The Search for a Ranger Who Was Lost and Never Found

Investigators, family, and friends are still trying to close the case of Paul Fugate, a naturalist at Arizona’s Chiricahua National Monument who vanished without a trace in 1980. What keeps them motivated to stick with a mystery that may be unsolvable?

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Dody Fugate lives in a creaky, low-ceilinged prefab on seven acres of scrub outside Santa Fe. It was dark inside when I visited nearly two years ago. Navajo rugs were thrown over beige carpet matted with woodstove ash and animal feed. Mason jars were tucked into dusty bookshelves packed with cookbooks, novels, and archaeology texts.

In the garage sat a Ford pickup, the tires flat, which Dody and her husband, Paul, had driven home from the dealership in 1971. No pictures of Paul were anywhere that I could see, but his presence was all around. There was the old nameplate from his desk: “Paul B. Fugate, Park Ranger.” And pinned to the wall was a bumper sticker, white letters on a forest green background. “Where is Paul Fugate,” it read. The absence of a question mark suggested less an inquiry than a demand.

It wasn’t until my second full day here that Dody—an elfin woman in her late seventies with hip-length hair streaked gray—talked about the wrinkled work shirt and pair of jeans hanging on the back of a chair. She said they were Paul’s “civvies,” the street clothes he would have changed into after finishing work on the last day he was ever seen, four decades ago. She had no idea how long they’d been there. “People respond to these traumas in many ways,” she said when I commented on the disordered state of her home. “For a long time, I went into another dimension. I went nuts.”

Paul was last seen around 2 P.M. on Sunday, January 13, 1980, when he stepped out of the visitor center at Chiricahua National Monument, in southeastern Arizona, wearing his standard Park Service uniform and Red Wing boots and carrying a green down parka. “I am going to do a trail,” he announced to an aide. If he wasn’t back by 4:30, she should close up without him.

Paul was a monument naturalist who answered visitors’ questions, curated exhibits, and put together trail guides and plant lists. He was 41 then, and had a Texas twang, blue eyes, a woolly brown beard, and a ponytail that ran to his shoulders like a middle finger to his superiors. He was also known to smoke a joint when the mood struck him, and he chafed under the buttoned-down Park Service of that era. “Give ’em a bad time” was the Fugate family mantra. He had been fired from the monument once before but successfully sued to get his job back, to no one’s great pleasure—not even, really, his own.

Paul loved mountains as much as he despised bureaucracy. The Chiricahuas are part of a chain of isolated “sky islands” that rise more than 5,400 feet above the Sonoran Desert floor. Eroded tuff spires known as hoodoos peek out from ridgetop forests; spotted cats prowl the stone labyrinth below. The monument is named for the Chiricahua Apache, whose most revered leader, Cochise, waged a long war with the U.S. government in the late 1800s.

For all the monument’s hideouts, there were only so many areas one would normally patrol, with just an eight-mile-long, dead-end road, a single campground, and a system of trails that could be hiked in a single day. Paul didn’t bother taking his radio, ID, or billfold, or $300 worth of cash and checks. He didn’t even take his trusty pocket glass for examining plants.

Dody Fugate at her home near Santa Fe
Dody Fugate at her home near Santa Fe (Brad Trone)

At the time, Dody lived in Tucson, about two hours west of the Chiricahuas, while Paul lived at the monument, in a spartan cobblestone cabin where he might stay for a couple of weeks at a stretch. That weekend he had a houseguest visiting, a seasonal employee who asked not to be named in this story—I’ll call her Bonnie—and when he didn’t return after dark, she grew concerned. Earlier that day, Paul had driven Bonnie up to the Massai Point Trailhead so she could hike downhill to the visitor center. At about 8 P.M., she notified Ted Scott, the monument’s superintendent, who rounded up two colleagues and set out with a flashlight, trudging through the surrounding can­yons, calling Paul’s name the whole way.

The next morning, Scott contacted the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which sent in a search and rescue team, putting a total of 22 men and women on the ground, plus one dog. By Tuesday afternoon, the National Guard had a helicopter overhead and 16 volunteers from the Southern Arizona Rescue Association bedded down at the visitor center. They scrambled over rocky ridges and rappelled into the impassable Organ Pipe Formation. They were excited to find footprints, until they realized they’d been made by a searcher coming up from below. Moving in a long line, like a string of Boy Scouts cleaning up a campground, they scoured most everything within half a mile of the visitor center.

The official search effort lasted just over two weeks, but Dody marshaled groups of volunteers, who over the next several years walked the trails, checked abandoned mines, and otherwise hunted for traces of the missing ranger. Dody and the volunteers held benefit concerts and badgered Arizona senator Barry Goldwater to get involved. Purported Fugate sightings trickled in from around the country: one turned out to be a mentally disabled man in New Mexico, another a shrimp fisherman in the Florida Keys. None of the tips panned out.

While Park Service officials determined that Paul was nowhere on the 18 square miles of the monument, a criminal investigator for the sheriff’s department named Craig Emanuel came to believe that he may have been the victim of a drug deal gone wrong. Back then Cochise County, which shares 80 miles of border with Mexico, was a place in transition. Outsiders were moving in to the predominantly white area, and the Chiricahua Corridor, a historic immigration route for undocumented farmworkers from Mexico, was just starting to be used by drug mules.

Whatever the merits of Emanuel’s theory, Paul failed to turn up either dead or alive, and he remains the only Park Service ranger ever to go missing and never be accounted for. “To lose a ranger—damn,” says Scott, now 91. “Whenever we hiked, we were always thinking maybe we would just find him.”

