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Crime junkie is brought to you by simply safe, simply safe was designed to be easy to use while protecting your whole home 24/7 with their professional monitoring and emergency dispatch, which starts at just 50 cents a day, head to simply safe dotcom slash crime junkie and get a free HD camera for our listeners. That's simply safe dotcom slash crime junkie to make sure that they know that our show Senju High Crime Junkies. I'm your host, Ashleigh Flowers, and I'm Brit.
And I'm so excited to tell you today's story because it's truly one of the most baffling unsolved mysteries I've ever come across. I mean, last month on my other show, Supernatural, with Ashley Flowers, I told all of you the story of a group of nine Russian hikers who died under very mysterious circumstances back in 1959. That well-known story is referred to as the Dyatlov Pass incident.
And today's story is not much different. This is the story of five men who set out together to watch a college basketball game in Chico, California, back in 1978. But instead of coming home as planned, they drove 70 miles in the wrong direction north into Snowy Mountains and then vanished. This is the mysterious case of the Yuba County five.
Imagine where woke up with a start at about 5:00 a.m. on February 25th, 1978. She didn't know why, but she just had a bad feeling when she'd gone to bed the night before. Her son Ted wasn't yet home for the night. He'd gone to a basketball game in Chico, California, with a few friends. He was about an hour away from their home in Yuba City, but she expected him back from the 50 mile drive around 11:00. I mean, maybe midnight at the latest.
If they decided to, like, stop for a bite to eat or whatever on their way home, she knows the only way to calm her nerves is to make sure that Ted is home and in bed where he should be. But when she gets to his room, she sees that the bed is empty. In a low key panic at this point, she decided to call Juanita Sterling, whose son Bill had gone to the same game with Ted the night before.
Juanita tells Imogene that her son didn't come home either and that she's actually been up since too worried sick. She's already called Jack Madruga, his mother Melba, who said the same thing. No sign of her son Jack, either. Imogene hangs up and calls Jackie Hewitt's mother. And Jackie's mom says the same thing. No, Jackie Imaging sends her daughter in law down the street to talk to the stepfather of the last boy, Gary Mathias. By the time the sun was coming up, it was clear that all five boys were missing.
Imogene tries to relax, but relaxing is impossible. She knows in her gut something is very, very wrong. And she knows that for two reasons. First, her son Ted was scheduled to play in a basketball tournament later that day, Saturday the 25th. And to say that he was pumped would be a huge understatement.
Like he'd laid out his clothes, washed his shoes, and he'd been talking nonstop about this big game and how winning it would get his team a week long trip to Los Angeles. He would not miss that game or anything, and Imogene knew it. Now, the second reason she knew something was wrong is because Ted's life was very scheduled and very predictable. She knew that he would not had not would never just randomly stay out all night. Ted always came home and Jackie, Jack, Bill and Gary were no different.
Now, I need to stop here and tell you one important thing about these five boys. They're often referred to as boys, but I mean, they're not really boys. Yeah. So, like, how old are they? Well, for starters, the youngest was twenty four and the oldest was thirty two. But their parents and families and the people in their community always referred to them as boys because all five men had intellectual disabilities of some kind.
They were all enrolled in this day program for adults. Their basketball team, the Gateway Gators, is actually part of that program and all five of them lived at home with their families. Now, physically, they were all healthy, very capable. And while none of them lived independently, most of them functioned at a relatively high level. Imagine Son Ted was 32 and the oldest of the group. He worked for a while as a janitor and as a clerk at a snack bar.
But at the time of our story, he didn't currently have a job. Ted had a heart of gold and he loved to make new friends. He's kind of described a lot as childlike. For example, Cynthia Gorney wrote a piece for The Washington Post back in 1978, and in it she says that Ted would wave to strangers and he would literally be heartbroken for hours if they didn't wave back.
And now Ted was closest to the youngest of the group, 24 year old Jackie. Jackie was the most severely disabled of the five. He spent most of his childhood actually in the Napa State Hospital, which back then was called the Napa Insane Asylum. He couldn't read or write or even dial a telephone, and he relied a lot on his mother and also his pfv. Ted. Now, Jackie was really shy and didn't like being away from home for very long, definitely not overnight, which is why his parents were so worried about him.
The third man, Jack Madruga, was thirty, and while he two lived at home, he was pretty independent. He graduated high school and had spent two years in the army, but was said to have had a low IQ. He was one of the only ones in the group that had a driver's license. And he had this like 1967 turquoise and white Mercury Montego, that he was like so proud. I mean, God, I love it was his pride and joy.
And it's actually the car that took the boys to the game in Chico that night. Now, Jack's closest friend in the group was twenty nine year old Bill Sterling, who left his house that night with fifteen dollars and four different maps of the California area. Now, Bill had worked for a while as a dishwasher, but his mother insisted he quit when she found out people were getting him drunk and like stealing his money at work, they were really taking advantage of him.
Now, finally, the final guy we have in this group is Gary Mathias. He was twenty five years old and a bit of an outlier in this group of guys because he worked for his father's gardening business. And before that he'd been in the army like Jack, but he was medically discharged due to a psychiatric. Issue, unlike the other guys, he didn't actually have an intellectual disability at all, he was actually diagnosed with schizophrenia but had been stable for the last two years.
