the time I was up there were his glasses," says Klopf. "I didn't think the bear would eat that."

He is sitting at his dining room table. His voice is gruff. He is tired of reporters and tired of the pain and tired of not understanding what happened to the boy. Ida Klopf, across the table from him, says she had not turned on her television in weeks because she does not want to find out that way. She says she is going back up there on the weekend, back up to see if she can find something the searchers missed.

"There's no place to look, Ida," says Klopf.

"I'll find someplace," Mrs. Klopf says, turning her face away. A Thousand Leads

"Bizarre," says John Thompson, the special agent from the California Department of Justice who has joined Ayers on the investigation. "And no explanations. And a thousand leads. Every day you've got a thousand leads."

They learned that a forest service Snowcat ran up the road to the trailer on Feb. 23, leaving a packed path in the snow that the boys might have followed.

They took on a water witcher from the town up north called Paradise, who said the he had fixed it so his divining rod would pick up traces of human minerals and then led the searchers to a deserted cabin near the abandoned car.

They found a gray cigarette lighter, the disposable plastic kind, about three-quarters of a mile northwest of the trailer. The families said none of the boys carried lighter.

They found that gold watch beside Weiher's body.

They discovered that Gary Mathias knew people in Forbestown, which is about halfway between Chico and Yuba cities, on a road with a turnoff so easy to miss that anybody driving it late at night might have ended up heading north, toward the mountains, and lost.

But none of it helped. The cabin-found by the water witcher was empty, the cigarette lighter might have been dropped by a hiker, the watch might have belonged to a forest ranger in the trailer mouths earlier, and Mathias' friends in Forbestown said they had not seen him for a year.

And suppose they followed the Snowcats' tracks. Suppose that was how Weiher made it through 20 miles of deep snow. Why?

Why abandon a perfectly operable car to strike out into the forest at midnight?

Why press on through 20 miles of snowdrifts and darkness to break into a lock, unheated trailer and die?

Why drive all the way up there in the first place? And how? If someone chased them, why was the car undamaged? What were the whistling noises and the voices Shones heard on the road?

It doesn't add up.

"There was some force that made em go up there." Jack Madruga's mother Mabel says firmly. "They wouldn't have fled off in the wood like a bunch of quail. We know good and well that somebody made them do it. We can't visualize someone getting the upper hand on those five men, but we know it must have been."

"They seen something at that game, at the parking lot," says Ted Weiher's sister-in-law. "They might have seen it and didn't even realize they seen it."

"I can't understand why Gary would have been that scared," says Klops.

Even a fire, he says, "All those paperbacks and they didn't even build a lousy fire. I can't understand why they didn't do that unless they were afraid."

But he cannot imagine what they were afraid of. Neither can the investigators. They can't prove there was foul play and they can't explain it if there wasn't.

They don't even know if Gary Mathias is died. They think he is. They think his body probably lay on the snow until the spring thaw came and eased him down, deep inside some thick green patch of mountain manzanita.


As I say it's an article with lots of error, typos, incomplete sentences... If it had turned up anywhere else you'd dismiss it as creepypasta. But it appears to genuinely be in the Washington Post's archive from 1978.

It's an odd one.
Fascinating, thank you for posting that.
 

tillybean1

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#6
Merc has done a YouTube video on this recently.
I tend to scootle around unresolved mystery sites and I’d not heard of this one before either.
 

Kingsize Wombat

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#7
There's a lot of similarities with this case and some other "Missing 411" cases.

People of either much above or below average intelligence, missing shows - and the fact that the circumstances of their disappearance made no sense at all. It might even be in one of those "clusters" David Paulides is talking about, but I'm not sure.

Interesting.
 

maximus otter

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#8
I’ve skim-read the article and a couple of things occur to me:

Why is the site where the bodies were located never specified? It’s “70 miles from X”, and “up a forest track”, yet it’s not pinpointed. We know the name of the exact shop where they bought a minutely-detailed list of snacks, yet not this vital info. Why?

