Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jesse Capen Is Missing

August 15, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Some time around the first week of December 2009, a young man embarked on trip to search for a lost gold mine in Arizona. He chose the Tortilla Creek drainage basin of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Some time after that and prior to December 20, 2009, Jesse Capen went missing.

Jesse Capen of Denver, Colo., has been missing in the Superstitions since December 2009.
On December 20, 2009, a white Jeep wagon was found abandoned at the Upper Tortilla Ranch Windmill. The vehicle was reportedly owned by Capen of Denver, Colo. He was 35 years old, 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 204 lbs. He worked as a bell hop for the Downtown Denver Sheraton hotel.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office contacted Capen's mother, Cynthia Burnett and she reported Jesse was in Arizona looking for a lost mine in the Superstition Mountains. She said he had driven to Arizona after Thanksgiving.

On December 22, 2009, somewhere in the area of Indian Springs, Jesse's camp was checked. Capen's wallet, credit cards, cash, iPod, backpack, food and water were found in his tent. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office conducted a search of the area throughout the month of December finding no sign of Jesse.

Search dogs, SAR members, deputies and a helicopter search the areas marked on a map found in Jesse's tent. All of this effort produced no clues as to what happened to Jesse. The area where Jesse went missing was hit by a severe winter storm between November 22-23, 2009, and blew down many trees in the area including a large Cottonwood tree near Kane Springs.

The entire region around Indian and Kane Springs northwestward toward Tortilla Mountain is extremely rough and very treacherous terrain. I worked round up in this area in the 1950s and it is difficult to even spot cows in this country let alone an injured man. Elmer Pope, an old Apache cowboy who worked for Floyd Stone, once told me this was the roughest cattle range he had ever worked.

There are several vertical prospects that are eight to 15 feet deep in the area. Elmer had covered several of them and fenced in others to keep cattle from falling in them. There were several prospects and old tunnels over toward Night Hawk Springs.

What happen to Jesse Capen? Did he fall into some prospect hole, fall off of a boulder, slip and fall of off of the trail? Did he injure himself jumping, from one boulder to another? Or did he hike on over to Pistol Canyon on Peter's Mesa and become disoriented and injured in that area? Or did he change his mind and hike up toward the top of Tortilla he wanted to search and was injured? Maybe he just decided to walk out the other side of the mountain and disappear off the face of the Earth? Speculation continues to aggravate the search.

Who was Jesse Joseph Capen? His mother reported him to be a gentle giant. He didn't even consider carrying a firearm into the mountains. He had collected over 100 books on the Superstition Mountains and the Dutchman's Lost mine. He had downloaded all the information he could find about the Waltz's mine from the Internet and carefully organized it. Jesse was single and had never married. His mother Cynthia Burnett said he never really talked about the Dutchman's Lost Mine and the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. She also revealed on an Internet forum her son was bi-polar.

Searching with even good information can be difficult at best. Over the years, I have been involved with five or six major searches. All of them but two ended tragically. One young man was angry at his father and decided to teach him a lesson by hiding from searchers for more than a week.

Another young man was angry at his grandmother and remained lost during the heat of July in the mountains for almost a week before he walked out to the search command post at the Peralta Trail Head. He was very familiar with the area. He knew where an old mine tunnel was that had a spring in.

These types of experiences can callous ones initiative to participate in such searches for missing people. Volunteers continue being involved in search and rescue because they know most missing people did not intend to become lost or injured. However the largest majority of searches end finding or saving the missing person. Sadly enough a few search and rescue efforts end tragically.

We must all take a moment to thank the many volunteers of the many search and rescue groups in Arizona and our nation. They are on call 24 hours a day from their jobs, families and friends. However, without them many lives would have been lost over the years. The search is never over until a rescue is made or the remains are recovered. The volunteer knows this is what brings closure for a family of a love one who has been lost. This is the reason we have so many wonderful people involved in search and rescue.

Jesse will be brought home eventually.