No one is really sure how or why Gary got involved with the gateway projects, but he loved it, especially their basketball team, the Gators, and he really enjoyed hanging out with the rest of the guys. So anyway, these are the boys that we're talking about, these young men, Ted, Jackie, Jack, Bill and Gary, and they're all missing. Saturday comes and goes with no word from the boys. So finally at 8:00 that evening, their parents decide to call the police right away.
The Yuba Sheriff's Department puts out an alert asking for the public's help locating these five guys. They give a description of Jack's Mercury Montego, along with the license plate number, but they don't launch into their search right away, according to a Sacramento Bee article from 1978. At this point, they're kind of just watching. I mean, remember, these are grown men. And while their folks say that it's out of character for them not to come home like the police are a little bit skeptical.
Right. But their alert isn't out long. When information starts rolling in, they're able to confirm that the guys went to the game in Chico and as a bonus, their team actually won. The last known sighting was at a convenience store in Chico after the game. This is like just before 10:00 that night, according to the clerk. And the clerk says it was memorable because 10 p.m. was closing time and the clerk was like a little bit annoyed that these five guys were pulling in right at the end of the night.
But, you know, you're getting ready. You're closing up. And the clerk says they buy a bunch of, like, junkie snacks, candy bars, chips, that kind of thing. And then they left. That's it. Police get another call from a woman who says she saw the guys on Saturday or Sunday. But here's the thing that's interesting. She says that when she saw them, they were in a red pickup truck. She said two of them came in to buy food at her store while one went to a phone booth to make a call and the other two stayed in the truck.
But here's the thing. I mean, beyond this mystery red truck that they're seen in, the store that she runs is way up north and like way off the course the boys would have taken to get home from that basketball game. So initially, police kind of rule out this sighting thinking that it's probably not their guys, but just then they get a call from a guy named Joe. And Joe says, hey, I think I saw those guys that you're looking for on Friday night.
I was driving up this gravel road toward my cabin in the mountains and my car got stuck in the snow. And I get out and I'm trying to push it free. And in all of this, I start having a heart attack. Joe goes on to tell police that he gets back inside his car with the engine running and the heat on. And after a few hours like this, I mean, sometime between like 11:00 p.m. and midnight, he says that he starts to hear a whistling sound.
So Joe gets out of his car, he looks down the road back behind him, like down the mountain. And about 150 feet away, he sees headlights and what looks like a group of men, along with a woman holding a baby. He says they're all outside the car and he can see them in the glow of the car's headlights. Now, Joe was so happy to finally see people. I mean, he needed help. I mean, I get my God, this guy just had a heart attack.
So he goes running out of his car, tries to, like, flag them down. But he says that when he called out to the group, the headlights turned off and all of the noises stopped. But that's not the end of his story, he tells police that some time later he again sees lights out his car window, not headlights this time, but flashlight beams. He calls out again for help. But as soon as he does, the lights go out again and whoever was out there goes away.
Police are understandably pretty skeptical about this whole story. And honestly, they don't really know what to make of it. They wonder if maybe this guy was seeing things or hearing things or I mean, both. I mean, he did just have a heart attack. He was in the middle of nowhere on a mountain road alone in the dead of night. I mean, what are the chances that he'd come across a group of men and a woman holding a baby like it just didn't seem logical.
But Joe tells them that when his car finally ran out of gas after running for hours and hours, he gave up on being rescued and decided to take his chances and walk down the mountain for help. Now, along the way, in the place where he had heard the voices, he passed an empty car. It was stuck in the snow just sitting there in the middle of the road. Police ask him to elaborate on the car, and when he does, all skepticism washes away.
Joe tells police the car he saw was a 1967 turquoise and white Mercury Montego. The exact car the men were driving not long after they hear from a U.S. Forest Service worker who says, hey, I think I found the car that you guys are looking for. And it's way the heck of an Plumas National Forest. Where is that location to like everything else in the story? So the Plumas National Forest is in Northern California, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
It's about two and a half hours from Yuba City and two hours from Chico. And actually, you know what? It's easier if I just show you here, take a look at this map I just sent, OK? Yeah. So the three points we've been talking about, it kind of makes like a V shape. Chico is on the top left, Yuba City is at the bottom, and the Plumas National Park is way over on the top, right?
Exactly. So the forest ranger who found Jack's car found it in the middle of this, like rarely used, unpaved road that runs straight up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. That top right point on the map that you're talking about. Now, according to an article I read on Strange Outdoors, the car was at an elevation of about 4500 feet just at the snow line, meaning anything beyond this has snow year round. And we're not talking about like a light dusting of snow, like it's not a lot like six to eight feet of snow.
And it's not like they would have to go through here to get home. Like there's no reason for them to even be in this area. No. I mean, it's not even remotely on the way. Chico, Tuba City is a straight shot and it's about an hour on the highway. It's mostly flat. There's no snow, definitely no mountains. And this wasn't just a scenic detour either. This is over two hours of driving in the wrong direction.
And what I can't get over is, I mean, we've already established it's not like it was on their way home, but this isn't even on the way to anything. It's literally in the middle of nowhere. But it is the same middle of nowhere road that Joe had been on the night that he got stuck in the snow and had that heart attack. The car was in the same place that Joe said he had seen it when he tried to walk down there to get help.
And it's right where he said it was and it's right where he said that he'd seen people, men and a woman holding a baby in the glow of the car's headlights. So this validates his story at this point.
