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The Mystery of the Yuba County 5

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posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 02:41 PM
Here is a story that is 40 years old but hearing about it today is just as mystifying as it was back in 1978. It is referred to by some as the American Dyatlov Pass mystery.


The Yuba County Five were young men from Yuba City, California, all with mild mental or psychiatric issues, who attended a college basketball game at Chico State University on the night of February 24, 1978. Afterwards, they stopped at a local market for snacks and drinks. Four of them—Bill Sterling, 29; Jack Huett, 24; Ted Weiher, 32; and Jack Madruga, 30—were later found dead; the fifth, Gary Mathias, 25, has never been seen again.

Several days later their Mercury Montego was found, abandoned, in a remote area of Plumas National Forest on a high mountain dirt road that was far out of their way back to Yuba City. Investigators could not, however, determine why it was abandoned as it could easily have been pushed out of the snowpack it was in, and was in good working order. At that time, no trace of the men was found.

After the snow melted, in June, four of the men's bodies were found, in and near a trailer camp used by backpackers as shelter deep in the forest, 20 miles from the car. Only bones were left of the three bodies in the woods, a result of scavenging animals, but the one in the trailer, Ted Weiher, had apparently lived for as long as almost three months after the men were last seen, starving to death despite an ample supply of food and heating materials available in it. He was missing his shoes, and investigators found Mathias' own shoes in the nearby woods, suggesting Mathias, too, survived for some time beyond the last night they were seen alive.

A witness later came forward, a local man who said he had spent the same night in his own car a short distance away from where the Montego was found, after suffering a mild heart attack trying to push it out of the snow. He told police that he had seen and heard people around the car that night, and twice called for help, only for them to grow silent and turn off their flashlights. This, and the considerable distance from the car to where the bodies were found, has led to suspicions of foul play.

Ted Weiher
Ted was 32 years old from Olivehurst, CA. He was diagnosed as having a learning disability. He lived at home and had recently worked a few jobs but quit when his family thought his slowness was causing problems.

Jackie Huett
Jackie was 24, of Marysville, CA. He also lived with his parents and was diagnosed with mild learning disabilities. Ted and Jackie were inseparable.

Jack Madruga
Jack was 30 years old and lived with his parents in Marysville, CA and had been laid off from his job as a busboy a few months earlier. He had undiagnosed mild learning disabilities. He did, however, have his driver’s license and owned a turquoise and white 1969 Mercury Montego that was his pride and joy. It’s the car they would take on their fateful trip.

Bill Sterling
Bill was 29, from Yuba City, CA. He was very close with Jack and a deeply religious man who lived at home.

Gary Mathias
Gary was 25 and from Olivehurst, CA. He lived with his parents and worked for his stepfather’s gardening business. While all four of the others were close friends for multiple years, Mathias was new to the group. All five had met through the Gateway Projects which was an organization for the intellectually disabled, Mathias had just joined it the year prior while the other four had joined it years prior. The others had documented intellectual disabilities; for example, Ted Weiher was described by his brother as lacking common sense, the brother mentions a story where he had to carry his brother out of their burning house because his brother refused to get up because he had to rest before work the next day.

Mathias, however, did not have any documented intellectual disabilities in the same way the other four did. He had been a football player in high school and served in the military following graduation. He did have a problem with drugs and was first put into a psychiatric facility during his sophomore year of high school after a bad hallucination trip. He would later be medically discharged from the military for paranoid schizophrenia.

After being discharged, he quickly went downhill. While being in jail, he called over a guard and punched him in the face. That same month, he was staying at his cousin’s home and the cousin’s wife was sleeping after taking medication for an illness. The cousin, after worrying why a bathroom break was taking so long, caught Mathias fondling his wife. After his cousin told him he was calling the police, he proceeded to tell his cousin that he wanted to return to jail.
He was later arrested a few months later for threating to stab a woman in the jaw and then telling the woman’s 3-year-old child that “I thought I’d kill you once, I guess I’ll have to do it again.”

Mathias also had a history of breaking out of facilities and walking long distances. After being arrested in Stockton at one point, he was sent to a psychiatric facility. He spent two days there before breaking out through a drainage pipe and walking/hitchhiking the 80 miles back home. At one point, he also left his home to go live with his grandmother in Northern Oregon. His mother begged him to return home yet he hung up the phone on her. He showed back up a few weeks later fifthly and claimed that he had walked from Portland, stealing milk off porches and eating dog food to stay alive on the 540 mile trip.

The final violent incident occurred a few weeks after his trip back home. He broke into the home of a local couple and the couple awoke to find Mathias standing in their bedroom. He told them that he was looking for a ring to return to Satan and that they also owed him rent money because the house was his.

