A familiar spooky scene in horror movies is that of the creepy, dark forest that hides nightmares and terrifying secrets in its midst. Films like The Evil Dead, The Blair Witch Project, and more recently, The Forest, take full advantage of our inherent fear of the unknown, combining it with thick, omnipresent woods hiding untold horrors. However, the feelings of paranoia that might plague viewers who happen to be in forests after watching these types of films pale in comparison to the real-life mystery of America’s National Parks.
In 2012, former law enforcement officer David Paulides published the first of five books, Missing 411-Western U.S. Edition, which detailed his investigation into disappearances in our National Parks. 4-1-1 is a code used for information, hence Missing 411 means missing information. The project supposedly started after a national park ranger approached Paulides and shared with him the bizarre missing persons cases that frequently occur there. This single interaction led Paulides down a fascinating rabbit hole that he is still actively investigating.
Throughout the now five books of Missing 411 research, Paulides has identified twenty-eight clusters throughout the United States that are hot-spots for missing person cases dating back as far as the 1800s. Some of these clusters include victims with consistently specific ages and genders, but victims of every walk of life, from toddlers to the elderly, are all seemingly disappearing. This research does not contain those who were easily recovered or bodies that were found in explainable tragic accidents (bear attack, drowned, etc.), but cases that were particularly unusual in nature.
For example, some of the missing disappear from beside family members in full sunlight hours and are found miles away in locations that should be impossible to reach. Recently, in August of 2015, a young boy named Jerold Williams went missing while he and his family were camping in Kaibab National Forest, by the Grand Canyon. Despite canines and Air Force Helicopters being utilized in his search party, Jerold’s body wasn’t discovered until five days later. Tragically, the five year old reportedly died from exposure, but he was located outside the massive, twenty-one square mile grid that was thoroughly combed by upwards of 400 volunteers. This suggests that a five year old kid apparently walked at least 5-10 miles on his own without supervision.
Another strange case was that of Cullen Finnerty, who was reported missing on May 26th, 2013 after he went fishing alone at the Baldwin River (a part of the Manistee National Forest). Towering at over six feet tall, he was a notable college football player, and more than capable of taking care of himself. In the midst of his trip Finnerty called his wife, scared and paranoid, telling her he was frightened and that someone was following him. Family and friends attempted to use the coordinates provided by Finnerty’s cell phone, but they were given four separate locations that were miles apart. He was eventually found, but with no shoes and his clothes were strangely placed on his body almost as though he were re-dressed after being stripped naked.
Other strange aspects of these disappearances include the fact that canines who attempt to find the missing persons are unable to follow scent trails, often turning up empty handed as if the person’s physical trace just vanished from the area. Rescue dogs are often called immediately after a missing persons report is made and a properly-trained canine can pick up a scent that is up to a month old, so it is extremely odd that people who disappear under weird circumstances also seem to leave no discernible scent in their wake.
Likewise, some of the missing will turn up days later in areas that have already been thoroughly searched by rescue teams, like Omarion Humphreys, a nine year old autistic boy who was found in a lake by the campground he was missing from six days after two separate law enforcement entities had searched the lake several times.
While these stories are tragic, those who come back alive have even more odd and bone chilling tales to tell. Children and those with disabilities, for example, are often the ones that are found after they are deemed missing from a National Park and have appeared to experience the bizarre while lost. For instance, a young boy who disappeared within earshot of his mother was later found alive and safe with a strange story to boot.
He described to his family and the rescuers that a hairy bear-like man had cuddled him, fed him berries, and kept him warm until he was returned safe and sound. But even that pales in comparison to the young boy who was reportedly taken by an elderly woman to a cave that was decorated with strange objects and firearms. The grandma-like figure wanted the boy to defecate on a piece of paper, but the boy refused, angering the woman. Instead of lashing out at the boy, the strange woman simply took him back to his parents and he then recounted this tale to his shocked family members.
The entirety of the Earth has not been explored yet–not by a long shot–so with the unknown comes a grave sense that we really can’t be sure of what is out there. The research of Missing 411 could just be a series of insane coincidences, a tragic struggle of man vs. wild, or something more sinister that threatens the human race. In the end, we’ll probably never know the truth.