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Real Name: Unknown
Case: Unidentified Remains
Location: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Date: February 7, 1977

Case[]

Details: Emery Kolb was a famous photographer who lived in the Grand Canyon. In 1976, he died at the age of ninety-five. A few weeks later, on February 7, 1977, authorities were surprised by a gruesome discovery in his boathouse on the south rim of the canyon. Hidden in a canoe was a single human skeleton that appeared to have suffered a violent death. Whose bones were these? And how did the victim die?
A few years later, in 1981, an Idaho newspaper article and Arizona authorities suggested that the bones were that of Glen Hyde, an adventurous young river runner who disappeared with his wife, Bessie, while trying to navigate the treacherous Colorado River in 1928. The river cuts through the Grand Canyon and was once considered the most dangerous in the world. Kolb was one of the last people to see them alive. What happened to Glen and Bessie? And is their disappearance connected to the secret of the bones in the boathouse?
Glen grew up in Kimberly, Idaho, and attended the University of Idaho. He later took over his family's farm. Bessie grew up in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and attended Marshall College. In 1926, she married Earl Helmick, a high school and college classmate. She later traveled to San Francisco, California, and enrolled at the California School of Fine Art.
In February 1927, Glen and Bessie met on a passenger ship traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles, California. They soon fell in love and made plans to get married. Earl refused to get a divorce, so Bessie moved to Elko, Nevada. Once she met their residency requirements, she filed for divorce there.
On April 12, 1928, Glen and Bessie were married in Twin Falls, Idaho, just one day after her divorce from Earl was finalized. At the time, Glen was twenty-nine, and Bessie was twenty-two.
That fall, Glen and Bessie built a boat for a special honeymoon adventure: a trip from Utah to California down the Green and Colorado Rivers through the dangerous Grand Canyon. Glen was an avid outdoorsman and thrill-seeker; this journey would mean instant notoriety.
According to writer Scott Thybony, Glen wanted to make a record-fast run through the canyon. He wanted to do it in a homemade boat with Bessie, even though she had never been on rivers before (she would be the first documented woman to travel the Grand Canyon via the Colorado River). And he wanted to do it without life jackets.
Glen and Bessie created their sweep-scow boat using two-by-four planks. The craft was twenty feet long, five-and-a-half feet wide, three feet deep, and flat-bottomed. To prepare for the trip, they made a detailed plan, studied maps, and read everything they could about running the Colorado River. Their plan after completing the trip was to write a book, go on the lecture circuit, and make money reliving their adventure.
Glen had some experience with river running. He had traveled the Salmon and Snake Rivers in Idaho with his sister and an experienced river runner in 1926. He also spent six months canoeing with a friend down the Peace River in Canada.
On October 20, 1928, six months after they were married, Glen and Bessie arrived in Green River, Utah, and set off down the Green River in their boat. An experienced Green River riverman looked at the boat and thought it looked like a coffin. He said it was unlike anything that had run down the Colorado River before. At the time, most of the people who traversed the river were seasoned explorers or on professional expeditions.
Over the next few weeks, Glen and Bessie traveled through the Labyrinth, Stillwater, Cataract, and Glen Canyons. In early November, they reached the Grand Canyon. Glen wrote to his sisters several times. He told them that the rapids on the Colorado River were much longer, faster, and bigger than the ones he had experienced on other rivers. At one point, he fell out of the boat, and Bessie had to help him back aboard. At another point, they hit a rapid, and Bessie was nearly tossed overboard.
It took Glen and Bessie twenty-six days to travel more than 200 miles from Utah to Bright Angel Creek (at River Mile 88) in the heart of the Grand Canyon – a new record. On November 15, with the most dangerous stretch still ahead, they hiked up the Bright Angel Trail and stopped in Grand Canyon Village on the south rim. While there, they gathered supplies and visited Emery Kolb, who had already twice navigated the Colorado River rapids.
Kolb had arrived at the Grand Canyon in 1902 and set about documenting its grandeur. His stunning photographs and immense knowledge of the river soon made him a legend. According to his friend, Thelma Self, he was enthusiastic and proud of his river trips. When people who were interested in the river came to the canyon, they always sought out Kolb.
During their visit, Kolb photographed Glen and Bessie next to the canyon's rim. Kolb noticed that Bessie had grown tired of the river trip and was somewhat apprehensive about continuing it. Kolb tried to warn them of the dangers ahead. He told them, "You have no idea what you're getting into. I've been there, and I know what it's like."
According to Thelma, Kolb tried "every way in the world" to talk Glen and Bessie out of going. He asked them to stay with him through the winter and postpone their trip until the weather improved. He even offered them his life jackets and inner tube. But Glen refused all of Kolb's offers, claiming he and Bessie were strong swimmers. He told Kolb, "I'm going to do it without or else."
Glen and Bessie spent the night at the El Tovar Hotel and were interviewed by several newspapers about their trip. The next day, November 16, Kolb's wife and daughter drove them to the head of the Bright Angel Trail. Before leaving, Bessie looked at Kolb's daughter's shoes and said, "I wonder if I shall ever wear pretty shoes again."
Later that day, Glen and Bessie picked up wealthy adventurer Adolph Sutro at Phantom Ranch. Two days later, on November 18, they dropped him off at Hermit Camp and continued downriver into Hermit Rapid. They were never seen again. When they failed to arrive in Needles, California, on December 9, Glen's father, Rollin, traveled to the Grand Canyon and began a search for them.