In the absence of any hard evidence about Paul’s whereabouts, the Park Service formally fired him for abandoning his post, a move that was grounds for denying Dody survivor’s benefits and Paul’s retirement funds for nearly a decade. This was bad PR for the government, which in the words of a 1981 newspaper column came out “looking like a heartless, money-grubbing villain.”

That narrative hardened, with Paul depicted as a likable antihero, a freewheeling pioneer of the New West. Dody, meanwhile, was seen as twice a victim, somebody who’d managed to prevail against an uncaring bureaucracy only through old-school grit and perseverance.

Over the years, Paul’s unsolved disappearance has haunted everyone it’s touched. Detective Emanuel kept in contact with Dody, and after retiring seven years ago, he picked up the case again, long after it had gone cold, traveling around the state and reinterviewing sources. A new lead in February 2017 spurred the Park Service to put its own guy on the case, a special agent named Clay Anderson. The lead went nowhere, but the following year, the Park Service announced that it was raising the reward for information, from $20,000 to $60,000.

I didn’t think much of the whole thing until I learned that Emanuel had a suspect, and that Anderson was hoping to get cadaver dogs onto a piece of property in southern Arizona. “I want Dody to know what happened to her husband,” Anderson told me. “If someone is to be accountable, let’s hold them accountable.”

As for Dody, the reopening of the case returned her to a place of crazy-making uncertainty. “When we started this all over, I went back into that,” she said, though I saw little evidence that she had ever really moved out of it. She invited me to her house so I could dig through her files, which is how I found an outline for her unfinished memoir.

“It is easier to admit to death in the long term,” she wrote, “but there is always that hesitation what if he is not. What if just this one time something else happened.” Giving up on Paul meant abandoning their relationship, which in Dody’s view was “a sort of monstrous infidelity.”

The Faraway Ranch
The Faraway Ranch (Brad Trone)
Craig Emanuel
Craig Emanuel (Courtesy Brendan Borrell)

The winter months are quiet in the Chi­ri­cahuas. Most of the seasonal employees have gone home, and the freezing nights keep all but the hardiest campers away. I drove out there one afternoon in December 2018, following behind Anderson’s truck.

A former forest firefighter, Anderson spent a decade as a uniformed officer at various national parks before making the leap to the Investigative Services Branch. Though he’s based in Tucson, his territory covers the entire Southwest, which means that one week he’s out tracking cactus poachers in Big Bend, Texas, and the next he’s looking into a sexual assault at Grand Canyon National Park. I’d connected with him during a rare moment when he was on his own turf, planning his next move in the Fugate case, which had become an obsession. “I’ve caught the bug,” he said.

As we turned onto the monument road, the mountains closed in like castle walls. We passed the vacant entrance booth, then pulled onto a dirt road and parked at the gate to the Faraway Ranch, a historic guest facility that’s now part of the monument. Anderson hopped out of his truck looking like he’d gone deep undercover at an REI Garage Sale. He had a couple of days’ worth of beard growth and was wearing a blue puffy jacket and a pair of wraparounds with a sunglasses strap. The monument’s chief ranger, Matt Stoffolano, was also with us, in full uniform, with a tidy mustache and buzz cut.

Anderson gestured toward a cluster of buildings in the clearing. “So, welcome to­—maybe—the scene of the crime,” he said. When Paul had exited the visitor center, it’s believed that he took a mile-long trail that follows a creek and came here.

“There’s bad juju in this spot, if you believe in that,” Stoffolano said.

One of the Faraway’s former owners, Lillian Riggs, died in 1977, at 89, blind and partly deaf. During her ownership, the house was inhabited by a string of caretakers, including one who hemorrhaged and died on the couch. After Riggs’s death, the place was converted into a museum. A friend of hers, Sally Klump, vanished without a trace from a nearby ranch in 1978. In 2014, a Park Service employee named Karen Gonzales was assaulted and nearly killed at the Faraway by an alleged drug smuggler from Mexico. Finally, there were the human bones that turned up in the surrounding Coronado National Forest, where on separate occasions, both in 2015, two adults had gone missing under suspicious circumstances.

The details of the Fugate case were strange, and they got stranger the more I learned. Days into the initial search, Dody brought in a clairvoyant, Sandee Brooke, who immediately detected what she called a “time portal” inside the Riggs house. (Back in those days, psychic detectives like Dorothy Allison, who assisted the investigation of the Son of Sam murders, were a daytime-TV staple.) Brooke claimed that she’d had a vision of two men bending over a woman’s drugged, unconscious body. Paul inadvertently witnessed something he shouldn’t have, she said. The men subdued him, shoved a drug down his throat, and dumped him across the Mexican border. Dody seemed shaken by this report, particularly because she had seen sketchy characters and apparent vandalism around the Faraway, which she told the cops about. “Someone is lying,” she wrote in her notes from that day. “Somebody knows what happened.”

People disappear for all kinds of reasons, including accidents, mental disabilities, natural disasters, and personal choice. A common refrain you hear from law-enforcement officials is: “It’s not a crime to go missing.” No comprehensive estimates exist for the number of missing persons in the U.S., but the FBI’s National Crime Information Center listed 87,438 active cases at the end of 2019. Only a small fraction of the 600,000 or so adults reported missing each year turn out to have gone missing involuntarily. But even with a promptly reported homicide, the likelihood that it will be resolved isn’t reassuring: about 40 percent of murders in the U.S. fail to lead to an arrest. In cases where there’s no body, murder weapon, or motive, that number is undoubtedly lower.

Paul was last seen around 2 P.M. on Sunday, January 13, 1980, when he stepped out of the visitor center at Chiricahua National Monument, in southeastern Arizona, wearing his standard Park Service uniform. “I am going to do a trail,” he announced.

