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10 Mysterious Missing Persons Cases Around Shenandoah National Park

by Blake Lynch
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

At a staggering 200,000 acres (80,937 hectares), Shenandoah National Park in central and southern Virginia offers steep mountains that rise approximately 3,000 feet (914 meters). While the park appears subdued at first glance, it has the potential to be a place full of staggering peaks, deep gorges, wild rivers, and unexpected waterfalls. Cutting through the park is Skyline Drive, a road running north to south. Yet, beneath these natural sights, there’s also a dark underbelly where people routinely go missing. Sometimes for weeks on end, sometimes forever.

Since the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916, over 1,000 people have disappeared on its grounds. At least a handful of these disappearances occurred at Shenandoah National Park. What happens to the missing remains uncertain. Stories about cryptids in the Shenandoah Mountains of the the Appalachians abound. Other times, people pass away from extreme weather, great falls, or other interactions with the wild. Occasionally, people simply vanish into the Shenandoah National Park without a trace. While some are luckily found days or weeks later, some never are.

Related: 10 Missing Persons Cases With Strange Sightings

10 M.N.

In 1987, a 200-volunteer search commenced for a Shenandoah National Park ranger who went missing. M.N. was reported to be a great hiker and had hiked nearly the whole 2,910+ miles (4,683+ kilometers) of the Appalachian Trail. He was discovered missing after failing to show up for work two days in a row.

In M.N.’s journal, he said he was severely depressed. His family and friends also revealed M.N. had a history of depression. Strangely, though, suicide was not mentioned in his journal. Days later, searchers discovered M.N.’s pack and some personal belongings, including clothing, a walking stick, a canteen, empty drug containers, and running shoes. Neither drug was dangerous by itself but could cause hallucinations if taken together in large amounts.

After finding nothing, the search was scaled down to 50 people. Days later, a father and son saw M.N. on a trail hiking in his socks, heading south. The search grew again to 280 volunteers, who found no new clues. After things went cold again, M.N.’s backpack, boots, pants, and a stick with his initials were found. Several additional searches failed to gather evidence. One witness claimed to see a man resembling M.N. wandering on U.S. 250 close to Waynesboro. M.N. hid after being spotted by this witness. Unfortunately, M.N. has never been found. [1]

9 Henson Airlines Passengers

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A Henson Airlines commuter plane carrying 14 individuals in September 1985 was headed out of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport to a Shenandoah Valley Airport when it crashed in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Rescue workers reported discovering no survivors. The peaks of the Shenandoah Mountains at the time of the crash were shrouded in dense fog, and the plane’s electronic guidance beam was improperly working.

The pilots radioed airline workers that the plane would be minutes late. The aircraft then disappeared from the radar 15 minutes after it was due at the Shenandoah Valley Airport, which is 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Shenandoah Park. Henson workers initially thought it was routine when the plane disappeared from monitors because this often happens when planes dip below the Blue Ridge. After the plane did not reappear, though, workers started to worry about the plane’s condition.

At the time, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) permitted planes to land at Shenandoah if the pilot spotted Shenandoah Valley airport from a half mile away. If the pilot did not see the airport from this distance, the pilot was required to abort the landing and turn around. The plane is believed to have crashed atop wooded mountains to the west of Skyline Drive. Rescuers never found any of the passengers.[2]

8 Donald “Donny” Wentz

A young boy named Donny Wentz became separated from his church group in 1992 during an outing to the park. When Wentz became lost, he was wearing only a light jacket over a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt. He survived for two days in the harsh environment and frigid temperatures by sleeping under leaves and eating Butterfingers.

Elderly hikers who didn’t know he was lost even offered him a sandwich. Rangers were worried because Wentz lacked hiking experience, but Donny hiked during the day and slept below rock overhangs at night covered in leaves and sticks. Donny even reported waving at a helicopter that did not see him through the thick foliage.

Wentz finally encountered a park ranger and told the man that he was tired, cold, and worried about missing wrestling practice. The ranger soon put Donny in a park vehicle with the heat on. Following a quick medical examination by a paramedic, then a more detailed one at the University of Virginia, Donny was revealed to be in perfect health except for a cut on his knees, scrapes to his legs, and very minor hypothermia.

Wentz also complained his neck and back were stiff. Donny later told the park rangers that he had gotten lost while trying to beat his friends to the parking lot. After hiking a more than seven-mile route, Donny’s group lost sight of him.[3]

7 David Wayne Harting

In September 2017, Shenandoah National Park issued a Tweet that park trails were temporarily closed due to a search for a 62-year-old man, David Wayne Harting. The issued report stated that Haring had gray hair and brown eyes and drove a Dodge Dakota pickup with Virginia tags. The truck also had a dent on its rear passenger side. Even though many photos of Harting depicted him with a full beard, authorities noted he might be shaven.

