Saturday, April 5, 2014

THE CURIOUS REAPPEARANCE OF CRISTOBAL FLORES

    In 2002, skeletal remains were found in Boulder County Colorado. Initial characterization of those remains was consistent with a young adult male, perhaps 17-20 years old at the time of death.  Those remains have recently been identified by DNA testing as Cristobal James Flores (Longmont Colo Times-Call March 26, 2014)

     Young Mr. Flores had gone missing from his family's home in Aurora (eastern suburban Denver area) way back in September 2001. There is not a lot of information about his disappearance, but his curious "reappearance" thirteen years later via DNA has some interesting aspects.

     How do investigators identify a particular set of remains as being a particular individual? This field is sort of a merger between pathology and anthropology, under the rubric of forensics.  I would say that the distinction between a forensic pathologist and a forensic anthropologist is mainly a matter of how long the victim has been dead.
Here is a nice elementary review related to identification of MIAs from the Vietnam War.  Here is an example of the steps taken to identify remains in a general investigation.


So what can we determine about a set of skeletal remains?

1. SPECIES: 
Skeletal remains can range from a single small bone fragment to nearly complete skeletons. Initial forensic analysis focuses on identifying the remains as human or non-human. The more complete the remains, the easier it is to make this distinction.  Even with single bones however, both macroscopic and microscopic features can be analyzed to make this determination.  Although other large mammals such as elk or bear can have bones that are similar in size to a human, generally a determination can be made with confidence.
Here are some of the features used for macroscopic (anatomic) determination:
and here is an abstract link to a publication describing microscopic (histologic) determination.

2. CONTEXT:
The location where skeletal remains were found can be used to help make an identification, in a general sense.  Obviously, the likelihood of skeletal remains found relatively close to the last known location of the missing person will have a higher likelihood of being that person than remains found halfway around the world. Equally obviously, this does not prove identity. Items found in the vicinity of the remains (clothing, personal items, etc) can also give clues to the identity.

3. INDIVIDUAL CHARACTERISTICS:
 -SEX
 -RACE
 -AGE (at the time of death)
 -HEIGHT
 -WEIGHT
 -IDENTIFIABLE INJURIES OR PATHOLOGIES
While determination of individual characteristics does not allow specific identification of an individual, it can allow the forensic investigator to narrow the possibilities. If your missing elderly Aunt Edna was not 6'3" tall and male, she can be eliminated from consideration when the discovered remains have those characteristics.

4. SPECIFIC INDIVIDUAL IDENTIFICATION:
There are two main techniques utilized by forensic investigators to confirm an individual identity, dental comparison and DNA profiling. Both of these techniques require an unknown sample to be matched with a known sample.  In the case of dental records, this control sample is usually written dental records and previous X-rays, that can then be matched to specific findings in the teeth of the unidentified remains.
In the case of DNA testing, the control sample can be from the personal effects of the missing person (hair from a hairbrush, dried saliva from a toothbrush, etc.) or from first-degree blood relatives (parents, siblings, offspring). 

I will talk more about DNA testing on a future post.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

THE CURIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF JAMES MCGROGAN

UPDATE (4/5/2014)-  Missing Ind. hiker’s body found just 1.5 miles from the Booth Falls trailhead- (Glenwood Springs Post-Independent 4/4/2014).  Our condolences go out to the surviving family of Dr. James McGrogan, may he rest in peace.
 
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   Camp Hale, located near the town of Leadville, was built in 1941-42 and became the mountain home of the 10th Mountain Division and one of the key military training centers for mountain warfare. 

   Part of the visible legacy of the 10th Mountain Division is a series of mountain huts that provide visitors with a modicum of comfort in the remote high mountains. These huts are popular destinations for skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer.  Roughly four straight-line miles north of the town of Vail, Colorado sits the Eiseman Hut. Perched on a high mountain ridge more than 11,000 feet above sea level, the Eiseman Hut usually serves as a hub for back country skiing in the winters, and offers spectacular views of the high peaks of the central Rockie Mountains. 

MAP: Topographical map of the Vail to Eiseman Hut area.

MAP: 3D relief schematic of the Vail to Eiseman Hut area.

PHOTOS: Scenic views from the Eiseman Hut


   The terrain surrounding the Eiseman Hut is steep and rugged. The Hut itself, although only a few short miles from Interstate 70, is not easily accessible.

   On Friday, March 14, 2014 a hike to the Eiseman Hut developed into yet another curious disappearance in Colorado. Gleaned from multiple news reports and official sources I have pieced together a rough timeline of the events of that day.

   That morning at about 8:30 AM, Dr. James McGrogan, a 39-year-old emergency room physician from Indiana along with three hiking companions set out on the roughly 9 mile hike to the Eiseman Hut.  At about 10:00 AM, still roughly 5 miles from the hut, the group stopped to rest.  McGrogan, according to his companions, decided to hike on ahead of the party, and they expected to catch up with him along the way.  According to the Eagle County Sheriff's office McGrogan was well equipped, with
"...a large pack with food, water, basic medical supplies, a sleeping bag, avalanche beacon, GPS and warm clothing."

