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This post thanks to Spertierra, who jogged my memory about it:

Many guesses, no clues on tourists
Author: Chuck Mueller, Staff Writer

DEATH VALLEY - The discovery of an abandoned minivan in a desolate sandy wash here a decade ago spurred a massive search for four German tourists.
No trace of the visitors was ever found, sparking speculation about the fate of the foursome: architect Egbert Rimkus, 34, his girlfriend Cornelia Meyer, 28, his 10-year-old son Georg Weber and Meyer's son Max, 4.

Close to 100 searchers on foot joined by eight on horseback and four helicopter crews overhead scoured a wide area surrounding Anvil Spring Canyon near the southern boundary of Death Valley National Park in late October 1996.

The search was launched after Park Ranger Dave Brenner, during an aerial reconnaissance, spotted the green Plymouth Voyager minivan on Oct. 21, 1996. Its tires were buried deep in the sand. Three were flat.

An investigation confirmed that the van, rented on July 7, 1996, in Los Angeles by Rimkus and Meyer, was not returned to the rental agency by a July 26 due date and was subsequently reported to police as stolen.
On Aug. 14, 1996, Interpol issued a missing-persons report for the four Germans.

Few clues were discovered in or near the minivan.

"No tracks were found which could be related to the missing persons," said Eric Inman, an investigator for the National Park Service, in his official report.
"No purse, passports, rental-car contract, keys, wallet, money or airline tickets were found."

Among items in the van were two Coleman sleeping-bag boxes, along with a new Coleman sleeping bag, various pairs of shoes, and clean clothing for a woman, man and two children. There was also a 12-pack carton of Bud Ice beer, two unopened bottles of beer, empty one-gallon bottles of water and apple cider and a Swiss cheese wrapper.

A camera, numerous rolls of exposed 35-mm film and a portable CD player also were found, along with an American flag, which had been taken from a stone cabin in Butte Valley, five miles away.

"A beer bottle was found a half-mile away that matched bottles in the vehicle," Inman said. "Other than these clues, nothing else conclusive was found."

Striped Butte, where the van was found

Inman said the van's tires had cut about 200 feet of deep tracks into the sand, indicating the vehicle had been driven with flat rear tires. "Both rear tires were gouged, punctured and ruined," he wrote in his report. "The front right tire was completely flat, and the bead separated from the rim. Both front tires were very abraded from spinning in the rough gravel.

"Later examination revealed that the spare tire and jack had not been used."
Author and investigator Emmett Harder of Devore said little effort would have been required to jack the van up, remove rocks from under the vehicle, put on the spare tire and continue down the road.

"The grade was downhill enough to roll easily, even with the rear tires flat," Harder said.

The official search for the missing tourists was called off on Oct. 26, Inman said. But subsequent efforts to learn the fate of the missing tourists continued for years, conducted by private parties and search-and-rescue groups.

Theories vary widely about what happened to the foursome as temperatures soared to 120 degrees and above during the summer of 1996.

"I expect some day that someone will find their mummified remains under a rocky overhang where they attempted to find shade," speculated veteran Park Ranger Charlie Callagan, who briefly took part in the initial search at Anvil Spring Canyon.

"But in Death Valley's rugged outcroppings, you would have to crawl right up to such a location to find anyone's remains."

Most people who participated in the search parties agree that any remains most likely would have been disturbed by animals that frequent the badlands of Death Valley.

But many, like Callagan, wonder why Rimkus, Meyer and the children didn't hike the five miles back to the stone cabin in Butte Valley where they had found the American flag.

"There was water there," the ranger said. "But in intense heat, people don't always make logical decisions."

With the loss of a little more than a quart of water, the body experiences the first sensations of thirst, wrote Richard Lingenfelter in his 1986 book "Death Valley and the Amargosa - A Land of Illusion." "By the time you have lost a gallon, you begin to feel tired and apathetic. Most of the water lost comes from your blood, and as it thickens, your circulation becomes poor, your heart strains, your muscles fatigue and your head aches.

"With further loss of water you become dizzy and begin to stumble; your breathing is labored and your speech is indistinct. By the time you have lost two gallons of water, your tongue is swollen, you can hardly keep your balance, your muscles spasm, and you are becoming delirious."

