10 People Who Went Missing in Yellowstone National Park

The land that forms Yellowstone Park is located mostly in Wyoming, with smaller sections of the park in Montana and Idaho. This area has a long history, far beyond that of the first Western explorers. For thousands of years, Native Americans called the land home, the place where they lived and hunted—though not always in peace. Yellowstone was a battleground in which the Crows, the Blackfeet, the Bannocks, and the Shoshones vied for control over its resources.

Of course, it wasn’t known by that name back then; rather, it was referred to as the “Burning Mountains.” At the time, some of the native groups believed that they would incur the wrath of an evil spirit that resided among the geysers. It’s not completely clear what happened that led to this belief.

Yellowstone National Park was established as the world’s first national park by an act of Congress and signed into law on March 1, 1872, by President Ulysses S. Grant. It spans 2.2 million acres (890,308 hectares) of diverse landscapes, from enchanting geysers to dense forests. Yet beneath its beauty lies a sinister reality. Over the years, more than a dozen individuals have vanished from Yellowstone without a trace—and many of these also perished. Despite the park’s allure, few people interested in Yellowstone National Park pause to reflect on the haunting legacy of these disappearances, spanning from the turn of the century to as recent as 2023.

Related: Another 10 Mysteries That Defy Explanation

10 Leroy R. Piper

Leroy R. Piper, a 36-year-old from Ohio, disappeared from the now-defunct Fountain Hotel on July 30, 1900, just north of the park’s Fountain Paint Pot in the Lower Geyser Basin. Despite a $1,000 reward (equivalent to over $36,000 in 2024) and weeks of cavalry searches, Piper was never found.

Some have speculated that bears might have been involved in Piper’s disappearance. The Fountain Hotel’s staff used to provide nightly entertainment by hauling each night’s trash to a location near the hotel, which attracted grizzlies. This practice eventually led to the construction of an amphitheater with spectator seating and a concrete feeding pad until 1941.

Reports also suggested Piper may have wandered off or met with foul play. Unfortunately, the hotel was torn down in 1927, presumably making it even more challenging to find evidence about what happened to Piper.[1]

9 Larry Marvin Morris

Larry Marvin Morris, a 24-year-old from Tulsa, Oklahoma, vanished on April 26, 1974, while working as a seismograph worker in Riverton, Wyoming. His plan was to visit Yellowstone National Park before heading back home, but he never reached either destination.

Morris, described as having dark brown hair and brown eyes, was last seen driving a green 1966 Ford LTD pickup truck with the Oklahoma license plate number RO-94.

Two individuals, James Franklin Jagers and Jack Lincoln, were apprehended with Morris’s credit cards and belongings. Jagers, recently released from a Colorado prison, and Lincoln, an escapee, were found using Morris’s cards across multiple states. Lincoln’s fingerprints were discovered on Morris’s cards and inside his truck.

Despite evidence implicating Lincoln, the investigation primarily focused on Jagers. In 1983, Jagers claimed knowledge of Morris’s demise and the whereabouts of his body, but no agreement was reached. In 2013, Jagers faced charges related to the case, which were later reduced to misdemeanor larceny. Jagers passed away in 2014 without facing formal charges in connection to Morris’s disappearance. Meanwhile, Morris remains missing, becoming the earliest entry in Wyoming’s missing persons database, established in 1974.[2]

8 Daniel Lynn Campbell

Daniel Lynn Campbell, a resident of Sweet Grass County, Montana, was dropped off by his girlfriend at the Hellroaring Creek trailhead in Yellowstone National Park on April 6, 1991. His plan was to hike to Jardine, Montana, with the intention of retrieving illegally collected elk antlers before reuniting with his girlfriend. However, Campbell never reached his intended destination and has been missing ever since.

Despite an initial search conducted shortly after his disappearance, no clues regarding Campbell’s whereabouts were uncovered. Authorities initially speculated that he may have either been murdered or staged his own death to escape financial troubles.
However, disputes arose regarding Campbell’s motives. Authorities refuted claims that he vanished to evade financial issues, pointing to an impending legal settlement. Instead, they suspected foul play, potentially linked to disputes over the illegal elk antlers.