   McGrogan has not been seen since that parting of the ways.  When the rest of the group reached the Eiseman Hut it was late afternoon and there was no indication that McGrogan had reached the hut.  By 5:30 PM they had notified the Eagle Valley Sheriff's Department and a Search-and-Rescue operation was underway.  Over the next three days, teams of searchers on foot, snowmobile and helicopters from the National Guard's High Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS),  based in nearby Gypsum, Colorado scoured the vicinity.  McGrogan was not found.

   By Tuesday, March 18, 2014 another round of winter weather moved into the area, forcing suspension of the search efforts. There have been no public updates from the Sheriff's office since then and no updates in the local news media.

VIDEO: ABC News 7- Denver report from 3/18/2014
 
   There are two main routes from the Vail area to the Eiseman Hut.  One is via Spraddle Creek. A more westerly route is via Red Sandstone Creek.  It is not reported in the Sheriff's press release or in any of the subsequent news reports which of these two routes was taken by the group.

   Anyone with information that might help solve the curious disappearance of James McGrogan is encouraged to call the Eagle County Sheriff's Office at (970) 328-8500 or Eagle County Crime Stoppers at 970-328-7007, 1-800-972-TIPS, submit your tip online at www.tipsubmit.com, or text a tip from your cell phone by texting STOPCRIME plus your message to CRIMES (274637).

NEWS LINKS:
Denver Post 3/16/14- Eagle County authorities search for man missing on hut trip
NWI.com (Duneland) 3/17/14- Chesterton man missing on hiking trip in Colorado
WSBT 22 CBS 3/17/14- Search for missing doctor
South Bend Tribune 3/17/14- Mishawaka doctor missing in Colorado
Fox 31 Denver 3/17/14- Search for missing Eagle County hiker resumes Monday with no success
WSBT 22 CBS 3/17/14- Search continues for missing Colorado hiker
Vail Daily 3/18/14- Severe weather hampers Vail-area search for missing man


Google Earth view of the mountainous terrain just north of Vail, CO, showing the location of the Eiseman Hut

Sunday, March 16, 2014

BEST DOG EVER!!


On February 27, 2014 our long-time companion and friend Kenoh, an Australian shepherd of uncertain lineage, succumbed to the ravaging effects of cancer after 13 good years on Earth. 

Kenoh was a working dog.  His first job was chasing and catching Frisbees.

  His second and ultimately more important job was watching out for his kids.

He was always up for a hike, or a trip to the park. 

His work is now completed, and we shall miss him greatly...
 
Well done, good and faithful companion...
 
Godspeed Kenoh...
 
Best dog ever!
 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

WINNIE THE POOH INVESTIGATES

The official investigation into the disappearance of Jack Gordon never really gained any traction.  In ways, it always has reminded me of the original Winnie the Pooh book, chapter 3 In which  Pooh and Piglet go hunting and nearly catch a Woozle.  You can read the whole chapter here.


If you have never read the story, it concerns Winnie the Pooh and his small friend Piglet.  Piglet has become concerned about a trail of footprints near his house.  As he follows the footprints he doesn't realize that he is walking around in a circle.  He then becomes alarmed because all of a sudden there are two sets of footprints, so there must be two Woozles, not just one.  Pooh then joins the investigation with predictable results:

"Pooh says that it might be a Woozle, or it might not, and Piglet joins in with the tracking and walking in circles to see if they can find out for sure. And after a little while Pooh stops walking, and says that it's very funny, but there are now two sets of paw-prints, which means...well, what does that mean?"



Now you might ask why I am reminded of this story.  Perhaps it is this excerpt from the original police incident report of Jack Gordon's disappearance, as written by Deputy Jacob Vigil of the Costilla County Sheriff's office:

"I searched the residence, as well as a camping trailer that was parked next to the home. The house and camping trailer were empty. While looking around the house I noticed a single set of footprints that went to the back of the house and around the other side and onto the road where I lost track. I was unable to notice any tire tracks as there were several vehicles traveling on the road."



And so it goes.


 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

THE CURIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF SEAMUS MULDOON- JUST THE FACTS MA'AM

My personal story of Jack Gordon's disappearance was put forth in the book entitled The Curious Disappearance of Seamus Muldoon (available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.com).  I would like to share the first chapter of that book here, for any who might be interested. Ultimately, for me and my wife, the story is about the life of Jack Gordon more than his unseemly disappearance.

Enjoy!



Chapter 1- Just The Facts Ma'am



On the morning of October 2, 2008 seventy-seven-year-old Reverend Jack Nels Gordon vanished from the face of the earth.   I mean he literally vanished.  Here are the facts of the case as we know them.  Jack had lived in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado for about 12 years with his fourth wife, a Filipina barely half his age, and younger than most of his children from previous marriages.  Life had thrown Jack and his wife a curveball 6 years earlier when against all medical odds they became pregnant.  Not just once, but twice in two years Jack’s wife gave birth.  The life of quiet solitude and contemplation that Jack had expected in his elder years gave way to the chaos of a house filled with the joyful sounds of two vibrant young children.  Jack’s biggest project in this stage of his life was the almost single-handed construction of a permanent home for him and his young family.  This was taking place on a five-acre plot of land in the Forbes Sangre de Cristo Ranches, a large, remote rural subdivision at the southeastern extreme of the San Luis Valley. 
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