I mean, investigators are thinking that it just might be true. So investigators decide to head up the mountain and see for themselves. They're hoping that the car and where it was found might help make some sense of Joe's story and hopefully point them in the direction of these five men. When they get there, they find the car unlocked, the keys are missing. And there's just this mess of food wrappers and soda bottles and milk cartons on both the front and back seats, remnants of their trip to that convenience store just after they left Chieko and the last known sighting of the men.
Now when they get there, the car was stuck in the snow, you know, like when your tires just kind of like spin and can't catch the ground. Yeah, so it was stuck like that, but it wasn't in a ditch or a big snow bank or anything and not so stuck that they couldn't have just pushed it out. I mean, these were not small men. They were all like six feet tall or at least close to it and about 200 pounds.
And there were five of them, remember. Right. They would have had that car unstuck in like a hot minute, but it looked like they didn't even try. Like, there's no push marks. There's no feet in the snow, there's no tire tracks. It's just stuck. And they're not there. When police check, they see that there's a quarter tank of gas still in the car. So the men hadn't run out of fuel because they can't find the keys.
Police managed to hotwire the car and it starts no problem. So that rules out any kind of mechanical issues. At first, police thought initially that these guys must have somehow taken a wrong turn and got lost up there. But then they find those four maps that one of the guys brought up there and one of the maps actually included the same area that the car was found in. All of the maps were neatly folded and left in the glove compartment.
You even mentioned earlier that Jack specifically brought all four of these maps. For me, it's hard to believe that they weren't using them or wouldn't think to use them if they had gotten lost. And like they're clearly lost, the snow would have immediately tipped them off that, like, hey, we're not home yet. We're not close to home. Yeah, and that's what I thought, too. But, you know, it's hard to account for what kind of impact maybe their intellectual disabilities might have had on that kind of reasoning.
Well, and again, like I said, they are using the maps. I didn't say that they weren't like they could be going there intentionally and using the map to guide them there. Right. Right. That's totally an option. And honestly, them intentionally going up there is kind of what police are thinking at this point, but they just don't know why. That road that they were on was not very well maintained. It was not used very much and it's a pretty rough road.
But here's the thing. When they look at the underside of the car, they're expecting to see damage. I mean, again, this is not a paved road.
There are potholes. It's crazy, but there's no damage underneath the car. Even the police and the four service guys vehicle had some damage on the bottom of their car when they were on the way up there to like, check this out.
OK, but what does that mean? I need to remind you, we are not unusual. Supernatural. This is kind of like it's not like aliens drop this car, you know of it. I fully love a good alien theory and you know that. But the lack of damage just told the investigators that whoever drove the car up there knew the road very well, well enough to know where the bumps were, where the potholes were, and well enough that they could navigate the road pretty much perfectly in the dark.
So which one of them had connections there or had been familiar with the area? So that's the thing. I don't think any of them did, but especially not the guy driving the car. Jack's parents tell police that he didn't know the area at all. I mean, he hated the cold, too, and they said that it would be super unlikely that he'd go up there by himself or with people and even less likely that he let anyone else drive his car.
So if Jack didn't know the road and none of the other five guys were driving, who was? Now, if there is good news about all of this for the families of the missing men, it's that police see no signs of foul play. The bad news, though, is that they see no signs of anything at all or any one. Police start searching right away, calling in help from the Forest Service, who knew the area best, even with experienced rangers guiding them through.
It's tough going. I mean, the terrain is rough. Like some areas are only accessible by horseback. They even bring in helicopters to search from above and dogs to work the ground. Men on foot and ATVs like they're pulling out all the stops. They search the area for five days straight before a severe storm blows in, dumping nine inches of snow in the area. And what this does is it erases any tracks that the men might have left behind.
The conditions are so bad that even the search team has some close calls in the drift, some of which, I mean, these drifts were getting like 15 feet high when the search hits the ten day mark.
Police know there's almost no way that the men could have survived if they were somewhere in the forest not dressed like they were that night and not after all that snow. But surely if they had succumbed to the elements, then they would have been found during the search. So police start to think maybe there's foul play involved here. After all, they kind of bat around theories based on what they found in and around Jack's car. What if someone else led the guys up to this mountain?
Was there another driver? I mean, that could explain why there was no damage to the car even though the road was a mess. So the theory went something like this. What if these well-meaning boys stopped to help another driver and they were somehow taken advantage of? Stressful situations would definitely cause the men's behavior to deteriorate according to their families. They might do things or make decisions that don't necessarily make sense to us. So maybe that's what happened here.
According to a two part series written by Benjy EGL in the Sacramento Bee, about three weeks after the boys went missing, a random Yuba City woman named Debbie got a phone call. And when I say random, I mean literally random. This woman is not connected to the men or the investigation at all. She said that when she picked up the phone, a man on the other end of the line said, I know where the missing five men are and then just hung up.
Now, obviously, everyone by this time in the area knows about these missing men. So she called police to tell them about this right away. Well, then the next day, she gets another call from the same guy. He says, I need help because I really hurt those guys, that she asked him, who did you hurt? And he just said, don't play dumb with me and hung up the phone. The next day, the phone rings for a third time.
