I love a mystery. I was raised on them, spending rainy school nights watching Poirot with my father in my childhood home in Mill Valley. We’d discuss the case, him smoking his pipe, me in footed pajamas and quite frankly, growing up to become a gay, Belgian detective seemed like an attractive option throughout my youth.
Marin is a relatively small place. Anyone going missing is a pretty big deal. And unlike most parts of the county that are overrun with designer moms pushing designer strollers in designer fleece, West Marin is still home to old timey locals in mud-covered Wellies, reading the local paper and discussing migratory patters.
At least that’s how I view it. It almost feels like rural England, and I love it out there.
Early last month, a 37-year old Alameda woman named Katherine Truitt was last seen hiking around McClure’s Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. The local authorities, who incidentally have a fantastic reputation, chalked her disappearance up to a rogue wave. Weather’s been bad, the surf’s really dangerous. Sad as they are, these things happen.
disappeared while walking her dogs. Last seen at the Point Reyes Visitor Center at 11am, one of her dogs was found with his leash caught on the rocks at the North Beach Parking Lot at 12:30pm. 2 more dogs were found in her car.Last Sunday, 77-year old Silvia Lange of Nicaso
Again, authorities are suggesting she fell into the ocean’s clutches somehow.
That’s 2 women in 2 weeks.
My folks and I discussed this over dinner. Weird, we thought. But without any kind of statistics on how often people fall into the ocean at Point Reyes, we figured it must be the storms. Maybe it’s just incredibly dangerous there. Odd, really, that I’ve been to Point Reyes on dozens of field trips, explored the Miwok village and walked the Earthquake Trail. Who knew the whole place was a casually regarded death trap.
Last week, my father forwarded on a Press Democrat news article that hadn’t yet trickled down south to the big city.
A 34-year old woman named Erica Shane from Glen Ellen was found dead in Cazadero Creek on Tuesday. Her car, parked “unusually” was found 200 yards away and no cause of death was given.
I looked up Cazadero Creek on the map. It’s a hell of a long way from Glen Ellen. And it’s 60 miles north of Point Reyes. But on the same road. Seriously.
My father and I were thinking the same thing.
It’s important to note a piece of Point Reyes history. In November of 1980, 4 bodies were found on the same day. 2 pairs, one couple and a pair of female hikers were killed 6 weeks apart, and the murders turned out to be the work of David Carpenter, aka: The Trailside Killer. Carpenter killed people in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Point Reyes National Seashore and Mount Tamalpais State Park, the same mountain on which I was watching those episodes of Poirot. David Carpenter is currently 79 years old, on Death Row in San Quentin and still looks pretty goddamn creepy.
The point I’m getting at is, could there be a serial killer working the same area? 3 perfectly healthy, happy women are GONE, 2 missing and 1 in a creek.
SFist editor and my very good friend, Brock Keeling and I drove up to Point Reyes yesterday to look around, see what the locals had to say and check out these rogue waves.
We whizzed across the Golden Gate Bridge and passed San Quentin before heading west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The scenery gets pretty rural pretty fast, at least by my Starbucks standards, and a little over an hour from the city, pulled into the Point Reyes National Seashore Visitor Center Parking Lot. We hopped out of the car, ready to begin our investigation and check out the fungus fair, which happened to be going on and where Brock hoped to find a rich stew. He’d already planned his interview questions. “I just love these criminis. So what’s up with the missing hikers?”
But 10 feet from the car, right by the big “YOU ARE HERE” map of Point Reyes, was a missing poster for Katherine Truitt. Seeing it kind of jolted us back to somber reality. We quietly headed into the visitor’s center and grabbed a map, noting that this was the last place Silvia Lange bought a book at 11am exactly a week before.
Brock and I decided to head out to North Beach, where Lange’s car and dogs were found.
We stopped in Inverness and bought some jerky, asking the clerk if the town was a’buzz with the mystery of the missing women.
“Oh yeah.” He said, bagging our Diet Coke. “Everyone’s talking about it.”
Outside, another missing poster, this time one for Silvia Lange.
Parking at North Beach, Brock and I looked around. I guess we were expecting treacherous cliffs where one misstep could land someone in the water. But it’s a beach, just a regular, foggy, NorCal beach with bathrooms, warning signs and now, missing posters.
But head over a bluff, walk behind the bathrooms and you’re suddenly alone. It was spooky and Brock and I both got the creeps. Heading back to the car we noticed a man sitting in his Mercedes alone, drinking from a paper bag and staring at the ocean.
