It’s a little-known fact that an astonishing number of people go missing in the United States’ National parks. Known as vacation spots and ultimate destinations, few contemplate the horror of a child vanishing in the blink of an eye, lost in a vast wilderness.
One man became interested in reports of tourists who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. David Paulides was visiting a park on vacation. Being a former police detective, he struck up a conversation with a ranger who had been rotated to several parks over several years, as it is standard National Park Service procedure.
To Paulides’ surprise, the ranger said that there was a remarkable number of unsolved missing persons cases on or near the boundaries of national park properties. A lot of these disappearances left no trace or bizarre evidence behind. The federal employees were prohibited from talking on the record about the unexplained phenomenon.
This combination of odd facts piqued the former detective’s curiosity and he began a lengthy investigation into the matter which continues to this day as more and more creepy stories come to light.
It turns out that people have been vanishing on or close to federal lands for decades.
For example, on July 2, 1938, four-year-old Alfred Beilhartz was on a fishing trip with his parents and ten older siblings for the Independence Day weekend in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.
Alfred fell behind the rest of his family on a trail near Fall River when he simply vanished. His family searched for him before contacting the park rangers.
The next day, authorities organized a search for the missing boy. They first suspected that Alfred had accidentally fallen into the river. After damming it and dragging the chilly snow-melt flow for six miles, they found nothing.
Next, 150 searchers methodically combed a 6-mile area for Alfred from the location where he went missing, but they found nothing.
Then, bloodhounds were brought to the scene of the strange disappearance. They did manage to trace the boy’s scent – leading the way to a remote spot miles away from where he was last seen.
But, once the two dogs followed the scent uphill, they stopped at a fork in the path, cocked their heads, looked nervous, and lay down on the ground, signaling that they had lost the scent.
One weird part of this true story is that the trackers saw no footprints to mark the boy’s progress through the at-times muddy underbrush. Likewise, there was no sign of an adult abductor.
A couple was hiking about six miles away from and 2,500-3,000 feet higher in elevation than the spot where Alfred vanished without a trace. The pair claimed they were attracted by a cry that sounded like someone was in trouble.
Looking around and up, they saw a small boy with Alfred’s features standing high up on a ridge in a treacherous location called the Devil’s Nest, almost at the summit of Mt. Chaplin at an elevation of 12,454 feet – more than two miles high. The hikers wondered how a child had reached that desolate and dangerous spot?
The two hikers’ sighting occurred only a few minutes after the boy had vanished. The tyke had seemed dazed and upset but otherwise healthy. Then, an unseen force seemed to jerk him backward out of sight.
The extensive search for young Alred Beilhartz was called off after 10 fruitless days. The boy was never found and his case has gone cold.
Paulides and other investigators reasoned that it would be next to impossible for a four-year-old boy to traverse six miles from camp and uphill more than 3,000 feet on his own, leaving behind no trail of torn clothing or footprints.
The University of San Francisco undergraduate and postgraduate transferred to the San Jose Police Department in 1980, where he worked in the patrol division on the SWAT Team, patrol, and the Street Crimes Unit. He was assigned various cases in the detective division as well.
In 2011, Paulides was approved for a deferred vesting status totaling 16.5 years of service for his time with the San Jose Police Department, and he turned from fighting crime to tracking down and writing books about the mysterious and elusive Bigfoot.
After realizing there is a lot more to the missing persons from the National Parks story, which appears to be taboo and off-limits to public discussion, Paulides authored the book series Missing 411. He lectures at public events and can be seen and heard on his YouTube channel “Canam Missing Project.”