• Kym L. Pasqualini

Missing Women, Humboldt Mystery

Humboldt County, in picturesque northern California, is the home of the majestic Coastal Redwood forests with about 110 miles of breathtaking coastline along Pacific Coast Highway 101.

Approximately 250 miles north of San Francisco, Humboldt is approximately 2.3 million acres of combined dense forests and public land with a population of only 134,623 people according to the 2010 census.

Formed in 1853, rural Humboldt County has a rich pioneer history and once solely inhabited by the Wiyot Indian tribe dating back to around 900 BCE. It borders the scarcely populated and heavily forested Trinity County with the rugged Klamath Mountains running north into Oregon.

Traveling through, one can quickly be taken back in time to a life of living off the land and part of the allure for many seeking a simpler way of life.

Dotted with hundreds of beautifully ornate historic Victorian homes, Eureka is Humboldt’s largest town. Also known as “Best Small Art Town in America”, an estimated 8,000 artists call it home along with students attending College of the Redwoods main campus. The well-known smaller college town of Arcata is about a 7.5-mile drive north past the magnificent Arcata Bay.

Neighboring Trinity County is 3,179 square miles of rugged terrain and the Klamath Mountains occupying most of the county and a popular area for backpacking, camping, and fishing.

Trinity is a place of splendid and inspiring scenery where there are no traffic lights, parking meters and local drugstore in the historic California Gold Rush town of Weaverville has been filling prescriptions since 1852.

Humboldt’s dark past

Known as “Bigfoot Country” where hundreds of sightings have occurred and people from around the world tell stories of the large, hairy, human-like creature lurking in remote regions of the northern California forests, stories of murder and missing persons have also been told for decades.

Long gone are the days’ hippies hitchhiked from across the country promoting love and peace in Humboldt County. Urban refugees and long-time residents can tell you the innocence of Humboldt is now gone, replaced by increasing violence, unexplained disappearances, and missing person fliers.

Emerald Triangle and Murder Mountain

Known as a Stoner’s paradise since the 1960’s, small business owners, students, artists, people seeking inner peace and those wanting to live off the grid, have been drawn to the beauty of Humboldt County.

Emerald Triangle marijuana field.

Emerald Triangle, consisting of the Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino counties, is a mountainous and heavily forested area where marijuana growers cultivate California’s number one cash crop. In fact, much of the estimated 104 billion nationwide sales of marijuana is grown there.

This is where Humboldt County and the surrounding area become downright dangerous, even deadly. Old-timers say Humboldt is no longer the home of the peaceful hippies and quiet homestead marijuana growers. Instead, Humboldt has become home for those wanting to make a fast buck trimming pot plants, bringing drifters and even the Bulgarian cartel to town. “It is a modern day green rush,” says Detective Chandler Baird the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.

While many are moving in, others are moving out. A once colorful mural on the side of the Co-op building located on E Street in Eureka is now fading along with the feeling of safety within the community. Known for strange disappearances, northern California has even been identified as the trolling ground of serial killers dating back decades, tourists are often warned not to venture too far out on their own. The beautiful, yet ominous fog covered forest has kept many secrets over the years.

Murder Mountain is one of those not so secret . . . secrets, approximately 84 miles south of Eureka, in southern Humboldt County. During the early 1980’s, the area got its name, in part, after serial killer couple James and Suzan Carson confessed to killing and dismembering a co-worker on a marijuana farm. The couple was charged with three homicides but remain suspects in as many as 10 more. Numerous disappearances and unsolved homicides have haunted the area.

Murder Mountain in Alderpoint, has a population of 186 residents but concern grows throughout Humboldt as homicides and disappearances appear to be expanding throughout the county.

In fact, a self-proclaimed vigilante group known as the “Alderpoint 8” have become community heroes after reportedly obtaining a confession from a person of interest and leading authorities to a gravesite of Garrett Rodriquez who had vanished in late December 2012 and creating a presence of order though some citizens feel the local group of men are using intimidation and committing crimes too.

Whether the threat is external or community members “on the inside” the threat to resident’s and visitor’s safety appears real. Either way, for every missing person and unsolved homicide, there is a family holding on to hope and waiting.

Numbers don't lie

According to the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC), there were 87,180 active missing person cases in the U.S. as of September 30, 2017. In addition, there were 8,589 active Unidentified persons entered into the national database, most deceased.

California leads the country in the number of missing person reports with 19,316 missing persons, compared to Texas that numbers 5,988, and Arizona with 2,281 active missing person reports.

Though California has captured national attention for the depravity of several serial killers throughout the decades, experts attribute the higher number of missing person reports is due, in part, to mandatory reporting requirements. California Penal Code 14205 states in part, all local police and sheriff’s departments shall accept any report, including telephonic reports of missing persons, including runaways, without delay and shall give priority to the handling of these reports over the handling of reports relating to crimes involving property.”

1993 Disappearance of Jennifer Wilmer

Many have gravitated to Northern California in pursuit of a new lifestyle in a climate where they can be the free spirits they are. Jennifer Wilmer, who went by the nickname Jade, was one of those bright free spirits who went searching for more in the redwoods of northern California, where she was last seen in 1993.

Born April 13, 1972, Jennifer grew up on the bustling east coast in Long Island, NY, and attended the privileged St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset. A hard-working student, Jennifer had earned a full scholarship to St. John’s University in N.Y.C. a private, Roman Catholic, research university located on Utopia Parkway in Queens. Dropping out after only one semester, Jennifer expressed to family and friends she wanted to pursue her own “utopia” and enroll for classes at the College of the Redwoods, in Eureka, California.

In 1992, a bright and beautiful 20-year old arrived in the seaside community of Arcata on a journey into the hippie counterculture.

Arcata is a town where the vibrant old souls of Haight Ashbury seemed to preserve the 60’s. The intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets is located in San Francisco about 200 miles south of the seaside town of Arcata. A place where the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Mamas & the Papas and the Fuggs help create a psychedelic subculture where youth and young adults throughout the country flocked. Following the likes of LSD guru Timothy Leary who coined the term, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”, that is exactly what some did, even decades later.

Upon arriving in Arcata, Jennifer told her family classes at College of the Redwoods were full for the semester, so she opted to find work as a local waitress and rented space in a house with several roommates located in Hawkins Bar in scenic Trinity County, approximately 50 miles east of Arcata on California State Route 299.

There are two opposing reports for the day Jennifer vanished on September 13, 1993. One person reported Jennifer was last seen leaving her Willow Creek residence to go to a travel agency to pick up a one-way return airline ticket to New York her mother Susan Wilmer had purchased for her. Her family was desperate for her return, but she never arrived at the travel agency to retrieve her ticket.