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.<
The San Luis Valley is a quirky geographic accident. Flat as a cast iron griddle, the floor of the valley is almost exactly 7000 feet above sea level. The terrain is flat and the vegetation is sparse. Sagebrush, prickly pear cactus and prairie grass, interrupted occasionally by potato farms, carpet the floor of the valley, grey green merging into brown. The valley is bounded on the west by the
Jack’s property is situated in the Trinchera Ranches subdivision at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo range. Formerly owned by the well-known Forbes family, the Trinchera Ranches (or just the Ranches), consists of approximately seven thousand 5-acre lots or ranchettes. The Trinchera Ranches are crisscrossed by hundreds of miles of dirt roads, creating a web that ranges from the floor of the valley at about 7,500 feet elevation up to 10,000 feet above sea level at the crest of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Jack’s building site is located at the eastern end of
Road, which Jack had always found significant
because of what he saw as a connection to the gospels of the New Testament. He
referred to the property as ‘Luke’. “I’m
heading out to Luke” he used to say. Or,
“Stop by Luke for a cup of coffee and help me put up some drywall”. Being
in his seventies, Jack was not making very rapid progress on the house. After 8 long years the exterior was roughly
framed in what Jack always referred to as Amish style. As far as I can figure out, Amish style meant
that there were no parallel lines of structure or 90-degree angles in the
entire structure. Jack literally put the
‘shackle’ into the word ramshackle. In
spite of the rustic look however, the house was sturdy and weatherproofed. The interior remained a work in progress, to
say the least. Aside from those two
young children, Luke was Jack’s pride and joy, the culmination of lifelong
playful experimentation with design and conceptual construction. For years he had been well known for finding
a structural element of some sort such as a door, or window or even just an odd
piece of lumber and thinking to himself, “That would go nicely in the great
room, next to the stairs”. He would then
keep that item for indefinite length of time until the right moment came along
to incorporate it into his building.
Let me give you an example that may help you to get a feel for Jack. In his house on Luke, adjacent to the stairs are two pieces of drywall that apparently had been adjacent to each other in a stack that got exposed to water at some point. Mounted edge to edge, the water stain presents the appearance of a Rorschach inkblot test. I think Jack probably psychoanalyzed anybody who commented on the stain. I personally always thought that it looked a little like a man in a long flowing gown, Messiah-like. I suppose it eventually would have been painted over, but in the interim it was a conversation piece.
Jack’s favorite way to spend an idle morning was to take a cup of coffee with him, drive out to Luke and spend the morning thinking, reading, praying, writing or just conceptualizing. I suspect that sometimes when the rambunctiousness of the kids got to be a little too much Jack would find a reason to go out to Luke by himself for a few hours.
That brings us to the morning of October 2, 2008. Jack awoke at the usual time and announced that he was going out to Luke for a while. He walked out to the driveway of their duplex Section 8 apartment in
, coffee cup in
hand, and climbed up into his old white van.
Pulling out of the driveway at about 8:30 a.m. he waved goodbye to his
little family. Little did they realize
that was the last they would ever see of husband and father. As usual, Jack pulled in at the post office
down the street and picked up the mail.
Outside the post office he chatted briefly with one of his neighbors
from out on Fort
Garland Luke Road
and then got back in the van. Heading
south on Highway 159 he next stopped in at a local mechanic’s house to discuss
some upcoming work he needed done on the van.
He left the mechanic’s house at roughly 9:00 a.m. and headed on down the
road. That is the last confirmed
sighting that we have.
When lunchtime rolled around and his wife had not heard from Jack, she began to wonder whether she should fix his lunch or wait. As the early afternoon progressed she began to wonder what was keeping him, then the wonder gradually turned to worry. Jack rarely stayed out at Luke past lunchtime. A good lunch followed by a nap was his favorite way to spend an afternoon. Two-thirty came and went and she started to really worry. Jack had never been out later than 2:30 without letting her know. She called some friends to see if someone could drive out to
Luke Road and check
on Jack. Nobody was available at that
time of day, but by 4:00 she convinced one of her neighbors to take her on the
10-mile drive out to the property.
The two women pulled up at the house on Luke Road and saw immediately that his van was parked in the driveway in his customary spot. She walked over to the house and poked her head inside. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary or misplaced, with one rather large exception. Jack was nowhere to be seen. Her pulse pounding and her breathing rate increasing to the point of gasping, she ran upstairs and searched the entire interior of the house, calling frantically for Jack. Nothing. Knowing that Jack tended to lose his balance easily, she took a quick walk around the house, thinking that he may have taken a fall or injured himself. Nothing. She looked inside the van to see if Jack was inside, or to see if his keys were lying on the floorboard. Jack’s usual habit in the past had been to drop his keys on the floor when he pulled into the driveway rather than putting them in his pocket. Jack was not inside the van and the keys were nowhere to be seen. Nothing.
The closest telephone was a quarter mile away at one of the neighbor’s. In a near-panic she rushed over there and placed a call to 911 to report Jack missing. It took nearly an hour for a Sheriff’s Department deputy to arrive at the house. During that seemingly interminable hour a small handful of neighbors helped expand the search on foot around the immediate vicinity of the house. They found not a single trace of Jack or any evidence of what might have happened.
Those are the known facts of the mysterious disappearance of Jack Nels Gordon on October 2, 2008. The following chapters will explore some of the various theories about his disappearance, whether realistic or bizarre, plausible or outlandish, serious or comical. These theories have been put forward by various family members, authorities, friends and neighbors. These scenarios are based partly on fact and partly on speculation. My purpose in writing these vignettes is not so much to solve the troubling mystery of Jack’s disappearance, but to celebrate the fascinating variety of his life.