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Don kemp1

Donald Kemp

Real Name: Paul Donald Kemp Jr.
Nicknames: Don, Donald
Location: Carbon County, Wyoming
Date: November 16, 1982

Case[]

Details: Thirty-five-year-old Don Kemp disappeared while on a trip to Wyoming. On November 16, 1982, his Chevy Blazer was found along Interstate 80 in the middle of the desolate Wyoming prairie. Its doors were open, the engine was running, the radio was on, and clothes were strewn all over the highway. Don was nowhere in sight. Three years later, his body was found just a few miles away. The local sheriff, C.W. Ogburn, concluded that Don froze to death in a blizzard three days after he was lost. Don’s family is not convinced. His mother, Mary Kemp, believes he was murdered.
Mary has conducted her own investigation into Don’s death and has turned up some disturbing evidence. She now believes that he did not become lost in the wilderness but was abducted and killed. Sheriff Ogburn is sure that Don died of natural causes. However, the mounting evidence, including a series of telephone calls supposedly made by Don five months after he disappeared, demands a second look at the case.
Mary describes Don as a brilliant young man with charisma. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, he graduated from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania with a double major in history and English. He later moved to New York City, where he became an advertising executive. But his promising career was put on hold when he was severely disabled in a traffic accident. It took him three years to recover, and he lost all desire to return to Madison Avenue.
According to his sister, Kathy Dobe, Don became disillusioned with materialism. She says he loved the “good life”, and New York epitomized that. She thinks he wanted a simpler, quieter time, and that is what drew him to Wyoming.
Don was an amateur writer and historian. After his accident, he began researching Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. He came to believe that one of the co-conspirators was innocent. He even claimed to have contacted her from the “spirit world”. He planned to write a book about the assassination and his theory.
Don also began to envision himself as a prophet, a messenger of God, and a “leader of men”. He told friends he wanted to “gather the masses” and start a cult relating to the Lincoln assassination in upper Wyoming. According to Mary, he was very religious. One of his diaries contained several religious references.
In the fall of 1982, Don planned a two-month sightseeing trip from Maryland to a scenic mountain retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he intended to write his book. He felt he would be most productive in a “serene and beautiful place”. He sold almost everything he owned, bought a Chevy Blazer, and left his fiancée. On September 6, he began his long drive west, following the Lincoln Heritage Trail.
Don kept in touch with friends and family through phone calls and postcards. When Mary last spoke to him, she noticed that he sounded strange. On November 15, he called his loved ones for the last time. That same day, he was seen at a Western museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He wandered through the small galleries for two hours, speaking to no one.
When he left, Don forgot his attaché case that contained his traveler’s checks, diaries, and driving glasses. Kathy does not know why he left it behind. The museum told her that Don had called and asked, “Is my attaché there?” They told him it was, and he said, “I’ll be in for it right away.” However, he never came to get it. Later that day, he stopped in Laramie, Wyoming, and filled his car with gas. He was last seen at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Monument on Interstate 80 in Laramie.
At 10am the next day, November 16, two highway patrolmen found Don’s car on an off-ramp just north of Interstate 80 near the Wagonhound Rest Area. It had been there since 7:30am. One of the patrolmen, Officer Randy Teeters, says he had never seen anything like it before. The car was left forty miles from any town. Its engine was running, the radio was playing, the doors were unlocked and open, and items were thrown out onto the road.
Officer Teeters noticed that the car was relatively new. He felt it was unlikely that someone would abandon it. He thinks Don was alone in the car because there was only enough room for one person. It was full of camping gear, papers, briefcases, and suitcases.
A single set of footprints in the snow led from the roadside into the empty prairie. Officer Teeters does not know why Don walked into the prairie, especially since it was winter. It was theorized that Don was on medication and did not know what he was doing because of it (or because he was off it).
