The Death Valley in California is a vast expanse of arid desert wasteland covering around 3,000 square miles with summer temperatures usually exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Known as the hottest place in the United States, Death Valley is considered as a deadly and inhospitable.
The lowest part of the valley is around 282 feet below sea level which qualifies it as the lowest place in the contiguous US. But, it is located just 76 miles from the highest point, Mount Whitney. This arid and barren landscape of Death Valley is known to be very creepy, very extreme and quite strange. Befitting the setting, there some spooky stories associated with this place.
Yet for as many people that come here to visit, there are also those who never return, and this is a deadly, ominous place that has earned a rather sinister reputation for mysterious vanishings and deaths.
Here are some of such renowned cases that are associated with the Death Valley.
Paul Byron Whipkey
In 1958, 26-year-old Army pilot First Lieutenant Paul Byron Whipkey disappeared mysteriously from Fort Ord, California. On July 10, 1958, Whipkey informed his fellow officers that he was heading for a drink in the nearby town. A few hours later, he checked into a motel which was hundreds of miles away in Mojave, California. The next day, on July 11, he bought 14 gallons of gas and drove into the Death Valley from where he vanished mysteriously.
Five weeks later, Whipkey’s abandoned vehicle was found by California fish and game officers in Death Valley. The only things that were found were few dog tags, suitcase and some other personal belongings. However, there was no sign of his location. The army dismissed it as a case of simple desertion and claimed that he died wandering in the desert. But, there is no evidence to what happened.
Whipkey’s family never accepted the army’s explanation.
The strange case of the “Missing Germans In Death Valley”
On July 1996, Egbert Rimkus and his girlfriend Cornelia Meyer drove into the Death Valley National Park along with his eleven-year-old son, Georg and her four-year-old son Max. They had purchased a book on the valley and a map from the visitor’s centre before exploring the heat-blasted landscape. Post this they were never seen again.
Later, in October, their van was found with three flat tires on a closed dirt road. The van was sunk up to its axles in sand. The doors of the vehicle were found locked. Inside the van, there was a photo film, empty water bottles, sleeping bags, an information booklet, and a carefully folded American flag and a single child’s shoe. Other personal belongings such as wallets, passports, keys, or purses were not found, and no tracks were found around the van either.
After 13 full years, the remains of Egbert and Cornelia was found by some hikers. DNA analysis reports were not accurate as the remains were too damaged by the sun. However, the boys were never found, and their disappearance remains a mystery till date.
Disappearance of five women
Two years after the demise of the German tourists, in the Spring of 1998, five women vanished without a trace in the Los Angeles area. The women were closely connected to New Age writer and philosopher Carlos Castaneda and his movement, called “Tensegrity.” The women were identified as Florinda Donner-Grau, Taisha Abelar, Amalia Marquez, Kylie Lundahl, and Patricia Lee Partin.
Peruvian-born Carlos Castaneda published a book called ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’ in which he purported to detail his apprenticeship with a Yaqui Indian called Don Juan Matus. Castaneda alleged that Don Juan took him on numerous spiritual journeys and showed him new ways of knowledge based on the Native American mystical traditions. Later, it was found out that Don Juan did not exist, and Castaneda had fabricated many important events in his past.
In 1973, Castaneda repackaged his philosophy as Tensegrity, which he claims to have derived from the teachings of the non-existing Don Juan and other Native American beliefs. He promoted Tensegrity through many workshops which were attended by his followers who changed their names and went into seclusion with him. Most of these followers were women who were his lovers. It is believed that the women used peyote and engaged in all types of shamanic mysticism and metaphysics like vision quests, speaking with animals, and various other rituals.
On April 27, 1998, Castaneda died of liver cancer in Los Angeles. Post his death, a chain of events began, and five of his disciples disappeared into thin air. Patricia Partin, also known as Nury Alexander, met Carlos Castaneda in the 1970s and last spoke to her family in 1978. Castaneda emphasized on “erasing personal history,” and encouraged his disciples to cut ties with their families. Patricia changed her name to Nury Alexander, cut her hair short and bleached it blond. She even divorced her husband and became Carlos Castaneda’s lover, and, in 1995, his legally-adopted daughter.
Partin changed after she went into seclusion with Castaneda. She was alleged of reverting to a child-like state, and there were reports of new followers of the Tensegrity group to play dolls with her. She was last seen at a workshop in Santa Monica before Castaneda’s death.
Following the leader’s death, Partin and other women who were close to him closed down and abandoned the Los Angeles compound where he lived through his final illness. The women disconnected their phones and dropped off the grid. In early May 1998, Partin’s car was found in the Panamint Dunes in Death Valley, California. Later in 2003, some bones were found near the spot where her car was found. Authorities thought them to be of Partin’s and it was proven right. The partial skeleton was found buried in the sand and was surrounded by shreds of pink jogging pants. It belonged to Patricia Partin. However, no further details are known regarding Partin.
No remains or traces of other women have ever been found. It is believed that they have likely committed suicide, which is a theory reinforced by Castaneda’s alleged frequent promotion of the virtues of suicide, which according to him is a way of gaining transcendence.
Ray Singleton, a 24-year-old aspiring writer and filmmaker who married a celebrity stylist recently, vanished in July after flying from his Atlanta home to Los Angeles for a short vacation. On July 9, Singleton left Las Vegas to return to Los Angeles. He took the route that passed through the Mojave Desert. His car broke down near a small town called Baker. He got out of his vehicle and started trudging towards the town. A highway patrolman had picked him up and offered him a ride to the town. Singleton made a call to his friend from a gas station where he waited for his friend to come to pick him up. At some point, he disappeared and was not to be seen when his friend arrived.
Several searches were conducted; however, not even a single shred of evidence was found. After 74 days, his body was discovered in the desert, 2 miles from the gas station, in an area that had already been searched extensively.
The spooky part was that all the internal organs were missing from the body, but the frequent target of scavengers like eyes, tongue and other soft tissue was found intact. The cause of death could not be determined. Singleton’s mother, Iris Flowers, says, “I’m waiting for answers. I’m in a holding pattern right now. I don’t know anything other than that my son was found with no organs in his body.”
The main mystery regarding this case is that why would Singleton wander away from safety when he was aware that his friend was on his way to pick him up and even if he had gotten lost, how can he die just two miles away? If he was killed by someone, why would the person drag him just two miles away instead of killing him right at the gas station? Several questions still remain unanswered regarding the Ryan Singleton case.
The Death Valley is certainly one of the most formidable and ruthless places on the planet with a deadly scorched landscape. We are left with curious clues, baffling evidence and strange questions but absolutely no answers. Death Valley seems like a forsaken place that lives up to its namesake and holds many mysteries which we may never solve.