Often, when an investigation that began as a missing-person case morphs into a possible murder, the people closest to the victim aren’t properly interrogated until the trail has gone cold. When Paul disappeared, suspicions of foul play emerged about five days later, when Dick Horton, a Park Service volunteer in his fifties, came forward to recount a memory he’d had. Horton reported that, while in the car with his wife, Joy, around the time of the disappearance, he’d seen Paul slumped between two men in a pickup barreling away from the monument at 50 miles per hour.

Horton’s story was promising enough that, at the end of January 1980, Detective Emanuel had him put under hypnosis at a nearby motel. Horton worked up a sweat and shed tears, recalling that Paul looked “sad and dejected.” The pickup was dark green, with a camper shell. The driver, he said, was in his thirties, had a Kenny Rogers beard, and was wearing a black, white, and red plaid shirt. The second man wore a green jacket, perhaps the one Paul had left the visitor center with. Others working in the monument reportedly saw vehicle spinout tracks on a primitive road near the Faraway and signs of a scuffle in the dirt.

If Paul had been abducted or murdered, the culprits had at least a week’s head start on investigators. The old case file, which Stoffolano had digitized in its entirety, is an archive of long shots and dead ends, and it contains thousands of documents, including interviews and polygraph reports. Emanuel, now in his seventies, is the most comprehensive repository of the case’s information, a living hard drive that Anderson has come to rely on.

As Anderson led me to the edge of the Faraway property, where a plaque with an image of Paul—clean-shaven and on horseback—had been installed, he said that murders by strangers were rare, and yet here we have a dot on the map apparently swirling with this kind of violence. “We build cases on what we know,” he said. “Once we pare it back to what we know, it’s not a lot.”

“It’s zero,” Stoffolano said. “We know Paul’s missing. That’s it. There’s no evidence.”

Paul Braxton Fugate was born in Brook­lyn, New York, on September 2, 1938, the first of three sons and three daughters. When World War II broke out, Paul’s parents returned to their home state of Texas and moved into a wood-shingled two-bedroom house in Fort Worth. As a teenager, Paul grew Jurassic-size castor bean plants in the backyard and tamed a crow, which would skin rats near the kitchen window and dive-bomb a neighbor’s shiny bald head.

Paul’s father, Braxton, was a sheet-metal worker for a predecessor of Lockheed Martin and earned side money doing taxes. He was a hard-ass, rigidly enforcing rules that Paul had little use for. “In our family, you didn’t fight,” says his youngest sister, Monette. “You got those really straight white lips and walked away.” Later, Paul learned how to stand his ground, refusing to sign a loyalty oath in ­college and protesting the Vietnam War.

Dody, whose legal name is Marianne, got to know the Fugate girls when they were all Girl Scouts together. She was an only child, the daughter of a railroad worker in southern New Mexico. “I lived a lot of my life on the edge of nowhere,” she told me. Her family moved to the outskirts of Fort Worth in 1948. She and Monette both ended up at the University of Texas at Austin.

Back from college in the summer of 1962, Dody stopped by the Fugate house. While her friends exchanged dance tips, she wandered into the dining room and saw a guy with a crew cut and Buddy Holly glasses. Paul launched into a bizarre lecture about Inuits, then asked if she wanted to see his gun. Of course she did: she was on the women’s shooting team at what was then Arlington State College (now UT Arlington). That night she told the Fugate girls she was going to marry Paul. “Oh, my God, don’t do that,” Paul’s sister Linda said. “He’s weird.”

Paul had eclectic interests, but a career wasn’t one of them. He zigzagged toward a biology degree at Arlington while collecting antique guns, performing quality-control work for a flour-milling company, and hanging out with newspapermen at the Cellar, a rowdy fixture on the Fort Worth music scene. After graduating in 1963, Paul considered putting his science skills to use at Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground, an Army test site for biological and chemical weapons, but decided to apply to the National Park Service instead.

Paul and Dody married on December 11, 1964, and five months later he went to work at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, where visitors were enthralled by his sunset talks. Next the Fugates were stationed at the sandstone canyons of Arizona’s Navajo National Monument, home of the Betatakin cliff dwelling. “We were just in ecstasy,” Dody said.

Correction: almost in ecstasy. Paul didn’t like being bossed around by the monument’s superintendent, Jack Williams, who he derided as “Smokey Pig.” He and another employee would plink bottles with their rifles and joke about sending Williams tumbling off a cliff on a horse. The disdain was mutual. In a 1967 letter, Williams chastised Paul for his anti-authority streak, his laziness, and his personal appearance. “If you want to look and live like a hippie that is certainly your prerogative, but not here at Navajo National Monument,” he wrote. Williams was annoyed that the Park Service couldn’t just fire the man. “I do not understand the ‘breed’ now coming into the NPS,” he wrote to the regional director. The Park Service transferred Paul to another park instead.

In 1970, when Paul and Dody landed in the Chiricahuas, their relationship was evolving into an open marriage. Open for Paul, at least. Dody had to care for her horses and dogs and had little need for another human companion. Her only rule was that Paul’s relationships be strictly physical. His first affair was with Becky Orozco, who was 19 and working as a park aide when he propositioned her. “Dody would be very angry with me if Paul and I talked about emotional stuff,” recalls Becky, who now lives in Bisbee, Arizona. Dody had no doubts about Paul’s spiritual commitment to their marriage. “I knew he would never leave me,” she says with certainty.

In keeping with his counterculture lifestyle, Paul had started wearing a Fu Manchu mustache, which the Park Service cited as a violation of its grooming standards when he was fired less than a year after his arrival. The agency also alluded to his “negative personal attitude” and “abuse of government equipment.” According to Dody, the last charge arose from a false claim that Paul had stolen government hay for her horse. Paul and Dody moved to Tucson, where they began graduate studies at the University of Arizona. Paul, with help from a civil rights lawyer named Edward Morgan, spent the next five years waging a legal battle to get his job back. 

