The Needle in the Haystack

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It's easy to miss Pendleton Mountain.

Just the blink of an eye along Colorado's I-70 freeway, Pendleton is one of many lofty peaks in Clear Creek County. But for the residents of Silver Plume, the mountain is an icon - blanketing the tiny town in shadow for six weeks out of the year.

But there is something that separates this mountain from the rest. A hidden piece of a thirty year old puzzle. A secret buried under years of speculation. And the answer to an unsolved mystery whose trail went cold decades ago.

On August 7, 1988, Keith Reinhard ventured off to Pendleton Mountain to take a hike. He left at 5 PM, far too late to begin a trek of this magnitude. The hike would take nearly six hours, multiple residents were said to have informed him. There are no trails. Only thick underbrush speckled with moss-covered rock. It's not something anyone should ever attempt to climb in the dark.

Nevertheless, despite the obvious dangers and lack of common sense, Reinhard set off to conquer Pendleton that evening. And that's the last day anyone is known to have seen Keith Reinhard alive.

  A chinook helicopter landing field searchers atop Pendleton Mountain in 1988 - Photo courtesy of William C. Butler

A chinook helicopter landing field searchers atop Pendleton Mountain in 1988 - Photo courtesy of William C. Butler

For the next seven days, Alpine Rescue Team launched an enormous search and rescue mission on Pendleton Mountain to locate Keith - one of the largest in Colorado's history. Hundreds of field searchers scanned the mountain by foot. Dog teams scoured the area. Military chinook helicopters circled the skies. A Civil Air Patrol pilot tragically lost his life when his Cessna plane crashed into the side of the mountain, dampening mission morale and angering the residents of Silver Plume who believe to this day that Keith's disappearance was no accident.

And despite all of the searching, conjecture, conspiracy, and loss of life, no trace of Keith Reinhard has ever been found.

Having gotten to know Silver Plume and its people very well through years of research, the idea of resuming the search and documenting it on camera for Dark Side of the Mountain was something that I was compelled to do from day one.

Did Keith die in an accident on the mountain? Did he trip and fall coming down in the dark? Did he tumble into an old mine shaft? Was he attacked by a wild animal? Did he go off to meet someone and was murdered in secret? Or was he never even on the mountain in the first place?

Finding Keith wouldn't be easy, but we had to give it another shot.

Working closely with Dr. William C. Butler, a forensic scientist and former member of Alpine Rescue Team who worked all seven days on the Reinhard mission, we put together a group of volunteers to help renew the search effort.

The following account of our mission was authored by Dr. Butler and provides a detailed description of our findings:

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Unusually warm here in Silver Plume, Colorado, for October 14th.

When this field exercise was planned months ago, I expected some snow on the ground today. The avalanche chutes are dry. But for today, no snow is good. I’ll take it. There’s more chance of spotting non-perishable objects Keith might have had with him and less chance that someone could slip and fall.

  William C. Butler, Phd

William C. Butler, Phd

Too bad we didn’t have drones available in 1988. They might have saved a CAP plane crash and death of the pilot. And the helicopter-mounted forward-looking infrared, FLIR, units are helpful only if you can interpret the images by ground-truthing the imagery. There were just too many anomalies to do that – too much abandoned mine metal laying around the pitted hills.

Putting boots on the ground is the only chance to find Keith.

As coordinator, I worry about putting a couple of newbies into the field, but will keep emphasizing safety as priority #1. Everyone involved understands that this effort today is risky and must be done professionally. No one is going to get hurt!

Everyone has a 2-way radio, camera, water, emergency items, topo maps, and aerial photos. They also have the code words for radio traffic if evidence is located. We must keep all teams checking in with mission base per location and status. Base will record activities. Teams are due out of the field at 5 PM. Last light will be about 7 PM.

Chances of finding clues of Keith’s disappearance today are very very small... maybe 1-2 % if we’re lucky. This just means it will take longer, maybe in terms of years, to cover more of the prime search area.

Glad to see that Keith’s family, Kai and Makayla Reinhard, are here. We even have a retired sheriff. That tells me they have not given up finding clues surrounding Keith’s disappearance and are not buying into bizarre way-out hypotheses. The public loves conspiracy theories. They are easy to invent and make interesting conversation at parties. Multiple hypotheses and explanations are good and necessary, but they also must be testable to be viable. If Keith is up there on Pendleton, then our test today is to keep searching and prove it with some object that belonged to him. The family has been here before doing their own searches; they’ll be very useful. They understand how small the POD, or probability of detection, really was in 1988 even with an extensive land-and-air search involving highly-trained people... and with 28-years of exposure and disintegration, the POD will be even smaller today.

