Does anybody know what happened the night they vanished?

Even the best sleuths have not been able to piece together what happened that night.

There is a creepy mystery that still baffles the most expert investigators.  I don’t even remember hearing about the odd 1978 event at the time it happened.  Five young men disappeared near Chico, California, after attending a basketball game there.  They had driven over fifty miles from the Yuba City area to watch the opposing UC Davis team beat Cal State U.

When the game was over, the young men did some riding around in a Mercury Montego they used for such carousing.  Only two of them had valid driver’s licenses and the owner of the car was driving.

They were seen several places in the area, including a small market in Chico where they stopped to get a lot of snacks after the game.  The clerk was in a hurry to close and she remembers well the five indecisive fellows making her late.

The men have been described as physically fit, but each of them had some kind of mild mental health issue.  One, Gary Mathias, had served in the US Army but was diagnosed with schizophrenia, causing an early discharge.  He had had a couple of violent episodes while living with his parents, but medication had arrested his symptoms.

The men were in their mid-to-late twenties or early thirties.  They had on light coats, appropriate for the weather at the time.  When they didn’t return promptly,  parents stayed up all night, worrying and waiting.

Even the best sleuths have not been able to piece together what happened that night.  What they do know, went like this:  several days after they were reported missing, the Mercury Montego was found abandoned high on a mountain dirt road in the Plumas National Forest. 

This road was in no way on the route back to Yuba City.  What possessed them to go there?  Had they made a wrong turn and all of them in unison had become disoriented?  Why did they abandon the car?  It was drivable.  Even though it was slightly stuck in the snow, it was not so bad that five young men could not have heaved it out with ease.  The keys were missing, but investigators were able to rig the ignition and it started right up.  It had over a quarter of a tank of gas.  Why did they not just un-stick the car and drive away?

What makes this tale even more confusing, is that not far away, a man was also in his stranded car having a mild coronary.  He had gotten it from trying to push his vehicle.  When he saw the men and their flashlights he called to them for help.  He was frantic.  They ignored him and turned off all the lights.  Everything went silent.  They then just disappeared.   One of the young men’s mothers is adamant that her son would have helped anyone in distress.

When the families put out flyers and offered rewards, there were reports of the five boys being spotted in many places, including the hamlet of Brownsville.  None of these could be verified by the use of store video records that are so helpful in investigations nowadays.   Besides, the sightings were during the time the young men would have most probably been on the mountain.  

When the snow in the mountains finally melted, four of the young men’s bodies were found.  Three of them were found in the woods near a hiking cabin—skeletal remains.  The cabin was over 20 miles from the abandoned Mercury Montego, and over 70 miles from Chico.  One of the men was found inside the hiking cabin.  Evidence  (growth of beard) shows that he had lived three months in the cabin.  Even though there were plenty of food rations in the cabin (including both canned and dehydrated), matches, and equipment for butane heat, he had died of starvation and hypothermia.   He was wrapped in eight sheets, shroud-like, on a bed.

One of the five men, Gary Mathias has never been found after 40 years of looking.  An odd element is that his shoes were found in the cabin.  It is thought that Mathias and another of the men had spent part of the time in that cabin, as some of the food was opened with an army issue can opener and Gary would have been the only one of the five to know how to do that.

Why did they leave the cabin?  Had the one wrapped in a shroud-like covering gotten very ill, or died and the other two tried to start out on foot for help?  There is no real evidence for any hypothesis to be proven.  The deceased fellow’s effects were on a bedside table, including his wallet with money still in it.

What odd events happened in February of 1978 to four young men:  Bill Sterling, 29, Jack Huett, 24, Ted Weiher, 32, Jack Madruga, 30—and where is Gary Mathias (age 30 at disappearance)?

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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