In the dog house

In the dog house

As an aside to this week’s feature story about search and rescue, we asked the old timers: What’s the strangest mission in La Plata County Search & Rescue history? Here’s the unanimous answer.

It was the 1980s – New Wave music, big hair, Ronald Reagan, Chernobyl.  One day, a frantic wife reported her husband, who allegedly spent his weekends searching for gold in La Plata Canyon, did not come home. This set off an extensive SAR mission, with even the military kicking in. 

The car the man drove was immediately found, and that’s where things got weird. The vehicle, it turned out, belonged to his co-worker. And despite long days of seasoned SAR crews scouring every nook and cranny of La Plata Canyon, not a single trace was found of the man, or his dog.

This went on for an entire week, said retired LPCSAR member Keith Roush. “The mountains are big but not enormous,” he said. “If he was out there, there’d be something somewhere.” Meanwhile, the search was making headlines. “The Herald ran an article every day,” he said. “People were really following it.”

The wife, oddly, wouldn’t allow the release of her husband’s name for a week. But once she did, he was found within an hour, and the man’s shaky story came crumbling down.

It turns out, the man created an elaborate story, both to his wife and work, about his weekend treasure hunts. Instead of prospecting, however, the man would take the co-worker’s borrowed car every weekend to the La Platas, park it, and then take his own car stashed there down to Albuquerque, to see his, ahem, other love interest. This particular weekend, for some reason, the man chose not to come home.

Once his name was released, a worker at the animal shelter in Albuquerque connected the dots to a recently impounded dog that had a chip. It showed the dog belonged to the man. She contacted law enforcement, and it was soon deduced that the man was not missing at all, but staying with his mistress in New Mexico. The man’s best friend, in this instance, was his downfall.

“It was the weirdest one because it baffled people who have done this (SAR) forever,” Roush said. “We didn’t find anything because he wasn’t there. It was this elaborate rouse.”

Roush said LPCSAR has only had a couple of weeklong searches in its history, so this one stands out. Ultimately, the man didn’t break the law, so it ended there. “It wasn’t a criminal case,” Roush said. “He just walked out on his wife and was an asshole. God knows what he was telling his wife every Sunday when he came back.”

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