The same man tells Debbie those five guys are all dead. And then he hung up and then Debbie never heard from him again. It's just one of dozens of leads that pull police in hundreds of directions. Sightings come in from as far away as Tampa, Florida, Ontario, Canada. But the closest thing they could get to a solid lead comes when they find out Gary, the one with schizophrenia, had friends in Forbes town. Now, Forbes town is about halfway between Chico and Yuba City.
And apparently the road to Forbes town is easy to miss. And if you happen to miss it in the dark, you could. End up heading north towards the mountains and towards the Plumas National Park. So now they're thinking maybe the boys were planning to visit these friends of Gary and maybe they missed that turn and ended up driving north into the mountains. But when they track those friends down, they say that they haven't seen or even heard from Gary in more than a year and they definitely weren't expecting him to come over that night.
Eventually, weeks turn into months and police start to get a little desperate. They consult some unconventional sources, psychics, even a water which are OK. That's a new one. What's a water pitcher? OK, so from what I found, a water watchers are like psychic esq. So usually you'll see them holding a Y shaped piece of wood in their hands, which they use to find groundwater or minerals like gold. Now, this particular guy that they consulted said that he'd tuned his instrument to find traces of human remains.
Are police skeptical? Totally. But I mean, at this point, I know it sounds bananas, but what have they got to lose? So the water, which leads them to an empty cabin not far from where Jack's car had been abandoned, they find a gray cigarette lighter not far from the cabin, but none of the boys carries a lighter. So police aren't even sure that's really relevant. And then nothing really comes of that besides this random lighter.
By the time spring finally comes, police and forest rangers have spent more than 6000 hours looking for Ted, Jackie, Jack, Bill and Gary. But it's then after months of the men being missing, after 6000 hours of searching, the snow finally starts to melt and they get a call that changes everything. Today's episode is brought to you by thread up, I'm not really sure where my head was, but I was fully convinced that maybe you could wear her winter coat from last year, you know, when she was like one and a half years old again this year when she was racing towards a three year old mark.
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Get an extra thirty percent off your first order at threat up dotcom slash crime junkie. That's t h r e d yuppy dot com slash crime junkie for thirty percent off your first quarter thought up dot com slash crime junkie for an extra thirty percent off today. Terms apply. This call comes in to them on Sunday, June 4th, more than three months since the guys disappeared. The call is from a man who's part of a small group of motorcyclists who were out for a Sunday ride in the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 20 miles from where Jack's car had been found.
Now, when they're on this ride, they happen to find a Forest Service trailer and they notice that one window was broken. And when they get close enough, they notice a horrible smell coming from inside. Inside that cabin is a sight they will never forget. Shrouded in eight layers of bedding is the emaciated body of 32 year old Ted.
His pants are rolled up above his knees, his leg show sign of gangrene, and he's missing five toes, all lost to frostbite. And he's once. Two hundred pound body has shrunk into nearly half that size. He looks like he's between a hundred, maybe one hundred and twenty pounds. Oh, my God. Can I tell how long he had been there when he died? Well, when responders get out there, the pathologist makes a best guess that Ted had been in that cabin and alive between eight and 13 weeks.
And he actually makes this estimation based on the growth of his beard. He can't really get a super good grasp on an exact like day or time of death due to the temperatures in that area. So they can really only work off of a timeline of, you know, how his beard is growing and knowing that it's only growing if he's alive. So Ted's official cause of death was exposure, but this is where the case goes totally sideways. So he essentially froze to death and starved to death.
But there was a propane tank outside that could have provided heat to the trailer. And they also found a bunch of things that could have been used to start a fire, wooden furniture or paperback books. But all of that sat untouched except for one candle which had been burned inside the cabin. Police find 31 cans of food that had been opened and empty. Those cans came from a storage locker outside the cabin right next to that storage locker. But completely untouched was a second storage locker that had enough food inside to last all five of the men an entire year.
But that locker was never open, and all of that food was completely untouched. So Ted froze to death in a cabin, never having turned on the heat, and he starved to death with food all around him. OK, but what about the other four guys? Were they also in the cabin? No. Ted's body is the only one police find inside the cabin that day. But there are few signs that lead investigators to believe that he hadn't been there alone the whole time.
First, remember how he said that Ted's body was shrouded in blankets when he was found? Yeah, well, the way that the sheets were laid on top of his body suggested that someone else had put them there like layer by layer, pretty carefully. It just it didn't look to them like he had just, like, pulled them over himself. The second reason they think other people were there is that Gary's tennis shoes were inside the cabin, but there was no sign of Gary.
According to that 1978 article that I mentioned from The Washington Post, police thought that maybe he put on Ted's shoes instead because Ted shoes were missing and Ted had bigger feet. So the thinking was maybe if Gary suffered from that same frostbite that Ted had, his feet would have been swollen. So maybe bigger shoes were more comfortable for him. And that's why he took those. But I mean, even that's just really a guess. And with no sign of Gary, it's impossible for them to know for sure.
Right. And that's also just one of the other four guys. Exactly. Now, the last thing that makes them think other people were there, at least at some point, is those 31 cans of food that I mentioned. Now, 31 cans had been opened and police could tell that they had been opened using an army issued can opener called a 38. And police are sure that only Jack or Gary, both of them who were army that would have known how to use that.
OK, so they're sure that at least one of those two guys had to have been there. Was there any other clues as to how long they were there, where they had gone the tracks outside? Anything? There is nothing pointing to when they were there, how long they were there or where they would have gone. But as grim as it is finding Ted's body, at least police have something. I mean, this is at least a starting point for a new search.
