Mysterious Missing Ranger Case Reopens after 38 Years

NPS to triple reward for help solving decades-old case in Chiricahua National Monument.


On January 13, 1980, Paul Fugate, a 41-year-old park ranger at Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona, walked out of the visitor center for an afternoon hike and was never seen or heard from again. Fugate, a bearded and bespectacled man wearing his ranger uniform and badge, headed on a nature trail toward Faraway Ranch, a chunk of land new to the NPS that preserved a bit of Apache history on the frontier. When Fugate failed to return, a major search and rescue effort kicked into gear involving the local Cochise County Sheriff Department, members of the US Forest Service, the BLM, and the NPS. Dogs were brought in, helicopters searched from the air, Fugate’s friends and family helped the rescuers search on foot. Several SAR efforts were made, despite Chiricahua being a nightmare location for searching, being a dry, vast, and rugged land, riven everywhere with canyons and river washes.

Nothing of Fugate was ever found. Not a trace.

There are rumors a driver—a friend of Fugate—saw him seated in a truck between two men speeding on a country road heading away from Chiricahua, but nothing concrete emerged. Investigators almost immediately declared they suspected foul play and the NPS began paying a portion of Fugate’s salary to his widow. They also announced a $5,000 reward for solid leads about what may have happened to Fugate. Eventually, the family matched that sum, and it grew to $20,000. But still, no answers ever surfaced to bring closure to the strange case. The FBI, when contacted, declined to intervene in the investigation.

Some acquaintances of Fugate believe he’d accidentally walked into a drug deal, and spooked the participants with his government uniform, he was killed or kidnapped. According to a 1981 New York Times article about Fugate’s disappearance, law enforcement groups were aware of drug dealing and trafficking in the area around Chiricahua. Rumors too of a difficult marriage surrounded Fugate’s disappearance, with some wondering if he’d simply walked away from his life.

In an unfortunate twist, in 1981, Howard Chapman, then the director of the NPS’ Western Region, looked back over the case and decided Fugate had abandoned his post. Fugate was formally “dismissed” and the NPS asked his wife to repay the portion of his salary they’d awarded her. Eventually, the NPS listed Fugate as deceased, resuming payments to his widow.

But late last month, the NPS announced it had discovered new information about Fugate’s case, and, together with the Cochise County Sheriff Department, is again soliciting help from the public in solving the mystery. The NPS also announced it was tripling the financial award offered for concrete leads to $60,000. It provided no other information, however, about what’s prompted it to reopen the case.

Investigators are collecting tips and information and can be reached by:

• Phone—NPS Investigative Services Branch: (888) 653-0009
• email: nps_isb@nps.gov
• submit a tip online at: www.nps.gov/ISB
• Facebook: @InvestigativeServicesNPS; Twitter: @SpecialAgentNPS

 

Showing 4 comments
  • Ronda Rowan
    Reply

    Seriously Im pretty sure me & husband seen him last night,what do I do??

    • Carl Sagan
      Reply

      Did you look at the last part of the article? There’s contact info listed

  • Old luddite
    Reply

    I recall a shooting death of a ranger at an entrance station in the Tetons, circa 1970’s, which remained unsolved for decades, and wonder if that is included in these archives and records. Prior to that era, rangers were never armed, and perhaps in the 1980’s the transformation of their ranks into armed cops in the woods became a sad but inevitable requirement. I do find the emphasis on “mysterious” to be tawdry, yellow journalism, and unfortunately leading nowadays down the rabbit hole of bizarre alternative universe conspiracy theories which serve no one, particularly the victims or their survivors. Having seen a close call where a successfully rescued fall victim might have lain for years before anyone else would have found him, I know how easy a person can go undiscovered, with no assistance from extraterrestrials.

  • Barbara
    Reply

    Many many people go missing in National Forests every year. NPS Do Not keep records of missing people in National Parks? That is strange in itself! Look up Missing 411 by David Paulides, an ex cop who researched the subject. How do you explain someone who disappears right upfront of others? Usually the last person in line while walking or one who has lagged behind. FBI not involved tells me that they know exactly what happened to these people. Truth is….We live in a world full of Things we do not know of…. Secrets kept from the public. Do your own research and be prepared to be blown away.

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