In its spring 1997 edition, an Inyo County newsletter, the Butte Valley Bugle, offered three theories that might explain the disappearance of the German visitors.

The first, which supposes the tourists made a decision to abandon the disabled minivan, poses serious questions, according to the Bugle. "Why would they drive down the relatively unknown Anvil Spring Canyon in the first place? If they got a flat tire, why didn't they put on the spare? (And) why didn't they simply walk back to Butte Valley?"

Did the German travelers fake their disappearance? This second theory postulates that Egbert Rimkus had substantial debts and wanted to escape his financial woes.

"Thus, he staged the disappearance with the hope that he would be declared lost and presumed dead so he could begin a new life somewhere else," the Bugle speculated, adding that there is no evidence that Rimkus had financial problems.

However, Heike Weber later said in a 2004 letter that Rimkus, her former husband, was in debt and had built a new house that he couldn't pay for.
Ranger Callagan scoffs at the theory. "That doesn't make much sense," he said. "If you want to disappear, there are better places to do it than Death Valley."

The third theory, according to the Bugle, is the most ominous. "In this version, the hapless tourists encountered foul play at the hands of the wrong people . . . who killed the Germans, dumped their bodies somewhere as yet unsearched, and abandoned the van."

Still other theories have been put forward. Retired engineering professor Dick Hasselman, who conducted a dozen searches for the missing Germans, speculates that Rimkus, experienced in industrial design and a co-developer of a rocket-propulsion system, might have driven to southwest Death Valley in hopes of visiting the nearby China Lake Naval Weapons Center.

His ex-wife said Rimkus "was fixated with the idea" of penetrating a secret area to observe tests of new propulsion devices. Rimkus, a first-time visitor to Death Valley, might have become confused about the route leading from Warm Spring Canyon over Mengel Pass toward China Lake. In that confusion, the minivan ended up in Anvil Spring Canyon.

Heike Weber believes the missing travelers are still alive somewhere, she told Hasselman in 2004. But Cornelia Meyer's parents think otherwise. They already have declared their daughter and grandson dead.

"I think someone, some day will stumble on evidence - such as bones, belt buckles or shoes - to solve this case," Harder said.

Looking at the facts and theories, Callagan sums up the case this way: "In the 10 years since these visitors vanished, there have been no obvious signs of them - no letters, no credit-card receipts, no cashed checks, nothing. It's one of those unsolved mysteries that still endures over the years."

2,165 Posts
Interesting.....yet very creepy!!!:worried:

1,886 Posts
if some German stole my American flag I just might hunt them down as well.

Both of my parents were rocket scientists and I was born where he was trying to go...

Since he decided to drink a beer instead of water, in Death Valley, I am going to guess they are dead. sad!

3 Posts
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK -- Authorities say remains found in Death Valley may be those of four German tourists, including two children, who vanished 13 years ago.

The Inyo County Sheriff's Department says two Riverside Mountain Rescue Members Tom Mahood and Les Walker found skeletal remains on Thursday in a remote area of the Southern

California desert park.

Undersheriff Jim Jones says identification for one of the missing tourists was discovered near the area where the bones were found.

Authorities will try to identify the remains and determine a cause of death.

The tourists, including two boys ages 4 and 10, vanished in Death Valley in the summer of 1996, when daytime temperatures had topped 120 degrees.

The four arrived in the U.S. in July, eventually making their way through California to Las Vegas in a minivan rented in Los Angeles by Cornelia Meyer, 33.

Joining Meyer on the trip was her son, Max Meyer, 4; friend Egbert Rimkus, 33, and Rimkus' son, Georg Weber, 10.

Records indicate that they checked out of their Treasure Island hotel room July 22, paying cash, and drove that same day to Death Valley.

A July 23 entry in a visitor's guest book in the national park reads, "We crossed the pass," and was signed, "Conny, Egbert, Georg and Max."

Investigators have no leads to explain what happened between July 23 and Oct. 23 when the minivan was recovered.