Shones reports “strange lights & noises”. He also mentions “lying in his car for hours until the petrol ran out”. Then he walks back to the boozer “where he had “a drink” on the way up”, passing the missing men’s car on the way back. If the track was negotiable by a drunk in a VW, l’m sure it was OK for 5 men in a big car.

Frankly l’m seeing an author trying to make bricks without straw here. He loud-pedals any woo-woo elements - “Strange lights! Odd noises!” - while downplaying the sad core elements: Five men with mental issues become lost and disorientated in snow on a strange road in the dark, quite probably having consumed alcohol at the game or the road house they’d passed. Their car bogs down. Sure that help can only be a short way ahead, they walk off into the dark and the snowdrifts...

maximus otter
 

henry

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#9
if true, everything about the shones angle seems suspicious
 

Coal

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#10
Five men with mental issues become lost and disorientated in snow on a strange road in the dark, quite probably having consumed alcohol at the game or the road house they’d passed. Their car bogs down. Sure that help can only be a short way ahead, they walk off into the dark and the snowdrifts...
If you apply Vallee's (1991) rules, those that apply, this is what you're left with. You beat me to it by a cup of tea there @maximus otter
 

CuriousIdent

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#11
It's the oddness of it all, which strikes me. The location was eventually pinpointed on the Reddit thread. And something came up consistently in that discussion: This was a remote spot, over an hour out of the way, which couldn't have bee reached 'by accident'.

You couldn't have take a wrong turning. You'd actively have had to aimed to get there. The question at that point would be 'why?'

Two other details of note:

1) While the man who had the cardiac incident has to be considered a pretty questionable witness there are two parts to his story which may be of note. Firstly that he seems to believe he saw two vehicles upon on that route. And secondly that when he saw that group of figures ahead (who may or may not have been same the 5 men) he believed a woman a child to be among them.

He speaks of flashlights going off when he called out to them for help. If he were to be remembering events correctly, I get the distinct feeling that whoever those figures were they were spooked by hearing a voice. They may probably switched the flashlights out to avoid being seen, there in a place they had traveled too deliberately to be out of the way.

But why a women and child? You start to wonder. This was 1978. Is it possible that one of these men, while not notably mentally disabled but certainly a little 'slow' maybe, had just discovered that they had fathered a child with this woman? Maybe she approached the group while they were in that parking lot. Maybe they came somewhere out of the way so that they could discuss things unseen?

2) While, yes, all 5 men were considered mentally handicapped they were still considered 'high functioning'. These days they would probably be considered to be on autistic spectrum, but that doesn't necessarily mean they were badly impaired by their condition. Two of them had been in the military. They probably did have some basic survivalist skills. Which makes much of this seem all the more odd. You would not expect people with that kind of training to wander off into the wilderness and freeze to death.

My other gut feeling is that they could have been carjacked at that parking lot, and forced to drive up there. As to why? Who knows.
 

CuriousIdent

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#12
To give you some kind of context there are two maps on that thread. One from a press piece at the time:



And a second which one of the posters on there put together with google maps:



The most notable detail to me is just how far from home that was. And the second image does give you some indication of terrain.

As poster CeJeH noted there:

"Piggybacking off the top comment here to include a little geographic perspective of where these guys went the night they went missing, because I think some context is important.

There is ZERO chance these guys simply made a wrong turn to end up where they went. It's not possible.

The concerning part here is considering where they started, where they were going, and where they ended up.

This was spring in the Northern Central Valley. Chico is not a place that gets snow. It occasionally will dip below freezing in these areas, but March is pretty late in the year for that. Average overnight lows in this area (where they attended the game) are in the 40s this time of year. The odds of these guys getting hypothermia in Chico are basically nonexistent.

Then you have the area they ended up in. If you look at a map, you'll see that Chico to Yuba City is a straight shot down Highway 70 through the Central Valley. This area rarely freezes and NEVER snows. Ever. It's low lying Valley land. There's no big turns in the highway. Anybody that loves in this area knows how to navigate it easily.

