The Peculiar death of Egbert Rimkus in Death Valley
The Death valley in the United States is a site of the highest ambient temperature recorded on Earth. This valley, over the years, claimed the lives of many travelers. In this post, let's dive deep into one of the mysterious incidents that had took place in the Death Valley.
Dave Brenner's discovery
The Sun had yet to fully rise when Dave Brenner had arrived at the airfield's main gate, but then his duties for the day dictated the earliest of starts. The park ranger had been tasked with carrying out a search for suspected drug slabs, which were rumored to have been set up within the confines of his jurisdiction. This morning, armed with all the most recent intelligence reports, he was determined to finally pin down their location.
Once the search pattern was eventually agreed over a hastily drained cup of coffee, Brenner had waited for the pre-flight checks to be completed, before the military helicopter finally lifted off into the dawn skies. Unfolding the map across one knee, he directed the pilot to head on a southern bearing in the direction of Willow Spring, where the steep slopes and thick vegetation could easily cover any illicit activities. After several fruitless passes over the location, Brenner requested that his Pilot turn east, proceeding towards an area located some miles away, known as Anvil Canyon.
As the chopper flew on, closely following the path of the waters which were generally meandering through the landscape beneath them, Brenner continued to scan the ground.
Frustratingly, there was no obvious trace of criminality to be found. But his attention was suddenly drawn to bright sunlight glinting off something metallic, which was situated a short distance away.
Moments later, the nose of the helicopter swung around and slowly made its way across to the source of the reflection. Through his binoculars, the Park Ranger was soon able to identify a green colored passenger van which was sitting in the Canyon's wash directly below the hovering aircraft. Despite feeling slightly dejected, Brenner asked the pilot to set him down nearby.
Whilst the vehicle's presence was a clear breach of the legislation put in place to protect the parks natural beauty, it was hardly the sophisticated criminal set up he had been hunting for. But as he drew closer to this mysterious vehicle, he found himself consumed by a growing sense of unease. The van, a Plymouth voyager bearing California license plates, was buried in the sand up to its axles. Three of its four tires were deflated with signs, that they had been driven in this state for some distance. There was nothing resembling a main road for miles around from which it might have strayed, and only the most confident or desperate of drivers would have considered braving this unforgiving terrain in such an inadequate vehicle.
On finding the car was empty, as well as locked and secured, Brenner hurriedly made a note of its license plate and then jogged back to his waiting transport. Clambering back inside, he was hopeful that the remainder of the day would yield more exciting developments. Little did he know that he had already become embroiled in a mystery that would remain unsolved a quarter of a century later.
The initial checks conducted by Dave Brenner and his colleagues on the morning of October the 21st, 1996 revealed that the vehicle he found abandoned in the middle of the Death Valley National Park have been listed as stolen three months prior. It belonged to a rental company based in Los Angeles and had been reported to the police 30 days after it failed to be returned on the agreed date as per company policy.
The German's vacation in the United States
Further inquiries with the rental company painted a deeply concerning picture of the circumstances surrounding its loss. The last customer to have leased the missing vehicle was a foreign tourist who collected the minivan on the morning of July 8th, the day after he and his fellow travelers had arrived in the United States via Los Angeles International Airport. Egbert Rimkus was a German National and engineer, who was holidaying in the United States with his eleven-year-old son, Georg. He was separated from his ex-wife, and accompanying him on his travels were his girlfriend Cornelia Meyer and her son Max, aged four.
At the time he had collected the Voyager, Rimkus had been unable to provide the company with a valid license and so Meyer had been designated as its driver for the duration of the holiday. The party had based themselves in the San Clement area of Southern California, where they seemed to have enjoyed the complete tourist experience. On the 12th of July, Rimkus had tried to request additional funds from his bank in Dresden, only for this transaction to fail.
The following week, he had then sent a fax to his ex-partner requesting the same, only for this attempt to also result in failure. During the early hours of the 22nd of July, the quartet had checked out of their hotel and traveled across the boundaries of the Death Valley National Park. One week later, on discovering that they had not returned to Frankfurt via the return flight which had previously been booked, Egbert's ex-wife contacted the German authorities.
On the 14th of August, an Interpol alert was subsequently circulated, officially reporting the family as missing. Having now located the missing minivan, the American authorities quickly swung into action. Additional park Rangers, aided by resources from the local sheriff's department, returned to the abandoned vehicle and began to search the surrounding area. Other than a few discarded food wrappers, there was little of note, with no obvious trails of footprints or signs of a disturbance.
With nothing to show for this initial surge, a more extensive effort was then carried out utilizing tracker dogs and helicopters, predominantly examining the area to the east of the minivan. It was felt that this direction was most likely the one that the missing tourists would have headed had they broken down. Other than some discarded drinks containers, which appeared to match others that have been recovered from inside the vehicle and the tell-tale signs that a group of people may have rested on a ledge two miles east from where the Voyager was found abandoned, no additional clues were forthcoming as to the fate of the missing family.
Checks of the various tourist sites and guest houses within the park did however uncover several clues which served to assist with the investigation. On the 22nd of July, the group visited the Furness Creek Visitor Center and purchased a German language map at the park. They had subsequently signed the visitors' book at a Geologists Cabin in Warm Springs Canyon the following day, suggesting they must have camped out overnight alongside their vehicle.
Despite a rescue effort including two helicopters and more than 50 search personnel, no trace of the four missing tourists was to be found. Assertions relating to their faith included a variety of colorful and outlandish theories, containing various degrees of plausibility. Some media reports speculated that they may have been killed by unknown offenders, who they had unexpectedly encountered.
