It was 1984 and the middle of summer in Missoula, Montana, where 31-year-old teacher Curtis Holmen was enjoying his vacation.
He left his home on Washburn Avenue at around 5 pm so he could drive a little and charge the battery of his Toyota pickup. It should have been a short and easy journey. But Curtis Holmen never made it home.
When Curtis never got in touch with his girlfriend Nancy, who he'd planned to meet for a movie the following day, his friends and family knew something was terribly wrong. They certainly didn’t believe that he had vanished of his own accord. At the time of his disappearance, Curtis’s father was seriously ill. The two were in frequent contact and Curtis had recently travelled to North Dakota to visit him, and none of his friends believed that he would have left his father in such a way.
Curtis also seemed positive about his career and life in general and had talked about wanting to stay in teaching and the different kinds of schooling that he wanted to pursue. He had been with his girlfriend Nancy, who was also a teacher, for about a year. The couple loved being outdoors and had made plans for camping, biking and fishing trips over their summer off. They had returned from 9 days in the Idaho backcountry late the day before he vanished, and were due to start a 3 week vacation at Mount Ranier National Park that same week.
When Nancy checked his belongings, she found nothing missing, meaning all Curtis would have had on him was his wallet and a little bit of cash. She was concerned that Curtis’s kindness may have been his downfall. “He was a good hearted person”, she said, “If he could have fit a dozen hitchhikers in his truck, he would have.”
12 days after he disappeared, police discovered Curtis’s pickup truck parked at Elk Meadows, and old logging road near Placid Lake. Inside the pickup, police found a Forest Service map with a circle drawn around Fly Lake, around 11 miles away. Beaver Finley Road had also been marked with pen, a road that winds around Placid Lake and past Elk Meadows, where Curtis’s pickup was found.
Nancy revealed that Curtis had mentioned to her that he wanted to scout out some lakes for a hiking trip they had planned with his brother that summer, however, he hadn’t said when he wanted to do so, nor had he mentioned Fly Lake as somewhere he wanted to visit.
Using Elk Meadows as the starting point for their search, Curtis’s friends and Missoula county search and rescue volunteers combed the area by foot. But the terrain was challenging, with steep hills, fallen logs, and thick bush to contend with. Curtis’s friends noted that he was an experienced hiker, and he would have likely veered away from the established trails.
With no sign of Curtis, The friends continued their search into the following month. Art Palmer and Emerson ‘Casey’ Jones, who both knew Curtis through the school, combed around 100 miles of back roads and Jeep trails around Missoula in one day. The following morning, 10 other friends had joined them to start another search. Meanwhile, Nancy and a friend who had flown in from Portland followed up on a reported sighting of Curtis in Darby, a town about 60 miles away. They called in at gas stations, motels and restaurants, asking if anyone had seen him around. Unfortunately, they came back with nothing.
Six weeks after Curtis disappeared, his friends had all but lost hope and their searches drew to a close. Palmer, who had organised many of them, said: “We figure he got injured or lost or something. Wherever he is up there, I don’t know if anybody could find him”.
The police, too, soon scaled back their efforts, closing the case file in early September. Detective Weaver, leading the case, confirmed that Curtis was presumed dead, and that foul play was not suspected. He noted that during their search a grizzly bear was spotted in the area, suggesting that Curtis had likely met his end in the depths of the Montana wilderness.
The Missoulian (Aug 2 and Sept 6 1984)