Who was this man? Mysterious human remains found near Breckenridge stump investigators
August 29, 2017
He packed plenty of survival gear, apparently ready for a long trip. But for whatever reason, investigators say, he shot himself in the head on the west side of Peak 6 in 2012.
Hikers found his skull four years later in July 2016, setting off a baffling death investigation that has yielded far more questions than answers.
Why was the man carrying advanced survival gear, including a high-tech headlamp and foot traction devices, if he intended to kill himself?
Why was he carrying three full magazines of ammunition for the Glock .45 he used?
Perhaps most puzzling of all, why was the serial number on the gun defaced, rendering it impossible to identify?
But death investigators, missing persons databases and even the Colorado Bureau of Investigation have been unable to answer the most basic question: Who was this man?
On Monday, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Coroner’s Office laid out their findings — including a three-dimensional rendering of the man’s face — hoping that the public might recognize him and bring the bizarre investigation to a close.
“I have not had a case like this before where somebody was so well prepared and turned out to be a suicide victim,” Coroner Regan Wood said.
The dead man was white with blonde hair and likely between 30 and 50 years old, although he could have been as young as 23 or as old as 66. He was between 5-foot-5 and 6-foot-3. He was an experienced backcountry traveler, investigators say, and a smoker.
Two water bottles found near the man were made in February 2012. The manufacturer says they typically stay on the shelves for four weeks, leading investigators to believe he went missing within that timeframe.
Hikers found his skull in the backcountry between Breckenridge Ski Resort and Copper Mountain Resort in a set of gullies known as the Sky chutes — specifically, in the “Y” Chute. A forensic pathologist concluded that damage to it was consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot.
Aided by a canine unit, sheriff’s deputies found the rest of his remains and belongings scattered several hundred feet higher up the mountain, near the top of the chute.
Investigators concluded that the man had been on the Colorado Trail and then walked into the woods and shot himself, uninterested in ever being found. He wore a black snowmobile suit, gold wire-rimmed glasses and a light blue “Life is Good” hat.
“He hiked off the trail into treeline and made his spot,” Summit County Coroner Regan Wood said. “He definitely knowingly went off the trail.”
In all, about 75 percent of his bones were found, scattered among more than a dozen pieces of survival equipment, including a roofer’s hatchet, a high-performance flashlight and Garmin GPS case with a gun-cleaning kit inside. None of it has proved very useful to investigators.
“We were not able to find any identifying information — there was no driver’s license, no wallet, no car keys, anything of that nature,” Wood said.
That meant the serial numbers on the gun were the best bet for tracking down the man’s identity. But last August, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation scuttled those hopes, reporting that the gun had been “pinged” with some sort of tool, rendering the serial numbers impossible to read.
“That is not common at all,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “I have not come across that in the 13 years I’ve been up here.”
In September 2016, the coroner’s office sent the man’s remains to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, which analyzed their biometric data but turned up no leads in national missing persons databases.
Investigators believe the man could have been through-hiking, although they never found any trace of a tent or other camping gear.
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That leaves the possibility that he parked a car somewhere near Highway 91 and hiked up, but there’s a snag in that explanation, too: There were no reports of abandoned cars or snowmobiles around the time the man made his fateful hike.
“Right now there is no outside connection,” FitzSimons said. “We have found no vehicles, no bikes, no skis, nothing other than what we found — the clothing and the trekking poles.”
On Aug. 15, a forensic reconstruction artist gave the nameless man a face. With leads exhausted and nowhere else to turn, investigators are taking it to the public in the hopes that someone might recognize something, bringing an end to the puzzling, year-old cold case.