10 Tragic Disappearances and Deaths in Joshua Tree National Park

Nestled in southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park boasts a landscape of rugged beauty and a rich history. From its tumultuous origins among miners to the shadowy era of Charles Manson and the legendary tales of Gram Parsons, the park’s past is a captivating blend of allure and danger.

The park’s legacy also lingers in the unsettling stories of those who vanished within Joshua Tree National Park, some never to be seen again. This article delves into ten compelling accounts of individuals who mysteriously disappeared within the park’s boundaries.

Related: 10 Horrible Death Traps Across the Globe

10 Robert Dykins Cook

Robert Dykins Cook, a 41-year-old man from San Diego, was reported missing by his family on October 31, 1986. Joshua Tree Park rangers were alerted to his disappearance on November 8. Subsequently, on November 12, Cook’s body was discovered south of Sullivan Road and west of Adobe Road by a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s helicopter search team. Additional items believed to belong to Cook were found in the Morongo Basin area.

His death, attributed to gunshot wounds, was classified as suicide. Cook, a nuclear physicist and the head of safety and security for the Naval Ocean Systems Center (now known as the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific), held top-secret clearance at the time of his disappearance. The location is a U.S. Navy research, development, test, and evaluation center located in San Diego and plays a critical role in advancing the Navy’s technological capabilities. Officials, upon discovering Cook’s body, stated they did not suspect foul play.[1]

9 Michael John O’Conner

Michael John O’Conner, a 46-year-old Chrysler Corporation executive, was reported missing in Joshua Tree National Park on April 30, 2013, by his wife. After purchasing an entry pass to the park around noon that day at the Cottonwood Springs Visitor Center, O’Conner’s whereabouts remained uncertain.

Curiously, O’Conner’s vehicle was located on May 2, 2013, at a trailhead in the area. He was registered at the Erawan Gardens Hotel in Indian Wells for a Chrysler Corp. seminar and dinner. However, when he failed to return home on May 1, 2013, his wife grew worried and contacted law enforcement.

Search efforts involving several teams, including the California Rescue Dog Association scent dogs, a California Highway Patrol helicopter, a Riverside County Mountain Rescue Unity, and the Joshua Tree Search and Rescue Team, commenced but took several days to locate him.

Michael John O’Conner was discovered by Joshua Tree National Park rangers on May 5, 2013, deceased due to heart failure brought on by extreme weather conditions. After an autopsy, a Riverside County Coroner later stated that O’Conner died of an irregular heartbeat due to an enlarged heart. O’Conner was believed to have collapsed while hiking in the Cottonwood area.[2]

8 Joseph DiMento

On June 18, 1998, Joseph DiMento, a 60-something immigrant from Thailand and retired IBM repairman, left his Seal Beach, California, home following a fight with his wife. Taking only his driver’s license and $200 in cash, he embarked on what would become a mysterious journey. His wife, Uraiwan DiMento, grew concerned when she discovered Joseph’s wallet, containing credit and ATM cards, abandoned in the bushes in front of their house, prompting her to call the police. Seal Beach Detective Darrell Hardin, assigned to the case, initially speculated that DiMento may have chosen to start a new life elsewhere under a different identity.

In 1999, as Joseph’s whereabouts remained unknown, his wife began offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to his discovery. She described their relationship as one marked by stubbornness and prolonged periods of silence following disagreements. The catalyst for the argument leading up to Joseph’s disappearance was his desire to take one last hike to a riverbed after a camping trip in Joshua Tree National Park despite scorching 100-degree weather—a plan his wife opposed.

On October 28, 2002, a troop of Boy Scouts practicing land navigation stumbled upon human remains in the park. The discovery left park rangers puzzled, as there was no indication that DiMento had taken the family vehicle, and no abandoned vehicle was found in the park. Dental records later confirmed the skeletal remains belonged to DiMento.

Uraiwan DiMento was later reported as the main suspect in her husband’s slaying. She was advised by her lawyers not to speak to the media about the case. However, based on a search of California’s inmate records, it appears that she was not ultimately convicted of these charges.[3]

7 Eric Sears

Seventeen-year-old Eric Sears was last seen by a hiking companion, who reported him missing in July 2004 at the Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, approximately one mile ((1.6 kilometers) southwest of Twentynine Palms.

Initially, a group of around 100 National Park Service rescue team members and volunteers conducted an extensive search for Sears, utilizing foot patrols, horseback, four-wheel-drive vehicles, and helicopters. Despite locating some of Sears’s tracks and picking up his scent with bloodhounds in various locations, the rugged terrain, abundant with boulders and rocky formations, posed significant challenges to the search efforts. Riverside County Sheriff’s homicide investigators became involved, turning the scene into a criminal investigation.

Law enforcement subsequently obtained a warrant to search the home of Sears’s hiking companion, Ben Fogelstrom, after conducting interviews with over 30 witnesses. On July 23, 2004, a search party discovered Sears’s decomposed body approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the Jumbo Rocks campsite he shared with Fogelstrom.

In October 2004, law enforcement released an autopsy report detailing the findings regarding Sears’s death. Due to the condition of the remains, the precise cause of death remains undetermined. However, the report revealed the presence of two chemicals, atropine and scopolamine, toxins commonly found in jimson weed, in Eric’s brain tissue, confirming earlier suspicions.[4]

6 June Cox and Lucy Trichine

In May 1995, the disappearance of two Yucca Valley women, 66-year-old June Cox and 73-year-old Lucy Trichine, sparked concern when they failed to return home from a morning walk. Their vehicle was discovered several miles inside the main entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, prompting immediate search efforts.