They get to work. Searching the surrounding area is hopeful but realistic about what they may discover. And two days later, on Tuesday, June six, about four and a half miles from the cabin, police discovered the remains of both Jack and Bill based on where their bodies. Police think that they likely died before they ever reached the trailer, like their bodies just gave up along the way less than five miles short, and they died right there in the tracks.
And the rest of the group kept walking towards where they would eventually find the trailer. Now, both of their bodies had been picked apart by animals, and they're mostly bones at this point. Jack's body is in a stream and police think he'd been dragged there by animals. I mean, his body is somewhat intact, like he still has a watch on his wrist and car keys still in his pants pocket. And on the other side of the road, police find Bill's remains, which are nothing but bones, just kind of scattered across the forest floor.
The Yuba County coroner is able to confirm Jack's cause of death as hypothermia and exposure. But Bill's remains are so decomposed that they left no sign as to how he died, though exposure would probably be a pretty good guess. I think now at this point, Jacki and Gary are still the only two missing. And Jackie's dad decides to join the team on the search. Now, police plead with him not to come. I mean, this is at this point a recovery mission.
And they're worried about what he might find in those woods, but he ignores them as he's searching. He's walking along the service road that runs to the trailer when he spots some of Jackie's clothes, his jacket, jeans and his shoes all in the same area. Now he runs over and picks up the jacket. And when he does, a spine falls out of it. Police find Jackie School the next day about 100 yards away. Now, where he was found is sort of between the cabin and where Jack and Bill were found the day before.
Now completely unrelated to his remains, about a quarter mile away from the cabin in a totally different direction, the search team finds three Wuhl Forest Service blankets and a flashlight. Well, there's still one guy unaccounted for. Does that mean that's where Gary was? So that's what they're thinking. There's one guy left, Gary, and this could be pointing to which direction he went. So the search team continues to comb through the area, around the trailer looking for any signs of the fifth guy, Gary.
They also look hard in the area around where they found that flashlight in that blanket.
And police feel like they've got to be close, especially because according to an article from the Lodi News Sentinel, they said that there was a smell of decomposition in the area, but they couldn't pin it down. But despite the blankets, despite the flashlight, despite finding the four other men, they don't find Gary in any of the places that they searched. Police continue searching the grounds around the trailer for weeks. They also send descriptions of Gary to psychiatric institutions in the area.
I mean, he hadn't taken medication with him that night to the basketball game. So they're thinking that if he's gone, he's going to need them at some point and maybe he would contact one of those institutions. But their efforts turn up nothing. On June 19th, they finally give up their search and that's it.
Well, I mean, that's kind of it, at least in terms of the search for Gary, but not in terms of the search for answers.
OK, but there's one thing that's still really bugging me about this whole thing. Why didn't the police or Forest Service people or whoever think to look at this trailer from the very beginning? Look, it seems like a huge oversight that cost. I mean, at least one life.
Well, there are some dispute about that. Now, police say they didn't know that it was there when their search began and that's why they didn't attempt to find it. But according to the Forest Service officials in an article from June 1978 that was published in the Marysville Appeal Democrat, that article says that they did know it was there. Now, I don't know what's true, whether they did or didn't know. But you have to keep in mind that the trailer was, I mean, like 20 miles from where they found Jack's car.
So I don't know that anyone, including those experienced forest rangers who might have been out of the radius. Yeah, they would have never thought that these guys probably could have made it 20 miles. I mean, again, they were not dressed for that kind of hike. They were wearing sneakers. They didn't even bother to bring jackets. I mean, frankly, it's astonishing that they made it at all. And actually, one of the officers who worked on the case back in 78 was quoted in the Democrat and Chronicle saying that it would have taken them at least a full night and another day to get that far in those conditions.
And remember, I mean, there was a crazy snowstorm the night that they went missing. So by the time police arrived at the car, there would have been like a fresh blanket of snow that erased any kind of sign of which way they went and why they would have left the car.
I mean, not only is this a huge distance from the car, it honestly even seems improbable that they even found it, you know, like without knowing exactly where it was. Oh, totally. I mean, again, it was found by happenstance, like these guys on a motorcycle ride just happen to come by the trailer. They smell a decomposing body, find this guy in there and then they notify police, I can't help but wonder, had they never gone there, had no one ever gone back to that trailer.
Right. Would the boys just be still missing people? So at this point, police had nothing to go on. No idea why these guys would have been up on the mountains in the first place and definitely no idea where they would have gone from there. And that's the big question in this case to this day. Why why were they on that mountain? Were they chase up there where they led up there, driven up there by someone else, someone who had to have known the road, and if so, who?
And more importantly, why did they abandon their car and run uphill 20 miles through deeper and deeper snowdrifts in a howling storm? What were they running from? What were those whistling sounds that the witness heard the night on the mountain? And why did Ted starve to death in a cabin full of food? Why didn't even try and start a fire? And who was in there with him? And most of all, the question that I can't stop asking is, where is Gary?
Police could never prove foul play in this case, but they couldn't rule it out either. And police, along with the families of the men who died, had their hunches and all of the hunches came back to one person. The one person whose name is still a huge question mark for police when it comes to the disappearance of the Yuba County five, is Gary the one who never really fit in with the rest of the group, the one whose body they never found and the one who's still missing to this very day?