In the meantime, Paul made an impression in the botany department at U of A. His supervisor called him “one of the finest men it has been my pleasure to work with” and “among the top ten” students the department had seen in the past 25 years. After Paul went missing, a classmate named a new plant species in his honor, a flowering desert perennial called Amsonia fugatei.

When Paul was reinstated to the Chiricahua monument in 1976—over the objection of Park Service lawyers—Dody kept the job she’d found as a scientific photographer in Tucson. Paul was awarded back pay minus any income he had earned from research stipends and student teaching, which meant, Dody says, that the Park Service ponied up only a few thousand dollars for the grief it had caused.

In the following four years, Dody rarely visited the monument. Twice a month, Paul would drive to Tucson to see her and marvel at prints she made from the Pioneer and Voyager flybys of Saturn and Jupiter. Paul, who was a science-fiction fan, bought a Celestron telescope that he set up for visitors under the Chiricahuas’ lightless skies.

All was not well, though. Bill Murray, a ranger who lived next door to Paul, said that his colleague seemed like a “lost soul.” ­Chiricahua was no Yellowstone, certainly not the place for a man of Paul’s intellect. “Paul wasn’t going to go anywhere in the Park Service,” he said. “They had it out for him.”

In his free time at the monument, Paul tinkered with a 1955 Chevy sedan and kept tabs on a resident javelina and which wildflowers were in bloom. But he was social by nature and would hang out with the younger crowd of seasonal employees, getting stoned and going on full-moon hikes like some minor guru.

Which is how, in March 1978, he met Bonnie, who was 20 years younger. “I loved him,” Bonnie says, “but I loved him in a way that wasn’t going to get him to leave his wife.”

Clay Anderson
Clay Anderson (Brad Trone)
Supplies in Anderson’s search vehicle
Supplies in Anderson’s search vehicle (Brad Trone)

Paul had been missing four days when snow started coming down on the search crews. Hope of finding him alive was fading. On the evening of January 17, Bonnie returned to Paul’s cabin and found that Dody and a friend had finally arrived, with two horses in tow.

Dody and Bonnie had met for the first time during the previous week in Tucson. Paul picked Bonnie up at the airport, and the three of them drank wine back at the house. Dody was uncomfortable with the way Bonnie had leaned on Paul for emotional support when Bonnie’s father died, and she told Paul that she thought the relationship had run its course. Picking her up at the airport “was kind of our way of explaining that it was over,” Dody said.

Bonnie, however, never got the message from Paul: for all she knew, nothing had changed. Now, inside the cabin of the man they both loved, she and Dody had a private moment. “I was worried that maybe something happened to you,” Dody said. Bonnie wasn’t sure what she meant. “Like maybe you’d gotten pregnant,” Dody said.

Bonnie could feel her face starting to burn. She took a seat. She hadn’t had her period in two months, and the smell of eggs had started to make her feel nauseous. “Why would you think that?” she asked.

“Did you and Paul not have sex?”

“He told me he had a vasectomy.”

“Not as far as I knew.”

Bonnie was already shaken by Paul’s disappearance, but this revelation made the whole situation seem surreal. She assumed that the vasectomy had in fact happened. When she told Paul about her symptoms a few days before his disappearance, she asked if he had ever heard of a vasectomy “reversing.” He hadn’t, he told her.

The man she loved and trusted had lied to her, and now there was no way to confront him about it, no way to make sense of the situation that lay ahead. Dody thought Bonnie needed to leave the monument, and she connected her with a therapist in Tucson. (Bonnie says a friend from the monument connected her with a therapist.) As the search resumed the next morning, Bonnie peed in a jar, stuck it in a cooler, and drove to Tucson for a pregnancy test. After it came back positive, she had an abortion.

Amid the drama, the unconventional nature of Dody and Paul’s relationship became public knowledge. “I couldn’t have accepted that, and I was surprised that she did,” says Paul’s sister Monette. Dody said it was “embarrassing,” and in her notes she expressed fears about it being a distraction. “I can’t let [Bonnie] who is a nice sweet [girl] save face and salve her conscience to the tune of crucifying Paul,” she wrote. “If [Bonnie] could see that she has had something that has happened to a million women before her; that it was not a singular ‘crime’ that she was not ‘defrauded’ but simply fooled herself.”

By summer, two major theories had coalesced. A Park Service investigator named Pat Hanley believed Paul had simply run away from a failed career, a broken marriage, and a pregnant girlfriend. Emanuel, meanwhile, thought the affair was irrelevant and believed Paul was content in his life. He suspected, largely on the basis of the hypnosis session, that Paul had been taken off monument property against his will and murdered.

On February 23, 1981, Dody was sent a bill demanding that she return the $6,925 the Park Service had paid her under the presumption that Paul was missing. “Since Paul Fugate has been officially determined to be absent from his post of duty without authority,” it said, “all payments of amount by allotment for the period while he was under ‘missing status’ must be repaid to the United States.” Later that year, the Park Service’s regional chief detective told a radio reporter that finding Paul was not a priority, that he felt certain Paul was “alive and is living with a paramour somewhere, very healthy.”

Where Fugate may have vanished
Where Fugate may have vanished (Brad Trone)
Matt Stoffolano
Matt Stoffolano (Brad Trone)

On a Friday morning in December 2018, I joined Anderson at the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office for a meeting of the Paul Fugate Task Force. The office, founded in 1881, is located about 30 minutes south of Tombstone. When I arrived, eight investigators from various agencies were seated around a long table, with a box of doughnuts open in front of them, which led to the requisite cop-doughnut jokes and a test of willpower to see who could hold out longest.