It was reported he was on the medications Stellazine and Congentine twice daily for his schizophrenia and for the last few years and had been doing very well.

posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 02:43 PM


The five men (often referred to as “the boys” by their families) were all good friends and shared a love of basketball. They all attended vocational rehab and were all considered high functioning. They were on a Special Olympics team called the “Gateway Gators” and were excited to be playing in a tournament that coming Saturday where the winner would be rewarded a week in LA including a trip to Disneyland.

The five men had prepared the night before, some even laying out their uniforms and asking parents to wake them up on time. They also had made plans for the Friday night to watch a basketball game, so on February 24th, 1978 they all loaded into Jack’s car and drove the them to watch Chico State vs. UC Davis. Madruga, the only member of the group besides Mathias who had a driver's license, drove the group 50 miles north to Chico in his turquoise and white 1969 Mercury Montego. The men wore only light coats even though there were cool temperatures in the upper Sacramento Valley at night that time of year.

After the Davis team won the game, the group got back into Madruga's car and drove a short distance from the Chico State campus to Behr's Market in downtown Chico. There they bought snacks along with sodas and cartons of milk to drink. It was shortly before the store's 10 p.m. closing time; the clerk later remembered them because she resented that such a large group had come in and delayed her from starting the process of closing.

None of them were seen alive again after that point. At their homes, some of the men's parents had stayed up to make sure they returned. When morning came and they had not, police were notified.

Police in Butte and Yuba counties began searching along the route the men took to Chico. They found no sign of them, but a few days later a Plumas National Forest ranger told investigators that he had seen the Montego parked along Oroville-Quincy Road in the forest on February 25. At the time he had not considered it significant, since many residents often drove up there into the Sierra Nevada on winter weekends to go cross-country skiing on the extensive trail system, but after he read the missing persons bulletin he recognized the car and led the deputies to it on February 28.

Discovery of the car - Inside the car was evidence suggesting the men had been in it between when they were last seen and when it was abandoned. The wrappers and empty cartons and cans they had purchased in Chico were present, along with programs from the basketball game they had watched and a neatly folded road map of California. But the discovery of the car raised more questions than it answered.

The location where Jack Madruga’s car was found made absolutely no sense. The boys were to head 50 miles south to the Yuba City area on their return trip. The car was found in the opposite direction of their homes, roughly a 2.5 hour drive from where they were last seen in Chico. What is also perplexing is that the car was found up in the mountains of the Plumas National Forest in an elevation of 4500 feet with 11 inches of snow around the car. At first investigators believed the car had become disabled in some way and the boys left on foot to get a ride. That turned out to not be the case. Authorities had to hot-wire the car (since the keys were missing) and the car started right up even after being in those rough elements for 3 days. It had about a quarter tank of gas in it and there was some evidence of tires spinning but it was in good working order. In fact, the five boys would have easily been able to push it out of the predicament it was in even if they were under the false assumption the car was stuck.

The investigators were also amazed at the shape the car was in considering the rugged terrain it had ventured into. It had no damage to the undercarriage or the relatively low hanging muffler. They believe the car was driven up there with some expertise, as in someone who knew the trail well, or with such precision as to not damage it. Either the driver had been very careful, or it was someone familiar with the road, a familiarity Madruga was not known to have. Nor, his family said, would Madruga have let someone else drive it. But the car also was unlocked and had a window rolled down when it was found, and they also said it was unlike him to leave the car so unsecured.

Poor weather conditions in the mountains did hamper the search. Police brought in deputies, volunteers, bloodhounds, snowmobiles, horseback riders, helicopters & airplanes as well as 4-wheel drive vehicles. The only thing they came across which might have been a clue was on March 18th when a gold colored cloth was found tied to a tree only 1.25 miles from where the car was found. It may have been part of a jacket lining and searchers were never able to ascertain whether it had anything to do with the 5 missing men.

Efforts to search the vicinity were hampered by a severe snowstorm that day. Two days later, after searchers in Snowcats nearly got lost themselves, further efforts were called off due to the weather. No trace of the men was found other than the car.

edit on 24-2-2020 by jtrenthacker because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 02:46 PM

In response to local media coverage of the case, police received reports of some, or all of the men being sighted after they had left Chico, reports of them being seen elsewhere in California or the country. Most were easily dismissed, but two stood out.

Joseph Schons of Sacramento told police he inadvertently wound up spending the night of February 24–25 near where the Montego was found. He had driven up there, where he had a cabin, to check the snowpack in advance of a weekend ski trip with his family. At 5:30 p.m., about 150 feet up the road, he, too, had gotten stuck in the snow. In the process of trying to free it, he realized he was beginning to experience the early symptoms of a heart attack and went back in, keeping the engine running to provide heat.

Six hours later, lying in the car and experiencing severe pain, he told police, he saw headlights coming up behind him. Looking out, he saw a car parked behind him, headlights on, with a group of people around it, one of which seemed to him to be a woman holding a baby. He called to them for help, but then they stopped talking and turned their headlights out. Later, he saw more lights from behind him, this time flashlights, that also went out when he called to them.

