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Grisly discoveries make walks in the woods memorable

September 10, 2007
By Matt Markey,
While engaging in a variety of their favorite outdoors activities, hunters, fishermen, hikers and campers occasionally will get placed in a very odd and uncomfortable role. They become part of the investigation of homicides, suicides, kidnappings and missing people cases.

It is not uncommon to see headlines that report hunters finding a body in a wooded area well off the paved road or hikers coming across some human remains on a mountain trail, or a solo trout fisherman happening upon bones on an isolated creek bank.

There is no disputing the fact people die in a wide variety of places, sometimes by natural causes and other times as the victim of foul play.

There are other cases where they die one place, and the body is moved to another location.

When they die in cities or buildings or busy parks and public places, the body usually is found within hours. If the death occurs in the outdoors or the body is purposefully transported to remote location to conceal the death, the cause, or other circumstances surrounding the situation, can make locating the body take much, much longer.

And sometimes, they are never found. But in many cases of people who are missing for long periods of time, or are the victims of a crime that costs them their life, the body is discovered by a completely unsuspecting third party, totally by chance.

These discoveries often are made by outdoors folks who are engaging in recreational activities, or sometimes by workers whose job takes them to out of the way places.

Bodies never get discovered by golfers or bowlers or fantasy football fanatics. So it was not really a surprise a week or so ago when a group of school kids out for a walk in the woods in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula stumbled across something they will never forget.

They saw these bones — a lot of them — and the kids wondered if this was the place a deer a moose or a bear had died.

Upon closer inspection by the Michigan state police, it became clear the remains were nothing that was natural or common to the wild and rugged area.

A check of the missing persons’ reports and a look at dental records and DNA showed the bones were all that were left of a Wisconsin man who had been missing since 1985.

The school kids did not know it at the time, but they performed a service for the family of the missing man, who had to deal with more than 20 years of just not knowing what his fate had been. Up until the time the alert and inquisitive children spotted the bones in the woods, that man was simply listed as “missing.”

The remains were those of William McKinnon of the Wisconsin town of Superior, who was 75 years old at the time he was reported missing.

His car had been found back then, in 1985, with the doors not locked and the headlights still on.

Authorities at the time conducted an extensive search for McKinnon, combing the area repeatedly, but no trace of him was found.

Because he had shown some symptoms that were similar to Alzheimer’s disease, it was suspected he had just wandered off, but there was no conclusive evidence of that for almost 22 years.

The school kids who found McKinnon’s remains were walking about two and a half miles from where he had left his vehicle, so the elderly man had not traveled far. But due to the remoteness of the location, the thick forest growth, and the rugged nature of the terrain, his body had remained hidden for so long.

At about the same time this discovery took place in the Upper Peninsula, hikers in the Canadian province of British Columbia found the body of a hunter who had been missing for several weeks.

Again, an extensive search had taken place and turned up no trace of the missing person, but hikers stumbled on the body while they were on a regular outing.

The reality for us hunters, fishermen, campers and hikers, is the best places for us are usually the most remote, and those often turn out to be the places these discoveries are made. We go where the majority of folks do not go, increasing our chances of making one of these still rare finds.

The best advice from law enforcement is simple: When in the outdoors, we should be observant of our surroundings, take note of anything unusual or out of the ordinary, and if we suspect we have stumbled on something that could be related to a death or some other type of crime, leave it untouched until the authorities take a look.

Having said that, enjoy the outdoors. The odds are huge and in your favor you will never come across anything like what those Michigan school kids found on their walk in the woods.

Matt Markey is The A-T outdoors columnist



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