9 Unexplained Deaths In U.S. National Parks

The beauty of national parks draws in millions of visitors every year, thanks to their breathtaking landscapes, interesting flora and fauna, and serene environments. However, not everything is as it seems on the surface of these seemingly calming locations. Lying beneath these picturesque scenes are several disappearances and unexplained deaths in National Parks.

Unexplained Deaths In National Parks

Keep in mind that while the disappearances and unexplained deaths in National Parks are rare, safety measures should always be taken whenever you go into the great outdoors. A lot of the explained deaths and disappearances in national parks are attributed to the extreme environment you often encounter while out in nature. That is why it is imperative to always know the weather before your trip, respect wildlife, know your limits, pack a first aid kit, stay on the trail, and tell someone where you are. Taking these simple steps will go a long way to keeping you safe.

1. Dennis Martin

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Six-year-old Dennis Martin vanished while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located in Tennessee, on June 14, 1969. Dennis was playing hide-and-seek with his siblings when he went missing. Despite extensive search efforts that included hundreds of volunteers, they couldn’t find any trace of Dennis. To this day, the disappearance of Dennis Martin remains a mystery.

2. Stacy Ann Arras

Yosemite National Park

On July 17, 1981, 14-year-old Stacy Ann Arras was hiking in Yosemite National Park when she vanished. Her and her father were a part of a 10-people group riding mules to their camp. After settling into camp and taking a shower, Stacy started a 1.5-mile hike. She was originally going to hike with an older man in the group, but he became too tired and set down to take a break. The group’s guide noticed Stacy standing about 50 yards south of the trail. That was the last time Stacy was seen. Even after an extensive search that included three aircraft and two dog teams, the only item of Stacy’s that was found was the lens from her camera.

3. Paul Fugate

Chiricahua National Monument

On January 13, 1980, Paul Fugate, a naturalist at Chiricahua National Monument, went for a hike on a park trail and was never seen from again. He was 41 years old when he went missing and was wearing his green and gray park service uniform. Early on in the case, investigators suspected foul play, but despite multiple extensive searchers throughout the years, no sign of the missing ranger has been found.

4. Thelma Pauline “Polly” Melton

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Thelma Pauline Melton went missing on September 25, 1981, while hiking on the Deep Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She was hiking with her companions, who lost sight of her as she walked at a faster pace. She has not been seen or heard from since.

5. Laura “Lollie” Winans and Julianne Williams

Shenandoah National Park

Laura and Julianne were last seen alive hiking with their Golden Retriever named Taj on May 24, 1996. The dog was later found wandering alone in the park, and when searchers went looking for Laura and Julianne, they found their murdered bodies at their campsite on June 1, 1996. This case is still listed as unsolved and investigators are still seeking information about their murder.

6. Ruthanne Ruppert

Yosemite National Park

Ruthanne Ruppert was last seen in the Curry Village area of the Yosemite National Park on August 14, 2000. She was scheduled to attend a backpacking trip, but she had an infection and had to postpone. Investigators believe that she had gone on a short day hike from Yosemite Falls. In 2008, Ruthanne’s backpack was found in the Fireplace Creek drainage, which is consistent with a hiking route that stretches from Yosemite Falls to Foresta. Ruthanne, who has a prosthetic eye, was 49 years old when she went missing.

7. Arman B. Johnson

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Arman Johnson was found murdered near Kahuku Ranch in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on April 13, 2005. He was 44 years old at the time of his murder. Arman hosted a local radio show and died from a single gunshot wound. Who killed him and why is still unknown. Arman’s vehicle has also never been found.

8. Robert “Bobby” Bizup

Just outside Rocky Mountain National Park

In August 1958, Bobby Bizup, only 10 years old, was last seen alive on Camp St. Malo in Estes Park, CO which is adjacent to the Rocky Mountain National Park. It wasn’t until 1959 when his remains were located inside the park boundaries. The exact nature, cause, and circumstances of his disappearance and death have not been determined. One thing that makes this case even more puzzling is that the location where his remains were found had been previously searched by the National Park Service, local police, and military at the time of his disappearance.

9. Peter Jackson

Yosemite National Park

On September 17, 2016, Peter Jackson, who was 74 years old, went for a hike from his campsite located at the White Wolf Campground. He sent his son a text message on this day saying he was on his way to the park. While his vehicle was found at the campground, there was no trace of Peter. A few years later in August 2019, his backpack was located on the west side of the Yosemite National Park. The case remains open.


  • https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1563/cold-cases.htm
  • https://www.wbir.com/article/news/special-reports/the-vanished/the-vanished-dennis-martin/51-dea1f82d-4bfa-470b-9a69-5b2c603c1510
  • https://charleyproject.org/case/stacy-ann-arras
  • https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/foia/upload/Released-files-for-Stacy-Arras-case.pdf
  • https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2018/06/nearly-40-years-after-paul-fugate-disappeared-effort-renewed-find-missing-ranger
  • https://charleyproject.org/case/ruthanne-ruppert
  • https://original.newsbreak.com/@b-1590585/2804386839921-hawaii-resident-s-execution-still-unsolved-after-7-years
  • https://kdvr.com/news/local/unsolved-colorado-cold-case-suspicious-death-of-bobby-bizup/
  • https://www.nationalparks.org/connect/blog/tips-safely-visiting-national-parks