The vehicle was found abandoned with three flat tires in a ravine off Anvil Spring Canyon

Inside investigators found an American flag taken from a cabin in Butte Valley, five miles from the vehicle's location; a booklet on Death Valley purchased at the visitor's center on July 22; and numerous personal items, including photos.

Nevada and California authorities used helicopters and dozens of searchers to scour the area but found nothing.

35 Posts
The stone cabin, also known as the Geologist's Cabin, was built by Wallace Todd, a Professor of Earth Sciences at Occidental College. He collected rocks from around Butte Valley and hauled them up to the building site in his Packard touring car. With the help of William Fison, a retired sea captain, he constructed this unique house in the 1930s.

Prior to the arrival of the German tourists, my friend Jim and I had visited Butte Valley and stayed in the cabin for many years. We sort of "adopted" the place and accepted the responsibility for keeping it in good condition. That included basic cleaning and hauling out trash, erosion control, repairs, repainting, replacing broken glass and eventually installing new roof and flag pole.

We located the flag pole on one end of the cabin (see the red oval) and ran the American flag up it whenever we were there. We liked seeing it and this also let other visitors know the cabin was occupied. There are two other places to stay in Butte Valley, Anderson Camp and Russell Camp, so other accommodations were normally available.

We always left the flag behind, for the next visitors to fly, and that's what the Germans stole when they left Butte Valley on their ill-fated trip.

Their remains were found southeast of Goler Wash, which is close to the Barker Ranch where Charles Manson hid out.

It appears they went on foot over Mengel Pass and were trying to hike back to Panamint Valley but never made it.

A cautionary tale for all of us who explore the desert!

Below is a picture of the cabin, with my FJ parked outside, taken in 2007.


3 Posts
Nice first post, Vinegarroon. And thank you for taking care of the cabin for all these years!

It's sad that 4 people had to die needlessly. Looks like several mistakes led up to it.

I still feel that since Death Valley is a "Park" a lot of tourists don't realize that they are not going to be safe...that there are not going to be park rangers coming up and down the trails checking to see if everyone is ok.

And the vast distances in the desert SW fool people. It often looks like a mountain range is only 1/2 mile or so away and it really can be 5 miles away.

Rule #1 when broken down--stay with the vehicle!

And now we all have the option of getting Spot...well worth it if you go out exploring mostly empty spaces.

520 Posts
It is odd, but what has me curious is how far they actually travelled on foot, and did some sort of foul play come into the situation. There are several active mining claims in that pass, and even in the middle of summer, I have seen tourist heading up towards Barker ranch. It is not a long pass. Did they wander around near stripped butte for a while, before trying to back track? Still many questians left unsolved

35 Posts
Death Valley bones may be missing German tourists
(AP) – November 16, 2009

Here are some excerpts from the newspaper story and what I think may have happened:

They had arrived in the United States earlier in the month and were touring in a Plymouth Voyager minivan rented in Los Angeles.

The minivan would have limited ground clearance for off-road travel. Certainly not the best choice for back country adventures.

An entry in German and dated July 23, 1996, was left in a guest book kept in a box on a metal pole in an abandoned mining camp. It indicated the visitors were going through "the pass" — possibly a reference to Mengel Pass, a dirt trail that crosses the barren Panamint Range, a barren mountain range on the park's southwestern border.

Driving the minivan, they took Warm Springs Road into Butte Valley. As I recall, there is a guest book on a metal pole at the abandoned Talc Mine located at Warm Springs.

On Oct. 23, the locked van was found mired in sand in a ravine off roadless Anvil Spring Canyon, amid rolling hills at an elevation of 3,000 feet and far from usual tourists routes. Three tires were shredded and one had come loose from the rim.

I think they tried to leave Butte Valley via Mengel Pass and realized they couldn’t do it in the minivan. The minivan would not have had adequate ground clearance.

On our first visit to the Geologist’s Cabin, back in the 1970s, we were in the same situation. We were driving a Datsun 2WD truck and simply couldn’t get over Mengel Pass with our limited ground clearance. We had to go all the way back down Warm Springs Road and then through Death Valley to get back home.

