For about five years now, retired detective, journalist and paranormal investigator, David Paulides, has researched unexplained and often rather mysterious disappearances and murders of hundreds of Americans.
His first four books, the 411 series as they’re often called, focus on clusters of disappearances and deaths that have occurred principally in and around America’s most famous and beloved National Parks, such as Yosemite and the Smoky Mountain National Park. As the series progresses, Paulides branches out into international waters, looking for similar kinds of clustered disappearances and deaths which may be occurring in other countries.
Now keep in mind, he’s not talking about just any kind of disappearance or death. It is true that, in wilderness areas, people tend to get lost in the woods, or die due to exposure, wild animals or accident. It also happens that murderers and other unsavory types can also be found in such places and could probably account for at least some of the deaths and disappearances.
The kinds of deaths and disappearances that Paulides is attempting to isolate have very specific characteristics: they are very sudden and often seem to occur when the missing person is within sight or sound of others. If the person is/was alone (say they were an outdoors type of person, taking a hike or hunting on their own), all of their gear is found, sometimes neatly packed, but they never are seen again, or there is evidence that they may have partially disrobed (removed shoes or pants) in weather or circumstances that would have been unwise.
Most disturbing are the numerous cases where, if a body is found, it is either found in a place that was searched multiple times and then it’s found right as the searchers were giving up, often in an obvious place where it could not have been missed.
Or, in the case of missing children, if they are found alive or dead, they are found many miles away in terrain or circumstances they could not realistically have gotten to on their own. When found, alive or dead, they are often missing shoes and/or socks, or in some truly bizarre cases, were found with clothing on that had been clearly cleaned.
In cases where children or, more rarely, adults, are found alive, they cannot give a clear accounting of their whereabouts, or what happened during their disappearance. These stories are among the strangest and simply have to be read to be believed: “the strange bear picked me up and put me under the bush,” stuff like that.
One of the most interesting links in many of these cases is the presence of water. The body or person is either found near or in water (sometimes straddling a stream or on a remote rock and/or island in a stream or river).
Paulides is not trying to explain what’s happened to these people, at least not yet, because many of the stories are just really odd and unnerving. Rather, Paulides is principally concerned with trying to get the National Park system to fess up to unknown dangers that are present within the park system, that they are denying for the simple expediency of maintaining the tourist dollar.
So, it is with this background in mind that David Paulides ventures into new territory in his latest offering: Missing 411: A Sobering Coincidence.
Missing 411: A Sobering Coincidence is Paulides’ attempt to get a handle on over 60 clustered cases of missing/found dead young adult males, generally of college age or in college, who, in the past 30 years, have initially gone missing under rather odd circumstances in public places, often while drinking and/or at a party, only to turn up dead in lakes, rivers or other water courses, miles from where they disappeared, in mysterious conditions: i.e. forensics indicate they could not have been in the water for the same amount of time they were missing.
Paulides indicates that his work in this area came about as a result of tips which he received indicating that folks were disappearing in urban settings as well and not just within the National Park system.
The difficulty with Paulides’ latest project is that he’s not the only person to consider these types of cases. As recently as 2010, two retired New York detectives, Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte, were attempting to develop leads linking the deaths of 45 young men in 11 states in a theory they called the Smiley Face murders.
They claimed that strange smiley face graffiti was found next to several of the bodies, but, in at least one instance, Gannon was implicated in faking one example of graffiti. It is fascinating that Paulides pointedly refrains from mentioning Gannon or Duarte, despite the fact that a number of his mentioned victims were included in the list of suspect cases assembled by Gannon and Duarte.
Paulides’ effort in this book also suffers from limited source work and overly hasty editing of the cases themselves. He relies heavily on the text, Case Studies in Drowning Forensics, even though one of the authors is the aforementioned Kevin Gannon. He does this without mentioning at any time that much of Gannon’s research in this area has been questioned, if not discredited.
Secondly, unlike his other texts, and because, in of these cases, the body of the deceased has often been located, Paulides is not able to personally interview as many of the principals involved and has had to rely further on second hand news articles and speculation. Since many of these cases are considered closed within the police jurisdictions in question, officers seem to be unwilling to be quite as open in sharing information with Paulides.
