New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia offers one of the most biodiverse forests on the continent. The park is also a substantial draw to those who want to experience the outdoors with suitable rock-climbing spots, thrilling white water rapids, scenic heights, and tranquil trails. In 1978, the New River became a national river. Then in 2020, New River Gorge was redesignated as a United States national park and preserve.
Situated in Fayette and Summers Counties, the park and its surrounding area have seen countless strange occurrences over the last century. As is not uncommon at national parks, a slew of people has gone missing in and near the park area. While some of these people were later found alive, not all were. Although the identity of some missing people is known, this is not true for everyone who has gone missing in New River Gorge. Consider the following 10 strange cases of people who went missing in or near New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
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10 George Andrew Gross
On January 12, 2018, George Andrew Gross, 56, a retired firefighter, was over 200 miles (322 kilometers) from his native Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, visiting Beckley, West Virginia, when he shared plans with family members to go hiking in New River Gorge.
In addition to being a distinguished fireman and United States Marine Corps veteran, Gross was also married with children. Tragically, after Gross decided to go hiking in New River Gorge, he was never heard from again.
A search for Gross started the next Monday. Rescuers soon discovered Gross’s truck was at the park’s Fern Creek trailhead, which is the first part of a loop around the Alice Eastwood campground. Later, West rescuers found Gross’s body near the Diamond Point area of the park. The distance from the trailhead to where Gross was found is more than 2 miles )(3.2 kilometers). The cause of Gross’s death remains uncertain.
9 Susan Faye Roop
In February 1979, Susan “Sue” Roop was weathering a difficult divorce after discovering her husband Raymond’s infidelity. Sue had also suffered other recent hardships, like being run off the road while driving and having her house mysteriously burn down.
Despite this, Sue remained optimistic. She had been awarded custody of her children and received child support. Sue also expected $3,000 from the sale of the property and planned to use these funds to purchase a new home.
On January 12, Sue’s neighbor saw Sue get into a truck with an unidentified driver. This was the last time Sue was seen alive. Sue’s children were soon greeted by Raymond, who claimed Sue had abandoned them and placed him in charge. Raymond later changed his story and said he had come to pay child support.
On February 14, a missing person’s report was filed. In April 1979, Sue’s family handed over letters she had written to law enforcement indicating that Raymond was behind on child support. In the letters, Sue expressed fear for her safety and mentioned someone had forged checks in her name.
In 1993, a body was discovered on the park’s Bolt Mountain, and the remains seemed to match Sue. The results were inconclusive, though. Then in 2018, unidentified remains found in Fayette County were believed to be Sue. These remains turned out to belong to three different victims. Sue’s remains have never been found.
8 Margaret Dodd
Margaret Dodd left her position at Cardinal Bank on September 7, 1977, and headed to Shady Spring in her Chevette. Along the way, Margaret pulled into a gas station. Another vehicle then pulled behind Margaret. Reports say Margaret then turned off her car, removed the keys from the ignition, took her purse, and walked toward the other vehicle. This is the last time that Margaret was seen alive.
That night, a witness heard screams and saw a man force a woman into a vehicle. Police arrived quickly and theorized that Margaret knew the driver or that the driver had been posing as a police officer.
No evidence of Margaret was ever found. Margaret’s husband was the only one known to have direct unofficial contact with Margaret on the day she disappeared.
Several psychics claimed to have clues but offered no tangible connections. Margaret’s mother was contacted by another unknown caller who claimed to be holding Margaret hostage. This turned out to be an effort to capitalize on the pain of Margaret’s parents at losing their daughter.
In 1993, deer hunters on Bolt Mountain discovered a human skull, which led police to search the area. They found the rest of her skeleton, some clothing, and a ring—this would later help lead to a potential identification. In 2017, law enforcement took a small amount of DNA from Margaret’s sample and obtained a match.
7 John Melvin Scarbrough
On September 4, 2018, John Melvin Scarbrough went missing from the Beckwith area. Standing at 6’1″ (185.4 centimeters) and weighing 180 pounds (81.6 kilograms), Scarbrough came from the Bachman Road part of Beckwith, West Virginia. This area is between 5 and 10 miles (8-16 kilometers) from New River Gorge National Park.
The following week, unidentified remains were found by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department by Bachman Road. Law enforcement cautioned that even though Scarbrough had recently gone missing, it was best to avoid jumping to the conclusion that the remains belonged to Scarbrough.
In July 2019, local law enforcement reported finding additional remains on Bachman Road. Law enforcement went to the area with a search warrant with a missing person complaint, which may have also been connected to Scarbrough. It is uncertain what residence was examined. It remains uncertain whether there were two separate people or various parts of one individual.
What happened to John Scarbrough remains uncertain, but as of April 2023, he is still listed as missing.
6 Georgia Malinda Stone
Georgia Malinda Stone, a 56-year-old woman, was reported missing in December 2016. Stone was last seen at her Sanger Road home on December 5, 2016. Stone did not take her cell phone when she left her home.
Shortly after, law enforcement stated that Stone might have been in emotional distress when she left her home. The police commented that the investigation led into Nicholas County, West Virginia, where Stone had various relationships. Notably, Stone was originally from Nicholas County.
