Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park features the longest known cave system, which stretches for 400 discovered miles (644 km) and another 600 miles (966 km) unexplored. In 1839, Dr. Croghan of Louisville, Kentucky, acquired Mammoth Cave for $10,000. With minimal treatment methods existing for tuberculosis in the 19th century, Croghan purchased Mammoth Cave as a sanitarium, but it proved ineffective.
Situated in Edmonson, Hart, and Barren Counties with the Green River running through its land, Mammoth Cave was first established as a national park in 1941. Since the 1800s, many people have gotten lost at Mammoth Cave or gone missing in the park. While some people were later found alive, others were, unfortunately, discovered to have passed away. Another group of people became lost in Mammoth Cave or the surrounding area and were never heard from again. This article explores 10 of the most unusual cases of individuals who went missing at Mammoth Cave National Park.
10 Orla Alyne J. Barrick
Orla Alyne J. Barrick was last seen on Laurel Ridge Road in Mammoth Cave on April 12, 1996, when a neighbor spoke with Barrick around 2 pm. Barrick lived alone close to the Nolin River. After forcing entry into Barrick’s cabin, law enforcement found that the lights were off, the carpet was stained with blood, and the sofa was out-of-place. Additionally, Barrick’s dentures were found soaking, and a burned cigarette was found on a shelf. Barrick’s dog was discovered still locked in a crate.
Barrick’s family views the dentures as a sign that Alyne was not expecting any more visitors that night. The only things missing from Barrick’s residence were a fitted sheet and her purse. The $400 that Barrick kept in a freezer remained, suggesting that Barrick’s disappearance was not the result of a robbery. Furthermore, the amount of blood at the crime scene was not enough to indicate death. There were also no signs of forced entry. Foul play has long been suspected in Barrick’s case, though.
On February 7, 1997, a Mammoth Cave fisherman retrieved clumps of human hair belonging to Barrick in the Green River. Searches of the area found neither Barrick nor additional evidence. Since then, no additional evidence of Barrick has been discovered.
9 Michael Leland Vincent
When he disappeared on May 5, 2011, in Brownsville, Kentucky, Michael Leland Vincent was on parole. He went missing from an on-fire house he shared with his mother and aunt. Earlier in 2005, Vincent was convicted of assault, unlawful imprisonment, and arson.
Some people have wondered whether the desire to escape further consequences of these charges led Vincent to burn down his residence and fake his disappearance or if something else happened to him. Suggesting that something else might have happened to Vincent, six fires are known to have occurred on Oak Grove Church Road between 2002 to 2018. Forest fires caused by natural factors like lightning and man-made fires are common at national parks like Mammoth Cave.
Brownsville is in Edmonson County, and Vincent lived approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Mammoth Cave. Vincent was last seen at his residence on Oak Grove Church Road, standing in the home’s driveway. A Caucasian male with brown hair and brown eyes, Vincent was last seen without a shirt. He can be distinguished by tattoos of a dragon, grim reaper, and flag.
8 Ronald Edward Baldwin
On a weekend in June 2004, Ronald Baldwin and his 12-year-old neighbor rode four wheels on Baldwin’s 300 acres on Buckner Hill North Road, which is situated in the Bonnieville part of Hart County, Kentucky. This area is located less than a 20-minute car ride from Mammoth Cave.
At some point, the 12-year-old returned to refuel his ATV, but on returning to Ronald, he could not find the 54-year-old man. The boy has been described as “mentally handicapped.” Still, it remains uncertain how well the child could communicate with others if he saw something happen to Ronald, who was an experienced outdoorsman.
After Ronald failed to return the next day, his girlfriend reported Ronald missing. Ronald’s girlfriend stated that it was not unusual for him to be gone for hours while four-wheeling. A search group soon discovered Ronald’s abandoned ATV, along with Ronald’s glasses, shoes, and an unfinished whiskey bottle.
No signs of Ronald have ever been found. Law enforcement does not believe that foul play was involved. Unfortunately, Baldwin’s mother passed away in 2015 without ever learning what happened to her son. Still missing in 2023, Baldwin has tattoos of a naked woman, a flag, and a sword.
7 Tony Ray Choate
Tony Choate, who was 25 at the time, went four-wheel riding around noon in September 1993 in Bonnieville. Choate was wearing cut-off jeans and his wedding band. Leaving his father-in-law’s residence on his four-wheeler, Choate was supposed to wait until the local bus dropped off his child before starting his ride. Choate never arrived back and was never heard from again.
Choate routinely left his home and traveled significant distances, including excursions to Florida and California, which made his disappearance that afternoon at first seem routine. While Choate was believed to just be missing, years after Choate’s disappearance, law enforcement collected evidence that led them to suspect that foul play was involved.
Law enforcement dug up concrete, searched nearby Mammoth Park caves, and never located Choate, alive or deceased. Choate’s family remembers him as a young man who had the potential to be an upstanding person.