The inhospitable environment which resulted from the Park's remote geography and murderous temperatures had previously drawn Charles Manson and his followers to the location, to carry out their work away from the prying eyes of the authorities. Could this have been a case of history repeating itself? For a time, there was speculation that they may have faked their deaths, in an effort to escape some unknown threat in their own country and to start a new life in the United States.
The bizarre theory
But by far the most bizarre theory pertaining to their disappearance was that Egbert was an undercover agent working on behalf of the German government and had used his holiday as a front to spy on American weapons facilities. With the infamous Area 51 facility and the China Lake Naval Air weapons station located within a two-hour drive of the national park, and Egbert's background working on hybrid propulsion systems back in his home country, rumors began to spread that he had been captured by the American authorities attempting to access a restricted area, potentially being eliminated in the process. But it would be 13 long years before any clue as to the fate of the missing Germans came to light and rather than successfully solving the mystery, all that this new evidence created was heartbreak and further unanswered questions.
As time wore on, the story of the missing Germans became the stuff of legend. But for some members of the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit, the failure to solve the mystery remained something of an unwanted mark against their team's otherwise stellar reputation. The original rescue effort to find Egbert and his family was continually revisited and assessed, in the hope that something which might have been overlooked would suddenly become apparent. To two members of the team, Tom Mahood and Les Walker, the answer to solving the riddle potentially lay in the most unlikely of directions.
Confident that all possible efforts to find the family to the east of the minivan had been exhausted, the pair began to suspect that where the rescuers should have instead been searching was to the South. Whilst some speculated that the minivan's presence in such a remote and inaccessible part of the National Park added credence to the theory that the family had been murdered and their vehicle concealed by the offenders, Mahood came to a very different conclusion. A hypothesis which took into account Anvil Canyon's topography in relation to the surrounding area.
On the day the family disappeared, temperatures at ground level with in Death Valley were approaching 51 degrees Celsius. But these temperatures reduced by roughly three degrees with every increase of a thousand feet in elevation. Mahood theorized that having become lost within the confines of the park, Rimkus had realized that he and his companions were ill equipped to survive the killer heat and had driven the minivan to the highest area of ground he could find. Sadly, the rental vehicle was completely unsuited for traversing such an environment, but Mahood believed that Egbert had driven on, until the Voyager had sunk into the sandy ground after its tyres had deflated.
By now, isolated and far from any nearby roads, Egbert may have consulted his map to find that the China Lake military facility to the south was the nearest point of reference. But unlike smaller military installations back in Europe which benefited from regular perimeter patrols and CCTV systems, the sprawling nature of the American Naval Base itself was seen as its main protection, meaning that huge sections of the fencing were not patrolled. Mahood believed that the family must have perished whilst attempting to locate or access the base, and this was the area in which their remains would be found.
On the morning of November the 12th 2009, after several days of combing their planned search area, Mahood and Walker encountered a debris field of personal effects. After locating abandoned identity papers and long discarded food containers, the two men then came across what appeared to be a pile of assorted human bones, lying at the base of a nearby cliff. Initially, when these remains have been recovered, it was believed that they were too bleached and weathered by their lengthy exposure to the elements to be able to provide any DNA evidence.
But four months later, forensic scientists were able to positively confirm that what had been recovered accounted for the bodies of Egbert Rimkus and Cornelia Meyer, but of their two missing sons, there remained no trace. The fact that Tom Mahood and his colleague were able to successfully locate the final resting place of Rimkus, where so many attempts beforehand had met with failure, adds great credence to his belief about the cause of the couple's deaths. And yet questions about this theory still remain largely revolving around the continued absence of the children's remains.
The missing of the children's bodies
It is inconceivable that the couple could have become voluntarily separated from their children in such a harsh and dangerous environment. And had the two boys tragically passed away as a result of dehydration or an accident, it seems equally unbelievable that the adults would simply have moved on and left them where they died.
On occasion, rumors of Egbert's supposed involvement in secretive engineering programs back in his homeland prompt some to revisit the assertion that he was using the other tourists as a cover to spy on American Military research programs. In reality, closer inspection of his employment demonstrate that he was associated largely with the kind of hybrid technology that the automotive industry now takes for granted, and nothing more sinister.
The suggestions that the couple were attempting to disappear for a new life also seem equally unfeasible. Both had arrangements in their personal and professional lives mapped out following their return from America and nothing has ever been found hidden away in the depths of their everyday lives which might have prompted them to look for a way out of their existing situations.
Death Valley remains one of the most enigmatic locations in North America and is the site of several mysterious phenomena. Over the years, rocks have been found to slowly make their way across the valley floor of their own accord, leaving lengthy trails behind them in the sand, a mystery which was only recently sold. There are also reports of strange metallic noises which echo out across the plains, seemingly generated from inside the ever shifting sand dunes. There have been numerous reports of UFOs moving through the night skies, seeming to stalk the boundaries of the nearby military facilities.
The vast and bleak terrain has also been the site of a number of other unsolved disappearances, leading some commentators to draw parallels with the Missing 411 theories of David Paulides. Could it be that the circumstances behind the disappearance of the Rimkus party are something other than simple misadventure? While America's great open spaces, such as the Death Valley National Park are areas of great beauty, their sheer scale also means they are places of great danger. And far too often, those who visit them in order to find peace and the touch of solitude, instead find themselves never again returning to their friends and loved ones.
Whatever the true reasons behind the deaths of Egbert Rimkus and Cornelia Meyer, it is hard to see past the sheer tragedy of their situation. The fate of their children remains unanswered, with hope of further evidence coming to light evaporating with each passing year. Our hearts go out to the families of these four individuals. It remains our sincerest hope that by revisiting their story and others like them, these cases may be re-evaluated by the authorities or other interested parties at some future point, so that the many unanswered questions can finally be laid to rest.