Into Thin Air: The Strange Vanishing of Keith Reinhard

Some mysterious disappearances have a particular knack for drawing to themsleves an air of weirdness. These are the cases that seem to stump and baffle those who would seek to find answers, and cloak themselves in a veil of shadows and mystery. One such case involves a man who went off to seek a new life in a rural locale, only to become obsessed with a strange disappearance, start writing a book about it, and go on to himself vanish without a trace. It is a mystery which links to another mystery through a perplexing series of coincidences and synchronicity, is permeated by unusual circumstances, and has propelled itself into one of the most bizarre vanishings there is.

The scene of the mystery is the tiny town of Silver Plume, Colorado, in the United States, located just past the outskirts of Denver and situated along Clear Creek in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. This quaint town, with a scant permanent population of less than 200, itself has a bit of an interesting history to it. Founded in 1864, it was originally meant to be a gold camp, but instead of gold all anyone could find were large amounts of clumps of worthless grayish rock, which the frustrated miners at the time discarded in their hunt for gold. At some point, it was figured out that that this junk rock that was all over the place was actually silver ore, which proved to be a jackpot for the town since the monetary system of the day was based on a bimetal standard of both gold and silver. Indeed, the name Silver Plume comes from the vast amounts of silver that were said to be found here in abundance.

2011-11-16_Silver-Plume-CO-Downtown1-570x428

Silver Plume, Colorado

When the devastating major economic depression known as the Panic of 1893 hit the United States, the government switched from a bimetal standard to an all-gold one, which sent the value of silver plummeting and spelled the town’s ruin. Ever since that desolate time, rather than become a dried up, abandoned and lifeless husk like many of the other economically ruined Old West towns of the era, Silver Plume has managed to precariously retain somewhat of a pulse right up to present times, still somehow eking out an existence. This has made the town sort of a living relic of another age, and Silver Plume is sometimes referred to as a “semi-ghost town,” or a “living ghost town.”

It was to this charming little historical rural town of dirt roads, and rustic old buildings surrounded by majestic soaring mountain peaks that a man named Keith Reinhard came to try to start a new life. The soon-to-be 50-year old sports writer for the Chicago Daily Herald had been in somewhat of a slump in his life. He was stressed from big city life, gaining weight, losing focus on his writing, and generally becoming increasingly disillusioned about where his life was heading, stuck in a rut and trying to find a way out. He had a good job and a loving wife of 2 years named Carolyn, but he felt that something was desperately missing, and he yearned to try to turn over a new leaf somewhere far from the hectic city.

It was at the peak of this mid-life crisis of sorts that Reinhard started day dreaming about moving away to Silver Plume. His long time good friend, Ted Parker, lived there and he had often heard of the slow paced, quiet life he led there. Reihard made up his mind to take a 90-day leave of absence from work to get away from it all and try out living there for a while on his own. He explained to Carolyn that he wanted to open an antique shop there, work on fulfilling his dream of writing a novel in peace and quiet, and find his direction in life, with the idea that they could both live there permanently if everything worked out. Although Carolyn was more than a little skeptical and wary about the whole dramatic idea, she decided to go along with her husband’s crazy, idyllic dream.

mis_keith_reinhard1

Keith Reinhard

Reinhard moved out to Silver Plume in the summer of 1988 to start his great adventure, along with a profound sense excitement, contentedness, and high hopes for the future. He rented a simple storefront from his friend Parker on the town’s main street for his antique business and set to work on what he was sure would be his Great American Novel masterpiece. Unfortunately, in such a sparsely populated town there was little business at his shop, even during the peak summer tourist season, and he also began experiencing writer’s block on his new book, with inspiration drying up to prove just as elusive out in the fresh air and quaint nature of Silver Plume as it had been in the churning, crowded city of Chicago. His quixotic dream of starting anew and finding himself in small town life was proving to be no match for the crushing reality. Just about the only thing he found himself enjoying there were his regular hikes out in the rugged nature of the area, surrounded by the crisp, clean Rocky Mountain air.

It was during this renewed state of devolving into disillusionment that he began to become rather intrigued with his storefront’s previous owner, a Tom Young. The previous year, before Reinhard had rented the space, Young had owned a bookstore there, but then on September 7, 1987 had suddenly told his friends and family that he was traveling to Europe for a vacation, after which he simply vanished off the face of the earth. He was last seen walking off with his beloved dog Gus, with which he was said to be inseperable, and no one had seen him since. Indeed, no trace of the missing man or his dog had ever been found despite intensive searches. Enthralled by this odd mystery, which had happened right there in his newfound town with a man who had rented the very same shop, Reinhard began asking Parker about it and then going out into town to extensively interview locals about Young and the disappearance, taking meticulous, detailed notes the whole time.