In October 2017, a hunter who regularly used a secluded area near Sanger Road in Hilltop, West Virginia, contacted the authorities after finding human remains near his deer trap. The remains were later identified as Georgia Stone. Stone was notably found not far from where rescue searchers were looking for the woman. Stone’s home is situated a little over 10 miles (16 kilometers) from New River Gorge National Park, suggesting that she might have ended up wandering into the park at some point before her death. Stone’s cause of death remains unknown.
5 1994 John Doe
On April 15, 1994, an unidentified “John Doe” body was found in Oak Hill, West Virginia. The John Doe is believed to have died seven months before his remains were discovered. While the John Doe’s cause of death, dentals, DNA, clothing, and jewelry are unknown, he was a 5’6″ (167.6-centimeter) Caucasian male who weighed 140 pounds (63.5 kilograms). Oak Hill is situated less than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from New River Gorge National Park, suggesting that the park might have played a role leading up to the man’s death.
This case serves as a reminder that there are currently 143 cold cases in every West Virginia County where people remain either missing or unidentified.
With recent technological innovations, experts can digitally scan John or Jane Doe skulls to create replicas and then utilize anthropologists to find and build an approximation of what a person looks like. For facial objects like ears and lips that can be determined from a skull, various reference materials can help to make educated guesses.
4 1989 New River Corpse
Members of the whitewater rafting group, Passages to Adventures, found a man’s body in the New River on March 18, 1989. The body was not immediately identified but was discovered to have spent several days in the water.
The body was then transferred to the county coroner for examination and then sent to the state coroner for further study. Foul play was not initially ruled out. Investigators later determined the body to be that of an Ohio man who was killed in a motor vehicle accident and reported by a local mechanic to have been highly intoxicated. It remains uncertain how the late man ended up in the river. The man’s death was determined to be the result of drowning.
3 Jazmine Michelle Cruz
Thirty-year-old Jazmine Cruz was last seen in Deep Water, West Virginia, on April 1, 2016, after leaving her mother’s residence on the 1100 block of Boonesboro Road following an argument. Cruz was seen running into the woods and toward the water. When she went missing, Cruz was wearing a sweater, a short sleeve shirt, black leggings, and tennis shoes. Given where Cruz was headed at the time she disappeared and the proximity—less than 25 miles (40 kilometers)—to New River Gorge National Park, Cruz might very well have gone missing in the park.
At first, police did not believe foul play was involved in Cruz’s case but have since expressed the view that foul play was involved. As a result, law enforcement has extensively searched the riverbanks and surrounding houses on Boonesboro Road.
Cruz is an African American woman who stands 5’2″ (157.5 centimeters) tall and weighs 160 pounds 72.6 kilograms). Cruz had no known physical or mental condition that placed her at risk of disappearance. She also did not make threats toward herself or anyone else. Her case is still unsolved.
2 The Sodder Children
In Fayetteville on Christmas Day in 1945, a fire destroyed the Sodder family home, leaving five of George and Jennie Sodder’s children dead. The Sodder family home was situated a few minutes away from New River Gorge National Park. Questions have since arisen about the fire, with some evidence even suggesting that Betty (5), Jennie (8), Louis (9), Martha (12), and Maurice (14) did not die in the fire.
On Christmas Eve in 1945, nine of the children went to bed. Jennie was woken in the night three times: first by a phone call where she heard a man’s voice, second by a loud bang and a rolling noise, and third by finding the house filled with smoke.
Four of the children escaped and contacted the Fayetteville Fire Department but did not receive a response. In the interim, the Sodder parents tried every way they could to save their other children but could not do so. Police attributed the fire to faulty wiring, but the house did not previously have electricity issues. While the children’s bodies were claimed to be cremated, a crematorium worker later stated that bones remain even after bodies are burned at 2,000°F (1,093°C) for two hours.
Several clues suggested the fire might have been maliciously set. In the months before the fire, an insurance salesman warned George his house would catch fire and his children destroyed in payment for criticizing Mussolini in an area that was largely Italian.
Immediately following the fire, sightings of the Sodder children occurred. The Sodders spent the rest of their lives looking for the children. They even paid for a billboard on nearby Route 16 requesting information about the missing children.
1 Robert Kovack
Robert Kovack was last seen on a Friday evening in September 1998, withdrawing money from an ATM in Blacksburg, Virginia. He was near the campus of Virginia Tech, where he attended graduate school. According to his roommates, he was heading home to his parent’s residence in Rivesville, West Virginia. But he never made it there.
His car was found five days later in West Virginia on the route toward his hometown. It was parked near the New River Gorge Bridge and was out of gas. For 17 years, there was no solid lead on what happened to the student.
Then, in March 2016, a crew gearing up for repairs on the bridge found a set of human remains. Along with the remains, they found a wallet, a driver’s license, and car keys belonging to Kovack. Positive identification of the remains was made in March 2017. However, the question of how and why he died still haunts the family.
Family and friends do not believe Kovack committed suicide as there were no signs of depression or mental illness, and the student was anticipating graduating soon and starting a new job at an architectural firm. They believe he may have been hit by another car before falling off the bridge.