By Tom Kollenborn
The past five or six decades have produced a variety of missing person reports within the contemporary boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Many of these missing persons show up at home or in another state claiming they didn’t think anyone would miss them. A majority of these missing person reports are resolved with telephone calls between relatives of the missing person. However, there are those reports that defy explanation, and no clues have ever been found. Many involved strange incidents involving prospectors and treasure hunters.
Some of these missing person cases are actually very bizarre. For example, Adolph Ruth was reported missing in early June of 1931. The mountains were searched for almost eight weeks in the hottest part of the summer. Yet, no sign of Ruth was discovered. On December 10, 1931, Ruth’s skull was found near the First Water-Charlebois Trail just north of Bluff Springs Mountain and south of the Red Hills. The rest of his skeletal remains were found January 6, 1932. Ruth’s death was responsible for much speculation, ranging from suicide, accidental death, to homicide. His death still confuses many, and its cause is still speculated.
Charlie Williams was reported missing four or five years after Ruth. Williams was a World War I veteran who went into the Superstition Mountains searching for gold on January 5, 1935.
Williams was soon reported missing, but on January 8, 1935, Williams stumbled out of the mountains with a pocket full of gold nuggets, telling a weird tale about being injured and not remembering anything. Eventually, Williams’ gold was confiscated by the United States Government, because it was dental gold, not natural gold. Williams was never charged for illegal possession of gold, but again there was a tremendous amount of speculations about his disappearance.
How many people are still missing in the Superstition Wilderness? I am not sure if any are officially missing. A young man named Adam Scott was reported missing on June 7, 1982. A sheriff’s posse searched for almost a week before the search was called off. The search was called off when the young man was reported seen near Roosevelt Lake. Scott remained missing until March 25, 1996. This is when a local resident discovered skeletal remains on an exploration flight over the wilderness area in 1996.
Scott was first reported missing in the Horse Mesa Dam area. Robert Schoose and Barry Wiegle were making an exploration flight in a Bell Ranger when Schoose spotted bones on a talus slope. For some reason, Schoose was convinced the bones could be human bones. A few days later, Schoose asked me about missing people in the Superstition Wilderness Area. The only person I could think of at the time was Adam Scott. He had been reported overdue on a hiking venture into the area around Fish Creek Mountain and Bronco Butte in June of 1982. The bleached bones Schoose spotted on the talus slope below a small cave turned out to be the skeletal remains of Adam Scott. Finally, there was closure for Scott’s family. Adam had been missing for more than fourteen years.
When does a missing person in the Superstition Wilderness become a cold case? Is it after six months, twelve months or several years?
I met an old man many years ago that swore his son was missing in the Superstition Wilderness Area. He believed his son was being held prisoner because he knew the location of the Dutchman’s lost mine. I know he harassed the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office about his son off and on for about a year. He was totally convinced his son was somewhere in the Superstition Wilderness, and he wanted somebody to help him search for the boy.
After talking to the gentleman, I was doubtful he even had a living son. I think he wanted to believe his son was alive, and searching for him eased the pain of his son’s actual death.
The loss of a loved one sometimes confuses reality for a person. He was so convincing about his son, I almost went into the mountains to help look for him.
The following is a case of a missing person that is very difficult to determine.
Christmas, 1987, I remembered a man reporting his son missing near First Water. He claimed they were deer hunting, and his son just vanished. The Sheriff’s Office started a search two days before Christmas and continued the search through Christmas. I volunteered to help, because I knew the area quite well. My father and I had camped in the region quite often back in the late 1940s.
I knew where many of the old abandoned mine holes and tunnels were located in the area. Many of the old tunnels were camouflaged for various reasons. As it turned out, the young man was mad at his father and wanted to teach him a lesson. He hid in an abandoned tunnel for almost five days. He was eventually found hiding in a small mine tunnel. He was wet, cold and tired. He felt he had taught his father a lesson when interviewed. He also cost the Sheriff’s Office a lot of money and aggravated a lot of men who had to be away from home on Christmas searching for this young man.
A very similar case occurred on July 25, 1998, when Guy Garlinghouse was reported missing in the Superstition Wilderness Area near Peralta Trailhead.
Temperatures were soaring to 114 degrees F that week. Apache Junction Search & Rescue, Pinal County Sheriff’s Posse and many volunteers combed the rugged hot desert around Peralta Trailhead searching for Mr. Garlinghouse.
Garlinghouse walked into the sheriff’s rescue center at Peralta Trailhead six days later. He was a little sunburned, but otherwise in good shape. How did he survive in the desert for six days without adequate water in such extreme temperatures, unless he planned on being “lost”? Again, this young man was aggravated with his parents and decided to worry them a little. I never heard how this case was finally adjudicated
Missing people in the Superstition Wilderness create some interesting and sometimes very heart breaking stories. One case in particular occurred in November of 1964, when two brothers (Richard & Robert Kermis) went hiking up on Superstition Mountain through Siphon Draw. One brother slipped and fell. He injured his leg severely. The other brother decided to remain with his injured brother. An unexpected winter storm hit the area, dumping almost a foot of snow on the base of Superstition Mountain. The two brothers froze to death before being found by a search party. The death of these two young men was very tragic. They were missing for almost three days.
One of my students from a class I taught for the college was reported missing. He often hiked Siphon Draw and the Flat Iron. A search was conducted for Lee Krebs for six days before they found his body in No-Name Canyon in December, 1978.
He had slipped on clear ice and fell over a ledge, dropping some five hundred feet to his death. Lee was a retired home builder and a well known community worker who really cared about Apache Junction during a period when there was a lot of turmoil. When he was first reported missing, everyone was quite sure he was all right. He was a veteran outdoorsman and hiker. A quick moving winter storm caught him off guard while up on the Flat Iron.
Over the years, I have written several columns about the missing and those who have disappeared. I would say ninety-nine per cent of the missing person reports in the Superstition Wilderness have been solved. Undoubtedly there are still a few unsolved cases involving the wilderness. Some cases date back to the turn of the century.
I have reviewed just a few of the hundreds of missing person cases involving the wilderness area. Rest assured, most of these cases have been solved.
Photo above: A region as rugged and isolated as the Superstition Wilderness Area can certainly hold secrets of missing people that remain unsolved today. Many of the so-called “missing people” may have just walked in one end of the wilderness and out the other end. Therefore we have the “Secrets of the Missing.”