Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Southern California and far-away places. Hiking, wildlife, cycling etc.

Questions

Postby RichardK » Sun Jan 27, 2013 10:21 pm

Ze - There are some odd things about this case.

You have this from the park service narrative for Saturday 6/26:

"Park Ranger Grayson informed me he checked Keys' View at 09:00 hours and did not see EWASKO's rental vehicle there. He also informed me that there were no vehicles at the Juniper Flats parking area."

I have never been to the Juniper Flats trailhead, but I looked at it on Google Earth. You would have to be blind to drive by and not see a car parked there.

Image

Now, if Bill's car was moved around and driven away and back, then this is not a missing hiker case. It is a murder case. Maybe Bill has not been found in spite of extensive searching because he is not in the park.

At any rate, that is the conspiracy theory which the Riverside sheriff apparently did not buy into. Indeed, the most unreliable evidence of all is eye witness testimony. People do not see what is there. They see what they want to see. They see what they think they are supposed to see. After all, Bill's car was eventually found Saturday afternoon where hiker Mendoza saw it Thursday afternoon.

Too many questions, not enough answers.
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Postby Myth » Mon Jan 28, 2013 11:29 am

RichardK wrote:I have never been to the Juniper Flats trailhead, but I looked at it on Google Earth. You would have to be blind to drive by and not see a car parked there.


I drove past it a couple of times this weekend. It is very obvious from the road, and very obvious whether any vehicles are parked there or not, but it is also a narrow road where you have to keep your eyes on the road. I can see how somebody might get the details of how a car parked there is oriented, wrong if they just drove by as opposed to pulling into the lot and taking a look. Like I said, a spot where you don't feel too safe staring into the parking lot for long if you are driving, since the road doesn't have margin for error. The parking lot is also slanted relative to the road, which may make accurately remembering a vehicle's orientation fuzzy.


After all, Bill's car was eventually found Saturday afternoon where hiker Mendoza saw it Thursday afternoon.


Exactly. As far as conspiracy theories and murder goes, it seems as if somebody murdering Bill wouldn't then mess around with driving his car, potentially leaving fingerprints on it, or being caught "putting it back" after Bill has been missing for a day or two and searchers may be in the vicinity. Abandon it anywhere else! Murder needs a motive, too - why follow him into a park halfway across the country where a ranger will see you enter at the entrance, why mess around with his car in JTNP ... there is more holes in such a theory than in the theory that he was out hiking and through a series of unfortunate occurrences got into trouble.

Does anyone have experience with a backcountry injury that makes walking difficult or impossible? Something like a broken leg or a badly sprained ankle or knee. Without hiking poles, would Bill have even been able to stand? If he could get upright, how well could he hobble along? How much distance could he have covered once injured? Several miles or no more than a few hundred feet? Could the place where he was injured, the place where the cell tower was pinged, and the place where he eventually passed away, all be fairly close together?


I don't have much experience with a backcountry injury, thank goodness. But I do have a personal anecdote from my weekend excursion into JTNP.

On Saturday, my spouse and I hiked ~ 4.5 miles into the backcountry to go explore an old mining site. We were well prepared with topo maps, satellite views, an understanding of how we wanted to approach our hike, and also armed with a GPS tracking our route, and a compass to back up what the GPS was saying. I navigated with the GPS, my spouse with the compass, so we sanity checked each other instead of relying on one person to figure it all out.

We reached the mine site by scrambling through some washes, walking down others, cresting a few saddles, following an old mining road for a while. It was fun and not too strenuous.

We planned to hike out a different route, to see more sights. This route would follow a big wash trending south, then cut across a saddle and exit into an east-west wash that would lead us back to our starting point. After going down the small wash the mine was located in and reaching the big wash, we happily followed it down. The walking was easy, much better than our entry route.

I still need to look at our GPS track to confirm, but we were misled by the topo and satellite views into thinking it would be a lot easier to cut out of the wash than it was. Long story short, we had to stay in the big wash until we were nearly at its end, way to the east of where we needed to be. Cross-country scrambling ensued. We went up a ridge and down into a nasty little gully, full of jumbled rocks and hungry acacia bushes. Lots of up and overs. Both of us with two hiking poles, mind you. It was at this point that I thought about Bill, and about how it would have been impossible ( truly impossible ) to follow this route with any kind of lower extremity injury. There was a lot of scrambling needed. Some drops off the rocks were 3 feet or so. That's further than you can safely drop if you are crawling or you don't have two good legs to land on and brace with. No going around, either - the sides of the gully were too sheer. You could easily get into a spot where you might have been able to get around something, but once you dropped down one scramble, you were committed that way, no going back up.