It was my first time meeting Emanuel, a lanky lawman with swept-back gray hair who had been in his thirties when Fugate first went missing. Emanuel had followed up on some 400 leads, but the investigation fell by the wayside in 1985 when he took a job as a campus cop. He kept in touch with Dody and gave depositions to support her fight for widows’ benefits from the government. Fugate’s case was never far from his mind. “This was the one that I felt was solvable,” he told me.

Anderson briefed the team on two recent leads he’d received, both “goose eggs.” The first, that Fugate was killed while hand-feeding a jaguar, was quickly discounted. The second, that he was killed by a poacher, led Anderson to follow up with an old man in the town of St. David. “He answered the door in his chonies, with a walker and a .357,” Anderson recalled with a chuckle. “After we put our guns away, the guy sat down and talked to me for an hour and a half.” The poacher story didn’t hold up, he said.

Some of the older leads seemed more promising. In October 1980, Emanuel had received a block-print letter telling him to “ask Ernest Goff in the county jail in PHX about Mr. Fugate.” A year later, another letter in the same style pointed the finger at a guy named Tex Carpenter. Both were postmarked Bloomington, Illinois.

Around the time the letters were sent, Goff was acquitted in a high-profile prison-gang slaying, and a couple of weeks after Paul vanished, Goff and Carpenter stole a pickup at the Phoenix airport and crashed it into an orange tree, a story reported in the Arizona Republic.

Carpenter agreed to take a polygraph test in October 1981 but bailed during the pretest interview after three hours of rambling digressions. During that interview, Carpenter said he’d seen Goff and another, unnamed individual shoot Fugate and had helped bury him south of Tucson, “in a wash in Santa Cruz County.” Carpenter’s life had evidently been threatened in prison by the Aryan Brotherhood, and he seemed willing to tell authorities anything, true or not. Two weeks later, he went through with the polygraph test and recanted the story entirely. Interviewed by the FBI the following year, Carpenter said he might know something about Fugate but wouldn’t talk unless he got some kind of deal. Goff denied any involvement. Both men have since died.

In November 1982, Emanuel got a call from the police department in Racine, Wisconsin. According to police reports, a man in his twenties—I’ll call him David, since he was never charged with anything—had been telling friends he’d been to “the place where Cochise is buried” and boasted about killing a police or Border Patrol officer in Arizona. Fugate wasn’t a police officer, but he did carry a badge.

At the time of Fugate’s disappearance, David had apparently been working as a mechanic at a shop in Tucson called Auto World. Emanuel drove to the place and introduced himself to the owner, Frank Youngquist. He was taken aback when Youngquist casually asked him how Dody was doing, though it wasn’t clear how the two knew each other. Then Youngquist made a comment that felt like a taunt. “Missing persons are sure hard to work,” he said.

“That ran deep,” Emanuel told the group. The interview had got more hostile after that. “He ran me out of the garage,” Emanuel said. When he tried to subpoena Youngquist’s records, Youngquist appealed to an assistant DA, who quashed the request.

Emanuel interviewed David in Wisconsin to ask about his comments. He said he’d been puffing himself up at a party. “I’m a bullshitter,” he said. Emanuel offered to fly him to Tucson so he could take a polygraph to clear his name. David eventually agreed, but the night before the test, according to the polygrapher’s report, he was so frazzled that he popped several sleeping pills. He failed the test, insisting afterward that because “people” had accused him of Fugate’s murder, he sometimes thinks that he did it.

Paul didn’t like being bossed around by the monument’s superintendent, who he derided as “Smokey Pig.” He and another employee would plink bottles with their rifles and joke about sending the superintendent tumbling off a cliff on a horse.

The problem for Emanuel was that no other evidence connected David to any crime. Nevertheless, in 1983, the detective told the Associated Press that he expected to charge “persons with the homicide of Paul Fugate” in the “not so distant future.” When that didn’t pan out, someone leaked David’s name to the media, and David has been a hermit ever since, working in an unnamed auto shop without so much as a mail slot. Emanuel’s certainty about his guilt hasn’t waned. “If he didn’t do it, he knew exactly how it was done,” he told me.

At the task-force meeting, Emanuel described a shaky chain of relationships that led from Bonnie to a fugitive pot grower in Cochise County to a woman in Tucson who took her car to Youngquist for repairs.

“Once you’ve made that link, you’ve cracked the case,” said Brian Miers, a former Drug Enforcement Administration investigator, who was there, he said, because he just liked to “solve shit” in his free time.

Things got convoluted at this point. Emanuel’s primary theory was that Fugate either had come face to face with drug smugglers or was himself involved in a botched drug deal. Youngquist, who died in 2016, owned a plane that he frequently flew to Mexico.

“If he’s flying to Mexico, it’s almost surely to pick up dope,” Miers proposed. He then noted a police report indicating that the woman in Tucson had been at a party with a cocaine trafficker named Kenneth Klink. Klink later died by suicide in room 103 of the Lookout Lodge in Tombstone—or at least that’s what the report said.

“Look at the ‘suicide’ picture in that motel,” Anderson said. “It didn’t happen that way.” Klink was slumped on the couch with a .38 Special at his side. His eyelids were swollen and blue, brains on the couch behind him.

“That’s the common way they do it in Tombstone. In the back of the head,” a sheriff’s detective named Erik Jamka joked. According to a police report, a person named Joseph Decicco, who was believed to be a mob hit man from Chicago, had checked out of the motel that very morning.

“The good news is it sounds super simple,” Anderson said sarcastically.

