Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Southern California and far-away places. Hiking, wildlife, cycling etc.

Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Ric Capucho » Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:10 am

Probably labouring the point, but I’ve marked the intersection of the four maps on the Topo screenshot below.

The quadrants that “circle” point A are:

Northwest: Joshua Tree South 24:000:1
Northeast: Indian Cove 24:000:1
Southeast: Lost Horse Mtn 62,500:1
Southwest: Thousand Palms 62,500:1

And if the bandana is any indication of Bill’s ascent route of Quail, a map obsessive might have needed two of those maps to cover the route (excluding Thousand Palms and JT South) but all four if there was any risk of falling off the map for any reason.

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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby adamghost » Wed Apr 24, 2019 9:06 pm

Osmanthus wrote:
adamghost wrote:Weeellll....I'm sure you're aware that writers often use a certain flair to make the writing more interesting. So Sherlock Holmes might just be such a device, not to be taken quite this seriously. But as to the logical reasoning I'm quite serious...

So just to engage you here, because you raise some good points, but seem to misunderstand a few things, and it's fun:
I'd be interested to hear your theory.

Here's my delayed response (I forgot about all this, to be honest!), to your reply which was made in a rather better spirit than I made my criticism. My apologies!

I did indeed read most of your blog although I confess that it's very hard not to jump over paragraphs because I think your style could do with being more concise. At the end of the day, that's my problem, not yours. It's your blog after all. I do apologize! I've gone over it again - word by word this time - and my opinion on your use of Sherlock's maxim stands, and your application of Occam's razor. I'll try to re-make my point following the flow of your blog. Apologies to everyone else for the length of this post!

1) Sifting facts section - I'm on-board here, except for this:
>Crucially, this kind of apples-to-apples comparison also tell us that it isn’t enough to just poke holes in someone else’s theory; one has to assert an alternative theory that fits the facts better, using the same criteria, to supplant it.
I disagree on this point. Why should an alternative theory be supplied? A theory is formed when a hypothesis is supported by evidence. If one can find evidence that is inconsistent with the hypothesis - that is, poke holes in the hypothesis - then the theory is weakened accordingly. The theory need not be supplanted by another one; it is enough that the theory is shown to be inconsistent with the facts. As long as we're talking scientific method, this is it. Sure, we don't get anywhere without eventually advancing a better theory, but a faulty theory shouldn't be defended by "you don't have a good theory either!"

2) Skeptic's bias section:
>Occam’s Razor doesn’t mean the simplest answer is almost always right – it just states the simplest hypothesis with the fewest assumptions (very key difference there) should be tested first.
Very true. Occam's razor is a good guide to practical investigation, though it isn't a philosophical truth. On your phrasing, I think an interesting question is: is Occam's razor determined by only the number of assumptions, or also on their quality? If I make one out-there assumption to explain an event, and you make two mundane assumptions, which of our approaches is better applied to Occam's razor?

3) Sherlock Holmes and Deductive reasoning
This is where my first objection came in, and I stand by it: you conflate impossible with improbable.Examples:
>“once you eliminate the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
> One might break evidence into these categories: definitely true, most likely true, possibly true, most likely not true, giving greater weight to the earlier categories. How do we determine these categories? Again, we use the scientific method – weigh each fact on its own, and weigh the evidence in favor or against its truth, compare them, and see where it takes us.
The second quote is not in line with the first. Sherlock talks in a dichotomy of options; you outline a continuum. To be fair, you do say:
>To knock those things out of consideration we have to show how those things are so unlikely as to be impossible (not just that they sound crazy),
but this is not what you end up practising, in my opinion. You mention three assumptions that you say are awfully unlikely. (By the way, I'm also inclined to believe Mimi Gorman, cautiously, but I don't think there was foul play.) But this is not enough grounds to reject it by Sherlock's maxim. In fact he implies that improbability is certainly not enough to reject a hypothesis. He says "...however improbable, must be the truth". Improbability is not a criterion for rejection, by Sherlock. Maybe it is by Occam's razor! Which you acknowledge. But Sherlock's method is not equivalent to Occam's razor.

Sure, maybe Sherlock is a writer's flair, but in my opinion it is misleading to the reader and logically inconsistent with the rest of your post.

