Twin Disappearances into the Peaks
Tom Young and Keith Reinhard both disappeared near Silver Plume, Colorado about a year apart. Tom's body was later found. Keith's was not.
When I was a kid, my family often took me on road trips from Tennessee all the way out to the mountains west of Denver, where my grandparents lived. My grandfather especially loved the Georgetown Loop Railroad and took me on it on numerous occasions. The valley this scenic rail route takes you through is majestic — but also the site of two strange disappearances a little less than a year apart in the late 80s. These happened in the area around Silver Plume, an old mining town whose population collapsed and is often described as a “living ghost town” given the large number of abandoned, 1800s-era buildings and preservation of the historical style of those in still use.
The Tale of Tom
Public details available about Tom Young are scanter than with Keith Reinhard, who would disappear a year after him in a similar fashion. He owned a bookstore called the Charing Cross Station operated out of an old Knights of Pythias building — a secret society somewhat akin to Freemasons. He had a reputation of being a loner but loved spending time with his dog Gus, a black labrador retriever. Early in his life, he was in the US Special Forces and, once out of the service, became an art teacher, in an almost Bob Ross-esque fashion.
Some sources report him as living on “the south side of Pendleton Mountain,” which would put him in an area without on-the-grid houses. This seems to be a misunderstanding of what the others report: that he lived in a house on the south side of town, opposite the valley divide of the majority of it, in an A-Frame house. However, this part of town on the north side of Pendleton Mountain.
Because of the tight valley’s relative position to the sun, during much of the winter months, the town gets little light, especially the smaller portion on the opposite side of the valley divide where Tom lived. This inspired the title of an upcoming documentary about this case called Dark Side of the Mountain.
Tom told some family and friends he was planning a vacation to Europe, though he was last seen on September 7th, 1987 with Gus, hiking into the mountains — something not too out of the ordinary for him. When he was not seen again, people assumed he had gone on vacation. But no one saw him alive again, even if he would be found dead almost a year later.
Keith’s Copycat Disappearance
Keith Reinhard was about to turn 50. Worried he was quickly reaching a point he would be too old to do some of what he wanted to do, he took a sabbatical from his work at a Chicago newspaper to spend a few months in Silver Plume in 1988, the year after Tom’s disappearance.
Wanting to experiment with selling antiques and other oddities, Keith was in luck, a friend of his, Ted Parker, owned a storefront whose tenant had seemingly abandoned several months prior and was eager to rent to him, if even only for a few months. Once again, a man who would go missing found himself running a store in the old Knights of Pythias building.
One of Keith’s dreams as a lifelong journalist was to break into fiction and write the Great American Novel. The more he wrote, the more he started to research Tom Young’s life, incorporating elements of both his and Tom’s lives into the story. This composite character, “Guy Gypsum,” lived in the town of White Flume — a clear nod to Silver Plume — seemed to become Keith’s ideal self, the person he wanted to be past fifty.
Everything was shaken up on July 31, 1988, when the skeletons of Tom and Gus were found together in the wilderness, an hour’s hike from town. Both he and Gus were shot. Tom purchased a gun just four days before, though some suggest it was out of self-defense. However, the gun was next to the remains. Some reports claim shreds of a tarp were found with the bodies.
On August 3rd, Keith called a colleague back in Chicago about possibly becoming the new basketball writer, covering the Bulls, though the promotion had gone to a work rival of his. Immediately afterward, he attended the town’s memorial service for Tom, which was likely on his mind when making that call back to his old home. The man whose traits he had fantasized about embodying in himself was now dead. Half of Guy Gypsum was gone. Keith was the other half.
Four days later, on the 7th, Keith closed up the shop and told several people in town he was going to climb Pendleton Mountain, which was quite the climb at over 12,000 feet. He left in the early evening, but such a hike would take at least six hours. Parts of the hike are quite steep and hard to navigate safely in pitch black dark. All he had were his sneakers, jeans, a flannel shirt, and, by some accounts, a soda.
