There’s a certain allure to being out in the wilderness – the fresh air, the quietness, the serenity of being away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life – it’s easy to see why so many people are drawn to nature. However, numerous people are reported missing after venturing out into the wilderness yearly. Whether it be a national park, a secluded forest or a mountain range, getting lost or disorientated while alone in the wilderness truly is a daunting and terrifying thought. Unfortunately for the five people detailed in this article, what was intended to be an gratifying an relaxing trip away soon turned into the embodiment of a nightmare when they disappeared. And today, the wilderness still holds the secrets of what fate befell them.
The peaks of Kosciuszko National Park in Australia holds the answer to what happened to Prabhdeep Srawn, the Canadian army reservist who disappeared during a 2013 hike.
The 14th of May, 2013, started off as a bright and sunny day. Prabhdeep was planning a hike for that afternoon at Australia’s highest peak. Prahdeep was living and studying in the Gold Coast and at the time, he had been on a touring holiday of Australia. He had used his laptop to plot out a trek using google maps and Wikipedia. He packed his rental van at Charlotte Pass and set out on his way. He had planned on completing a nine-hour hike, taking in the glorious scenery on his way. His plan was to hike along the Main Range Walking Track bound for Mt Kosciuszko via Carruthers Peak and Mt Townsend. Considering Prabdheep was an armed forces member in the Canadian army, he had extensive survival training and anticipated that this would be an achievable hike. Unbeknownst to Prabhdeep, however, was that the weather that afternoon was going to take a turn for the worse and become extremely bitter and dangerous.
It wouldn’t be until four days later that a staff member noticed Prabhdeep’s car was still in the parking lot. It wouldn’t be until another two days later that police were able to trace Prabhdeep’s identity via the rental car company. By now, 30mm of rain had fallen as well as 30mm of snow. In addition, Prabhdeep would have been exposed to temperatures as low as -4.8c. Prabhdeep’s family flew out from Brampton, Canada. Using the evidence found on his laptop, over 40 volunteers and officers attempted to retrace his steps for the next four weeks. The ground search was hindered by the treacherous weather. Helicopters equipped with infrared sensors were called in to assist in the search as well as sniffer dogs but neither could locate Prabhdeep.
One searcher, Dave Jarvis, was adamant that Prahdeep had disappeared in Western Fall, a steep area amongst bush, rocks, and deep creeks. It’s an area very rarely ventured to due to the rugged terrain. According to Jarvis, an overgrown track through the Western Fall called Hannels Spur is the worst track in Australia. He has come to this conclusion based on the fact that a search and rescue dog indicated that Prahdeep was there and a water bottle was discovered in Hannels Spur. Moreover, Prahdeep’s mobile phone pinged to the area before falling completely silent.1
Eventually the coroner would sign Prabhdeep’s death certificate, stating that it is most likely that he succumbed to hypothermia caused by exposure to very low temperatures, wind and snow. Understandably, Prahdeep’s family refuse to believe that he is dead. Since 2013, they have spent over $400,000 on private searches; they sold their car as well as property in India and took out a second mortgage. Moreover, they have offered a $100,000 reward for anybody who could find him. But as of yet, the snow-covered mountains have still not given Prahdeep up.
The photograph above shows the Panknin brothers posing for a photograph in Riverside State Park during the summer of 1963. From left: Ted, Bobby, Jim and Bill. This was the last photograph the boys ever took with their 4-year-old brother, Bobby Panknin before he disappeared in the remote Deep Lake area of Stevens County, Washington.
It was a hot summer’s day on the 3rd of August, 1963. Bobby and two of his brothers – Jim, 6, and Bill, 10 – went on a hike with their mother, Edna, alongside a logging road situated near their campsite at the now-defunct Deep Lake Resort in northern Stevens County. Ted had decided to stay at the campsite that afternoon and go fishing with his father instead. As they hiked along, Bill asked his mother if he could briefly check out the nearby creek which he could hear from the trail. She agreed and told Jim to stand waiting with Bobby. They would only be a few minutes, she said. However, Jim decided that instead of staying with Bobby, he would follow Bill and his mother, leaving Bobby standing alone.