>>("Could Bill have moved his car by himself while a search was underway for him")
>Yup. Talked about that at some length too. I don't know if that could have happened "without realizing" but sure, maybe.

Come now, be fair. You mentioned this in passing but spent much more time on foul play and that inholding. If I'm still missing this then I owe you a beer.

4) Unless something specific happened... [and following]
>The whole U-haul deal was improbable, but when you looked pretty close at the fact pattern, was it really all that more improbable than that Greyson AND Gorman, both park employees, were totally off their hat?

Your caveat following this statement granted, but this is a false dichotomy. The options are not: "Greyson and Gorman are nuts OR the U-Haul!" Other options are self-disappearance, like you say, or a host of other options. Earlier in this thread I suggested that Ewasko lost his phone on the way up in Big Morongo. I'm not married to the theory, but I like it because not only did it not require many assumptions (i.e. Bill loses his phone, realizes it later and goes looking for it), but it also eliminated an assumption (why go north of Quail?) and had explanatory power (i.e. why Bill was late, might possibly explain moving the car). In truth it does have one more assumption if this last is true: it means someone had to not see him moving it. But that's no bigger an assumption than using a U-Haul.

My point is that one can come up with any number of theories that make very few assumptions. The purpose of an assumption is to ensure a theory is consistent with the facts. It does not actually give us reason to believe the theory. This, I think, sums up my objection to the inholding especially, and the U-Haul as well. The only reason you use the inholding in your argument is because it's there and you posited foul play, not because you have any reason to suspect it was involved in foul play. Do you agree that there is a difference?

>>"If the ranger is correct, must there be foul play? Or is it merely likely that there is foul play?"
>Well, again, let me correct the premise. When I was talking about eliminating foul play I specifically talked about THE INHOLDING. So to me, if you can eliminate a means by which Bill can encounter someone on his hike who does him harm and can get rid of his remains, you can pretty much eliminate foul play. Yes, it could have happened at the parking area, but one would expect there to be some evidence of that there, and there wasn't.

You have eliminated nothing. You have only said that some explanations require more (or more difficult) assumptions than others. This is not elimination: it is only an application of Occam's razor.

>But to grapple with your central premise: it's simply not true that all assumptions are created equal and there's no way to assess them - nor that because we can't technically rule out any improbable scenario we can't rule out anything at all. Some things, such as UFO abductions, are technically possible but I think we can rule them out for the purposes of narrowing things down.

I agree with this. My problem is with how you apply it. I suppose the best way I can articulate it is: I think the space of reasonable assumptions is much, much larger than you appear to think it is. My suggestion about losing a phone is just one path to take in this whole space. So is your inholding and U-Haul theory. Another way to say it is that Occam's razor can be applied in a vast number of ways. We could theorize about it all day. The only reason I have to believe your theory is that it suggests a consistent picture with consistent assumptions.

Finally, do believe me when I say Mimi's testimony has always been much more compelling to me than the ranger's. In my post I was speaking from examples. Clearly I should have articulated this better. And for what it's worth, I think the whole dog thing is super weird too.

So in what I hope is a conciliatory point, I agree with your philosophy (except for the Sherlock thing), I just disagree with your application. I don't mean to be aggressive, I just get a bit "animated"!

Much belated responding to this. I enjoyed reading your response and to be honest my head is so far out of this topic, and what I wrote in the blog a year ago, that I can no longer respond in any meaningful way. And probably there's no need anyway. :)

You are right that being concise, while still trying to cover all the facts accurately and thoroughly, is a skill I have yet to master!
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby adamghost » Wed Apr 24, 2019 9:29 pm

Just caught up after a long time on all the recent news. Fascinating stuff, and I want to commend everybody for the level of thought and effort that went into it all...especially Perry. My hat is off to you, man. Really intelligent thinking and a lot of good legwork to go with it.

I'm in southeast Asia indefinitely doing a YouTube series called "Adam Walks Around" ( that Ric Capucho directly inspired, so I'm out of the search for the forseeable future, and I'm out of ideas anyway. I love that everyone is taking everything a step further with new ideas and new information. I think y'all are doing fantastic work; it's just how "online investigations" should be.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby anniem » Thu Apr 25, 2019 3:22 pm

Hi all — I’m a documentary filmmaker currently working on a piece about Bill Ewasko’s case. I’m curious if anyone here is still physically going out to look for him, has done so semi-recently, or did in the past but would be willing to go out again. If this sounds at all like you, I’d love to chat!! Please email me at or give me a call at 917-647-0779. Thank you!

