In the middle of an April night, 22 year-old cyclist Jacob Gray left his grandmother’s house with his camping gear and headed for Olympic National Park. In this landscape of towering spruce and hemlock, mountains and water, park rangers found Jacob’s bike, some gear and, curiously, four arrows stuck in the ground. What they didn’t find was Jacob. He had vanished.
People who go missing in the wild, and there are an unnerving number of them, are the subject of Jon Billman’s fascinating and disturbing book Cold Vanish. In the months-long search for Jacob Gray, the family hiked numerous trails, swam the rivers, tacked up dozens of “Missing” flyers and followed any clue – from cadaver dogs hitting on scents to psychics saying they sensed Jacob by water. Yet still there was no sign of him.
The search for Jacob Gray is threaded throughout Cold Vanish, but Billman references many other cases of runners and hikers, cyclists and tourists, who simply vanished from trails, campsites and national parks. Hypothermia and accidents, of course, took their toll, as did murder and suicide. However, for other disappearances there was no logical explanation. That’s where things get sticky, or interesting, depending on your point of view, because Billman does dip a toe in the paranormal realm of Bigfoot and portals to the ancients.
Take a search for a missing young man, add in some outdoor adventure, mix in some true crime, splash a bit of paranormal speculation and a sprinkle of religious cults – a little something for everyone! – and you’ve got Cold Vanish.