After a few minutes, they returned to where Bobby had been left. Bobby was nowhere to be seen. He had been barefoot yet no footprints were found; it was as if the ground had opened up and swallowed him whole. Over 500 people a day participated in the nine day search for Bobby, drawing thousands of volunteers deep into the remote Deep Lake area that surrounded the campsite. The search area was around 20 miles south of the Canadian border and was extremely undeveloped. It was hilly and rugged and the search was a difficult one. Bloodhounds were called in to assist in the search. “When we turned the bloodhound loose at midnight Saturday after giving him a sniff of the boy’s shoe, I had no doubts that the party would be back in an hour or so with the child,” said Sheriff Albert Holter.2 The bloodhound picked up a scent than ran for two miles before abruptly stopping at a fork in the road.
During the search, Sheriff Holter considered that Bobby – who weighed just 30 pounds – was snatched by an eagle. He was also open to the theory that Bobby had been abducted. However, due to the remote location of where the family were, he said that it was unlikely. In March of 1964, a letter from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said that “no evidence has been developed indicating a kidnapping has occurred. Despite this, Holter urged Canadian doctors to keep an eye out for Bobby on the chance that he had been abducted and was living with a new family. He described to the doctors that Bobby had a chocolate allergy, was susceptible to ear infections and that he had difficulty pronouncing “R” and “C” sounds.
To this day, Bobby’s brothers still dwell on their actions that afternoon. Although they were all young children at the time, they still question what would have happened if they didn’t go to the creek or if they didn’t leave Bobby standing alone if even just for a brief moment.
On the 27th of May, 2011, 20-year-old Madison Scott left her home in Vanderhoof, British Columbia, Canada, to go overnight camping at Hogsback Lake – 25 kilometres south of Vanderhoof – for a birthday party. Madison was a very sociable young woman that loved sports and photography. When she didn’t return home on the 29th like planned, her parents called police to report her missing.
Her friends told police that they had all stayed at the lake until around 4AM but said that when they were leaving, Madison decided to stay alone. This was the last time anybody ever saw her. More than 150 volunteers assisted in the search for Madison. They trudged through the woodland and scoured the shoreline and logging roads. Boats equipped with underwater cameras and sonar searched the lake while concerned citizens went door to door to ask if anybody knew anything about Madison’s disappearance.3 While the extensive search didn’t locate Madison, it turned up her tent and truck which were found where she left them before her disappearance. Alarmingly, her tent had been flattened and her purse was still in her truck. While police were unable to find her mobile phone, they were able to determine that her phone was last used at 7AM, roughly 3 hours after she was last seen by her friends.
“We believe either she has been taken, or she’s in the area and we just need to find her,” said police liaison. Madison’s family were certain that she hadn’t left on her own accord. She was exceptionally close with her family and the evidence found at Hogsback Lake wasn’t giving them hope that she was safe. “Something happened that led to Maddy’s disappearance after everyone left the party and foul play is suspected,” said Sandra Kelly Klasson, Madison’s aunt.4 Police have long speculated that somebody in the community knows what happened to Madison but for reasons unknown, don’t wish to come forward with any information they may have. “We know someone out there knows something about the disappearance. We are asking any individual who has information about Maddy’s disappearance to contact the police or Crimestoppers” said Cpl. Tom Wamsteeker of the North District Major Crime Unit.
What happened to Madison after her friends left her in the early morning hours of the 28th of May, 2011, still remains unknown.
Paula Jean Welden
The small village of Bennington, Vermont, is an unlikely scene for a missing person mystery. Nevertheless, between 1945 and 1950, five people inexplicably vanished. The disappearances include a variety of victims including an 8-year-old and a 74-year-old. Arguably, the most infamous missing person from the area was Paula Jean Welden whose disappearance led to the formation of the Vermont State Police.