A search and rescue team, including a canine unit, was deployed to locate Cox and Trichine. Cox’s husband filed a missing person’s report, noting that the women typically went for a walk around 7:30 am and would return by 9 am.

Of particular interest was Trichine’s connection to a highly publicized event involving threatening letters allegedly written by Dr. Carl Coppolino in 1962. These letters were aimed at coercing her departure from Riverview Hospital in Red Bank, New Jersey, where they both worked. Coppolino, who had served a 12-year prison sentence for murder and was paroled in April 1967, was presumably alive at the time of the two women’s disappearance.[5]

5 William Michael Ewasko

In June 2010, the disappearance of 65-year-old William Michael Ewasko during a hike in Joshua Tree National Park prompted an extensive search effort involving nearly 100 people. Ewasko was reported missing by his girlfriend after he failed to make contact following his solo hiking expedition the previous day.

Ewasko’s rented 2007 Chrysler Sebring was discovered on Keys View Road within the park. Despite an exhaustive 11-day search, he remained elusive. Initially, search teams focused their efforts on the Hayfield Lake area but later shifted to the Quail Mountain area after discovering Ewasko’s vehicle.

In 2022, hikers exploring Joshua Tree National Park stumbled upon Ewasko’s remains near the Panorama and Burro trails, close to the park’s entrance. His wallet, bearing his name, was also recovered near the remains. One of the most puzzling aspects of Ewasko’s case is the disparity between the location of his hike and the site of his discovery, which was approximately one mile from the main road and in a different area of the park.[6]

4 Nola Pauline Taylor

On September 8, 2014, Nola Pauline Taylor embarked on a journey from the Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree to her quilting classes at the Yucca Valley Community Center. However, she never reached her destination. Concerned for her well-being, Taylor’s son reported her missing, prompting a search by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

Four days later, on September 12, Taylor’s vehicle was discovered by authorities. It had become disabled while turning around on a private road within Joshua Tree National Park. Law enforcement immediately initiated a search operation, deploying patrol personnel, aircraft, bloodhounds, and search and rescue teams.

Tragically, Taylor’s remains were found on Sunday, September 21, 2014, in the desert, approximately one-half mile south of the intersection of Desert Quail Drive and Baseline Road. A subsequent investigation by law enforcement attributed Taylor’s death to her attempt to seek help after her vehicle became stuck.[7]

3 Henry Strange

The death of 54-year-old Henry Strange in 2018 sent shockwaves through Joshua Tree National Park. His remains were discovered on June 2, 2018, prompting an extensive investigation initially conducted by Joshua Tree Park rangers and later continued by Riverside County homicide detectives. Ultimately, the case was transferred to the Murrieta Police Department.

Following the discovery of Strange’s body, two individuals were arrested in connection with his murder. However, they were later released pending further review of the case.

Curtis Lee Krueger, a lieutenant with Combat Logistics Battalion 7 based in Twentynine Palms, California, was charged with Strange’s murder. Despite his distinguished Marine Corps career, Krueger pleaded not guilty to the charges. Authorities honed in on Krueger as a suspect after Stange’s body was found in a shallow grave within the park.

Court documents revealed chilling details of Stange’s demise. He suffered multiple skull fractures, and the coroner determined the cause of death to be homicidal violence. Evidence implicated Krueger and his girlfriend, Ashlie Stapp, in the murder.

Stange, who was divorced with two children, was known to be dating Stapp at the time of his death. Phone records showed Krueger and Stapp’s movements on the day of the murder, including a visit to Stange’s Murrieta home. Authorities believe Stange was killed in his garage before being buried in Joshua Tree National Park. A wiretap warrant captured conversations between Krueger and Stapp discussing Stange’s murder, leading to their arrest on August 29, 2018.[8]

2 Marty Kenney

The disappearance of 43-year-old Marty Kenney in Joshua Tree National Park on February 26, 2019, sparked concern among friends and authorities alike. Kenney was last heard from on that date. His whereabouts remained unknown until March 1, 2019, when friends discovered his vehicle in the Pine City backcountry board parking lot and promptly notified park rangers on February 28, 2019.

A search around Kenney’s campsite yielded the discovery of personal items, raising further alarm. Tragically, the following day, Kenney’s remains were found in the Pine City area of Joshua Tree Park. Despite extensive investigation efforts, including searches and inquiries, many details surrounding Kenney’s disappearance, including the cause of his death, remain shrouded in mystery.[9]

1 Trammell Evans

Trammell Evans, a 25-year-old avid hiker, was last seen embarking on a solo excursion in Joshua Tree National Park’s Black Rock Canyon Campground area on April 30, 2023. Concerns arose when Trammell failed to arrive at his planned destination, prompting a search on May 5, 2023.

On January 25, 2024, human skeletal remains were discovered by Joshua Tree Park staff in the area. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office and Coroner’s Bureau were called to the scene to investigate. Subsequently, on February 7, 2024, a group of park researchers found an unattended backpack off a trail in the Black Rock area. These remains were later confirmed to belong to Trammell. The cause of Trammell’s death was undetermined at the time.

Interestingly, following Trammell’s disappearance, his family initially believed he had simply relocated. However, a private investigator hired by the family reported sightings of Trammell in Slab City near the Salton Sea and Wonder Valley. It was later revealed that Trammell had passed away due to complications related to alcohol withdrawal.[10]

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