It was easy to get lost in all the names, yet there was one straightforward theory that placed David in the Chiricahuas: he owned a dune buggy that he liked to drive out in the desert with a friend from Auto World. Maybe something happened on one of those trips? About a month after Paul disappeared, the friend’s father, who was also Youngquist’s business partner, bought a 40-acre parcel west of the monument at an inflated price. The property was sold two years later, which everyone found suspicious. Pictures of it passed around at the meeting showed a dilapidated shed and a No Trespassing sign. Anderson planned to narrow down a probable search area and bring out an FBI cadaver dog to hunt for bones.

In a successful criminal investigation, independent lines of evidence all bend toward a common pole, guiding detectives to a singular theory of the crime. With the Fugate case, you’re spinning in circles. In early 2019, I checked in with Anderson about next steps, but he kept getting pulled into more pressing matters. In March, the Park Service flew a drone over the property to capture detailed images, but months passed without an update, and my sense was growing that the long-awaited search would go nowhere.

In the meantime, I followed up on several leads from the meeting. David’s friend at Auto World said he didn’t think David had ever visited his father’s property. David never got back to me himself, but his wife told me that his story hadn’t changed since he spoke to the police.

When I asked one of Youngquist’s daughters about his flights to Mexico, she said they used to do some fishing down there. Why might Youngquist have been such a jerk to Emanuel? “He was an asshole,” Youngquist’s son said of his father. I tried to go back to Emanuel to get his read on what I was finding, but he didn’t respond to an email I sent and had stopped returning my calls.

There were other inconsistencies. The idea of a major drug deal at the Faraway Ranch seemed laughable to people who were there in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of the migrant traffic went up the east side of the Chiricahuas, toward the town of Portal. Crossing the high mountains in the middle of winter, or doglegging up the monument road, didn’t make sense. Apart from various statements Dody had made to investigators about broken windows, mysterious pickup trucks, and motorcycle gangs, I couldn’t find any independent support for suspicious goings-on.

In a case note Emanuel wrote in March 1983, he described Dody telling him that during the summer before Paul went missing, he and four other employees had driven a government vehicle across the Mexican border to Agua Prieta to pick up dope. One employee who was supposedly in the truck told me that the report was baseless. Bonnie suggested that more likely they were picking up jalapeño escabeche and fresh tortillas for their weekly “pepper feast.” Anderson was also beginning to have doubts about other case notes in Emanuel’s file. “So much of it is crumbling away underneath me,” he said. “I’m going to keep going, as frustrating as it gets.”

The only ostensibly independent evidence I could find for drug activities in Chiricahua was from August 1984, after the Wisconsin lead ran dry. Dody and her lawyers were trying to get the Department of the Interior to reconsider evidence in the case so that Dody might finally receive benefits. Seemingly by coincidence, the DOI received a typed letter about Tex Carpenter signed “Anonymous in Illinois”:


Are you still seeking the whereabouts of a National Park Ranger who disappeared from the Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona in January of 1980? If so TEX CARPENTER an inmate in the Arizona State Prisons is who you should talk to as he told me nearly a year ago that he helped knock off and get rid of a park ranger who got in his pardners way when they were doing something illegal with narcotics in the above mentioned park.

The letter had come up at the task-force meeting, and when we passed it around, the punctuation jumped out. Who uses a semicolon in a salutation? Lingo appearing in the letter—“pardners” and “snitch”—was like something out of Elmore Leonard. Miers noted how familiar the correspondent was with the Fugate case. “He knew how to spell Chiricahuas, which I still struggle with,” he said. More tellingly, the correspondent seemed so intimately informed about the case’s details that they even had a theory as to why Carpenter might have been cagey with the FBI during his previous interview: “He hates the FBI and the Texas Rangers, so dont let no FBIs question him as he told me once that the FBIs fucked him around on a Bank Robbery.”

During the original investigation, Emanuel narrowed down the likely informant to a former cellmate of Carpenter’s named Richard Noak, who had been extradited to Illinois. It took me almost six months to get Noak on the phone. He’d been questioned before and told police the same thing he told me: he didn’t write the letter. “If I did, I would have helped them,” he said.

The letter seemed to me like an elaborate prank or an attempt at misdirection, produced by someone who had an inside track on Emanuel’s investigation. When I suggested as much to Anderson, he seemed more frustrated than surprised. “If you’ve got someone manipulating your moves and pulling strings from behind the curtain,” he said, “then I could see how your investigation would go totally off the rails.”

The Chiricahua landscape
The Chiricahua landscape (Brad Trone)

As I kept hitting dead ends, I reconsidered the much maligned theory that Paul had just walked away. This was what Park Service detective Pat Hanley had proposed; it was dismissed by Emanuel and later by the Park Service itself. Emanuel pointed out that Hanley hadn’t spent more than a few days in Arizona and had brought his family along, treating it like a vacation. Forty years later, with no trace of Paul, Hanley looked even more like a chump. But were his ideas really so absurd?

Paul, who would be 82 if he were alive today, was very intelligent and needed little from the world. He longed for companionship but wasn’t particularly close to his siblings, letting five years lapse between meetings with one of his brothers. He could have found himself a cabin somewhere in South America, where his sister had lived part-time, or deep inside the Navajo reservation. It would be hard to pull off something like that alone, but in 1980 you didn’t need a passport to cross into Mexico or an ID to get on a plane. Bill Murray, the ranger who knew Paul, often wonders about an incident that happened roughly a month before Paul’s disappearance, when Paul came over and gave him an M14 automatic rifle. What the hell did he do that for? Murray recalls wondering. There’s no record of him mentioning it to investigators, but he says he thinks about it all the time.