In 2000, Campbell’s brothers took legal action against the Park County Sheriff, alleging mishandling of the investigation. They sought $100,000 for each of Campbell’s surviving brothers, citing associated hardships, punitive damages, and legal fees. They argued that had the investigation been conducted properly, Campbell’s remains would have been discovered. One of the critical errors made by the Sheriff included the premature return of confiscated camping gear to local horn hunters without proper forensic testing.[3]

7 Luke Adam Sanburg

Luke Adam Sanburg was last seen on June 24, 2005, in Yellowstone National Park, six miles north of Gardiner, Montana, where he was camping with his Boy Scout troop. Described as a white male with brown hair and hazel eyes, Luke stood 5’6″ (1.6 meters) tall and weighed 110 pounds (50 kilograms).

Tragically, Luke fell into the fast-moving Yellowstone River while assisting with pushing logs and was swept away by rapids. The search for Luke was scaled back as the hope of finding him alive faded, with Luke’s family coming to terms with the likelihood that he would not survive. Tennis shoes believed to belong to Luke were found in the river over the weekend, 5 miles ((8 kilometers) downstream from where he fell in. This grim discovery, coupled with the lack of any other clothing, added to the family’s acceptance of his tragic fate.

Luke’s disappearance occurred amid a series of other incidents in Yellowstone National Park, including the disappearance of a park employee, Joseph R. Miller, 59, from Seattle, who went missing while canoeing in Lewis Lake, and Candace May Kellie, 19, from Belgrade, Montana, whose vehicle plunged into the river. These events stretched park resources thin, with crews utilizing sonar and deep-water cameras to aid in the search efforts.[4]

6 Bruce Parker Pike

Bruce Parker Pike was last seen on August 2, 2006, at a campground on Indian Creek, located in the Wyoming section of Yellowstone National Park. After his disappearance, Pike was never heard from again, and his vehicle was later discovered abandoned in the park.

Indian Creek, where Pike was last seen, has a history of bear activity, both black bears and grizzlies. Incidents involving bears have led to temporary closures of the campground in the past. For example, in July 1986, the campground was closed due to a bear encounter where a hiker was injured by a female grizzly and her cub. The presence of bears in the area poses a potential hazard, especially considering the rugged wilderness of Yellowstone.

Additionally, in 2019, there were reports of black bear incidents in the park, including one where a bear bit a woman in her tent and another where campers left food unattended, leading to property damage and aggressive behavior from the bear. These incidents highlight the ongoing challenges faced by park officials in managing bear encounters and ensuring visitor safety.

While the exact circumstances surrounding Pike’s disappearance remain unclear, the history of bear activity in the area suggests that it could have played a role.[5]

5 Nicholas Jeffrey Mostert

Nicholas Jeffrey Mostert was last seen on June 16, 2009, when he leaped from one of Yellowstone National Park’s observation decks into the Yellowstone River. At the time, the river was swollen, with around 6,000 cubic feet ((1,700 cubic meters) of water per second flowing into it from the falls of Yellowstone Lake. Mostert was swept over the 308-foot (94-meter) Lower Falls and disappeared.

Park officials identified Mostert as the individual who jumped into the river, indicating that it was likely a deliberate act of suicide. Witnesses reported seeing him leap from an observation platform at the brink of the Lower Falls and being swept over the waterfall into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Search efforts were immediately launched, with searchers rappelling to the bottom of the canyon and recovering some of Mostert’s clothing in an eddy about a quarter mile downstream from the base of the falls. Despite extensive search operations, Mostert’s body was not recovered.[6]

4 Mike Petersen

Mike Petersen, a resident of Bismarck, North Dakota, was reported missing on June 4, 2017. After an exhaustive search by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, Petersen’s body was discovered on the morning of June 6, 2017, approximately a quarter mile south of the confluence of Beaver and West Fork Creeks.