If 100 bottle caps were randomly distributed in the search area in 1988, how many would have been found by searchers? Probably ten – and that is being optimistic.

I’m impressed by Eric’s persistence and thoroughness in drilling down into this mystery. My kudos to him and Christine – they’re doing this documentary the right way and don’t seem to be unreasonably biased toward any particular explanation on what might have happened in 1988. Everyone must keep an open mind and go with the facts wherever they lead. I am delighted and encouraged that they understand the value of applying the scientific method.

  Dr. Butler and his bloodhound, Reliant, searching Pendleton Mountain in 1988

Dr. Butler and his bloodhound, Reliant, searching Pendleton Mountain in 1988

My approach to this mystery is also from the scientific angle.

Being able to relate cause and effect is critical in any investigation. Once all the speculation is on the table, there will be one glaring fact that must be reconciled. The Bloodhound, Reliant, and handler, Karla, who came from Ft. Carson, CO., provided the key. They did a remarkable trail following Keith’s scent from his church apartment through Silver Plume to the railroad grade and straight up towards the ridge top. Keith told someone he was going to do this hike “Chicago style”, i.e., bashing straight through the underbrush rather than taking the easier path around obstacles. His mindset was to sacrifice safety for expediency. Maybe the late hour of the afternoon pushed him into taking chances.

I regret having to pull Reliant off her trail in 1988, but had to because of safety issues. Reliant was intensely working the scent but the terrain was just too nasty and dangerous to continue. Not for the dog, but for Karla who was not acclimated to the 9,500 - 12,000-foot elevations and inexperienced in steep terrain. At least we had the opportunity to be airlifted by Chinook to the top of Pendleton. Working the dog from there eastward along Leavenworth Ridge towards Pavillion Point and Georgetown provided the second solid clue in this mission. Near the edge of the north side of the ridge, Reliant hit Keith’s scent so hard she pulled Karla off her feet and sprained her ankle. Getting them off the mountain was my next challenge.

  The bloodhounds lead K-9 handler, Alan Duffy, up Pendleton Mountain

The bloodhounds lead K-9 handler, Alan Duffy, up Pendleton Mountain

Today, my K9-handler colleague, Alan Duffy, has two of his Bloodhounds here. One is experienced and the young one is in training. Always glad to see dogs working these types of searches. They’re invaluable and provide an extra dimension.

One good dog in the field is equal to 50 searchers.

Alan will put them into “decomp mode”; they’ll be sniffing for chemical signatures of decaying organic matter. It’s amazing that Bloodhounds can scent-discriminate every human on this planet. They should be used more often as a forensic tool because human scent is present at every crime scene.

  Karla Finley and her bloodhound, Reliant

Karla Finley and her bloodhound, Reliant

Karla gave Reliant to me in 1989 because she was being transferred to Germany. That’s why I eventually created a 501-c-3 organization that rescued and placed more than 150 Bloodhounds with law enforcement and SAR units nationwide. Adopting a Bloodhound totally changed my life from one of researching sterile theoretical problems to one of investigating pragmatic people problems containing all the nuances of the fallible human condition. I learned everything I could about the dog breed and became a certified legal investigator and an endorsed expert witness in canine man-trailing and science.

In the world of calculating probability, there are unconditional and conditional types. If there is no evidence or factual historical information, unconditional algorithms must be used. However, if there is prior knowledge or preexisting evidence, such as the two Bloodhound alerts in 1988, conditional probability algorithms are used which gives a greater chance that a selected event occurred. What is the probability that X is true (prediction) given that Y is true (known)?

Given that a trained unbiased Bloodhound confirmed what some town residents said Keith actually did, becomes a strong argument that Keith did begin hiking Pendleton. At least we know where he started his hike from the old railroad grade trail south of the Silver Plume I-70 exit. That was the general area my group of volunteers searched in 1991, 1992, and 1993 (see John Carpenter, 7-8-1992, Case Still a Mountain of Mystery, in Daily Herald, Chicago, IL, p. 1,5). Our strategy was to interpolate Keith’s route between Reliant’s two alerts.

