The disappearance of Stacy Ann Arras has a cultish online following. On dozens of Reddit threads and chat boards, thousands of people—strangers intimately familiar with her life—obsessively dissect her vanishing. The case is mysterious, eerie, and frustratingly unsolved.Arras went missing from Yosemite National Park more than 30 years ago. She "just seems to have disappeared," the park's then-superintendent, Robert Binnewies, told the Fresno Bee.
It was a pivotal moment for the author, who is now in his mid-70s. Paulides has become the foremost expert in national park disappearances. He claims to have spent 7,000 hours researching cases like Arras'—interviewing families, law enforcement, and search-and-rescue personnel; poring over newspaper archives; and submitting hundreds of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
I sat in my room at the lodge and listened to the ranger tell me about a series of missing people inside our national parks. The ranger stated that the events were very unusual, many people were never found, and the park service was doing everything possible to keep a lid on the publicity surrounding the missing. He explained that non-law enforcement employees weren't privy to all the information, but that the upper-echelon law enforcement supervisors inside the park service were concerned about the numbers and certain facts surrounding specific cases.
Other clusters, however, are wildly bizarre.Paulides has described people "melting" into their clothing. He posits that children with "disabilities" are overrepresented among the vanished. And that storms inexplicably tend to hit after someone has gone missing. (In Arras' case, it should be noted, investigators said at the time that unusually arid summer weather may have thwarted scent dogs' sniffing capabilities, due to dry and dusty conditions.)"People disappear and are found in the middle of berry bushes," Paulides writes. "They go missing while picking berries; and some are found while eating berries. The connection between some disappearances and berries cannot be denied."Paulides never explains what these clusters mean, or what's causing so many people to vanish. An expansive story recently published in Outside puts that number at 1,600 individuals. (This estimate is based on Paulides' research, and includes missing persons on all public lands; approximately 640 million acres, or 28 percent of land in the United States.)But despite the supernatural undertones, Paulides did discover something spooky. Something more disturbing than a mythical man-ape stealing children from their parents: The National Park Service doesn't keep track of missing persons. It doesn't know how many individuals have disappeared in its parks. If you were to ask, they'd tell you, "We don't know."
"People wander into these areas, and there are so many places, and so many ways you can disappear"
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the agency put IMARS—its digital database for incident and criminal reports—into motion. It cost taxpayers $15 million, and was meant to streamline crime reporting. Before this, records were kept in boxes, on paper. If someone wanted to see a case file, a records clerk would have to sift through them."When fully established, IMARS would enable all Interior law enforcement agencies to use a common, Department-wide reporting and records management system that can provide secure, accurate, reliable and timely law enforcement information necessary to more effectively carry out Interior's public safety, homeland security, and resource protection missions," a press release said.Today, IMARS is notoriously loathed by government staff. It's allegedly buggy, and poorly made. It has a tendency to create duplicate entries, and is tedious to search. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has entirely refused to use it, saying it doesn't interface with other crime databases.
"The whole system needs to be thrown into the digital dumpster and rebuilt"