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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Ric Capucho » Mon Apr 29, 2019 10:48 pm

Just to remind people that the personal messaging on this forum is a bit hit or miss so if you wish to respond to Anne then an email of phone call is the best way...

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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Perry » Mon May 13, 2019 11:49 am

On Thursday I did a hike that was quite different from any other hike I've experienced. Pete and I searched while Annie filmed us with help from Andrea and Christine. Typically these searches are remote/isolated, so it was an odd feeling to have a mic attached to me and at times a camera pointed at me. After awhile though it felt kind of like another search. I think Pete was more used to being filmed than me. We started from Quail Springs parking lot and did a loop through canyons in the rocky hills to the south. Along the way, we saw lots of flowers. I lost track of how many different kinds of flowers. Here's a shot looking down at the saddle where everyone had lunch:

Sea of joshua trees below:

5,000-foot peaks where the hotspot is on the cell reception map:

I also took a lot of zoomed-in shots. I'll upload those later in case anyone wants to look for anything that stands out.

We did not find anything related to Ewasko, just a tent pad, water bottles, a Snapple bottle, and some balloons. However, we did a cell phone experiment, and that might possibly mean something. From the saddle where we had lunch, Annie sent a text message to Pete, and he received it. Both of them have Verizon service. They were not able to make phone calls, and I think Annie said "3G" was the quality of Internet at that spot. What is interesting is that it's a dead spot or near dead spot on the cell reception map. A lot can change in 9 years with phones and towers, but it might indicate that there are more areas worth searching.

I recorded GPS and took some rocky detours along the way. I also sketched approximate paths of everyone else during my detours. Here's the file:
May 9, 2019 Ewasko Search.kml
(23.24 KiB) Downloaded 290 times
and here's the updated map: My tracks are not as accurate as I was hoping. I had switched to "normal" setting instead of "fine" because several days prior I found that the "fine" setting significantly drained the battery on my tablet. Next time I'll use a finer setting, probably another app besides Open GPS Tracker, and with 3 small battery banks it should last. I heard that GAIA doesn't consume much battery life. It could also be that my tablet needs a new battery.

It was nice to meet everybody, and it will be interesting to see the film when it's done. I don't know exactly what will be in it or the overall scope of the subject matter, but my impression is that it will be thoughtful and worth watching.

My thoughts on Ewasko: I'm going to mostly ignore the cell phone data and go back to square 1, searching areas closest to the Juniper Flats parking lot that have not been searched yet. I'm especially interested in the rocky hills near Lost Horse Ranger Station (we were on the northern end). These rocks are difficult to search, and that could explain why nobody has found Ewasko and matches well with the 2 water bottle theory. There's also an unsearched rocky hill to the SW of that area. Not sure if I'll search again before or during summer, but probably I'll go again in the fall.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Perry » Wed May 15, 2019 12:03 am

Here are photos from last Thursday:
Some are zoomed more than others. The fine details look weird because this camera uses a bad algorithm to create 8MP images from a sensor designed for 1080 video. I think I'll switch back to the other camera because the photos looked more realistic, and it had a timer to prevent shaking.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Perry » Tue May 21, 2019 12:23 pm

This is a bit of a stretch, but I'll post this theory anyways. What if the lights were not on the closest ridge but a distant ridge or peak?
FOIA narrative Ranger Pritchett wrote:While at the Juniper Flats backcountry board parking area, several volunteer search and rescue team members said they saw lights in the saddle of the closest ridge. The light was not visible when they pointed it out to me.

This is really stretching the description, especially the peak to the northwest. The area to the west-southwest hasn't been searched as much as other places.




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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Myth » Wed May 22, 2019 6:40 am

That's an interesting thought!

Which peak(s) are that on a topo? I don't have Google Earth installed to quickly figure that one out.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby RichardK » Wed May 22, 2019 7:44 am

I have always thought that the lights were a bright star skimming the ridgeline and setting quickly. That's why the ranger did not see them although the volunteers did. A check of online planetarium software ( shows that the bright stars Spica, Denebola, and Regulus were setting in the west on 6/26/2010 at 9:41PM as well as the planets Mars and Saturn.
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