  Keith's son, Kai-Allen Reinhard, searches Pendleton Mountain

Keith's son, Kai-Allen Reinhard, searches Pendleton Mountain

The sun just popped above the horizon; it looks like everyone is here and getting ready to begin their field assignment. I’ll give a briefing to the three teams making sure everyone has their required equipment and understands today’s strategy. The objective is to go slow and periodically stop to look back where they have just walked. Perspectives and lighting change when examining a 360-degree bubble.

We are looking for small clues, such as a wallet, watch, shoe sole, button, belt buckle – not a body.

This is not a race. We need to be able to say that if there was evidence related to Keith within 10-feet on either side of our search path, we would most likely have seen it; otherwise, we’re wasting our time. The Bloodhound team is free to go wherever the dog takes it. Eric and the camera man can go with my team. They may have questions as we scour the landscape.

  Blanca Peak, Colorado

Blanca Peak, Colorado

Flashback Note:

I remember the missing person search on Blanca Peak, CO (elev. 14,345 ft.). in 1986. Blanca is the fourth highest peak in the Rocky Mountains and a dangerous climb. It and Little Bear Peak, a mile south, are in the top five most- difficult of the 58 14-ers in Colorado. There are four 14-ers within a 2-mile radius of Blanca and a couple of 13-ers. Connecting them are sharp jagged ridges. Thirty years ago a member of Colorado Mountain Club left his hiking group in Huerfano Valley in order to reach Blanca’s summit alone; he never returned. All I knew was that this person was a community college teacher of English from Colorado Springs, and that he was a “peak bagger”, i.e., moderately experienced but had no technical climbing gear with him. He had indeed traversed the ridge and signed the register at the summit.

This was a large, multi-unit, land-and-air search. Organized Search-and-Rescue finally gave up. The missing person’s wife offered a large reward to the public: “Dead or Alive”... you’d think this man was Francisco “Pancho” Villa!

Conspiracy theorists came out of the woodwork.

Yeah, case closed. Obviously this guy planned his disappearance and is sitting in a bar in the Bahamas and his wife will be soon collecting life insurance money.

On the other hand, perhaps a lesson SAR is about to learn here at Blanca might apply to our mission today at Silver Plume. What is that lesson?

I couldn’t go on that original Blanca search, but a few weeks later my son, Tim, and I decided to go climb another 14’er. Why not do Blanca? Sure, we’ll do it with the specific purpose of stopping every 15-minutes to scan the north face with binoculars. Just getting to the base of Blanca was a 7-mile hike up the Huerfano River drainage to the Ellingwood Point ridge. Then we started our 3,000-foot ascent. There was no trail in this boulder field. Near the top of Ellingwood the climb became more technical so we roped-up. The weather began to deteriorate, and we did not want to be part of the conductive path for all the electrons sparking off the rocks trying to discharge back to those ominous convective clouds.

I remember saying, “Tim, your ol’ man needs a breather. Let’s take five. Here, take these binocs and glass the north face about a mile away. Your eyes are better than mine.”

After several minutes of scanning, Tim said, “Hold on... I think I see some faint color..."

Yes, bingo! Maybe a body that had fallen about 1,000 feet?

We aborted the summit route and descended to the apex of the talus slope directly below the anomalous object. There we found a ball cap between the snow sheet and the vertical rock face. It had the word “Shakespeare” embroidered on it. And who was the greatest English writer of all time? The probability that we had just found a missing person just went up. We started a technical climb toward the presumed body. Crumbly rotten granite wouldn’t hold our anchors. Small rocks spalling off the sheer face above kept raining down at terminal velocity hitting our helmets. Hey, perhaps we shouldn’t wait for a basketball-sized rock! These technical problems thwarted our climbing attempt. We aborted, hiked back to our 4WD vehicle, and reported our observations to the Sheriff’s Office. After several attempts, an elite team of Colorado SAR climbers finally reached the body a week later.

The probability of Tim and I being successful when thousands of man-hours and high-tech searching were not, was very small, but we had invoked a reasonable systematic methodology. I’ll call this lesson, as noted in a previous paragraph:

the wisdom and efficacy of using critical thinking and analytical intuition in the search process.

Organized SAR does an outstanding job in conducting searches, but it also needs to embrace the reality of prior events and not give up until it is 95-99% satisfied that there is nothing left to do. Our parent all-volunteer team, Alpine Rescue Team of Evergreen, CO, was the grateful recipient of the reward offered by the English teacher’s wife.

