According to an unofficial count, almost 800 deaths have been documented at the Grand Canyon, with an average of 12 people per year dying in varying circumstances. None of these deaths have been as mysterious as the disappearance of newly married couple Glen and Bessie Hyde in the winter of 1928.
Glen was a farmer from Idaho, and Bessie was an art student from West Virginia when they met aboard an overnight passenger ship heading for California. It was a whirlwind romance and they married a few months later as soon as Bessie’s divorce was finalised. Glen thought of himself as an adventurer and they decided to ride the rapids of the Colorado river together, hoping to be the first married couple to complete the trip, with Bessie having the accolade of the first ever woman to make the journey. Bessie loved to write and enjoyed drawing , and their plan was to keep a diary, publish a book and the two of them become rich and famous on the lecture circuit whilst sharing the story of their adventure with the public. On October 20th 1928 the couple set off from Utah, floating down the Green River towards Colorado in a 20ft long, 5ft wide flat bottomed scrow that Glen had built himself.
By the middle of November Glen and Bessie had reached Lee’s Ferry, which is considered to be the official Grand Canyon starting point for the Colorado River. Whilst there, an experienced river runner advised them to purchase life jackets, but Glen refused. He wanted to complete their journey without safety equipment to make their exploits more thrilling and daring in the re telling.
Their next stop along the Colorado River was at Phantom Ranch, near River Mile 88. Here, they hiked the Bright Angel Trail out of the canyon to top up their food supplies. At this point they had travelled 400 miles in record time and it is here that Glen was documented as speaking about trying to complete the whole trip faster than it had ever been done before.
A famous photographer of the Grand Canyon named Emery Kolb met the couple at Phantom Ranch and took photographs and film of the two of them. Kolb also urged Glen and Bessie to take life jackets due to the rapids ahead of them being dangerous, but once again Glen refused. He was determined to conquer the Colorado and said they would do it “without life jackets, or else.” He shared with Kolb that both he and Bessie had already been thrown from the scrow by the rapids, but they were sticking to what appeared to be his plan. Bessie appeared to be fragile at Phantom Ranch and possibly somewhat nervous. She visited Emery Kolb’s home and reputedly gave away some of her best clothes to his daughter. As she handed over a pair of shoes it is rumoured that she said “I wonder if I shall ever wear pretty shoes again?” Did Bessie have a premonition or did she know their plan was doomed to failure?
When they left Phantom Ranch with their supplies, the couple had an extra passenger aboard. They had agreed to take a tourist named Adolph Sutro a few miles downriver to Hermit Camp. Sutro later commented that Glen constantly spoke of the fame and fortune the trip would bring to their lives, but Bessie was definitely the less invested of the two of them. Adolph Sutro was the last person to see the Hydes alive.
A month later when they failed to arrive at their next scheduled stop, Glen’s father became worried for their safety and a search of the river was organised. Despite many volunteers searching alongside the National Park Service, no trace of them could be found. However, their boat was discovered trapped in an eddy at River Mile 237. All was intact, including many of the couple’s possessions. A camera recovered from the boat showed the last photo to have been taken near River Mile 165, probably around November 27th. A jam jar from Glen’s home state of Idaho was also found upstream, but despite a lengthy and continued search, Glen and Bessie had simply vanished. It was established that notches Glen had carved into the boat to mark the days of the journey placed them still in the boat on November 30th. Bessie’s recovered diary also supported that date, and showed their last position to be somewhere near River Mile 225.
Two years later, a search party looking for the body of a drowning victim came across an unused and deserted cabin. Inside written on the wall was an inscription which read “Glen and Bessie Hyde November 31st 1928” Obviously this date doesn’t exist and it is not known who was responsible for writing it, but if this is genuine then their last known location can be confirmed. Plenty of rumours circulated at the time of their disappearance. Some believed they were tossed from the boat and drowned, some believed they decided to abandon the trip and hike up to the rim and that their bodies are out there on the trail somewhere. Others were of the opinion that Bessie grew increasingly uneasy and Glen wouldn’t let her abandon his grand plan and so she killed him and set off for a new life alone. The truth will never be known, but the story of Glen and Bessie Hyde doesn’t end there …..
After the photographer Emery Kolb died in 1976, a bizarre discovery was made at his ranch on the South Rim. A small boat with a bundle of clothes that dated to the 1920s was found, along with a male skeleton. The skull had a bullet hole in it and was rumoured at the time to be Glen Hyde. Emery Kolb was said to have disappeared for a few days after the Hydes left Phantom Ranch back in 1928. It was thought that Kolb had possibly followed the couple to Diamond Creek in a further attempt to persuade them that they needed life jackets. There, a theoretical confrontation took place which ended in Glen’s death and Kolb and Bessie hiking back out of the canyon, Kolb agreeing to hide the body and Bessie departing for a new life. Upon examination of the skeleton, the results confirmed that due to the trajectory of the bullet, the unknown man had been murdered.
A further twist to the story came to light many years later. One of the Grand Canyon’s most notable and famous characters was a woman called Georgie White, who was a daredevil white water rafter. She organised often dangerous and reckless trips for visitors to the Colorado River through the Canyon for over 40 years. When she died in 1992 an employee allegedly found her Birth Certificate, which stated her real first name was Bessie. Also, it was said that in her property was a pistol and a Marriage Certificate for Bessie Haley and Glen R. Hyde. It was common local knowledge over the years that Georgie White and Emery Kolb did not get along, in fact Georgie hated the man and refused to be in the same room as him. Is it because he killed her husband back in 1928, or helped her kill him? Was Georgie White really Bessie Hyde who had reinvented herself? Or had Georgie simply been a fan of the story and came across the Marriage Certificate and bought herself a piece of memorabilia?
A later forensic investigation was carried out on the skeleton found at Kolb’s property by the University of Arizona. The investigation concluded that the skeleton was of a male aged under 22 and that he had died no earlier than 1972, therefore ruling out that it was the remains of Glen Hyde. The skeleton remains unidentified
The fate of Glen and Bessie Hyde remains unknown to this day. Bessie was just 45 miles short of being the first woman to travel the length of the Colorado River rapids in a boat.