One day in June 2019, I called Hanley at his home in Northern California. “I have mixed feelings talking to you,” he said grumpily. “They pretty much roasted me, my fan club in Chiricahua.” But he agreed to the conversation, and he told me that he still believed what he wrote in his report: that Paul had vanished on purpose, deliberately leaving his radio behind. “I’ve yet to hear a single thing of substance to the contrary,” he said, calling Emanuel’s leads “bullshit.” Fugate, he said, is “probably walking around with a joint in his mouth and a big smile on his face.”

Back in the 1980s, Dody went to considerable lengths to challenge nearly every statement Hanley made about the case. “Why would [Paul] leave a livelihood, which was just what he wanted to do all of his life and loved doing most,” she wrote in one lengthy rebuttal. “What Mr. Hanley says about our marriage is both cruel and insensitive and has been a source of much grief and anger.” To bolster her case, Dody got Murray to sign an affidavit attesting to the strength of their marriage, but Murray recently told me that he agreed to help Dody because he thought the Park Service was giving her a raw deal. “I never felt like his relationship with Dody was something that was an anchor,” he said.

As much as I sympathized with Dody, I found other inconsistencies in the stories she told me. When I looked up the label on the work shirt she said was Paul’s, I learned that the brand didn’t exist until seven years after his disappearance. A mix-up, Dody replied; it was her shirt. What struck me the most was how she’d latched onto the foul-play theory from day one, and how emphatically she nudged Emanuel in that direction.

Cold cases invite speculation. We’re wired to seek order in the universe, to string together a series of facts into a narrative that makes sense to us. This led me to a third possibility that someone I spoke to had raised: that Dody was in on Paul’s disappearance. “I wonder if they cooked up some scheme,” this person said. A planned disappearance would be the perfect revenge against the Smokey Pigs of the world. 

I brushed off this idea at first, but the gaps in the original investigation made it impossible to dismiss entirely. Consider that Dody didn’t make her way to the monument until four days after Paul’s disappearance, and that she was never asked to provide an alibi, nor was a formal search conducted of her Tucson residence. Dody told me she visited a therapist friend and then went to work on the day she heard the news about Paul, but she stuck around town to see if he—or someone demanding a ransom—would phone. When she arrived at the monument that Thursday, she seemed to have her emotions under control. Murray said that the thing she seemed most upset about was Bonnie’s pregnancy. It wasn’t the infidelity that irked her, but her fear that the Park Service would somehow use it against Paul. “I am afraid it is not going to be easy to deal with [Bonnie],” she wrote in one of her notes. “Especially after [Hanley] got through with her.”

Horton soon came forward with his foggy memory of the truck, and Dody brought out the psychic, who also claimed to have had a vision of Paul in a truck. The psychic began sharing a more detailed account of Paul’s abduction with anyone who would listen. “Lt. Emanuel believed [the psychic’s] story and said he would start the machinery for the search,” Paul’s mother, who was there at the time, wrote in a letter to her children.

The oddities get odder: at Paul’s cabin, investigators found an unfinished life-­insurance application and a check Dody had written to Paul from their joint bank account. She told Hanley that Paul intended to open a new account in nearby Willcox. It was preparation, she later wrote, for her move to the monument that June. Paul and Dody supposedly discussed occupying an old bunkhouse near the Faraway so Paul would be better able to keep an eye on the riffraff she believed were a problem.

But this elaborate story didn’t add up. Hanley learned that their Tucson bank already had a branch in Willcox. If Paul and Dody had a plan to live together, no one at the monument could remember it. “I have no recollection that she ever decided to come out there,” Scott, the superintendent, told me. Bonnie doesn’t remember it coming up either, even though she was planning on returning for another season. 

Two weeks after Paul disappeared, Dody asked Scott how long she would have to wait before getting Paul’s retirement benefits, according to a memo he prepared at the time. “It seemed a little premature,” Scott told me. “We still didn’t know if we were going to find him.” Asked about this, Dody told me she was preparing for the worst. “Mainly because I wasn’t making much money, I asked about his retirement benefits,” she said. “It’s just one of those things you do.”

During the original investigation, Emanuel asked Dody to take a polygraph to rule out her involvement. She showed up with a lawyer, a close friend, and a tape recorder. “Mrs. Fugate initially appeared to be wary inasmuch as her battery of ten civil legal advisors have provided her with much conflicting advice regarding this polygraph examination,” reads the examiner’s report.

Dody denied having any contact with Paul or knowing whether he was dead or alive. The examiner felt that she was being truthful but noted that her response was “very subdued” and “near the numerical area of being classified as being inconclusive.” Polygraph results are notoriously unreliable—Aldrich Ames, the CIA officer who spied for the KGB, passed the test twice—but Dody’s were enough to convince Emanuel she wasn’t involved.

Fugate at Navajo National Monument in 1968
Fugate at Navajo National Monument in 1968 (Courtesy Dody Fugate)

When Anderson first began giving me access to details of the case more than two years ago, he said he hoped my journalistic investigation would open some new doors. But not everyone was pleased with my interest. “I am just paranoid after this long,” Dody wrote in an email that I obtained. “So when I hear an NPS guy talks to a writer and has given him names I thought were confidential and also had called [Bonnie], I became really worried.”

I reached out to Dody after that, and in April 2019 I went to Santa Fe, where we met in the lobby of my hotel. We spoke for several hours before she agreed to drive me to her property, which was located about 20 miles south of town. When we got there, I hopped out and opened a swinging gate, then we rumbled down a dirt drive that was hidden from the road by high scrub. We parked and walked to a barn behind her house. Scooter, her horse, and the Dude, her burro, were scraping dirt and rubbing on a wire fence. Dody gave them feed cakes and they nosed us, hoping for more.