As Reinhard became more and more hopelessly obsessed with the mystery of Young’s mysterious disappearance, he began to gain inspiration and started writing a novel based on it, which would feature a character that was a composite of Young and himself. After a period of his stalled book and deteriorating will to even write at all he had finally found his muse. Reinhard would begin to spend all of his free time poring over his notes and information on Tom Young and his vanishing, as well as feverishly writing away on his novel at all hours, powered and invigorated by his newfound inspiration and passion to write.

rocky-mountains-384683_1280-570x428

The Rocky Mountains

It was during this writing spree and obsession with Young that a break would be made in the case of the strange disappearance. On July 31, 1988, some local hunters found the skeletal remains of the long lost Young, propped up against a tree out in the wilderness about an hour from Silver Plume and with a bullet hole in the head. Not far from Young’s body was a pistol, a backpack, and the missing dog, Gus, also with a bullet hole to the head. It was later found that Young had purchased the pistol just 4 days before his disappearance. As far as the authorities were concerned it was a straight forward suicide, with Young taking his beloved pet with him, but many of the locals still suspected some sort of foul play, insisting that Young would have never hurt that dog. Although mysterious vanishing had been in a way solved and police considered the cold case closed, since ballistics tests were apparently never made on the gun, or at least failed to determine if it was the weapon that had killed him, the mystery was still kept alive in a way for many.

About a week later, on August 7, 1988, Keith Reinhard closed up his shop as usual and casually told friends that he had decided to go hiking up the nearby Pendleton Mountain. At the time, everyone thought it was just a joke, as it was after 4 in the afternoon and hiking up the mountain would take at least 6 hours round trip. In addition, he was gearing up to leave with just the clothes he had on and no additional supplies whatsoever or even appropriate clothing for the cold temperatures up on the mountain. Adding to the oddness was that he had apparently tried to hike the mountain before but had turned back early due to his fear of heights and the strenuous difficulty of the terrain. Even his best friend in the town, Ted Parker, thought he was just messing around when he came to his café to tell him of his plans. Parker would later say of the situation:

He was in the café and told me he was going to make it to the top of the mountain. If I don’t come back, call on the rescue and he said that in jest, I felt. I have this picture of him pointing to the mountain and saying goodbye. That was the last time I saw him.

possum-570x428

Despite absolutely no one taking him seriously about his plans, nevertheless at 4:30 Reinhard was seen walking off towards the looming mountain with not so much as a backpack. He wasn’t even wearing a warm jacket. He would never be seen again. He had said he would be back by 10PM, but that time came and went without any sign of Reinhard. When the next morning arrived and Reinhard had still not returned, a massive search was launched of the area, which would involve hundreds of people, airplanes, helicopters, and trained dogs scouring a large swath of the perilous terrain for a week without finding a shred of evidence of what had happened to him. At the time, it was the largest rescue operation in Colorado history, yet it turned up nothing. The frustrated head of the rescue team, Charley Shimanski, would say of the situation:

The Reinhard search was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. This haystack is 3,000 vertical feet of 60 degree slope. This was about as difficult a search terrain as we cover. We were at a real disadvantage because Keith went into the mountains wearing no more than blue jeans and a flannel shirt and tennis shoes. He had no backpack. He had no equipment. A typical subject of a search will leave lots of clues for us to trace. Keith didn’t leave many clues. He didn’t have many with him to leave behind.

The search was finally called off on August 12, after a Cessna aircraft carrying two rescuers crashed, killing one of them and seriously injuring the other. Reinhard remained missing, with not a single trace of him turned up. The only clue left behind was a curious passage found by his friends on his computer that seemed to be part of the novel he had been working on and would never finish. The strange passage concerns the main character, which had been given the name Guy Gypsum. It says:

Guy Gypsum changed into some hiking boots and donned a heavy flannel shirt. He understood it all now, and his motivation. Guy closed the door, then walked off towards the lush, shadowless, Colorado forests above.

These are apparently the last words Reinhard would ever write, the abrupt end to his novel. In the years since Keith Reinhard’s mysterious disappearance there have been many theories proposed as to what happened to him. One is that he had gone off to the mountain with no intention of ever returning, perhaps planning to vanish or even die the same way that Tom Young had, but there is no evidence he ever owned a gun, and furthermore he had not mentioned any desire to die and according to his family and friends he had been not been suicidal in the slightest bit. Indeed he was described by friends and family as a reasonably happy person who cherished his loved ones. It could also have been that Reinhard was trying to emulate the adventurous character of his novel, and had gone off to get a feel for it, but with every intention of coming back to write more, finish that last passage perhaps, and had gotten lost or injured in the rugged landscape or succumbed to the elements in the process. It is quite possible that he would want to try and step in his characters’ shoes, and Reinhard’s own daughter, Tiffany, would later say:

Writers like to live the story they’re writing about, get a feel of it so it’s easier for them to write about it. Maybe my father, it’s always possible, wanted to feel what it’s like to disappear so he could write about it.