After that, Schons said at first, he recalled a pickup truck parking 20 feet behind him briefly, and then continuing on down the road. Later, he clarified to police that he could not be sure of that, since at the time he was almost delirious from the pain he was in. After Schons' car ran out of gas in the early morning hours, his pain subsided enough for him to walk 8 miles down the road to a lodge, where the manager drove him back home, passing the abandoned Montego at the point where he had recalled hearing the voices originate from. Doctors later confirmed he had indeed experienced a mild heart attack.

Weiher's mother said ignoring someone's pleas for help was not like her son, if indeed he had been present. She recalled how he and Sterling had helped someone they knew get to the hospital after overdosing on Valium.

The other notable report was from a woman who worked at a store in the small hamlet of Brownsville, 30 miles from the spot where the car had been abandoned, which they could have reached had they continued down the road from where they left the car. On March 3, the woman, who saw fliers that had been distributed with the men's picture and information about the $1,215 reward the families had put up told deputies that four of them had stopped at the store in a red pickup truck, two days after the disappearance. The store owner corroborated her account.

The woman said she identified the men immediately as from out of the area due to their "big eyes and facial expressions". Two of the men, whom she identified as Huett and Sterling, were in the phone booth outside while the other two went inside. Police said she was "a credible witness" and they took her account seriously.

Additional detail came from the store owner. He told investigators that men whom he believed to be Weiher and Huett came in and bought burritos, chocolate milk and soft drinks. Weiher's brother told the Los Angeles Times that while driving to Brownsville in a different car in apparent ignorance of the basketball game seemed completely out of character for them, the owner's description of the two men's behavior seemed consistent with them, as Weiher would "eat anything he could get his hands on" and was often accompanied by Huett more than any of the other four. However, Huett's brother said Jack hated using telephones to the point that he would handle calls for his brother Jack from the other men in the group.

posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 02:47 PM

On Saturday, June 4th, 1978, 100 days after the boys had gone missing, a group of bikers who were out riding in the mountains pulled up to a 60 ft. abandoned forest trailer when they smelled something horrible. The window had been broken and when they peered inside saw a horrific sight. It was the body of a man lying on a bunk bed with 8 sheets covering him from head to toe like a shroud. Ted Weiher had now been found. Police were then alerted, and they arrived at the trailer to investigate. So many things about Ted Weiher’s life and death those 100 days defied logic on so many levels. The trailer was more than 19 miles from where the car had been abandoned and he would have had to walk through snow drifts to get there. He was found with no shoes on and his feet frozen solid. They had suffered frostbite so badly they had turned gangrenous and he would have been in a great deal of pain. The trailer appeared to have been ransacked as though someone possibly searching for something. It is also so tragic that there were so many things at Ted’s disposal in and near that trailer that could have sustained his life indefinitely. There was a propane tank nearby that could have been turned on to supply heat to the trailer. There was additional clothing and blankets that he could have used. There was a nearby storage shed and some of the rations had been taken out and consumed (roughly 36 meals) but there was also an unlocked locker near the storage shed that contained enough food for all 5 of them to live on for a year. There were matches in the trailer and plenty of reading material to start a fire. It did appear there were used matches in the sink but the only evidence of them being used was a half-burned candle on the table next to Ted Weiher’s corpse. Also, on that bedside table, was Ted’s ring, necklace and wallet as well as a gold watch that no one recognized as belonging to any of the boys. I think the most troubling aspect of Ted’s death is the coroner determined that Ted had been alive for some 8-13 weeks after he went missing! In fact, he could have died just days before he was discovered. He made these findings based on the amount of facial hair Ted had grown since he went missing as well as Ted having lost a startling 80 lbs. in the short time between when he went missing and when he died. So, Ted died of malnutrition and hypothermia when all around him was food and several things he could have used to keep warm.

Once again intense searches were conducted in hopes of finding the other four missing men. Two days later, 11.4 miles from the car, the skeletal remains of Jack Madruga and Bill Sterling were found. Then two days after that there was a discovery just off the same road but only two miles from the trailer and was that of Jackie Huett’s backbone. Sadly, his remains were found by his own father who insisted on helping with the search efforts. The next day, about 100 yards downhill from the rest of the bones, his skull was located. In total four of the five missing men were now located but where was Gary Mathias? It was determined that his shoes were found inside the Forest Service trailer where Ted’s body was. Since Ted’s shoes had been removed it is speculated that after Ted died, Gary took Ted’s warmer shoes and left to go out in the elements possibly horrified by his friend’s death and wanting to get out of the trailer. Gary would have been in poor shape to try to venture and get help. He had gone a long time without his medication and his stepfather even said he would probably be talking to himself. Gary also needed his glasses and it was stated if he somehow had lost them, he would suffer from double vision. In the past without his medication Gary was known to have violent tendencies so it’s hard to know what kind of mental state he was in. Was Gary’s body in the mountains with the rest of his friends or did he somehow get off the mountain and live a bit longer undetected?