Dody liked to tell stories, and she was good at it. She explained that her grand­father, Bert McCabe, was an explorer, a horse trainer, and a professional gambler who’d given her survival tips from the Old West. Never lie to a homicide detective, he’d said. He doesn’t care what your sins are, because he’s after more serious stuff. If blackmailed, share your secret with the world or you’ll have to shoot the guy. And if it ever comes to that, aim for the belt buckle. Dody, who has a concealed-carry permit, took pride in telling me she used to be able to put five rifle shots through a dime at 200 yards.

Inside the house, I asked if anyone had ever accused her of playing a role in Paul’s disappearance. “When you’re watching a TV show, the first person they suspect is the spouse,” she said, adding that there had been some “Park Service gossip” but no one took it seriously. Bonnie, too, took a polygraph and passed. Dody said, “Someone’s idea of what happened to Paul tells you more about the person having the idea than about what actually happened to Paul.”

The records Dody shared revealed that she’d been in dire financial straits after Paul’s disappearance. By 1985, she had a job at Hughes Aircraft and was making $20,000—the equivalent of about $48,000 today—but she had less than $2,000 in the bank. In letters to Ed Morgan, her lawyer, Dody said that the “wretches” at the Park Service owed her $660,000, and with that amount she could buy a house and cover her losses, which included “2 Arabian horses,” “loss of katchina dolls,” “one year psychiatric counceling,” “damage to teeth from grinding (this is no joke!),” and the “wear and tear on one 44-year-old woman.”

During her long legal fight with the government, which was heard in U.S. Federal Claims Court in Washington, D.C., she sent various correspondence she got to Morgan. In August 1985, she wrote:

Dear Ed;

Plaintiff respectfully submits damn little new to be reported to the Court of Claims. Here it is anyhow.

I lingered on that semicolon for a long time, thinking back to the dubious letter someone had sent about Tex Carpenter. I asked Dody flat out: Could she have written it herself to bolster her legal case?

“Are you out of your mind?” she said loudly. “That is ludicrous.” I knew I was grasping at straws, and another letter in the file, one written by Carpenter, also had that semicolon. While I sat there feeling like a jerk, Dody said she’d once entertained a very different “unwise” plan. She imagined traveling to San Francisco with a sniper rifle that Paul had assembled for her, to shoot a pair of government lawyers she despised. But that was just a fantasy. “I said, ‘No, Dody, they’re not worth it,’ and I sold the rifle.”

Dody pursued her interest in archaeology, taking research trips to Ecuador, Chile, and Peru. In 1989, the government agreed to provide her with Paul’s retirement benefits and a survivor annuity paid through the federal workers’ compensation program. Dody says she also received approximately $40,000 in back pay. She zeroed out her student loans and got a job as a research curator at the Museum of Indian Art and Culture in Santa Fe. “Life might not have been as interesting if Paul hadn’t disappeared,” she said.

Her statement reminded me that I still didn’t understand the nature of Paul and Dody’s unusual partnership. During one conversation, she shared a private reason why she tolerated his affairs: about five years into their marriage, she had started to find sex painful. Doctors identified lesions in her endometrial lining and cauterized them to help ease the pain. But the discomfort would return, and she was always on edge about it.

Paul clearly felt an enduring sense of loyalty toward Dody, and she to him. “I basically married the one person I could marry,” she says. She has never had another romantic relationship, and her closest friend is still Paul’s sister.

In one of Dody’s file boxes, I found a letter that Paul had written to her, along with a handwritten will. Dody explained that she’d found it in their safe-deposit box shortly after Paul vanished. It was dated December 23, 1978. “You won’t be opening this unless something bad has happened, or at least I hope not,” it began. “I have done what I could to see that you can be self-sufficient and believe that is possible now … I know that I’ve been a long way from perfect and all and seem to have got worse as time has passed but still I love you dearly.”

Paul left specific advice on selling some of his rifles and giving him a cheap burial. He also emphasized that the best strategy for her to claim his government death benefits might entail paying off a loan. He added that she had the “proper talents” to succeed without him and that she could “be resolute enough to get through the tough part immediately ahead and do better afterward.”

Whatever the nature of their love, Paul clearly felt an enduring sense of loyalty toward her, and she to him. “I basically married the one person I could marry,” she said. She has never had another romantic relationship, and her closest friend is still Paul’s sister.

The last time Anderson and I spoke, he seemed lost. When he started down this path in 2017, he thought a conclusion might be within reach. Now he can’t say anymore if Paul is alive or dead. “Was this a scam from the start?” he asked. “I think it’s totally plausible.” Which is why Anderson has found himself on occasion pulling out his laptop at three in the morning and going through the case file again, trying to make sense of all the unknowable questions he has about Paul and Dody.

My feeling was that there’d never be an ending to the story. Still, Anderson and Emanuel and everyone else involved in the case would keep searching for answers, because they couldn’t let it go.

Before I hung up, Anderson and I talked about a particular report in the file. It described a guy having a beer in Sierra Vista, about two hours from the monument. The man had been at a training course with Fugate years earlier, and at the bar he sees a man walk in who looks just like him. The guy sits down across the room and orders a drink. The two men lock eyes; there’s a brief moment of recognition. Then the look-alike suddenly grabs his bag and walks out, leaving the half-empty drink behind.

That’s not the end of it, though. The man at the bar gets a plastic bag, collects the cup, and takes it to the sheriff. They pull fingerprints from it and then realize they have nothing to compare them with. Though Paul Fugate was a federal employee for eight years, the government doesn’t have his prints on file.

From Winter 2021 Lead photo: Courtesy Dody Fugate. Graphic: Petra Zeiler.