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The Cleveland, Tennessee, native had been spending the summer between his freshman and sophomore years at Cleveland State Community College on a western road trip with buddies Collin Gwaltney and Christian Fetzner in Gwaltney’s old Subaru.
The boys had seen Las Vegas, San Francisco, and the Grand Canyon before heading to Joe’s aunt and uncle’s dude ranch, the Rainbow Trout Ranch, in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.
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Cases like 51-year-old Dale Stehling, who, in 2013, vanished from a short petroglyph-viewing trail near the gift shop at Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park.
There was even a theory that he’d been kidnapped in order to have his organs harvested and sold on the black market. No.” Joe Keller had just joined the foggy stratum of the hundreds or maybe thousands of people who’ve gone missing on our federal public lands. The National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice, calls unidentified remains and missing persons “the nation’s silent mass disaster,” estimating that on any given day there are between 80,000 and 90,000 people actively listed with law enforcement as missing.
“We feel like he’s not in that area, he’s been taken from there,” Neal Keller would tell me months later. “I’m fond of Occam’s razor.” That’s the principle that the simplest explanation usually holds true. The majority of those, of course, disappear in populated areas.
But the run became a scramble, so he cut back down toward the road and headed upriver. When Joe didn’t show up to get ready for dinner, Collin and Christian drove up the road, honking and waiting for Joe to come limping toward the road like a lost steer.
A fly-fisherman says he saw Collin 2.5 miles up the road but not Joe. At , a small patrol of ranch hands hiked up the rocks toward Faith, the closest formation. “If he was hurt, he would have heard us,” recalled Joe’s uncle, David Van Berkum, 47. Koester was consulted on the Keller case and noted that, like most missing runners, Joe wasn’t dressed for a night outside.
A tourist with a time-stamped receipt from a little gift shop in nearby Horca swore she saw two men on the road but later changed her story.