Remember, Gary didn't have an intellectual disability like the other four guys. He had a mental illness, schizophrenia, all the parents of the other guys. I mean, they had major concerns about Gary even from the very beginning, long before they all went missing, like when he started hanging around with the other four to begin with. And then their concerns only got deeper as police found Ted. And then they find Jack and then they find Bill. Then they find Jackie, but they never find Gary.
As I mentioned the beginning of the story, his illness had been well managed for the last two years, but it hadn't always been that way. You see, Gary had a history of volatile and sometimes violent behavior. His first visit to the psychiatric ward happened when he was in high school. His parents told investigators that he had a bad trip, is how they put it. His time in the army wasn't picture perfect either. He was using drugs the whole time that he was in Germany.
He was getting himself into a lot of trouble and things didn't get better after he was discharged from the army either. He continued to use drugs heavily and regularly, and he would often fail to take his meds, which would then make him lapse into psychosis and end up back at the hospital, probably because of his mental illness. Gary also had a police record. He'd become violent on several occasions and was charged twice with assault. He'd broken into a home once and the couple who owned the home woke to find him in their bedroom looking for a ring to return to Satan.
In the times when he was institutionalized, he escaped from a psychiatric hospital not once, not twice, but three times. In Benjy Eagles' piece for The Sacramento Bee, he writes about Gary walking walking from Portland, Oregon, home to Yuba County. That's five hundred and forty miles. The story goes that he survived by stealing milk off of people's porches and eating dog food. So there's no question in police's mind or the minds of the family that Gary was a stronger personality than others.
He was different than the others and potentially capable of surviving on his own on the run. Exactly. So the theory around Gary's involvement isn't super clear and we don't even know that he was involved. But police believe that something or someone led those men out to the forest that night. They didn't just walk into a blizzard on their own without any evidence. Their families just speculate it. Ted's sister in law wondered if maybe the boys saw something at that basketball game in Chico or maybe in the parking lot, something that they shouldn't have seen.
And maybe they didn't even realize it at the time. But whatever it was, it prompted someone to chase them all the way up that mountain. Jack's mother thought that someone else was involved, too, but she thought it was a third party, someone who was able to somehow get the best of all five men. She said that some force led the men up the hill that night. She was actually quoted in the Washington Post article I mentioned saying, quote, We know good and well, somebody made them do it, end quote.
But the question is who? Police could never prove that the men were chased or followed up the mountain by another vehicle, but it could explain why they were so determined to keep going in that direction. Like Jake Ross asked in a story he wrote for mental floss, why abandon their perfectly good car and run headlong into the winter wilderness? Unless what's behind you is even more terrifying? And that might make sense of a few of the other things police were never able to pin down like that gray cigarette lighter they found outside the cabin that the water which brought them to or it could make sense of a gold watch that they actually found on the bedside table next to Ted's body, a watch that didn't belong to Ted or any of the other guys.
Could the watch and the lighter had belonged to the same person? And was that person holding the men in the trailer, controlling what they ate and which supplies they used? And is that why Ted and maybe even Jackie and Gary to starve to death despite having access to tons of food? I mean, I guess, but the trailer was there for the force workers to use it. For me at least, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that the watch could have been one of theirs that had just gotten left behind last time the trailer was used.
Exactly. I mean, and the lighter could have belonged to, you know, a fourth worker as well, a ranger, a hiker. I mean, it's not like no one ever went out there. People were out there on motorbikes in the area. I mean, that's how they found the trailer to begin with. Now, it's hard to prove that either of those things has anything to do with the Yuba County fire. And yet it's also impossible to prove that they don't have anything to do with it.
So. What do we know, what can we prove? The truth is not much. Police can only say for certain that one man even made it to the trailer, Tetteh. He was the only body found there. But based on what they found in the trailer and around it and the position of the other bodies, police think that at least three of them made it that night. They think Ted, Jackie and Gary made it to the trailer.
The other two, Jack and Bill, they think they died on their way to the trailer, though there were no outright signs of Jackie in the trailer. Police believe that he was there. His body was found totally apart from Jack and Bill. And unlike Jack and Bill, whose investigators think died on the way to the trailer, they think Jackie made it. Now, not only that, but he may have been there the whole time that Ted was alive somewhere between eight and 13 weeks.
And they think that maybe he only left the trailer after Ted died. I mean, he could have been confused and horrified. I mean, who wants to be stuck in a trailer with a dead body of one of your best friends? And the reason they think Gary had been there, at least for a little while anyway, was because of his shoes that they found in the trailer. Right. And he would have been the only one of the three who would have known how to operate that army.
Is Eukanuba right? So this left police with one bizarre question. Was Gary the one who led the group up the mountain into the snow? Had Gary been controlling access to the food and the heat and other essentials? And if so, why? I don't think we can discount Gary's history of schizophrenia in the story. Yes, he was stable for the two years before this incident, but maybe something changed if that night, then definitely slowly in the days and weeks before February 24th.
Something that Ben EGL put forward in his reporting for the Sacramento Bee was what if Gary chose not to take his medication so its side effects wouldn't slow him down for that big basketball game that the guys are playing the next day? Could he have found himself in the beginning stages of a schizophrenic psychosis that night? And could he have advertently led his friends who may not have had the mental capacity to question him on a psychosis fueled journey up the mountain and into a snow covered forest?