Another idea is that he had just set out for a simple hike, as he often did, perhaps not even really intending to go up Pendleton Mountain at all. Even with a short distance hike, the terrain here is rugged and treacherous, and he could have easily fallen, gotten injured somehow, or met with any number of perils out there. He also might have just wanted to disappear for a short while to see how everyone reacted, either as a joke or for research for his book, and then either met with some unexpected accident out in the wilds and died, or felt guilty that someone had died looking for him, causing him to remain in hiding.

i_walk_alone_by_nelleke-d6iosp8-570x447

Still another theory is that he just walked away and left his life behind to go live somewhere else. This could be because he had gotten just as sick of his new life in Silver Plume as had been with his old one back in Chicago and wanted yet another fresh start, or because he had been on the run from something or someone. The proposed places where he might have run off to include Mexico, West Virginia, where he had expressed interest in going before, or even to nearby Denver to follow a woman he had allegedly been seen with at a party. However, again, he was described by friends and family as being a devoted husband and father who was for the most part well-adjusted and happy, not someone who would voluntarily abandon them all. Alleged sightings of Reinhard over the years in various places have fueled this theory, but authorities have mostly dismissed these accounts.

Whether he died out there in the wilderness or went on to live somewhere else, it is also possible that he had planned all of this all along, for the character in his novel to walk off and simply vanish abruptly, just as the two people he had been based upon had done, and for fiction to reach out and meld with reality. Perhaps this had been Reinhard’s master plan from the start, his grand masterpiece, and the novel was meant to end that way and was meant to be found. Perhaps it was all elaborately timed and intended for the character, who remember was a mix of Young and Reinhard, to vanish, and for Reinhard to vanish as well at the same time just as Young had. If that is true, and this character was meant to step off the page as surely as the people he was composed of had stepped off the face of the earth as a part of this grand project, then I have to admit it is quite brilliant, genius even. However, leaving one’s entire life behind or even dying seems like pretty far to go just to create a puzzling work of fiction with such a bizarre, warped twist with claws in reality to mess with people’s minds, no matter how clever it may be. It is certainly an intriguing possibility, though.

For others there are simply too many weird coincidences for the case to be anything other than something more sinister. We have a man who disappeared without a trace, then just a year later another man, who happens to have the same storefront and is writing a novel based on the whole thing, also vanishes. What importance these coincidences have depends on who you ask. For some it means that both Young and Reinhard found something in that shop that they were not meant to see, and were subsequently murdered for it. For others the timing of Reinhard’s disappearance just one week after the macabre discovery of Young’s body means that perhaps Reinhard, with all of his detailed research on Young, had found evidence that the man had met with foul play, evidence that would get him silenced. For still others all of the coincidences equate to some paranormal synchronicity, some inscrutable force at work that is perhaps forever beyond our ability to comprehend it.

1254386-bigthumbnail

The whole strange mystery of Keith Reinhardt has been picked apart and debated for years, and it has spawned a documentary called Dark Side of the Mountain and been featured as an episode on the TV series Unsolved Mysteries on January 31, 1990. It is not difficult to see why the colorfully bizarre disappearance of Keith Reinhard has drawn to itself so much scrutiny, why debate gravitates about it, or why it is such an enthralling mystery that captures the imagination. A man sets a course on the rather romantic notion of going off to start a new life in a small town, follows through, and then becomes obsessed with and writes about a man who has vanished without a trace, a man who had rented the same shop, only to go on to vanish into thin air himself. There is a certain macabre allure to the whole thing. Unfortunately, this means that many elements to the case have been changed or exaggerated over the years through numerous retellings and countless articles on the matter, to the point that a Detective Dave Dauenhauer of the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Department once lamented:

What happened to Keith Reinhard and Tom Young has been knocked around and embellished so much, it’s hard to know where the truth ends and glamorization begins.

What in the world happened to Keith Reinhard? Was this a man driven by creative madness to follow in the footsteps of his obsession and become one with his own feverish writings? Did he lose track of the line between fantasy and reality? Was he the the victim of some sort of foul play? Or was he merely another of the many who bite off more than they can chew, carelessly wandering out into wildernesses where they are unprepared to survive? Or was this something else, and if so, what? What do we make of the coincidences and odd synchronicity surrounding this baffling case? The disappearance of Keith Reinhard has gone on to become one of the most analyzed and talked about cases of missing persons there is, yet we are still not really any closer to answering any of these questions. The only one who knows the answers to them is Keith Reinhard himself, whether he is living far away in a new life or rotting away in the remote, cold wilderness of the Rocky Mountains.

SOURCE