Even knowing that four of the five men had died in the Sierra, investigators still could not completely explain what had led to those deaths. They still had found no explanation for why the men were there, although they learned that Mathias had friends in the small town of Forbestown, and police believed it was possible that, in an attempt to visit them on the way back home, the men may have taken a wrong turn near Oroville that put them on the mountain road. For whatever reason the men had left the Montego; they had, instead of going back down the road (where they had passed the lodge that Schons later returned to), continued along the road in the direction they were originally going. Purposeful motion like that is not consistent with the circular patterns traveled by those who genuinely believe themselves lost.

The day before the men went missing, a Forest Service Snowcat had gone along the road in that direction to clear snow off the trailer roof so it would not collapse. It was possible, police believed, that the group had decided to follow the tracks it left, through snowdrifts 4–6 feet high, to wherever they led, in the belief that shelter was not too far away. Madruga and Sterling probably succumbed to hypothermia midway along the long walk to the trailer.

It is assumed that once they found the trailer, the other three broke the window to enter. Since it was locked, they may have believed it was private property, and may have feared arrest for theft if they used anything else they found there. After Weiher died, or the others believed he had, they perhaps chose to attempt to return to civilization by different routes, overland, on foot.

In my personal opinion, I believe Gary Mathias was responsible for the disappearance and eventual death of the other four. Given his diagnosis and past violent episodes, it is a good possibility that he may have had another schizophrenic episode that may have caused him to lead the others into the mountains, eventually getting lost. But the thing that strikes me most about this case is the fact that one of the victims apparently starved to death in a cabin full of food. Even if Mathias left and told them not to eat the food for some reason, at some point, after days or weeks, they'd probably break and eat something, right? Starvation is an excruciating way to die, and I'd imagine it would take an impossible amount of willpower to restrain from eating for that long when there is food within reach.
Then again, the bit about one of the boys having to be carried out of a burning house because he wanted to keep sleeping suggests that maybe they would not have given in to hunger if they believed there was reason not to.

What happened to Mathias? Why was his body ever found?

posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 04:57 PM
woah, evil come to life...I swear. like the bunch in Europe in 1950....death pass yeah...

reminds me of the voodoo daughters....two sisters or cousins from Louisianna driving to Dallas with a spirit forcing them....took ones eyes....

my take.....vengence is God's I know, but....

posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 06:11 PM
if I had to guess I'd say hijacking

but could that car hold 6-7 people?

very sad. tough decision to let people like that out on their own.
give them credit, they were out there living their lives despite their limitations.

posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 07:32 PM
This is why I started coming here to ATS!! A true but sad mystery. Thank you op!1

posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 07:49 PM
a reply to: jtrenthacker

I’ve only read part one. But I’m going to throw this out just from that.

Mathias met this disabled Group of 4 men somewhere. Maybe at a diner, who knows...

He already stated that he couldn’t live in society. So his plan was to take them deep into the wilderness and murder them. Steal all their money and resources.

However, he got so far in (20 miles), in terrible weather. That he had to stay for a few days.

Then, his meds wore off and he went berserk himself. No way of finding his way back home in that state of mind.

S & F

OP, this should have been put in a different forum than General Chitchat. I almost missed it. 🍻

posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 09:10 PM

originally posted by: KKLOCO
a reply to: jtrenthacker

I’ve only read part one. But I’m going to throw this out just from that.

Mathias met this disabled Group of 4 men somewhere. Maybe at a diner, who knows...

He already stated that he couldn’t live in society. So his plan was to take them deep into the wilderness and murder them. Steal all their money and resources.

However, he got so far in (20 miles), in terrible weather. That he had to stay for a few days.

Then, his meds wore off and he went berserk himself. No way of finding his way back home in that state of mind.

S & F

OP, this should have been put in a different forum than General Chitchat. I almost missed it. 🍻

That is along my line of thinking as well. Sorry you almost missed it. I couldn't figure out what forum it fit in. Any suggestions?

posted on Feb, 24 2020 @ 09:28 PM
a reply to: jtrenthacker

You’re right, it’s a tuff one.

I’d say General Conspiracies. Because there is definitely some strangeness to this story.

I truly enjoyed reading it. Thank you!

Nailed what you thought in your summary after part one. Great minds think alike!

The perpetrator most likely died in the wilderness.

Very cool story and thank you for taking the time to put it here!

Also the possibility of other worldly influences, in this case. We will never know.

posted on Feb, 28 2020 @ 03:08 PM
Great story! I had never heard of this incident before, thank you for sharing.

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