Most people would jump at the chance to work a flashy, big-name job, but not many consider the kind of pressure that comes with such high-profile careers. Sure, you’re bound to get some “oohs” and “ahhs” when you casually mention your line of work, but are these brief moments of pride enough to counter the tremendous stresses that come with this kind of responsibility?
Well, one Spanish doctor didn’t seem to think so, and after growing tired of his day-to-day, he vanished without a trace. Authorities feared the young man was lost forever, but nearly two decades later, a group of foragers made a shocking discovery that shook the entire Mediterranean to its core.
Twenty-six-year-old Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar had a bright future ahead of him. He was a licensed physician in Spain, had a degree in psychology, and even spoke multiple languages.
Yet even with such a seemingly perfect life, Salazar was not as he seemed on the surface. Despite his reputation for being polite, studious, and responsible, the gifted doctor was also quietly dealing with acute depression.
Then, on an ordinary day in 1996, Salazar disappeared without a trace. For the next fourteen years, both friends and family searched tirelessly for the missing man, but after coming up with nothing, authorities announced that Salazar was “presumed dead.”
But just five years later, there was a break in the case in a place that no one ever thought to look. Just across the Mediterranean, an unexpected discovery was made in the lush wilderness of Italy’s Maremma region.
Bram van Broekhoven / Flickr
In November 2015, a group of hikers set off into the woods just outside of Tuscany in search of edible mushrooms. In a place such as this, the spongy spores grew large and in wild abundance.
The Italian Corner
Yet on this particular afternoon, the mushroom pickers had little success in finding what they were after. Believing they’d have better luck off the beaten path, they split from their route and wandered off into the forest.
After walking only a few yards, the group stumbled across a trail of trash. They initially wrote it off as garbage from some careless campers, but as they followed the litter, they came upon something that definitely wasn’t mushrooms…
In the middle of the clearing ahead sat a small, makeshift camp; tin cans hung from the surrounding trees to catch rainwater, and someone had even strung up a tarp to make a shelter. But as they surveyed the strange sight, the foragers realized they weren’t alone.
From the shelter emerged a single man, whom the hikers described as having “a dirty face and large beard.” This about all they needed to see, however, as before the mysterious woodsman could approach, the pickers fled back toward the path.
Though this wasn’t enough to keep them away, as just a few hours later they returned to the campsite with a forest ranger. He questioned the man, who was simple in his reply: “I’m Spanish, my name is Carlos, and I’ve been living here since 1997.”
But could this truly be the very same man that disappeared all those years ago? The ranger wasn’t so sure, and so he asked for proof. Without hesitation, the man produced several personal IDs. The name inside all of them? Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar.
How the former doctor had come to this place – let alone survived for nearly two decades in the wilderness – was a mystery, but it was clear that he wasn’t too happy about being discovered. “I don’t want to live among people,” he told the group. “Now that you have found me, I need to get out of here.”
Despite his intent to leave the area, the hikers opted to snap photos of his documents so they could pass them along to the proper authorities. With this newfound information, it didn’t take long for these organizations to track down Salazar’s family and give them the good news.
No sooner did they get the call that the man’s family boarded a plane to Italy to search for their missing relation. Salazar’s mother, Amelia, was particularly moved by the news, telling the Italian press, “It was as if our son had been born again.”
However, the family knew finding Salazar wouldn’t necessarily guarantee he’d come back into their lives. “He’s alive and that is the important thing,” said Amelia. “We will respect his wishes and his freedom, but we won’t go home until we have at least given him a hug, even for a few moments.”
guy clift / Flickr
With the help of local law enforcement, Salazar’s family gathered a search party and set out to where the mushroom pickers had first encountered the missing man. Unfortunately, Salazar had stuck to his word — the campsite was totally abandoned.
In his wake, the missing man had left behind an enormous pile of trash, which included bottles, tarps, shoes, buckets, and a myriad of other survival tools. But Salazar was gone, this was certain, and the local authorities soon abandoned their search.
Local Coast Outpost
“We will continue to keep an eye out in the forest, but we won’t be actively searching for anybody,” said Marcello Stella, mayor of nearby Scarlino. “This is not the responsibility of the council and after all, he is hiding of his own free will.”
Salazar’s family returned to Spain a few days later, likely believing it’d be nearly impossible to find him in the 35 square miles of forest. This was probably for the best — no one has seen Salazar since the mushroom pickers came across him that fateful November day.
Still, there are those in the area, such as missing persons advocate Nicodemo Gentile, that continue to search for the former doctor: “We will continue to follow this case and help [Salazar’s] family with the hope that one day they can embrace the son who left them… all those years ago.”