I think it is a likely scenario that something led Gary to believe he needed to either get to something in those mountains or away from something in that car. And his friends just didn't know enough about his illness or about schizophrenia or psychosis in general. To know that Gary may have been in a paranoid state, he could have been seeing things that weren't there, hearing things that weren't there and terrified of something that wasn't really there. And what if after happening upon this trailer in the middle of the wilderness and recovering for a few days from their journey, Gary left either to go find help or to get away from something that he thought was inside the trailer.
And then maybe Gary never came back. That would explain why police only found 31 empty food cans. Maybe Gary was the only one capable of not only opening the cans, but also of finding the food which was outside the trailer in the storage lockers. I mean, it's a plausible scenario, but there are things I can't stop thinking about, the whistling that night that Joe heard when he had his heart attack, that sighting of the guys with the woman, with the baby.
I mean, we know the car was found in there. He obviously saw them. Who was this other person? Did he just hallucinate that part? I mean, we had the lighter and the watch, but most of all, what I can't get over is the fact that the car wasn't damaged and nobody who was in the car that night knew the area. To me, it means someone else was there. And don't forget, we had sightings of them in a red truck.
Now, we don't know if those sightings are legitimate, but all of this to me is pointing to someone else, someone not part of the original five. I don't know how it all fits together, but I do think that Gary is the missing piece of the puzzle. But where is he now? There's no evidence that Gary survived the ordeal that killed Ted, Jackie, Jack and Bill. But there's also no evidence that he died out there either, just like there's no evidence of foul play and no evidence to prove otherwise.
This case is long on questions, but short on answers. Pretty much everyone involved in this case officially, and the families of the ubiquity five thinks Gary died in those woods. It defies logic that the men survived as long as they did. The conditions in that forest during February and March challenged the experienced forest rangers looking for the men, and they were dressed for the weather. Gary was undoubtedly the best equipped to deal with the journey, I mean, intellectually anyways.
But even he couldn't survive out there long term. Police did look beyond the Plumas National Forest for Gary. Even if he had gotten out of there alive, he wouldn't have been able to fly under the radar for long without medication for his schizophrenia. Investigators sent descriptions of him to hospitals and psychiatric facilities in the area, but no sign of Gary ever turned up. It's like Gary died in those woods along with Ted, Jackie, Jack and Bill. And if he did the story of what really happened to the Yuba County, five died right along with him.
If you want to see any pictures we talked about in this case or to see a list of our source material, you can find all of that on our Web site, Crime Junkie podcast, Dotcom. And be sure to follow us on Instagram at Krumm Junkie podcast. We actually won't be back next week with a new episode. Next week is Memorial Day. So we're taking a little bit of time off to spend with our families. But we'll be back on June 1st with a very special episode.
And if you want to hear more from us, stick around for a profit of the month story. Crime junkie is an audio chuck production.
So what do you think, Chuck, do you approve?
OK, Ashleigh, I'm going to be up front about this because I already gave you the heads up when I found this puppet. But as a reminder to you and a warning for all of our listeners, I'm awarding this month's part of the month posthumously lucky. The golden retriever mix passed away from a battle with cancer when he was a bit over 13 years old. But his story definitely grabbed my interest and I think our viewers will appreciate it. You know, boy.
So here we go. Our listener Morgan submitted the story of her first dog, Lucky. And when Morgan was a kid, she loved visiting the local animal shelter on weekends that she spent with her dad. They would go and pet the dogs and play with them, but always with understanding that they were doing it because they were never going to adopt any of the famous last words.
But also, like, you know, it's important for rescue dogs to be socialized around people for their own well-being. And honestly, ours, too. But, yeah, they weren't going to get a dog, mainly because Morgan's dad lived in an apartment, plus her parents had shared custody of her. And the idea of having shared custody of a dog, too, sounded like a little bit. Sounds rough. Yeah, sounds a little bit messy. But when Morgan was 10, her dad got engaged to a woman who had a fenced in backyard, which changed everything.
And one day they were visiting the shelter to play with the dogs and Morgan met her dog. He was this sweet golden retriever mix who had little white socks and a little white patch on his chest. Which little fluffy retriever paws with white. I just can't. He was sitting so patiently on the other side of the fence while all the other dogs were barking and jumping around and going crazy. And obviously her dad was like friendly reminder, we're only there to play, not adopt.
So they do that.
But Morgan cried all the way home because she knew that this dog was her own.
Why are you crying already know I'm about to that the one you know.
OK, so here's one of my favorite parts of the story is the very next day, Morgan's future step mom went right back to the shelter and adopted this fuzzy little guy from Oregon. And when she got there, there was actually another family looking to adopt him. And Morgan said that to this day, she has no idea how her stepmom was able to get him. But she basically said, I'm not leaving without this dog.
I love her. All right. I got no though win. So once all the paperwork was done, the shelter handed her this giant binder with a notebook in it, as well as like all of the dog's health records and stuff like that.
And this shelter actually had worked with a local women's prison that and like put a dog training program in place in the prison facility. And Lucky had been fostered and trained by an inmate, which, my gosh, I don't know about you, but like, I love hearing stories about these programs because I do, too. They help like local shelters so much in fostering and training, and that helps dogs get adopted faster. But it's also super therapeutic for the inmates.