18-year-old Paula was an art student at Bennington College and a cafeteria waitress. On the afternoon of the 1st of December, 1946, Paula told a friend she was going for a stroll along the “Long Trail” which was a woodland hiking trail. It runs for more than 270 miles until it reaches the Canadian border. The Long Trail was an extremely popular walking spot but Paula hadn’t yet got a chance to check it out. On the aforementioned afternoon, she tried to get some friends to join her but unfortunately, they all declined. Nevertheless, Paula got dressed and made her way to the trail. She was wearing a red parka jacket jeans and tennis shoes. She didn’t bring a backpack or a change of clothes – she was only going to be gone a short while, she planned. The last time she was ever seen was when she stopped to ask another hiker a few questions about the trail.
When Paula didn’t return home that night when her roommate went to bed, she just assumed that she was out studying. Her nonchalant attitude turned to worry when she woke up the next morning and Paula still hadn’t returned. A search party was assembled and the hikers who had spotted Paula along the Long Trail came forward after seeing her photograph in the paper. That week, Benington College closed so that students and teachers could participate in the gruelling search which focused along the Long Trail. While there were hundreds of volunteers, the search was hampered due to the fact that there was no statewide law enforcement agency in Vermont at the time.
At the time, police did not know anything about criminology. For example, if a young woman were to disappear while hiking alone in this day and age, foul play would be suspected early on. However, after Paula’s disappearance, police put out bulletins which suggested that Paula was depressed or that she could have had amnesia or ran away from home. Not once did they mention the possibility that foul play ws involved in her disappearance. Paula’s father, William Archibald Welden, went to the FBI office in Albany the week after Paula’s disappearance to relay his belief that his daughter had fallen victim to somebody who abducted her. The FBI told her grief-stricken father that there was no evidence of this and they therefor would not take on the case.
Working on this theory and assisted by local newspapers, William Archibald Welden started to track down leads in his daughter’s disappearance. A suspect came to light when a man who claimed he saw Paula hiking changed his story several times. He was said to have had an argument with his girlfriend before storming off into the Long Trail. He was a suspect once again several years later when he told a couple of people he knew where Paula was buried. He fobbed this off as a joke, though, and no evidence could tie him to the disappearance. Michael Dooling, author of “Clueless in New England,” also believes that Paula fell victim to a killer – a serial killer, in fact.
Despite extensive investigating on her father’s part, the whereabouts of Paula still remains a mystery. A couple of months after her disappearance, the Vermont State Police was assembled. One can’t help but wonder that if they had existed at the time of Paula’s disappearance then would the outcome of the case have been different?
Dennis Martin was just days shy of his 7th birthday on the 14th of June, 1969. On that pleasant summer morning, he eagerly awoke early and got dressed into a red t-shirt and green shorts. The curly-haired boy was going camping in the Great Smoky Mountains with his father William, his grandfather, Clyde, and his 9-year-old brother, Douglas. The camping trip was a routine Father’s Day tradition of the family. They set up camp at Spence Field in the Cades Cove section along the Tennessee and North Carolina state line.
At approximately 4PM, Dennis and Douglas were playing with two other boys who were camping in the same area. The four boys ran off into the wilderness, planning on jumping out and scaring the adults. When the time came for the prank to be pulled, Dennis never reappeared. The group called his name and searched the vicinity; the sound of the roaring creek nearby potentially prevented them from hearing Dennis call for help or prevent Dennis from hearing them call his name, The terrain in the Great Smoky Mountains is extremely dense and rugged. It would be easy for an adult to get lost never mind a little boy.
A search party was assembled which consisted of hundreds of volunteers, including members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and Green Berets who diverted from their training mission. The army provided a helicopter which scoured the area in search of any signs of Dennis. The search was unfruitful and no sign of Dennis ever turned up. A storm fell across the Smoky Mountains during the search and by just the morning after Dennis disappeared, 2 and a half inches of rain fell, washing away any potential tracks that he may have left. At one point during the search, there was over 1,400 searchers trawling through the Smoky Mountains in search of Dennis.