Harting initially went missing on August 25, 2017, from Front Royal, Virginia, which is less than two miles from Shenandoah National Park. Given that Harting had glaucoma in one of his eyes and required medication for this condition, he had been labeled “endangered missing.” The case remains active, and Harting is still missing somewhere, most likely in the Shenandoah Mountains.[4]

6 A Father and Sons from Baltimore

In August 1962, a father and his two sons from Baltimore, Maryland, became lost in the Lewis Mountain campground area of Shenandoah National Park. Located at mile 57.5, Lewis Mountain is the smallest campground at the park and is an attractive option to people who want privacy while remaining close to the park’s popular destinations.

After learning the father and sons were lost, park rangers immediately formed a search party and spent an evening looking for them. The next morning, a bloodhound was brought in to help find the missing family.

The bloodhound was soon taken to Lewis Mountain, where it picked up the scent of clothing from the father and started following a trail. The dog tracked the family two miles and then began to approach a field, which turned out to be where the father and sons were located. It remains unclear exactly why the father and sons got lost, but inexperience is one of the most common reasons why people get lost while hiking.[5]

5 Robert “Bobby” Ray Fitzgerald

Bobby Fitzgerald went missing on November 12, 2012, from Staunton, Virginia, which is less than 17 miles from Shenandoah National Park. Bobby went on a three-mile hike on Shenandoah Mountain the day before when he lost his cell phone and shirt. The day Bobby went missing, he is believed to have returned to the mountain in search of his phone on the Confederate Breastworks Trail, a popular half-mile (0.8-kilometer) trail along the top of the Shenandoah Mountains.

Bobby has never been heard from again. An exhaustive search of the area found no signs of him. A hiker, however, later found Bobby’s phone. Bobby’s car was also found at the trailhead containing a trail pack. Fitzgerald is an experienced hiker and might be okay weathering the elements. Fitzgerald marks the first missing person in Augusta County in more than four decades where neither the person nor body was located. His case remains unsolved.[6]

4 Michael Hugh Camilletti

Camilletti was last seen on May 22, 2014, at his home in Stanardsville, Virginia, which is eight miles from Shenandoah National Park. A retired Army veteran, Camiletti was reported missing on June 12, 2014.

A week later, the West Virginia State Police found Camiletti’s vehicle parked off West Virginia’s Williams River Road, which is 160 miles (257.5 kilometers) from Shenandoah National Park. A note on Camiletti’s windshield stated that he was starting a hike on the North-South Trail in the Monongahela National Forest and planned to be back in four days. Camilletti was never seen again.

Given Camillet’s Army and hiking experience, it’s possible that Camiletti changed his mind and decided to hike back to Stanardsville. This could very well mean that Camilletti is currently missing somewhere in Shenandoah National Park.[7]

3 Quinn Renard Woodfolk

Eleven-year-old Quinn Woodfolk went missing from Charlottesville in 1998. Quinn was last seen at Charlottesville’s Friendship Court Apartments, where he was home alone. When Quinn’s father returned home, Quinn was gone. The boy is believed to have left under his own will rather than being kidnapped. Authorities believe that Quinn may very well still be in the Charlottesville area, which is 23 miles from Shenandoah National Park.

The Center for Missing Children has commented that few details exist concerning this case. The organization collected DNA from several of Quinn’s family members in the hopes of identifying Quinn’s body if it is ever discovered. While Quinn would be 34 years old if he was alive today, the strong possibility exists that he sought refuge at Shenandoah National Park and might still be there.[8]

2 Earl Funk

Ginseng hunter and experienced hiker Earl Funk lived in Staunton, Virginia, and went missing in Shenandoah in 2008 despite living in a cabin close to the park and knowing the area well. During the twelve-day search for his body, several items were found, including Funk’s hat, machete, a boot, cigarettes, and a tent stake used for digging. Funk’s ATV was also found.

Even though Funk went missing in early October, the weather was especially cool for that time of year, and the temperature dropped to nearly 40°F (4.4°C). Funk ultimately succumbed to environmental exposure. A hundred and fifty people helped in the search and later found Earl Funk’s body at the bottom of a 100-foot (30.5-meter) rock face in the Cedar Mountain part of Browns Cove. It was later revealed that Funk had an undisclosed medical condition that impaired his ability.

Many have disputed the proposed narrative about how Funk died, including David Paulides, the author of the non-fiction Missing 411 series about people who go missing in National Parks. Paulides also argues that Funk was not conscious when he went missing and was carried into the woods by something. There is also no known additional evidence to support either of these claims.[9]

1 Melissa Torgenson Robbins

Melissa Robbins went missing on July 1, 2016, in Waynesboro, Virginia, less than five miles from Shenandoah National Park, and was never heard from again. After not hearing from her for six weeks, Melissa’s sister, who lived in California, contacted Virginia police. Foul play, police have commented, is not suspected, but the amount of time Melissa has been missing is alarming. Little to no developments have occurred in her case since 2016. Several months after she went missing, Melissa’s family members noted that they still had not talked to her.

While police stated that Melissa drove a gray 2013 Honda with a Virginia plate, she might very well have ended up in Shenandoah National Park and gotten lost while hiking or experienced something else while in the park. In the days following Melissa’s disappearance, the weather in the area was in the 80s F (high 20s C), suggesting she might have wandered into the woods and passed out from heat exhaustion.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen