Michael Rodriguez's remains identified in Joshua Tree

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

Michael Rodriguez's remains identified in Joshua Tree

Postby OtherHand » Thu Jan 23, 2020 2:45 pm

There was a short, mini-thread about Michael Rodriguez's disappearance embedded in the long Ewasko thread, so I thought I'd break out the conclusion as a separate thread.

As a recap, skeletal human remains were reported by hikers near Stubbe Spring on May 3, 2018, almost two years after Michael Rodriguez was last seen and his car found parked in a turn out on Keys View Road on June 30, 2016. On May 5, 2018, a woman stating she was Rodriguez's wife posted on Facebook that she received a phone call saying Rodriguez's wallet had been found near the remains but official identification was pending. A few days later, that post was taken down. As far as I know, neither JTNP nor the Riverside County Coroner ever issued a press release regarding an official identification. It may have happened, and I just missed it.

A contact of mine recently made an inquiry to the Riverside Coroner's office regarding the identification of the remains. They were informed the remains had officially been identified as those of Michael Rodriguez with the cause of death as "undetermined". The location of the remains were less than 0.1 miles northerly of Stubbe Spring and within 100 feet of the well used trail.

It amazes me that so many hikers passed by the site for almost two years and had not noticed anything. Prior to the discovery of the remains, I submitted a FOIA request to JTNP and received case records for the incident. None of the records show search efforts as far out as Stubbe Spring. The focus was the areas around Keys View Road within a couple miles of where the vehicle was found.

As far as I know, the remains were identified not long after their discovery. I am at a loss to explain the lack of media mention or any obvious press releases regarding the case's resolution. So this makes Ewasko the only individual still missing out there.
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Re: Michael Rodriguez's remains identified in Joshua Tree

Postby RichardK » Fri Jan 24, 2020 7:48 am

Thank you for the follow up. I never did the Stubbe Spring hike when I lived in the area. What is the terrain like where the body was found? How visible would remains 100 feet off the trail be? If there are a lot of intervening boulders, I can understand how hikers never saw anything.
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Re: Michael Rodriguez's remains identified in Joshua Tree

Postby OtherHand » Fri Jan 24, 2020 9:09 am

If you look at this picture I found online, I believe Stubbe Spring is just immediately below the people behind them. So the area, aside from a few smallish boulder piles, isn't especially rocky. There is some brush, and as is evidenced from the Paul Miller case, people can pass very close to remains scatter on the ground and not see them due to even low brush. That, and maybe 95% of hikers never venture off trails. A good thing to be aware of if you want solitude, but not so much if you need rescue.
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Re: Michael Rodriguez's remains identified in Joshua Tree

Postby Myth » Fri Jan 24, 2020 3:28 pm

Thank you, OtherHand. I've mostly assumed that Rodriguez' wife wouldn't have posted as she did without being certain, so I've kind of filed him away as "found baring some new data" but it is good to know that that case is closed.

I definitely never read anything official, and I do look from time to time. Odd. I guess a lot of it boils down to the amount of fuss raised by family members and the corresponding media focus.

There's definitely something to learn from data in this case as well as Paul Miller's. It seems that it is really easy to pass close by remains in the desert and just completely miss it. Well, I go overland in the desert a lot and I know you kind of zoom in to your immediate whereabouts, to where you put your feet, that kind of thing. So I am certainly not surprised. Unless I'm really mindful about it and often stop to look around, I would say my typical cross-country jaunt doesn't cover more than ~ 2-3ft on either side of the exact path I'm walking. I really do look right down by my feet when I walk. There's a lot of stuff you could step on or trip over in the desert that you really don't want to step on or trip over.

It isn't just the low brush, though that definitely hides things. The ground is also not perfectly flat, so there's a lot of little dips and gullies for low profile items, like remains, to be hidden in.
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Re: Michael Rodriguez's remains identified in Joshua Tree

Postby jdclifford » Sat Jan 25, 2020 2:04 am

It really wouldn't be that suprising, as I can see some of you would agree, if he was eventually found within a fair concentration of GPS tracks. I've heard of too many cases where remains end up being found in areas already "searched." It can be easy to overlook something, especially when the topography increases with complexity. I usually hike much faster than the average Joe when simply backpacking, but find myself quite slow when searching in JTNP. Too many places for a person in dire condition to hide from the beating of the sun. I feel compelled to look in every rock crevice and juniper bush.

I also don't place too much weight on scent dogs and helicopters, though I think they are invaluable tools in search and rescue. A segment of Unsolved Mysteries, called Vision Quest, was filmed in the New Mexico Bootheel (https://youtu.be/99W8NGaAzms?t=714). It involved a stockbrocker and former D1 football player who, having recently become involved with the New Age Movement, went on a vision quest and seemingly vanished. Searching on foot, on horse, and from the air failed to give any indication as to where this guy was. Bloodhounds, on loan from the New Mexico Penitentiary, failed to pick up his scent even though they were within 200 feet of his body. If you watch the segment, you see that the bloodhounds led their handlers completely off-track. The whole time his body was 200 feet to the right from right around where the dirt road (shown on a rudimentary map in the segment) begins to pass through the mountain range. Just over three years from when he disappeared, a javelina hunter spotted his bleached bones from up on a ridge. Sniffer dogs are always at a disadvantage when it is dry and hot. They were searching for David Stone in early November. I can't imagine how disadvantaged the dogs used in the search for Bill in June were.

As for helicopters, I was actually rescued by a Border Patrol helicopter when the agency volunteered a helicopter and a few men when I went missing in 2009. I consider myself a very careful and precautious hiker nowadays, but I used to be a damned fool. An early Saturday morning dayhike in the Gila Wilderness in NM turned into no food and water for two days, getting through nights in the low 40s in a light short-sleeve shirt and basketball shorts, and getting no sleep because of how cold it was. Still, as torturous as these nights were, I would opt for these over the heat Bill was faced with. Anyways, I told nobody where I was going and the friend I was with only told his wife...and we ended up going elsewhere on a different forest road than what she was told. A forest ranger spotted my friend's pickup two days after we started the hike. A few hours later, from the top of the mountain we had settled on two evenings prior, we spotted a helicopter miles away in the distance. Later, the helicopter flew directly over us twice. I thought for sure we were spotted, but felt quite defeated when it soon zoomed off to search in an area much further away. It's pathetic, and a story in and of itself, but I actually got lost while I was already lost hours after that (lol...seriously). At this point, I began to seriously question my mortality. I was off on my own at that point. I got incredibly lucky to find a mud puddle and filled up bottles with dirty water that allowed me to carry on, because I began to believe that staying put might just mean "waiting to die." Staying on flat ground, because I couldn't take but a few steps before having to rest on an ascent, I hiked for about three hours and hit a big canyon with a precipitous dropoff at dusk. Dreading another night in the cold, this time away from the warmth of another human, the whirring of helicopter blades soon came into focus. Having began walking parallel to the cliff that had blocked my path, I quickly came up to the cliff's edge and began wildly flailing my arms at the helicopter that was following the path over the canyon. I've never felt such relief as when I saw them spot me. Luck was obviously on my side, because I could have simply been walking into oblivion when I set off earlier. Finding a clear spot to pick me up, I indicated the direction from which I came and we headed that way to look for my friend. We had but 20 minutes before it became too dark. Ground searchers found him hours later based on the time and general direction I stated from which I came (which I thought was very impressive on their part). My friend would tell me that that we had flown right over him. I couldn't understand how they couldn't see us from the helicopter when I was on the mountain with him. I was equally as suprised that we had flown right over him when I was in the helicopter searching from the air myself.
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Re: Michael Rodriguez's remains identified in Joshua Tree

Postby bretpct » Sun Jan 26, 2020 2:26 am

It's good to know now with certainty Mike has been found. If I remember correctly, there were rumblings of suicide being the cause of his disappearance, which may account for the lack of coverage. Press traditionally doesn't spend much resources covering suicides. Obviously we don't know what the cause of death is. Just speculation on the lack of coverage.

R.I.P. Mike Rodriguez.
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Re: Michael Rodriguez's remains identified in Joshua Tree

Postby jdclifford » Sun Jan 26, 2020 3:46 pm

If a suicide, it's interesting that he would drive almost two hours to commit the act. The area obviously would have had some personal meaning to him.
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