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Interesting cases, but some problems
on 2 December 2012
David Paulides used to be a law enforcement officer in California. 'Missing 411: Eastern United States' is a companion volume to his 'Missing 411: Western United States & Canada', which I've also reviewed on this site. Since the latter came out first, I'll refer to it as 'Vol. 1' and I'll describe 'Missing 411: Eastern United States' as 'Vol. 2'. The books discuss cases of people going missing in seemingly strange circumstances in rural parts of the USA and Canada. However, they exclude cases from Florida and Texas, in the USA, and British Columbia, in Canada, apparently because there are so many cases from those areas. Maybe Paulides intends to discuss them in one or more future books.
The two volumes are confusingly structured. For example, the chapters aren't numbered (except Chapter 1 of Vol. 1), and the geographical divide suggested by the subtitles of the two volumes doesn't fully apply. For instance, although the subtitle of Vol. 2 suggests that its focus is the eastern USA, it also includes cases from central Ontario, which is in Canada. In places, the wording of the two volumes is unclear, and there are inconsistencies. The figure of 411 seemingly refers to the total number of stories of missing people mentioned in them. But I haven't added up the cases to check whether it's precisely right. (An American friend, George Stadalksi, has pointed out to me that '411' could have a metaphorical rather than literal meaning. He notes that it's the number to call to find a phone number, and that the terms 'Getting the four-one-one' or 'What's the four-one-one?' are American alternatives to 'What's happening?' or 'What's up?' However, on p. xi of Vol. 2, Paulides refers to his two books as highlighting 411 stories, so I think he's simply using '411' to designate the number of cases.)
Paulides submitted numerous applications for information under the USA's Freedom of Information Act, but some of the requests weren't granted. He explains that the USA's National Park Service informed him that it doesn't keep logs, lists or databases of any missing people. He suggests that maybe it doesn't want the public to know how dangerous it is to trek alone in the backcountry of the national parks! However, although his books cite many cases of people going missing in national parks, the incidents are spread over decades. Therefore, I imagine that the probability of any particular visitor mysteriously disappearing in such an area at any given time is actually quite low.
Paulides attributes significance to correspondences that others might reasonably ascribe to prosaic factors or chance. For example, he refers (Vol. 2, p. 225) to two young children who went missing in Kentucky, one in 1958 and the other in 1999. Noting that Kentucky is "huge", he thinks that it's an "odd coincidence" that the two disappearances occurred within about 50 miles of each other, and in the same month (August)!
THE PROBLEM OF SELECTION CRITERIA
On p. xiii of Vol. 2, Paulides appears to contradict himself. He refers to various features that occur in the cases he reports, and states that they don't apply solely to Vol. 2, and that some are evident in the eastern USA, while others are found in the west. This seems to imply that some of them DON'T apply to the east. However, before listing the 12 features (pp. xiii-xvi), he seems to imply that all of them CAN be found among cases in the east. Most of the features (e.g. tracker dogs being unable, or unwilling, to follow the scent of missing people) are also listed in Vol.1. On the matter of tracker dogs, there could be a reporting bias: cases in which dogs DO find missing people may be less likely to be classed as mysterious disappearances!
Paulides indicates (Vol. 2, p. xiii) that his decision on whether to include cases in the books depended partly on the number of features "on [the] list" that were evident in the story. This is slightly confusing, because while the lists appearing in the two volumes overlap considerably, they're not identical. At any rate, given that Paulides selected his cases to some degree because they contained certain features, they may be unrepresentative.
The following outline (based on a case in Vol. 2) should give some flavour of the material that Paulides cites. (Additional examples can be found in my review of Vol. 1.)
On 8th October 1976, 40 students from a school in Knoxville took part in a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Their route took them along the Appalachian Trail, from Andrews Bald to Clingman's Dome. Around 3 p.m., one of them, a 16-year-old girl, reportedly bent over, as if looking at something, and then disappeared to the right of the trail. That was puzzling, because someone going off the trail there would have been confronted with steep and rugged terrain. A full-scale search was due to begin at 7 a.m. the next day, but there was apparently some delay, because of bad weather. Three hundred people took part in the search, which included tracker dogs, helicopters, etc. It seems that there may have been a further search, involving fewer people, the following year. But from Paulides' wording, I'm not entirely sure whether it went ahead. At any rate, it appears that the missing teenager was never found.
Surprisingly, Paulides offers little in the way of speculation about what may have been behind the disappearances discussed in his two volumes. He's the author of a couple of books on the bigfoot phenomenon, although I haven't read them myself. In his two 'Missing 411' books, he doesn't explicitly attribute any of the disappearances to bigfoot creatures, although some commentators think that that's what he's implying. Interestingly, though, there's only one index entry for "Bigfoot". It appears in Vol. 1 and relates to a case, mentioned on p. 126, concerning a 16-year-old girl who went missing in California's Sierra National Forest at the beginning of June 1987. She was apparently with a neighbour of hers, who purported to be an expert on bigfoot, and they were reportedly looking for bigfoot. The neighbour claimed that she'd been kidnapped by a tribe of the creatures. He was charged with abducting her, but the charges were later dropped. Although there have been a few reports of bigfoot creatures kidnapping humans, this doesn't seem to be typical bigfoot behaviour - unless, of course, we assume that many cases have gone unreported.
Given the way they were selected, I don't think Paulides' cases can be regarded as typical. Nonetheless, assuming that he's reported the basic details reasonably accurately, he's done a service in collating these interesting accounts. As for their interpretation, I suspect that a range of different factors led to the disappearances, and that with many of them, at least, if additional information were available, they might be seen to have mundane explanations. On the other hand, I don't think we can exclude the possibility that something enigmatic or paranormal was involved in some of the cases.
UPDATE (MAY 2014)
There is now a third volume in Paulides' series, entitled 'Missing 411: North America and Beyond'. I've reviewed it on this site.