Over the forthcoming years, there were many theories as to what became of Dennis. The main theory was that he became disoriented and lost, eventually perishing due to starvation. It was speculated that he may have fallen down a tight crevice in the ground which made him invisible to the number of volunteers searching for him. Another theory was that he was attacked by a wild animal, potentially a bear. While bears don’t typically attack humans, in June of 1969, their normal food sources were greatly diminished. In fact, two weeks before Dennis’ disappearance, rangers were called to release a “bony, scrawny bear” which had been caught in a wild boar trap baited with corn.5
The most disturbing theory was that Dennis fell victim to a human predator. Following his disappearance, a witness came forward to say they had heard an “enormous, sickening scream” whilst in the Great Smoky Mountains on the day Dennis vanished. This same witness said he then saw a rugged and unkempt man lurking about among the trees. Police discounted his statement because it happened in Sea Branch which was around 9 miles from where Dennis disappeared. Sea Branch was a downhill area and Dwight McCarter, a park service ranger who assisted in the search, said it would have been easy for a man to carry a child between the two areas. Moreover, he said that Dennis could have even reached Sea Branch himself on foot.
In 1985, a local man contacted police to tell them about something sinister he found in Tremont’s Big Hollow a few years after Dennis disappeared. He told police that while illegally hunting ginseng around 3 miles from where Dennis was last seen, he stumbled across the skeletal remains of a young child. By the time he eventually told police, however, animals could have scattered and destroyed the remains and a search party were unsuccessful in locating the skeletal remains.
The disappearance of little Dennis Martin remains one of Tennessee’s greatest mysteries.
Gilbert Mark Gilman
On the 24th of June, 2006, 47-year-old Gilbert Mark Gilman set out to spend the afternoon at the Olympic National Park in Washington. The last time he was spotted was as he parked his car at Staircase Ranger Station. The park ranger that saw Gilman recalled that he was wearing a Hawaiian floral shirt, khaki shorts and flip flops. He also noticed that he was carrying a camera and no backpack leading the park ranger to believe he was just going on a leisurely stroll to photograph some scenery as opposed to going for a strenuous hike.
By the following day, it was discovered that Gilman was missing; he was scheduled to attend a meeting in Spokane, Washington, with a co-worker but never showed up. He was reported missing and a search party was assembled. His car was discovered in the same spot he parked it on the 24th of June. Gilman was a U.S. Army veteran that had survival skilled honed in the military. He was described as being athletic and healthy but when he set out that afternoon he didn’t bring along any supplies needed to survive in the wilderness. Furthermore, Gilman was almost completely blind without his glasses.
The search party trawled the area for 10 days looking for any sign of Gilman. They were assisted by tracking dogs as well as helicopters with heat seeking equipment. Despite the extensive search, no sign of Gilman was ever found. “It’s hard to imagine a person can just disappear,” said his mother, Doris Gilman. “Nothing was ever found. No remains, no glasses, no wristwatch. Nothing.”6He was eventually declared missing by the U.S. Forest Service.
Over the forthcoming years, there were several theories as to what happened to Gilman. Some even speculated that Gilman was still alive. A 2008 report by KIRO-TV claimed that Gilman had previously worked on top secret military intelligence assignments and eluded that he lived a “mysterious life.” In 2014, the Investigation Discovery show “Dark Minds” put forward the theory that Gilman had been killed by Alaskan serial killer, Israel Keyes, who was known to hike in the Olympic National Park. Before his suicide, Keyes confessed to killing a couple and two individuals in Washington. The FBI would later determine it was “highly unlikely” that Gilman was a victim of Keyes.
- The Toronto Star, 8 June, 2014 – “How Did a Brampton Hiker Just Disappear?
- The Spokesman-Review, 15 May, 2011 – “Search Confounded 4,000 Volunteers”
- Omineca Exress, 7 December, 2011 – “Madison Scott Re-enactment Video Released”
- Lakes District New, 1 June, 2012 – “Madison Scott Disappearance Still Remains a Mystery”
- Knoxville News Sentinel, 28 June, 2009 – “Search in Smokies for Lost Boy Produces Lessons for Future Investigations”
- The Olympian, August 13, 2015 – “Missing Hiker Will be Declared Legally Dead