There are times when this apparently frustrates him and he occasionally seems to intimate in his text that this is proof that something is being hidden. However, having been a detective himself, he should be aware of how insular some police departments can be. He simply is not a law enforcement insider anymore and this becomes apparent in some of his speculations.
This is not to say that some of the cases he details aren’t odd. However, it always seems a little odd when someone uncharacteristically disappears and then is found dead. This is true even when perfectly prosaic explanations are present.
Your author can speak to this directly. The photo provided with this article is of a young man, Alexis Dillard, who was a graduating senior in a class your author taught over 20 years ago. Your author shared a conversation with Alexis the very day he disappeared. He has never been found and there was no reason for him to run away or commit suicide.
Despite how unreal his disappearance still seems (and there is much about his case that fits with the profile Paulides is trying to build), most people, his family, and your author, believe he drowned while trying to swim the Kansas River during a time of uncommonly high flooding.
If he had been sucked down by the rapids into the lock system dam that is present at that point in the river, he would have been torn to pieces in seconds–and there would have been nothing left to find. No one likes to think about that, but that is probably what happened.
Such events are tragic and weird enough without anything extra being added.
Paulides does mention a number of cases in which it is clear that the individuals who disappeared and were later found dead in water had to have been alive for much of the time they were missing because the decomposition of their bodies did not correspond with how long they’d been unaccounted for. Furthermore, several of these young men, when tested, were found to have GHB, a classic rape drug, in their systems.
To this author, this really sounds like a sex trafficking ring of some kind. Paulides mentions that it’s mostly clean cut white males of a particular age that seem to be targeted. The fact that the FBI seems to be interested in some of these cases indicates that the Feds are watching something.
Finally, Paulides seems occasionally to wander into areas of speculation that really don’t require any. He spends a great deal of time on the Elisa Lam case, which is an admittedly strange set of circumstances. Elisa Lam, disappeared from Cecil Motel, Los Angeles, in 2013, while visiting in the U.S. and her body was found about 10 days later floating in one of the water tanks of the motel after patrons complained of bad smelling and tasting water coming out of their taps.
Prior to her body being found, the hotel released CCTV video showing Elisa some hours before her disappearance, behaving very strangely in an elevator: gesturing, seeming to hide from someone, and the elevator itself seems to be curiously malfunctioning. Then there’s the question of how she could have gotten to and then into the tank itself, since there are a number of locks and security features she would have had to breach.
Add to this the fact that certain details of her death appear to mimic a 2005 horror film Dark Water, and the whole thing is just weird. However, given the nature of where she was found, it’s also clear that somehow, some part of the affair had to have been an inside job and connected to the Cecil Motel itself, and this has appeared to be how the LA police regard it at present, despite the lack of suspect.
So, this is strange enough. However, Paulides adds a level of weird that is not necessary. He begins speculating about news reports of a TB outbreak in LA at about the same time as Elisa’s disappearance and how the CDC will begin testing for resistant strains by using the LAM Elisa testing protocol. Of course this is the kind of thing that conspiracy wonks grab onto immediately.
While that looks strange, the LAM-ELISA testing protocol is a procedure for testing blood antibodies that has existed for decades. It is strange that it looks like Elisa’s name (and that’s something one might want to consult John Keel about, since he loved odd coincidences), but a coincidence it remains.
Furthermore, Paulides avoids direct mention of the fact, well known to the police, that Elisa was under treatment for a rather erratic and severe bipolar disorder, which could explain some of her strange behavior. None of this wraps up what happened to her–but, in such cases, it’s best not to go “weirder” when weird is quite enough.
The best cases reported in this book are those that fall a bit outside his attempted profile and these are the cases he tends to cling to in interviews. Several of his international cases are truly odd and that of Stephen Kubacki in Michigan is worth reading through several times. That said, this book is the weakest of his 411 offerings, although for die hard Paulides fans, there is still some good gristle to chew on.