And so jump start like rehabilitation, which like two birds, one stone. I love programs like this. So they get lucky home and start flipping through the notebook that came with him. And it's actually his training notebook from the prison program. And this notebook was filled with meticulous notes and like almost journal entries detailing what a good dog he had been, how his training progressed and things that he struggled with within the process. And the whole family was amazed at what an incredible job is inmate had done in kind of recording Lucky's life behind bars.
And that's when I noticed the name on the front of the notebook, Dr Deborah Green. And the whole family was in shock. They knew who Dr. Greene was and what she had done. Oh, they were like familiar with this person, whatever crime they committed. Yeah. So I was not at all. Have you ever heard of this person? No. OK, so I find that really wild because. And rule. Yes. That Iron Rule actually wrote a book all about this woman.
Oh my gosh. It's like, it's like a big case. Yeah. So the book is called Bitter Harvest A Woman's Fury, A Mother's Sacrifice. And I haven't read it, but I'll tell you a little bit about what happened. So back in October of 1995, Dr Deborah Green was a local Kansas City doctor who set her own home on fire. And she escaped the fire with one of her three children. But two of them died in the home and she and her husband had had a rocky relationship.
He'd actually recently moved out of the home a few months prior to the fire because he believed he was being poisoned by Debra. Oh, my gosh. And according to AP news, when the police were called to the home in what I think was like a domestic dispute, like a month before the fire, they said that Debra was kind of acting weird. And when they searched the house just to make sure like. Everyone was safe and OK, they found castor beans, which were those they're used to make ricin, which is a crazy, crazy, dangerous poison.
And if you've watched Breaking Bad, you know that. And so Deborah Green was eventually arrested in November of 1995 and was charged and later convicted of one count of aggravated arson for setting her home on fire. First degree murder in the deaths of her two children who died in the fire. Two counts of attempted first degree murder in the fact that when she left her home on fire, all three children had been in the home and obviously poisoning her estranged husband to her husband died in the fire as well.
He didn't because he had moved out. He ended up a couple months before.
So he did not he did have like ongoing health problems and died shortly after having been poisoned that long so doctors could not figure out what was wrong with him because ricin is really, really difficult to detect.
His poisoning actually presented in a lot of like abdominal and gastrointestinal issues. And he had recently gone overseas. So he thought it kind of maybe drank too much local water, contracted something there, but nothing ever really panned out. So she ended up taking an Alford plea, which is kind of like, I'm not saying I'm innocent. I'm not saying I'm guilty. But there's enough to convict me if I believe. Yeah, yeah. It basically said, well, and usually it's I still am saying I'm innocent, but I recognize that if we were to go to trial, it looks bad and I would probably go to jail.
Right. And so she's currently serving two concurrent 40 year prison sentences. And this is such an odd case. I couldn't find a ton of information on it outside the book and a couple of articles. But I did read an article from Casey Starr that stated that she filed for an appeal regarding her sentencing back in 2015, but it had been denied and there's not really been anything since then.
That's been Liana's how did not like so sorry for like the mini crime junkie episode in the middle of the month. I was just going to say, like our Prophet of the Month story went to like a full on crime junkie. So, yeah, I couldn't help it.
I read this email from Morgan and I was like, I have to tell Lucky's story.
So again here, Morgan and her family are welcoming their brand new dog into their family and learning more and more about him from a convicted murderer. And Morgan said it kind of became like a morbid joke within the family to say things like, I don't accept food from lucky, don't leave me alone with the matches or, oh, you know, back when Lucky was locked up, but Lucky lived a lovely and full life to the age of 13 when he was diagnosed with cancer.
And Morgan's dad, who all those years ago was so adamant about never getting a dog.
I'm like, I'm because I already know what you're going to say. It's always the dads. Yeah, he was the most affected. Yeah. And he went to incredible lengths to make Lucky's last months as comfortable as possible. And shortly after Luckie passed, dad and step mom tried to get another puppy, but it was too soon for dad. They they really just weren't ready to replace the best dog ever. But Morgan did tell me that just recently they did adopt a new dog who looks just like lucky.
And I love this so much. This new puppy was trained as a service dog but couldn't quite make the cut. So we got adopted. And I feel like that's me wanting to be a detective, like I really want to do it.
We're just going to start a podcast instead.
Yeah, but new dog and dad love to sit on the couch in Dad's barn and listen to talk radio, but Morgan thinks in Lucky's honor it might just be time to introduce them to true crime podcasts like Crime Junkie.
I love it.
Oh, I loved Lucky's story so much. Again, I can't imagine adopting a dog and being like, oh, also a murderer raised up for a while. Yeah.
Again, it could not have been more crime junkie appropriate. I love it so much. OK, so that's Lucky's story. And actually we usually enter episodes with an adoptable dog, but we have a really great track record of picking dogs that get adopted before before the episode comes out, before the episode airs. So I think we're going to shift gears a little bit. And I want to tell you about a great shelter in Kansas and Missouri, kind of in Kansas City area where Dr Deborah Green used to live, called Casey Pet Project.
And they have cats and dogs. I was, you know, scrolling through their puppies today. They have a ton doorbell. I suggest looking at all of them because they're amazing. But you can find them at Casey Pet Project Dog. Check them out of here in the area. Guys, thanks for listening. And we'll see you next month for an prepress story.