The local sheriff’s department concluded that Don wandered off alone. Mary initially believed that as well; she thought he may have taken a walk to meditate and became lost. However, she now believes he was abducted and taken from the area. She notes that his car key was bent, a passenger side mirror was broken, and a gasket around the passenger door was ripped off. She does not believe he would abandon his car and possessions and walk away.
Sheriff Ogburn thinks that Don was suffering from mental and/or health problems and could not cope. One of Don’s friends claims that Don was losing touch with reality when he disappeared. He believes Don saw something while driving that triggered him and caused him to walk off. Another friend reported receiving a call from Don in which he was sobbing and near-hysterical. It was discovered that when he stopped at motels, Don mainly watched movies about disappearances.
Sheriff Ogburn sent a plane to search for Don. He assumed Don was a missing person and not the victim of a crime. Deputy Rod Johnson flew over the area for two hours. He could see for miles over the open terrain, but there was no trace of Don. He believes Don was disoriented and did not want to be found. He believes that if Don wanted to be found, he would have heard the aircraft, gone up to a ridge or something similar, and gotten their attention.
Later that day, Deputy Johnson joined two other deputies in a ground search. A mile from the highway, they found a duffel bag near the single set of footprints. The bag contained laundry soap, clothes, and a teapot, all belonging to Don. Mary believes the bag was planted there to make it look like Don had walked there. She does not believe that he left the bag or walked out there.
On the second day of the search, tracks in the snow led Deputy Johnson to a barn six miles from the highway. Inside, the only sign of life was a pile of sticks – arranged as if someone tried to start a fire – and three of Don’s socks. Mary does not know how the socks got there. She thinks they were put there by someone other than Don.
A snowdrift surrounded the barn. No tracks led away from the barn. When Deputy Johnson looked closer at the snowdrift, he discovered that someone had turned around, stepped backward, and walked backward, stepping in their same tracks to try to hide the fact that they had gone into the barn. He believes Don was trying to hide from the searchers.
Three days after Don disappeared, a blizzard made it impossible to continue the search. Most of the searchers believed Don had died in the storm. Meanwhile, Mary felt that the search conducted by the authorities was insufficient. She noted that they did not fingerprint his car or take casts of the nearby footprints. Deputy Johnson claims they did all they could. Mary also claims that a sheriff’s deputy told her that the footprints were made by someone wearing Colorado hiking boots. She says Don did not own a pair of hiking boots.
Three years later, on October 4, 1985, a group of hunters discovered Don’s skeletal remains in deep sage near Willow Springs Dam, about four miles from where his car had been abandoned. His wallet, containing his driver’s license and social security card, was found with his remains. An autopsy showed no signs of a struggle or foul play.
Sheriff Ogburn believes Don died of exposure to the elements. He thinks Don was avoiding the searchers. He believes that on the second or third day, Don realized he was in trouble, so he tried to get back to his car. But he did not make it.
That should have been where the case ended. But Mary continues to be haunted by a string of unanswered questions. In April 1983, five months after Don supposedly died in the blizzard, he was sighted 150 miles away in Casper, Wyoming, on two occasions. In one, he was seen at a traveling exhibit of Lincoln memorabilia. In the second, Mary talked to a bartender at a tavern who distinctly remembered serving Don.
Even more baffling, at the same time as these sightings, Judy Aiello – a ten-year coworker of Don’s and one of his closest friends in New York – returned home from an extended vacation in Europe to find six different telephone messages, apparently from him, on her answering machine. At the time, she did not know he was missing. Like Mary, she believes he was murdered.
The calls were recorded on February 27, April 5, and April 10, 1983. Interestingly, Judy’s phone number is unlisted. Although the caller never said his name, she is certain that it was Don. He sounded panicked and spoke in a strained, urgent voice. In one of the messages, he said, “I must talk to you,” and then gave a phone number. The next day, she called the number, and a man answered.
Judy asked if Don was there and if she could speak with him. The man replied, “Yes,” then almost immediately said, “No,” claiming that Don was “out”. She asked him to have Don call her back. The man replied, “Yeah,” and then hung up. No one ever called her back. She is convinced that the man knows what really happened to Don.