6 Josephine Poteet
In the late 19th century, Josephine Poteet was born on her family’s farm in an area that later became Houchin’s Ferry Road. Today, most of Houchin’s Ferry Road is situated in Mammoth Cave National Park and is taken care of by the National Park Service. The third child to a large family, Josephine grew up along the Green River.
After Josephine’s father died, the Poteet family faced financial difficulties. Josephine also gave birth to three children while unmarried, which resulted in Josephine being ostracized from the community.
In 1914, Josephine left Edmonson County. How Josephine traveled is unknown, but she likely took the last name of the man she traveled with. The man later returned to Edmonson County without Josephine. When asked what became of her, the man said he last saw Josephine sitting on the banks of the Missouri River.
For some time, Josephine’s family was not certain what happened to her until a search of Missouri marriage records revealed that after Josephine left the area, she married a man in Missouri and assumed the new name, Thena Williams.
5 1973 Barren County Jane Doe
While the Watergate hearings were underway, the decomposed body of a deceased Jane Doe was found on November 2, 1973, by a truck driver along Interstate 65, approximately a mile north of Park City. This location is only a few miles away from Mammoth Cave, which suggests that the Jane Doe might have passed through the area before being discovered. Forensics experts later assessed that before the discovery, the Jane Doe’s body had been positioned at the location for three to ten weeks.
The Jane Doe was also determined to have been killed by a single shotgun blast to her chest. More puzzling than who or what led up to this murder is the question of why keys were found lying next to the body. Two of the keys are strangely engraved with “114.”
The Jane Doe had reddish-brown hair and was somewhere between 20 and 50 years old. This is notable because the Barren County Jane Doe matches the identified victims in the “Redhead Murders,” a series of murders spanning from the 1970s to the 1990s. The “Redhead Murders” are believed to have occurred in several states, including Kentucky. The unidentified killer targeted Caucasian women with reddish-brown hair.
4 Walter Greg Fowler
Maintenance worker Walter Fowler was reported missing by his wife, Debra, in June 1999. After helping Walter load his small aluminum “Jon” boat into his van, Debra claimed she never saw Walter again. Later, Debra claimed to find Walter’s empty boat floating along the Barren River while searching for him. Law enforcement believes that Walter’s disappearance was the result of foul play.
Some details in Fowler’s case suggest that multiple people were involved in the disappearance, including Fowler’s weight of over 200 pounds (91 kg). For example, Walter’s vehicle and trailer were discovered abandoned on Osborne Ford Road, which is close to Barren River. Fowler’s boat was found approximately 2.5 miles (4 km)downriver. Law enforcement has even received encountered claims that Walter is hiding in Mammoth Cave.
Further suggesting that Walter’s disappearance resulted from foul play is the fact that Walter and Debra were in debt at the time of his disappearance, and Debra was the beneficiary of Walter’s life insurance policy. Debra claims to have first learned about the policy in 2015, though. As of April 2023, no charges have been filed, and Walter’s case remains unsolved.
3 “Lost John”
Many mummies have been discovered in Mammoth Cave from the remains of intentionally buried natives. One exception to these intentional burials is the discovery of the mummy, “Lost John,” in 1935. Lost John was crushed to death by a falling boulder, and his face is stuck in an eerie frozen scream, which he likely let loose shortly before the boulder fell on him.
Alonzo W. Pond, a one-time National Park Service archeologist, discovered Lost John in the 1930s. Pond concluded that the man was likely a Native American who was using a stone-chipping tool in the cave when he lost his life. Pond was also the one who reclaimed “Lost John” from Mammoth Cave.
To raise the boulder off John’s body, archaeologists built a wooden tower, tied bands to the boulder, and lifted the rock. Underneath the boulder, John’s body was found lying face down in the dirt. Who John was or to what Indian tribe he belonged remains uncertain.
2 1998 Green River Drowning Victim
On May 30, 1998, two people in a four-person group took a boat onto the Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park. Both men fell into the Green River after their boat capsized. One man safely got to shore, while the other disappeared. The following morning, park rangers began a search that involved dive teams and canines.
The next week, park rangers found the missing man’s body along with corresponding personal items. The boat’s operator was determined to be intoxicated at the time of the accident. Still, exactly what happened to the man who fell overboard and drowned remains uncertain.
1 1984 Barren County Jane Doe
A deceased elderly woman was found in the Barren River Reservoir in Glasgow, Kentucky, in 1984. Two fishermen discovered the woman’s body off Narrows Boatramp Road, approximately 12 miles (19 km) away from Glasgow.
An autopsy revealed that the woman died from suffocation after being gagged. After being dumped into the reservoir, the woman’s body is believed to have spent two to three months in the water. The body showed signs of natural childbirth, and the woman was wearing a Harve Benard shirt and ankle-high stockings. No killer has ever been identified.