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There’s always a possibility that one conspiracy theory might rise to the top of the heap of speculation surrounding Keith Reinhard if certain assumptions can be verified and if certain events in his life can be connected. I acknowledge that possibility as being part of the real world.

Rarely, some conspiracies have been proven true. But until some dedicated person researches and analyzes the plethora of possibilities, and puts them in print, we must keep searching in the field based on known facts and common-sense logic. If you ask a conspiracy theorist what the probability is that each of four hypothetical stories or versions about an event are true, e.g., what really happened to Keith Reinhard, they may say something like, 1⁄2, 1⁄4, 1⁄2, and 1/3. The sum of these is 76/48, = 1.58, or 158%, which is impossible because 1.00, or 100% probability, is max, i.e., the event is true and did happen with absolute certainty.

In other words, conspiracies are always over-rated as being true when their authors are interviewed and confronted by the math. They incorrectly invent imaginary probability that does not exist and cannot be put into the sample space containing the sum of all possibilities. If new conspiracy theories are introduced, the probabilities for all the rest must go down thus maintaining the 1.00 total in the sample space.

   Dark Side of the Mountain   's crew filming with the K-9 team on Pendleton Mountain

Dark Side of the Mountain's crew filming with the K-9 team on Pendleton Mountain

Thirty years is a long time to stay hidden if one plans their own disappearance. Surely there would be a bona fide sighting of Keith during that time. My thinking today is that the probability Keith is on this mountain is about 75%, and gradually increases every year he does not surface alive somewhere else in the world.

  A scapula bone discovered buried on Pendleton Mountain

A scapula bone discovered buried on Pendleton Mountain

Today Duffy’s Bloodhound located some buried bones.

One looks like the scapula of a large mammal. Pretty sure it’s not human, but we’ll have it analyzed by a forensic anthropologist who specializes in bone osteology and taphonomy.

My guiding philosophical mantra has always been, “trust the dog”. Reliant’s nose told me something I didn’t know and was incapable of doing as a human. That sniffing machine could care less what the conspiracy theorists say. The trouble with most conspiracies is that they require excessive complexity and too much stretching of the so-called “facts”. A simple explanation supported by evidence and empirical observations is better than a series of independent events multiplied together. This means that the more events or coincidences needed to support a conspiracy, the veracity of the proposed explanation approaches zero. This is called The Prosecutor’s Fallacy in law. Although some conspiracies might be conceivable, they are probably not reasonable. The “merely conceivable” must be separated from the “most likely”. Strange unspecified coincidences occur on a regular basis in the world, but connecting these unrelated events with a reasonable and convincing argument to a pre- determined conclusion is very difficult and ends up being convoluted. Both deductive and inductive reasoning should be used in deciphering any mystery, but that important bottom line is whether the explanation is indeed reasonable to the average reasonable person or persons. Again, this is the basis of the American legal system – beyond a reasonable doubt (criminal) and preponderance of evidence (civil).

  K-9 handler, Alan Duffy, and his bloodhound, R.C.

K-9 handler, Alan Duffy, and his bloodhound, R.C.

If searching fails to find any relevant objects, it might be because we haven’t tried enough times. Unfortunately, today we were not able to accomplish what I thought was possible, i.e., getting higher on the ridge below the cliffy areas.

Also, we did not get to the “trickier” western half of our planned search area where there are more steep and massive outcrops. If Keith had had a fatal accident, these would be the likely areas where it would have occurred.

And so, hopefully... maybe on another day... well, I’ll keep thinking about it... maybe I’ll have a dream and the answer will come to me. Tomorrow I could read that a hunter found a clue. Sure wish I could see into the future. Or even better, see some select events of the past. 

Maybe with continued determination we can metaphorically shed some light on the dark side of the mountain and resolve this mystery.

Looking at this mystery over the long run must be done through the lens of analytics and reality.

  Eric Walter with Dr. William C. Butler and Kai-Allen Reinhard

Eric Walter with Dr. William C. Butler and Kai-Allen Reinhard

Okay, everyone gather around. Everyone is back at mission base safely and happy to be standing on level ground again! I’m sure that your boot soles are now worn down on one side. It looks like our one case of high-altitude sickness is recovering nicely.

As a result of our efforts today, folks, we know something that we did not know yesterday. Thank you immensely for your time and effort. It is most appreciated. Time to pack up mission base and go home... for now.

I think when I get home I’ll keep everything in my backpack ready to go. He’s up there on Pendleton Mountain. I just know it.

If I’m wrong, convince me.