Once the German tourists discovered they couldn’t get over “the pass,” the only way out would be the Warm Springs Road route they came in on. They may have gotten confused and started down Anvil Spring Canyon, thinking it was the road back to Warm Springs, or they may have thought they found another way back to Death Valley.

When the minivan became disabled, they must have decided to try getting out on foot over Mengel Pass and down Goler Wash to Panamint Valley.

It’s too bad they just didn’t head back to one of the shelters in Butte Valley. The Geologist’s Cabin, Anderson Camp and Russell Camp were all within walking distance. Each has a year-around water supply provided by natural springs. Additionally, all are stocked with provisions. Visitors usually leave behind some extra canned goods and other items to eat – just in case of such an emergency. At least they could have rested up, maybe had something to eat, and considered what to do. However, given the extreme temperatures in the middle of July, they probably weren’t thinking very clearly.

Had even one of them been able to make it to the Briggs Mine, help would have been available. The mine was active in 1996 and there were a number of employees working there around the clock.

The remains were found southeast of Goler Wash, a rugged area accessible only by 4-wheel-drive vehicles. The area is several miles south of the spot where an abandoned minivan the tourists had rented was found months after they were reported missing.

I am curious about the exact location of the remains. “Southeast of Goler Wash” is somewhat vague. I just estimated, for now, where they might have ended up.

When the investigation is concluded and the results are finally published, we may learn more about what happened to these unfortunate visitors who underestimated the unforgiving desert and paid with their lives.

In the meantime, like they used to say on Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there!”

35 Posts
I found a story on the German tourists from the The Sun, published on July 22, 2006. Embedded in the page is a Photo Gallery link containing ten images.

In late July 1996, a pair of German tourists, VANISHED…
by Chuck Mueller, Staff Writer

Editor's Note: The following is the first part of a two-part series on four German tourists who vanished in the Mojave Desert 10 years ago Sunday.

In late July 1996, a pair of German tourists, VANISHED . . . - San Bernardino County Sun

[Part Two does not appear to be available online.]

I am amazed at the interest in this story. I have found it in publications and on TV news broadcasts from literally all over the world. Predictably, the German news media is all over it.

Even Stars and Stripes, Japan Edition, picked it up under "American Roundup":

Stars and Stripes Japan Edition - 17/11/2009 digital edition

I also found missing person files on Georg Weber, Egbert Rimkus and Cornelia Meyer. This link brings up Weber:

The Doe Network: Case File 2076DMCA

[Click on the other names, Rimkus and Meyer to bring up their pages.]

And here is the official press release from the Inyo County Sheriff:

The sheriff promises to "update the public as conclusive information is discovered."

35 Posts
Danger lurks for visitors in Death Valley National Park

By Henry Brean
Las Vegas Review-Journal
August 09, 2009

Danger lurks for visitors in Death Valley National Park - News -

The first sentence of this story says it all:

"Drop $4 on an extra case of bottled water. Tell a family member where you're going and when you expect to be back."

Unfortunately, another visitor to the back country failed to follow this simple advice.

Also referenced are the German tourists from 1996 -- who were still missing when the story was written.

3 Posts
The essential question which was never asked or answered is:
In which direction did they drive after shredding the first tire?
Nobody will continue westwards down this unkwown Avril Canyon on three tires with an intakt spare wheel inside except this one who intended to hide the car.

And why did the undersheriff not say whether the found bones where from one or more persons?

Ernst-Holger from Saxony where the lost people came from

35 Posts
Update from the Idyllwild Town Crier:

Death Valley search postponed

Breaking News: Death Valley search postponed

According to the story, the searchers believed the German tourists were heading toward the China Lake Naval Weapons Testing Area to seek help.

If so, they would have reached the town of Trona first, but would have had to walk a considerable distance and cross a mountain range.

Additionally, Naval test pilots fly training runs up and down Panamint Valley (at very low altitude) on a routine basis.

If the Germans had just been able to arrange some sort of distress signal, one of the pilots could have sent a rescue party. However, getting their attention would have been problematic. Tourists often just stand there and wave at the jets -- and how would a pilot know this indicated trouble?

Had they gone north on Wingate Road, the Briggs Mine -- and help -- was only a few miles away. [see previous post]

But, again, how would they have known that?

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