Petersen, an experienced backpacker familiar with the area, had embarked on his hike equipped with survival gear. Despite extensive search efforts involving air and ground teams, his body was found near Beaver Creek. Subsequently, the cause of death was determined to be drowning.

This tragic incident underscores the significance of exercising caution, especially around water bodies, particularly during periods of high water levels.[7]

3 Brandon Steel-Rowe Fitch

Brandon Steel-Rowe Fitch was last seen in the early hours of June 16, 2018, in Reed Point, Montana. According to friends who were with him, he fell off the Reed Point Bridge into the Yellowstone River. The river was running very high at the time, and Fitch disappeared into the water. He is presumed to have drowned, but his body has never been found.

Despite prompt 911 notification by a witness, Fitch’s body swiftly vanished in the high-running waters, leading authorities to presume drowning with no suspicion of foul play. Search efforts employing jet skis, boats, and drones failed to locate Fitch’s body, hindered by high water levels and debris, prompting temporary suspension.

His parents remain uncertain about the circumstances—whether he fell, jumped, or was pushed—leaving Brandon’s fate unresolved as his body remains unrecovered. Brandon, aged 20 at the time of his disappearance, stood 5’9″ (1.76 meters) tall and weighed 170 pounds (77 kilograms). He was possibly wearing green Wrangler Ripstop pants, Under Armour underwear, Perfect Fit boot socks, and a belt buckle.

Fitch had distinguishing tattoos, including the initials “KV” on his wrist, a large owl on his left arm at the shoulder, and a Bible verse reading “I can do all things through him who gives me strength 4:13” on his left forearm. His parents spoke out, expressing their love for their son and their hope for his safe return.[8]

2 Randall Scott Crawford

On August 8, 2021, Randall Scott Crawford fell into the Yellowstone River while attempting to secure a raft, ultimately swept away by the current near the park’s Bratten fishing access site. The accident database report indicates that Crawford was not wearing a personal flotation device at the time of the incident.

The Sweet Grass County Sheriff noted the challenges faced by search teams, including Crawford’s friends and family, due to the river’s clarity and windy conditions hindering air support. The search effort was bolstered by the Gallatin, Stillwater, and Yellowstone County sheriff’s offices, covering approximately 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) along the Yellowstone River from the Bratten fishing access site to Reed Point. The body of the victim, identified as Randall Crawford of Park City, MT, was recovered near the Indian Fort campground north of Reed Point on August 13, 2021.[9]

1 Il Hun Ro

In the wake of the chilling discovery of a human foot adrift in a Yellowstone National Park hot spring, investigators delved into the enigmatic life of the man behind the grisly incident. Il Hun Ro, a 70-year-old from Los Angeles, a man who met his tragic end on August 16, 2022, was later determined to be the owner of the foot.
Despite exhaustive searches yielding no significant human remains beyond the macabre foot, geologists uncovered eerie fatty deposits surfacing over time, casting a foreboding shadow over the tranquil landscape.

Through the precision of DNA analysis, investigators have pieced together the identity of the victim, piecing together fragments of a life lost in the wilderness. Ro’s final moments, shrouded in mystery, were determined to have unfolded on the morning of July 31, a silent tragedy witnessed by no one.

In a poignant twist, investigators unearthed clues within Ro’s abandoned vehicle, a Kia Niro SUV, parked in the wilderness. Among his possessions lay a treasure trove of personal effects: a laptop, cherished photographs, park maps, and a wallet brimming with $447 in cash. Yet, it was the discovery of a small book of handwritten poems that offered a glimpse into Ro’s soul, a silent testament to his inner turmoil.

As park officials caution visitors to tread cautiously amid the thermal wonders of Yellowstone, Abyss Pool stands as a chilling reminder of nature’s unforgiving grasp. Its depths reach over 50 feet (15 meters), with temperatures soaring to a scalding 140°F (60°C).[10]

Comments are closed.