Judy informed Mary about the calls. Mary then contacted the authorities. Telephone records showed that the calls were made from a trailer in Casper. A man named Mark Dennis was renting the trailer at the time. He claims that either someone used his phone without his knowledge or the phone company made a mistake.
Dennis told Captain Mark Benton of the Natrona County Sheriff’s Department that he did not make the phone calls and knew nothing about them. Captain Benton showed Dennis a picture of Don. Dennis said he did not know Don, had never seen him, and knew nothing of his whereabouts. He also agreed to take a polygraph test.
Not satisfied with Dennis’ story, Mary went to Casper in May 1983 to conduct her own investigation. In all, she traveled to Wyoming three times. She also hired a private investigator. She says that what she saw on Dennis’ phone bill was “horrible”. There were calls to phone sex lines all over the United States. She believes something horrible happened to Don in Dennis’ trailer. She thinks she deserves an answer as to what happened.
Mary tried several ways to contact Dennis. She sat on his porch and waited for him, but he never showed up. She was able to speak to him once on the phone. He told her he knew nothing about Don and just paid the phone bills without looking at them. She told him he was lying and knew what happened to Don. He then hung up on her. He later hired an attorney and refused to talk further about the case.
Three weeks after he was questioned, Dennis moved out of the trailer and left Casper. Captain Benton felt Dennis was cooperative the three times they spoke. He says he has no reason to believe that Dennis knows what happened to Don. Neither Captain Benton nor Dennis have an explanation for the phone calls. Mary wants to know who made the calls. She is certain that Don made them.
Something happened to Don in the vast Wyoming prairie. Sheriff Ogburn thinks Don died in the blizzard but cannot explain the phone calls. Mary believes Don was abducted and taken to Casper. But then why was his body found just four miles from his abandoned car? Mary hopes that someone will come forward and tell her exactly what happened to him. She is certain that there are people out there who know what happened.
Suspects: Some of Don’s family and friends believe Mark Dennis either knows something or has something to do with Don’s disappearance and death. Phone calls believed to have been made by Don came from Dennis’ trailer. He was questioned about the case but denied knowing anything about the calls or Don.
Mary later saw a photograph of Dennis and noticed a striking resemblance to Don. She wonders if Don was mistaken for Dennis, which somehow led to his disappearance and death.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the January 20, 1987 Special #1 episode of Unsolved Mysteries hosted by Raymond Burr. It was the first case ever to be profiled.
  • It was later re-profiled in the Dennis Farina hosted series on the July 31, 2009 episode.
  • It was excluded from the FilmRise release of Robert Stack episodes.
  • It was also profiled on The Trail Went Cold podcast.
  • The show’s producers, John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer, found out about this case shortly after Missing... Have You Seen This Person? aired.
  • Fearful for her safety, Judy did not want to be identified during her interview, and she was filmed in silhouette. However, newspaper articles listed her name.
  • Mark Dennis, the man mentioned in this case, is not to be confused with another Mark Dennis, who was featured on the show and went missing in Vietnam.
  • Forty-seven-year-old William Lindholm of Cheyenne vanished three weeks after Don in an area three miles from where Don’s car was found. It is not known if he was ever found or if there was any connection between the cases.
  • A farmer suggested to Mary that she return Don’s car to the spot where it was found. The farmer believed that Don had been abducted by aliens who had also mutilated his cattle. The farmer said that if she returned Don’s car, the aliens would return him.
  • After the phone calls were made but before Don’s remains were found, local authorities believed he was alive and did not want to be found. According to Sheriff Ogburn, tape recordings found in Don’s car led him to believe Don was alive.
  • Some sources state: Don left New York in October 1982; Mary last talked to Don on November 10; his attaché case contained his address book; his duffel bag was found three miles from the highway; his laundry bag was found in a haystack; the barn was ten miles away; the footprints led to an incline and then disappeared; Judy received five phone calls; Dennis told Judy he did not know Don; and Don’s remains were found four years after he disappeared.

Results: Unsolved - Sadly, Don’s parents have both passed away: Don Sr. on April 7, 2006, at the age of seventy-nine; and Mary on May 21, 2014, at the age of eighty-six. Officer Teeters passed away on May 7, 2004, at the age of forty-six.
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