Mercedes became our first person of interest and we have his license plate number. I’ll admit, we need to work on our subtlety. Brock and I trying to take an iPhoto of this guys’ car had a Jack and Karen element to it we should have done without.
We decided to head out to the lighthouse, but found the road closed and a Park Ranger standing there, pointing at a detour. Apparently, it’s the beginning of tourist season out in Point Reyes, what with the whales leaping out of the water on their trip down south and wildflowers on their way. If we wanted to go to the lighthouse, we’d have to park and take a shuttle down there. With 800-900 cars a day, the lighthouse parking lot couldn’t handle the traffic, he explained.
“Oh, makes sense.” We said. “Hey, what do you think about the missing women?”
The Park Ranger, or as we now call him, Brock’s boyfriend, said several interesting things.
Basically, he thinks that Katherine Truitt, the woman who went missing from McClure’s Beach was “unprepared and caught in high tide.” But Silvia Lange was a former park worker. He mentioned this at least twice and it was clear he identified with her. She was used to Point Reyes and despite her age, in great shape. She knew what she was doing and as we saw, North Beach is just a plain old, seemingly harmless beach.
“She just vanished.” He said. “It’s really weird.”
But then, he offered, why would anyone kidnap her? She was 77 and she didn’t have a ton of money.
This isn’t Honduras. If she was kidnapped, she was grabbed by a nut. Why is no one considering this!?!? Looking around, a creepy guy seems a lot more likely than a rogue wave.
Before we drove off, the ranger did point out that “they usually wash up by now.” And he advised us that when visiting Point Reyes, “Come in numbers.”
Heading up to McClure’s Beach in the north end of the park, we passed a huge oil truck that had been run off the road. Stuck in the mud, the driver told us that a car had come barreling down the road in the opposite direction and he’d swerved to avoid a head-on collision. After checking that he was okay and help was on the way, Brock and I ventured onward.
“I was thinking the same thing.”
We drove mostly in silence, gazing at the scenery and thinking about those missing women. It was all very Stand By Me. Passing Tomales Bay, Brock asked if anyone had dragged it. Seems like a good question to me, but again, it feels like the local authorities seem convinced the Pacific is to blame. I don’t know that the search parties are looking anywhere else.
We also passed several ranches, which we started calling the Alphabet Ranches. They were all named “B Ranch” and “D Ranch.” Some of them were obviously in use, in fact one seemed part of Clover Stornetta Dairy Farms, but others looked like abandoned buildings. Open doors swung back and forth in the breeze. Someone could wander around in there, undetected for ages.
By the time we made out way to McClure’s Beach, it was 4pm. It was getting a little dark.
The parking lot where Katherine Truitt’s car was found was tiny. It was very different from the popular North Beach lot. To get to McClure’s, one needs to walk down a little winding trail through a narrow, isolated valley. Brock and I started down the trail but after that first bend, we suddenly felt very alone in the middle of nowhere.
“Someone’s coming up the trail!” Brock hissed.
You could kind of see through the bush, but it was basically that scene from Zodiac where the couple are having a picnic at Lake Berryessa and Zodiac appears in a mask from behind a tree. That’s all I could see, some dude in a mask pointing a gun at us and telling Brock and I to remain calm while he tied our hands and pulled us off the path into the untamed wilderness.
It was a fisherman, by the way, the man coming up the path. But we were scared, truly frightened at how isolated we were. A month ago, wandering down there would have seemed like no big deal. Yesterday, I’d have rather strolled down a Tenderloin alley at 3am than braved the trail at McClure’s Beach.
Brock and I called it a day and headed into Point Reyes Station, the little village with a population of 350. We took a seat at the bar of the Old Western Saloon, a watering hole right out of a movie, and over drinks asked the bartender what she thought of the recent mysteries.
The town was definitely talking about it, she said. But with the storms, the rough surf, who knows. “Maybe she was trying to get the dogs in the car and one ran back onto the beach.”
It was dark before we headed back to the city, and I think I can speak for both of us when I say that our day in Point Reyes was a pretty intense experience. I’m more convinced now than I was before that something is up.
And as much as I love a mystery, I really wish I could convince myself this is all accidental.
These ladies seem like nice, normal, interesting women. But looking at those parking lots and those beaches, talking to the ranger, seeing for ourselves just how isolated the whole park is, I can’t help but wonder.