Within a matter of days, Rollin launched multiple river parties to search for Glen and Bessie. He hired Native American trackers to search the canyon's rim. He even convinced the Secretary of War to authorize an aerial search of the canyon. On December 19, Army aviators flew into the canyon and spotted Glen and Bessie's empty boat at River Mile 237 at the lower end of the canyon. It had been trapped by some rocks and was in about thirty feet of water.
Kolb was asked to lead the search party to find Glen and Bessie. Surprisingly, when he reached the boat on December 24, it was upright and undamaged. One foot of water was in it. According to writer Scott Thybony, the boat seemed to be intact and organized: their clothes (including their hiking boots), food, guidebook, rifle, camera (with exposed film), Bessie's diary, and other supplies were still onboard and strapped in. Searchers found everything there – except Glen and Bessie.
The final photo on Glen and Bessie's camera was taken around November 27 near River Mile 165. Searchers uncovered evidence, including footprints, which indicated the couple made it to River Mile 225 or 226, where they made camp. Bessie's last diary entry was dated November 30. It stated that they had cleared Mile 231 Rapid and were ahead of schedule. Forty-two notches were carved into the boat, indicating the number of days of the trip (which coincided with Bessie's last diary entry).
Around the time Glen and Bessie disappeared, a prospector reported seeing a brown leather jacket floating in the river. Bessie was known to wear that type of jacket. Authorities believed that she and Glen fell out of the boat and drowned when they hit submerged rocks in the heavy rapids near River Mile 232. The rocks were known to have damaged boats in the past.
Kolb theorized that either Glen or Bessie fell into the river while they were walking along it to examine the next rapid, and the other jumped in to try and save them. Rollin believed they had difficulties with their boat and tried to hike out of the canyon. They then became lost and died in the woods.
Despite an extensive search, Glen and Bessie's bodies were never recovered. Fifty years later, in 1977, the discovery of the bones in Kolb's boathouse fueled speculation. Could these be Glen's remains? And how were they connected to Kolb?
The authorities turned the skeleton over to Dr. Walter Birkby, a forensic anthropologist at the Arizona State Museum and an expert in identifying human remains. He would like to know who the individual is. He notes that someone is missing, and there may be friends or relatives who want to know what happened to them.
Dr. Birkby discovered that the bones were of a white male between the ages of twenty and twenty-three. He was six feet tall with light brown hair and was "robust" with well-developed muscles. Dr. Birkby also discovered a bullet embedded in the right side of the skull. He does not think the wound was self-inflicted.
The bullet was removed from the skull. It was determined to be a .32 caliber projectile. It came from a revolver that began manufacturing around 1902. Also found with the bones were pants, a shirt, a silver belt buckle, a dry leather shoe, and a piece of an old leather wallet. The production date of the gun and the other items found with the skeleton suggest that death occurred in the 1920s. During that time, only two people – Glen and Bessie – are known to have disappeared in the Grand Canyon.
Dr. Birkby heard a rumor that Kolb murdered Glen so that he could be with Bessie. Dr. Birkby, however, finds the rumor preposterous and unbelievable. He cannot imagine why Kolb would kill Glen and then keep his body around.
Dr. Birkby hoped to put the rumors to rest. He superimposed a photograph of Glen over the skull to precisely compare the bone structure. This was the only way to determine if the skeleton was indeed Glen's.
According to Dr. Birkby, the skull's shape is different from Glen's face. The eye orbits are angled in a different direction than Glen's, and the cheeks are wider. Also, the shape of the chin is wrong. Glen's chin was somewhat rounded, while the skull's chin was fairly squared off. Dr. Birkby is certain that the skull does not belong to Glen.
With that, the mystery deepens. If the bones do not belong to Glen, then what happened to him and Bessie? The answer may lie in the eyewitness reports that claim Bessie is still alive and back in the Grand Canyon, retracing the steps of her ill-fated honeymoon adventure forty-three years after she disappeared.
In 1971, an older woman took a twenty-day rafting trip through the canyon. Geologist George Billingsley was one of the river guides for the trip. According to him, the woman was happy yet quiet and serious. She always wanted to do something and help around camp. She also spent a lot of time watching the canyon. And she mostly kept to herself.
Towards the end of the trip, the group made camp at Diamond Creek, near the spot where Glen and Bessie's boat had been found four decades earlier. That evening, a river guide told the legend of the missing couple. And the woman matter-of-factly said, "I'm Bessie Hyde."
The woman said Glen was obsessed with completing the trip, no matter how dangerous it was. When she tried to leave, a fight erupted, and he beat her up. When his back was turned, she grabbed a knife and stabbed him. She then dumped his body in the river, walked out of the canyon, and took a bus to the East Coast to start a new life.
According to George, the woman told her story seriously enough that the rest of the group was not sure what else to say. Initially, they figured she was making it up. Later on, however, they wondered if she really was Bessie because her age was right. Also, she never smiled when she told her story, as if she were telling the truth.
When writer Scott Thybony received the woman's name – Elizabeth Cutler – he contacted her in Ohio. When he asked about Glen, Bessie, and their disappearance, she denied everything. She said she had not told the story, did not know anyone named Hyde, and was not Bessie. Thybony's gut feeling, however, was that she was Bessie.
Despite Thybony's beliefs, birth records showed that Elizabeth had been born in Pomeroy, Ohio, on December 2, 1908. She was also four inches taller than Bessie. She was a former psychology professor known for playing "mind games" with people. Some believe that that is why she told people she was Bessie.
The mysteries surrounding this story remain unsolved. If the bones in Kolb's boathouse are not Glen's, whose are they? And why did Kolb keep them hidden in a canoe for so many years? Did Bessie murder Glen on their trip? And is she still alive? The mysteries have survived the years. And for now, they remain part of the legend of the Grand Canyon.
Extra Notes:

  • This case originally aired on the November 29, 1987 Special #4 episode of Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack as host.
  • The show's researchers discovered this case after talking to a private investigator; their research led them to the Idaho newspaper article, which connected the couple's disappearance to the bones in the boathouse.
  • A similar case of unidentified remains being found among a person's belongings is Stanton Bones.
  • Some sources state that the bones were found in 1976 or on May 12, 1980.
Kolb skeleton identify

Photograph of the 1933 suicide victim

Results: Unresolved - In 2006, Bob Williamson, whose father was a ranger in the Grand Canyon during the 1920s and 1930s, donated photographs and other documents to the Grand Canyon Museum Collection. Among the photographs, museum employee Kim Besom discovered several pictures of a human skeleton.
Besom searched through reports from the time period and found one from June 1933. It stated that a man's skeleton had been found on a ledge under the canyon rim near Shoshone Point on June 4. A .32 caliber revolver with two cartridges and an exploded shell was found near his right hand. A bullet hole in the skull above the right temple suggested his death was a suicide.
The skeleton was wearing cheap khaki trousers, a white cotton shirt, and a shoe. A leather belt, a pocketbook, and some tattered rags were also found nearby. It appeared that the death had occurred several years earlier. Williamson's father was one of the investigating rangers on the case.
In September 2008, cold case investigator Joe Sumner began looking into the case of the bones in Kolb's boathouse. He came to believe that the skeleton was the same one that was found in 1933. He contacted the museum, and Besom told him about the photographs of the skeleton.
Sumner compared the photographs of the skeleton found in 1933 to the bones and clothing found in the boathouse. They were a match. When the bones were initially found in the boathouse, a friend of Kolb's said that Kolb had told him that he and his brother had found a skeleton, clothes, and a revolver under a ledge decades earlier.
Sumner discovered that Kolb had been a county coroner jury representative for the Grand Canyon at the time. He believes that Kolb took the skeleton home after they were unable to identify the victim but then forgot about it. Unfortunately, the victim has yet to be identified.
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