Though it sounds farfetched that someone would willingly get lost in the wilderness to escape society, brave souls have been doing this kind of thing for centuries. Yet unlike Salazar, these individuals aren’t always prepared for the perils that may await them…
Take Everett Ruess for example. Born in March of 1914 in Oakland, California, Ruess was the second child to parents Christopher, a probation officer, and Stella, an artist and poet.
From a young age, Christopher challenged his son to read heavily and encouraged him to study the great philosophers. Everett later began to write poetry himself, and he even took up archery.
But it was an adventure that became Everett’s true passion, and he began showing an appetite for it as early as 1930 when he was just 16 years old. During that summer, Everett hitchhiked from Oakland to the town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, an impressive 100-mile journey.
The following year, after graduating from Hollywood High School, Everett purchased a burro and set out on his first major expedition. Over the course of ten months, Everett would come to see iconic locations like the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.
Conde Nast / DOI
Not only was this trek an ambitious one, but it also set the foundation for the adventures Everett would seek out in the years to come. Unbeknownst to the young explorer, however, his next expedition would change everything…
In November of 1934, 20-year-old Everett Ruess rode into the remote Utah township of Escalante accompanied by two pack burros. A settlement founded by Mormons in 1876, Escalante was a place where the arrival of a stranger was a rarity.
Everett made his camp just north of the town, pitching his tent in a sunbaked area along the Escalante River that was perfect for mid-day naps. The townspeople visited Everett often, making small talk and giving the friendly adventurer the lay of the land.
The Salt Lake Tribune
The children of Escalante took a particular shine to Everett, and during his time there he took them riding and even treated them to a movie. After spending a few nights in town, Everett packed his burros and disappeared into the wilds of Utah. He was never heard from again.
The New York Times
So what happened to the young explorer? Well, in 1999 David Roberts, an adventure writer for National Geographic Magazine, sought to find an answer to the 65-year-old mystery. The first stop on his investigation? Escalante.
After arriving in town, Roberts sat down with 74-year-old Norm Christensen, one of the children charmed by Everett during his stay in Escalante in 1934. Norm, who was only 10 at the time, was one of the last people to see Everett Ruess alive.
According to Norm, Everett set off into the Utah desert after leaving Escalante, traveling southeast along the Hole in the Rock trail. This historic route had been plotted by 19th-century Mormon settlers and was a tried-and-true passageway for navigating the desert. Or so they believed.
The Durango Herald
Roberts also spoke to a 91-year-old man while in Escalante named Melvin Alvey, who met Everett during his stay in town all those years ago. Melvin wasn’t surprised that Everett had disappeared, as even then he believed that the young man was ill-equipped to survive the harsh winter climate of the Utah desert.
However, historical reports show that Everett was still alive at least a week after leaving Escalante, having traveled 50 miles through the desert. We know that he came across two shepherds and some cattlemen, but after that, he simply vanished.
High Country News
Despite Everett’s disappearance, red flags weren’t raised until almost three months later. This wasn’t out of the ordinary, though, as Everett had sent a letter to his family weeks earlier saying that his journey would likely prevent him from communicating for a month or two.
SassafrasLaneVillage / Etsy
But when the letters Christopher and Stella sent to Marble Canyon, Arizona — the place where Everett was expected to re-emerge into civilization — were returned unopened, they quickly grew concerned. After contacting the postmistress, a search party was dispatched from Escalante in March of 1935.
Eventually, the same two shepherds that had crossed paths with Ruess the previous November stumbled upon an old campsite in a steep-sided canyon known as Davis Gulch. Although Everett’s burros were found alive — albeit severely malnourished — there was no sign of the young explorer, his diary, or his camping gear.
While no traces of Ruess were found, it was widely believed that he was murdered while trekking through the desert. More specifically, the group of cattlemen — who were the last to see him alive — were the supposed culprits behind Everett’s disappearance.
Canyon Country Guide
In fact, Norm Christensen revealed that one of the cattlemen, a man by the name of Keith Riddle, had confessed to Everett’s murder. However, Riddle died in 1984 and no definitive evidence was ever found that pinned him to the crime.
But in 2008, 74 years after Everett’s disappearance, a tip from a Navajo who claimed to have witnessed Everett’s murder led a man named Denny Bellson to the skeletal remains of a body at Comb Ridge. The bones — found in a crevice 60 miles from Everett’s last camp — were tested against the DNA of Everett’s nieces and nephews. It was a match!
The Durango Herald / Only in Your State
Heartbreakingly, however, it was later discovered that the DNA test had been botched and that the Comb Ridge remains belonged to a Native American. And so, the truth behind Everett Ruess’ disappearance still remains a mystery to this day.
High Country News