But where they ended up is WAAAYYY out of the way, past Oroville Lake, way up in the mountains in the Plumas National Forest. This was not a simple wrong turn away from where they were heading. You can't possibly just accidentally end up there along their intended path. You HAVE to go way out of your way to get there. We're talking thousands of feet in elevation change, when their intended path was all along the Valley floor. They had to have had a reason to be where they ended up.

So the question that should be asked here is not why they got out of the car, or whether they were experiencing hypothermia or not when the car stopped. The question is what the fuck were they doing way the hell out in the middle of the mountains in the first place?!?

I'm having difficulty trying to describe how far out of the way they went here in a way that makes sense to people that don't live there.

Chico (where they attended the game) is a valley town with an elevation of ~200 feet above sea level.

Yuba City (where they lived and were going back to) is another valley town with an elevation of ~60 feet.

There are no mountains or hills along Highway 70, which if you look at a map is nearly a straight line from Chico to Yuba City.

These 2 cities are 46 miles away from each other. Even driving the speed limit, this trip should take no more than 1 hour, at worst. There's zero chance of encountering snow along the way. It does not snow in this part of California.

The area they ended up dead in is just west of Bucks Lake, closest to what is now the town of Palmetto, California. Palmetto is at an elevation of 5,134 feet!!! They had to travel 5,000 feet up a mountain to get there, in an area where there aren't even any hills!!!

There is ZERO chance they ended up there by accident. None. It's not possible.

Chico to Palmetto, right now during the hot summer, is a 1 hour 45 minute drive, with little to no snow ok the ground. Would be much longer in the spring with snow. Twice the distance on the road (at a minimum) as where they should have been going, 5,000 feet up a mountain, and a good 50 miles to the east of where they lived.

No chance they took a wrong turn and ended up there. They had to have gone there on purpose.
"
 

stu neville

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#14
Simply not the case.
Quite - it's entirely possible to end up anywhere by accident. Clue's in the phrase.

It's harder to find remote, unmarked places intentionally than unintentionally.
 

maximus otter

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#15
a) This was a remote spot, over an hour out of the way, which couldn't have bee reached 'by accident'. You couldn't have take a wrong turning. You'd actively have had to aimed to get there.

b) ...he seems to believe he saw two vehicles upon on that route. And secondly that when he saw that group of figures ahead (who may or may not have been same the 5 men) he believed a woman a child to be among them.

He speaks of flashlights going off when he called out to them for help. If he were to be remembering events correctly, I get the distinct feeling that whoever those figures were they were spooked by hearing a voice. They may probably switched the flashlights out to avoid being seen, there in a place they had traveled too deliberately to be out of the way.

But why a women and child? You start to wonder. This was 1978. Is it possible that one of these men, while not notably mentally disabled but certainly a little 'slow' maybe, had just discovered that they had fathered a child with this woman?

c) While, yes, all 5 men were considered mentally handicapped they were still considered 'high functioning'. These days they would probably be considered to be on autistic spectrum, but that doesn't necessarily mean they were badly impaired by their condition. Two of them had been in the military. They probably did have some basic survivalist skills.
a) There is no point, however remote, in the civilised world where someone has not ended up, lost. It was a road. It was accessible (there was a "roadhouse/pub" on it).

b) He claims to have seen a group of figures and a torch that "switched off"/vanished/was occluded by passing behind something. He believed that there was a woman & child. I believe that he may well have spotted the deceased men walking away so that the light from their torch faded or was hidden in a bend of the road. He'd been drinking to the extent that he fell asleep in his car on a bitter February night, and it was dark and snowy.

c) Anything that increased the odds against them, however marginally, boosted the chances of them dying under those circumstances. They had mental issues, it is a distinct possibility that they had been drinking, the weather was evil. Even though two of them had been in the military, I doubt that they had received much survival training in those post-Vietnam drawdown times, and what they might have received would have involved the use of issue army kit which they simply didn't have with them, e.g. compass, sleeping bag, poncho etc.

"Five impaired men die in subzero conditions" doesn't get you 1c per word; "Mystery of veterans' disappearance" is an earner.

maximus otter
 
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CuriousIdent

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#16
Simply not the case.

Yes. 'Zero' is clearly an exaggeration. It's not implausible.

Far less likely, sure. But not implausible.

I think what the guy was driving at (no pun intended) was that these mountains weren't even on the horizon from the highway.

I'm inclined to think that this probably wasn't purely an accident in their getting there (still think a carjacking is likely) but it's not like they were obviously aiming for a landmark here. No building or structure. They effectively drove into the wilderness.
 

Coal

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#19
Yes. 'Zero' is clearly an exaggeration. It's not implausible.

Far less likely, sure. But not implausible.
Sure, it's plausible that something strange happened, but it's much more plausible they simply did something stupid. Of course we don't know exactly what that was, but that doesn't make it supernatural or a big unsolved mystery per se.
 

Min Bannister

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#20
Hmm, I am sceptical of all the puzzling details that surround the case. Especially as they only seem to come from Reddit threads or anonymous newspaper articles. The Washington Post article reads so much like fiction it is hard to see it as anything else. Pretty much any mystery I have ever investigated in any detail has turned out to have most of those details fabricated and added in later. This smells very much like the same thing to me. I am not saying that there is no mystery here. Just that some of the inexplicable stuff (such as how the car got up there without damage) might be explicable after all (eg, yes it was damaged).
 

escargot

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#21
Sure, it's plausible that something strange happened, but it's much more plausible they simply did something stupid. Of course we don't know exactly what that was, but that doesn't make it supernatural or a big unsolved mystery per se.
It can still be a big unsolved mystery without being supernatural.
Five men went missing, four were found dead long afterwards in a place where they shouldn't have been, in circumstances where they could have easily survived. That seems like a big enough unsolved mystery to me!

The whistling business is intriguing. Who were those people, and why did they seem to to be carrying a child?
 

Min Bannister

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#22
Reading the unsourced article again it appears that most of the "out there" stuff is coming from un-named sources. You have Deputy Ayers who is saying things directly and then "investigators" who are adding a lot more to that. Named relatives are only referencing the less lurid stuff (why would they leave the car?). By the time you get to the trailer with masses of food, fuel and warm clothes, the information is only coming from "investigators" or "deputies". I am not sure it can be relied on.

(Also the car could have got there undamaged just by being driven carefully)
 

escargot

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#23
Hmm, I am sceptical of all the puzzling details that surround the case. Especially as they only seem to come from Reddit threads or anonymous newspaper articles. The Washington Post article reads so much like fiction it is hard to see it as anything else. Pretty much any mystery I have ever investigated in any detail has turned out to have most of those details fabricated and added in later. This smells very much like the same thing to me. I am not saying that there is no mystery here. Just that some of the inexplicable stuff (such as how the car got up there without damage) might be explicable after all (eg, yes it was damaged).
Yup, it's impossible to know what's real here and what's enhanced or just made up. We'll never know.
 

CuriousIdent

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#24
Sure, it's plausible that something strange happened, but it's much more plausible they simply did something stupid. Of course we don't know exactly what that was, but that doesn't make it supernatural or a big unsolved mystery per se.

I don't consider this supernatural. There's just no evidence to support it. But unsolved mystery? Yes. Purely because no truly logical reason can be struck upon for what happened. Even for the one body found in that shack.

Right up until they stopped for food after the game there is nothing unusual about their behavior or intentions. They had a basketball match themselves coming up. There was excitement about that.

Something happened after leaving that store. Suggestions on the Reddit thread have mostly centered on:

a) A carjacking - Which does seem a little odd for a car of 5 people. *But*... it was noted that 1969 Mercury Montego they were driving had a front bench seat with the gear shifter on the steering column. So if a 6th individual did get in the car space could be made.

Maybe they got in at the parking lot. Maybe they were a hitchiker on the highway. But either way if somebody had gotten into the car, armed, would 5 mentally handicapped people put up a fight? Or would they stay quiet and do as instructed? Even if two of them had military experience.