Keith was never seen again after August 7th, and his remains were never found.
The Failed Search for Keith and Answers
Tom’s tales of a planned trip to Europe significantly delayed efforts to search for him and raised doubts at the time he was still in the area — even if he was last seen walking up into the mountains. Without a plausible explanation and out of concern for his friend, Ted, the owner of the Knights of Pythias building, reported him missing to the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s office, which prompted a massive manhunt.
From the 8th to the 12th, the government mobilized everything and everyone it could to find Keith — on the ground, in the sky, with dogs, with people. The search was called off when a small plane carrying two search and rescue volunteers crashed. The pilot died, and the passenger, in critical condition, was airlifted by helicopter to a nearby hospital and thankfully survived. At that point, they had searched such an extensive area, it began to seem unlikely Keith would be found, dead or alive. That seems proven true now that it is, at the time of this writing, over thirty years later.
The simplest explanation is that Tom simply committed suicide and Keith, upon realizing this, had a crisis himself, ending with his death, intentional or not. Keith’s novel draft was recovered from his computer. The last part he wrote, seemingly just before his fateful hike, states:
“Guy Gypsum changed into some hiking boots and donned a heavy flannel shirt. He understood it all now, and his motivations. Guy closed the door and then walked off towards the lush, shadow-less Colorado forest above.”
Whether Keith planned on returning or not is hard to say. Maybe Keith himself did not know. Perhaps he knew his goal was unrealistic but wanted to motivate himself to tackle more challenging hikes — but planned on turning around well before his goal this time. Some suggest he wanted to start a new life and knew he would be assumed dead by suicide like Keith, or that he planned on returning until he realized he had, essentially, even if indirectly, killed a pilot and badly injured a passenger.
Regardless, the most plausible explanation is that Tom simply died intentionally by his own actions, and Keith, despondent about the man he had blended his own life with to try to overcome a midlife crisis, followed suit, intentionally or not.
The Nuclear Option
A much more implausible explanation some argue is that Tom — and possibly Keith too — were killed in a cover-up over the disposal of nuclear waste, a theory explored in Travel Channel’s Lost in the Wild. Though corroborating evidence for this is scant, so I am skeptical of its veracity, it is at least an interesting and wild concept.
In 1996, a man named Mike Echols published a book called Brother Tony’s Boys about a Pentecostal evangelist preacher who used this status to abuse the boys of his following throughout much of the country. In the Epilogue, he states:
“That fall my auto mechanic, Roger Holman, told me that on several occasions during the early morning hours, he had seen large trucks driving up the dead-end road by his house which leads to the old Colorado School of Mines Experimental Mine on the west side of Idaho Springs. He said a friend of his had told him that the trucks were carrying nuclear waste from the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant.”
This is quite the game of telephone, even if the timeline makes sense. Rocky Flats was a facility based in the outskirts of Denver and the only place that produced the plutonium detonators for fusion weapons — the fission reaction of the plutonium bomb triggers the fusion reaction of the hydrogen. The facility was raided in 1989 by the FBI and charged with numerous environmental crimes, though most of those records are sealed. Mike Echols claims he only told two people about his mechanic Roger’s story before publishing the book, one of whom was Tom Young.
However, shortly after this passage in the book, Echols talks about the “supposedly abandoned mine” — the experimental mine is still in operation and has operated continuously since its repurposing as experimental. Parts are open to the public for tours. There are sections leased by the government for experiments, though it would be a weird place to dump nuclear waste. A truly abandoned mine would seem a more viable dumping ground.
Echols claims to have gone to check out the mine himself, finding equipment labeled with the Department of Energy. This does seem plausible, in that the DoE has used the experimental mine to do experiments of its own in the government section. However, he plays it off as surprising and suspicious. The book also claims that Tom’s corpse was found during the search for Keith, but more reliable sources clearly establish Tom’s remains being found before Keith went missing and that a copy of a newspaper article about their discovery was found on his desk near his computer — where he wrote that ominous, perhaps unintentional ending.
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