Mysterious Disappearances in US National Parks Remain Unexplained

Aerial top view of summer green trees in forest in rural Finland. Drone photography

There are a startling number of mysterious disappearances in certain hotspots around the U.S., particularly those within national parks. Despite this recurring theme, the National Park Service does not maintain a record of missing persons, leading one man to investigate further.

Since he retired from the San Jose, CA. Police Department, David Paulides has devoted his life to researching unsolved missing persons cases in a project he calls Missing 411. His efforts have yielded seven books worth of stories, a documentary, and a map of clustered disappearances throughout the U.S.

Though he remains hesitant to speculate what he believes may be behind the unexplained disappearances in national parks, Paulides says he thinks government agencies may be hiding information or denying the fact that there is something truly strange happening.

Strange Disappearances: New York to Sacramento

A few years ago, an unexplained disappearance in a national park made headlines when a man turned up on the other side of the country a week after he went missing, oblivious as to how he got there. Luckily, he came to, unscathed, but with a confusing chain of events that brought him from upstate New York to northern California.

Danny Filippidis, a 49-year-old Toronto Fire Department captain, was on an annual ski trip with his colleagues in Lake Placid, New York. After a day of skiing at Whiteface Mountain, Filippidis told his friends he was going to take one last run and meet them at the bottom.

But it soon became apparent that Filippidis disappeared, despite his shoes and clothes remaining in the lodge, and his car in the parking lot. Unable to contact his cell phone, friends and family reported him missing to the police, instigating a search party to comb the mountain and surrounding area for the next six days.

After 7,000 man hours of helicopter search and rescue, snowmobiles scouring the mountain, and volunteers digging through snow, Filippidis turned up in Sacramento, 2,900 miles away and unaware of how he got there, aside from vague memories of sleeping in a “big-rig truck.” He was still wearing the same ski outfit, including his helmet and goggles. In that time, he had purchased a cell phone and got a haircut.

Filippidis went missing from the Adirondack Park, one of 30 hotspots for strange disappearances identified by Paulides. In those hotspots, many are state or nationally protected parks where people recurrently vanish under dubious circumstances.

Making note of this some years ago, Paulides filed a FOIA request against the National Parks Service, asking for a list of missing persons throughout all national parks in the country. He was aware that the park service has a federally trained law enforcement branch familiar with the standard protocols of any police agency, meaning they should have records of missing persons within their jurisdiction.

Despite not needing to provide a motive for a FOIA request, Paulides was questioned by an attorney for the Parks Service as to why he was interested in obtaining a missing persons record. He was told he would get the information regardless, but that they just wanted to know why.

But when he said he was just doing research, he was told no such record existed. When he pushed back, asking what it would take to obtain such a list, he was told he would need to pay $1.4 million dollars for a comprehensive national list, or $34,000 for Yosemite alone.

Deeper Investigation of Unsolved Disappearances

Paulides’ interest in the subject was initially sparked by a conversation he says he had with two off-duty park rangers. The rangers told him there was a multitude of uncanny disappearances in national parks, implying that the park service was covering up its inability to explain them, or not devoting an appropriate amount of energy investigating them.

The rangers told him of some eerie circumstances surrounding the disappearances, including the recurring discovery of the neatly placed clothes of those who went missing.

“The ranger described to me, if you were standing straight up and you just had your pants on and you melted directly into your pants… that’s what it looked like to him. The pants were laying on the ground in a very neat pile,” Paulides said.

Since then, Paulides has written seven books in his Missing 411 series, that detail unusual disappearances. These cases often involve young children vanishing within short periods; out-of-character disappearances; and ostensibly paranormal scenarios. The Missing 411 phenomenon has become so popular it has its own 14,000-member subreddit – an online forum where people discuss different cases, share their personal experiences, and debate the validity of various theories.

As for the case of Danny Filippidis, it may have simply been a concussion, resulting in an unintentional cross-country hitchhiking trip, before he woke from a state of delirium. A somewhat “normal” explanation, but a bizarre one nonetheless. But Paulides says there are quite a few cases like these in the Adirondacks, with less clear circumstances, and fewer happy endings.

And the Adirondacks is just one park of many in the country that have similar disappearance histories. One of the strangest stories that is often brought up in this context is of the disappearance of Dennis Martin in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

On June 14, 1969, Martin was out with his family playing in Spence Field, a mountain meadow on the Appalachian Trail between North Carolina and Tennessee. While playing with his 9-year-old brother, another family came along, asking if their boys could play with the Martins. Oddly, that family said their last name was also Martin.

While both the Martin families’ kids played hide and seek, Dennis’ father watched his son, until he hid in the bushes for a few minutes. Little did he know that would be the last time he would see his son.

According to Paulides, another man, Harold Key and his family, were hiking in the area around the same time, 4:30 pm, when they heard a loud, sickening scream. His son pointed out to his father that he thought he saw a bear running through the woods, but his father said the figure looked more like a large, rugged man trying to remain hidden in the brush.

Upon hearing about Dennis Martin’s disappearance the following day, Key reported his family’s sighting of an “unkempt” man running in the woods, though the FBI dismissed it saying he was too far away to draw a connection.

Eventually the Army’s Green Berets were brought in to comb the area, finding no evidence of the boy. But Paulides’ said there was something strange about their search efforts. They acted autonomously, not conferring with the FBI or local law enforcement, and were heavily armed, as if expecting a serious confrontation. But they found nothing.


Decades passed and the Martin’s stopped speaking to the public about their son’s disappearance, until Paulides made a cold call to their door one day; the same place they had lived since Dennis’ vanishing. At first, Martin wouldn’t speak about it, but Paulides convinced him to, telling him he had dedicated his life to studying myriad cases like Dennis’.

Martin told Paulides the local news agencies didn’t report a significant fact Key told the FBI – that the figure he saw running through the woods that day had something slung over its shoulder. He also brought up the fact that there have been 12 other disappearances in that area since his son’s, with a single FBI agent assigned to them all. Until that agent committed suicide one day, for unknown reasons.

Paulides filed a FOIA request to acquire any information he could on that agent’s investigation, which he eventually obtained. Within those files was a complete lack of any mention of the Key family’s sighting; a bizarre omission to say the least.

According to Paulides, the National Park Service is aware of “wild men” who live off the grid in the woods of Appalachia and other forests around the country. These “wild” people clothe themselves in animal pelts, hence the boy’s confusion of seeing a bear.

Similar accounts have been reported in places like Louisiana where a hunter once encountered what he referred to as a feral human. He believed these wild humans may be misconstrued as the mythological bigfoot – a cryptid that Paulides just happens to have devoted a significant amount of time researching.

Reports of encounters with the homeless or transients on the Appalachian Trail aren’t uncommon either, though typically they’re benign meetings. Conditions are so inhospitable there that vagrants are usually just looking for food or a warm place to sleep.

Unfortunately, the Dennis Martin case will likely remain unsolved, in addition to countless others Paulides has so tirelessly documented. Could there be any validity to the assertion that wild or feral humans inhabit these forests, abducting people for unknown reasons? Or is it simply an urban legend told around the campfire to scare the unwitting?

In either case, the abductions are real and Paulides seems to believe a cover-up of some sort is being carried out by the National Parks Service and other government agencies involved. In the meantime, he continues to document them, hoping to one day help at least one family that has fallen victim to these secret vanishings in national parks.

Related Articles

Never miss a metaphysical beat.

We’ll send you our best articles, free videos & exclusive offers, every week.

Subscribe for free