Once we emerged from that gully, we were in a little maze of hills and gullies, and a careful examination of the topo map and some compass use got us up a nice little hidden wash and back on track. All of this with the sun setting, mind you. We had head lamps and were properly prepared and thinking clearly, not panicked because we had plenty of water and some gear for emergencies. If you are in a hurry, a panic, or in pain, you may well make some regrettable choices, instead.

So, all that to say: I really don't see how Bill, if he had a broken leg or badly sprained joint, would have been very mobile. He didn't have any hiking poles, which are a great help in situations like that. The vegetation in Joshua Tree doesn't have nice straight, sturdy limbs, so he wouldn't have been able to improvise something. Sure, there are some areas that are smooth enough that you could crawl or butt scoot along, weaving around bushes and the like. ( And yeah, almost everything has thorns on it. At one point I got snagged by an acacia and I have the row of punctures across my thigh to prove it. ) But anything rocky would be completely out of the question. Getting out there and scrambling some cross country really re-enforced that fact with me.

I didn't get to do any searching or much recon of my own on this trip, due to weather and prior commitments. I'm hoping for another outing in February.

I did drive past the Juniper trailhead Friday, as mentioned. Friday was very rainy. I would have thought about going partway up Queen mountain perhaps, but the top was shrouded in low clouds. Visibility would have been very poor. We did Lost Horse Mine instead - just out and back, not the loop. We spent quite a bit of time in the clouds and all of it in the rain. I would not try to whack cross-country up slopes in that kind of weather!

Saturday we did the mine trip I mentioned. Sunday, we would have gone to Hexahedron mine, but our Saturday trip wore us out some, and the kicker was me sitting down in my camping chair only to have some cheap plastic part sheer off, spilling me sideways out of the chair and right into a piece of stacked firewood with a sharp edge. Gave me a really nasty deep bruise on the thigh, almost right where the acacia bush got me earlier. That impaired my left leg to the point where I could not step up very well at all. I could walk flat just fine, but stepping up was bad. I wasn't going to try laboring up a slope in that condition, not to mention get into trouble due to it! ( This is another case where the difficulty of uneven terrain with any kind of injury was driven home for me. ) So we nixed Hexahedron and walked out to Samuelson's Rock instead. ( Thanks for the suggestion, OtherHand! It was a cool spot. ) From there, I sat for a while and stared up the slopes and pondered things. I really hope to get up there in February and take a look.

Another thing that I paid special attention to: general ability to check out terrain for interesting things. Sometimes, visibility is good, but other times, I don't think I would have spied something if it wasn't within 15 or so feet from me.

A question for OtherHand, or anybody else, really: I think I should invest in a PLB. I've been doing without one so far, but I'm constantly wanting to range further afield. Does anybody have a recommendation?
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Postby OtherHand » Mon Jan 28, 2013 12:18 pm

Myth wrote:So, all that to say: I really don't see how Bill, if he had a broken leg or badly sprained joint, would have been very mobile. He didn't have any hiking poles, which are a great help in situations like that. The vegetation in Joshua Tree doesn't have nice straight, sturdy limbs, so he wouldn't have been able to improvise something. Sure, there are some areas that are smooth enough that you could crawl or butt scoot along, weaving around bushes and the like. ( And yeah, almost everything has thorns on it. At one point I got snagged by an acacia and I have the row of punctures across my thigh to prove it. ) But anything rocky would be completely out of the question. Getting out there and scrambling some cross country really re-enforced that fact with me.


This goes to my point. We need a scenario that explains why it took Bill two days to get from presumably near Quail to only 10.6 miles from the tower. The only one I can think of is that he was injured and moving very slowly.

Myth wrote:A question for OtherHand, or anybody else, really: I think I should invest in a PLB. I've been doing without one so far, but I'm constantly wanting to range further afield. Does anybody have a recommendation?


If you do any substantial backcountry travel, then absolutely. On my last Smith Water trip with 3 SAR guys we talked about if it was worth me carrying a PLB too. We decided it was. If one of us got hurt and was immobile, even though one of the party could leave to get assistance it could take hours to get out. It might be faster to just set off the PLB and within 30 minutes the local authorities would be getting notification, along with a GPS position.

I'd recommend either a McMurdo FastFind 220 or an ACR Electronics ResQLink. I'm underwhelmed with SPOTs as they aren't PLBs anyway (I no longer use mine). Both of these units are small, light and certified by the Feds. If you shop around online you can find them down to the $240 range. As a one time cost, it's really cheap insurance you never want to use.
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Postby Perry » Mon Jan 28, 2013 1:02 pm

It's one thing if Mr. tourist doesn't remember seeing a brown car at dusk while watching a sunset, but what are the odds that a trained law enforcement officer can't see a white car in full daylight while he is searching for that car?

As mentioned earlier, following a conspiracy theory, it doesn't make sense strategically to move the car. But what if unexpected things happened? Maybe it was a staged disappearance that turned into a murder, or maybe somebody showed up at the wrong place by mistake or was late and some extra driving was involved.

If he fell into an open mine, as suggested earlier, that would explain why nobody has found his body after extensive searching, including Otherhand who is talented and cracked a previous cold case in Death Valley. That would not explain the potentially moved car, the guy named Ken who says he doesn't know who Bill is, or why his employer's web site hasn't been updated since 2010. I wouldn't get business advice from somebody if their web site talks about making more money in 2010 than 2009 because that suggests that they really don't have their stuff together, and it would seriously reduce the number of clients they receive. Sure, I'm a bit slow at updating the hiking guide and deleting spammers, but who doesn't update their business website in nearly 3 years and leaves the phone number and email of a guy presumed to be dead?

It's all very strange. More strange then a typical missing hiker case.
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Postby OtherHand » Mon Jan 28, 2013 1:30 pm

Perry wrote:It's one thing if Mr. tourist doesn't remember seeing a brown car at dusk while watching a sunset, but what are the odds that a trained law enforcement officer can't see a white car in full daylight while he is searching for that car?


Funny thing, that. A while back I got a little curious about the ranger mentioned in the report that missed seeing Bill's car four friggin' times. I carefully went through all the incident records I received from my FOIA and the only mention of him is in the narrative where he's quoted as explicitly stating there weren't any vehicles parked at the Juniper Flats parking area. The report almost went out of it's way to make a note that that's what this guy said (as a former bureaucrat, I notice such things). In all the rest of the documents, including all the time cards of the JT staff who participated in the original search, this guy wasn't in on it. Once Bill's vehicle was found, he apparently played no part in the search effort, or at least was not recorded as doing so.

This piqued my curiosity. There are some National Park Service online sites which list staff at not only Joshua Tree but in the entire NPS system. Doing a little searching about a year ago showed not only was he not employee at Joshua Tree, he wasn't employed anywhere within the NPS system.

Make of that what you will......
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Postby Perry » Mon Jan 28, 2013 1:36 pm

Now this is getting really weird. Maybe the investigators need to be investigated.
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Postby Perry » Mon Jan 28, 2013 1:37 pm

I think Bill found a UFO in Joshua Tree. :D
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Postby Perry » Mon Jan 28, 2013 3:44 pm

OtherHand wrote:This piqued my curiosity. There are some National Park Service online sites which list staff at not only Joshua Tree but in the entire NPS system. Doing a little searching about a year ago showed not only was he not employee at Joshua Tree, he wasn't employed anywhere within the NPS system.

Back to Earth here...is it possible that he was employed with NPS in 2010 but not in 2011 when you did your research?
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Postby HikeUp » Mon Jan 28, 2013 4:16 pm

Or did he actually drive by what he thought was the trailhead when in fact he was driving by another one - being confused which road he was on perhaps.
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Postby » Mon Jan 28, 2013 4:36 pm

I was intrigued by Ms. Gorman's level of details she remembers - specifically remembering seeing the bright color tag that was on his dashboard. While I agreed that eyewitness accounts are notoriously bad, I thought this extra level would strengthen the chance that she remembered the direction of the car. Plus, I thought if the car was generally facing away from the road, then should wouldn't have been able to see the bright placard at all.

However, looking at hte street view, you could probably see the front dashboard even if the car is facing westerly. So I think that weakens her statement.

http://maps.google.com/?ll=33.976406,-116.164624&spn=0.002195,0.00397&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=33.976636,-116.164654&panoid=aHsfPi6IpFkz0zRaHJpAng&cbp=12,267.68,,0,10.76
 
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