Why they would want to be driven out into the wilderness is questionable. The 5 men had no real valuables. It would be more likely that the hijacker simply needed to get away from were they were, and quickly.

Others also speculated that perhaps if a hijacker/malicious hitchhiker were involved that maybe Gary Mathias was either injured or killed before the group made there way up into the National Park. Which might account for his not being found with the others, and might also back up as to why the rest of the group would do as they were told.

b) They may have seen some kind of incident between a man and a woman in that parking lot (such as a woman being forced into a car) and followed their vehicle up in the National Park out of genuine citizen concern.

This might account for the two vehicles the other witness claims to have seen on this road (the Mercury Montego and the Red Pickup truck), and also the woman among the group which he claimed to have seen an outline for. If there had been some kind of confrontation between the two parties the keys of the Mercury Montego may have become lost/taken at this point. Which could explain why the group did not drive away in it.

c) One way or another Gary Mathias became separated from the group and he had the keys to the car. The keys were never found (police had to hotwire the car, but that showed there was no mechanical fault). Neither was Gary.

I believe it was Mathias who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was medicated. Successfully. And his doctors were happy with his progress for the previous year. But if some experience (whether related to the other two theories above or completely not) had caused him to to have an unexpected mental event up in the National Park, and he left the group with those keys, that would absolutely explain why the others may have become stuck up there. Hoping he would return.
 

stu neville

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#25
Just a couple of points (not a lot of time right now):
(quoting source) More than a dozen C-ration cans from an outside storage shed had been opened and emptied - one had been opened with an Army P38 can opener, which only Madruga and Mathias who had served in the Army, probably knew how to use
P38 can openers are hardly esoteric equipment, they're pretty much identical to most other non-mechanical openers:
p38 can opener.jpg
(quoting source) Shones lay in the car with engine on and the car heater going, he said. Sometime in the night, he heard what he described as whistling noises a little way down the road, and he got out of his car. What he saw looked like a group of men and a woman with a baby, he said, walking in the glare of a vehicle's headlights. He thought he heard them talking.
Hate to lob this in here (actually, no I don't..) - that area is prime Bigfoot country, whistling and indistinct speech ("Samurai chatter") is often reported as is travelling in groups in hostile conditions or if they're (theoretically) migrating. I'm not trying to implicate 'squatches in the main incident, just giving an alternative view for this particular adjunct, as a good Fortean should.
 

CuriousIdent

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#26
Yup, it's impossible to know what's real here and what's enhanced or just made up. We'll never know.

Agreed. So long ago now, for one. And I would imagine a case which was largely dismissed as 'mentally handicapped guys got lost and died. It happens'. The press pieces are a little sensationalist, too.

When you start to hear about psychics and divining (even if some of the families of these men wanted to distance themselves from any such silliness) you do find yourself despairing.
 

CuriousIdent

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#27
Hate to lob this in here (actually, no I don't..) - that area is prime Bigfoot country, whistling and indistinct speech ("Samurai chatter") is often reported as is travelling in groups in hostile conditions or if they're (theoretically) migrating. I'm not trying to implicate 'squatches in the main incident, just giving an alternative view for this particular adjunct, as a good Fortean should.

Well... wouldn't that be something. ;)
 

stu neville

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#28
Well... wouldn't that be something. ;)
It would - but I'm well aware that Discovery made a fake-umentary about Dyatlov that implicated the Menk (the local Almasty / Manbeast) so treading carefully ;).

That said, as ever, just because a) is fake it doesn't mean that b) is. The old skeptic's syllogism writ large.
 
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#29
It would - but I'm well aware that Discovery made a fake-umentary about Dyatlov that implicated the Menk (the local Almasty / Manbeast) so treading carefully ;).

That said, as ever, just because a) is fake it doesn't mean that b) is. The old skeptic's syllogism writ large.
You lobbed a very interesting hand grenade into the discussion!
 
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