Five young men were supposed to play in a Special Olympics basketball game on Feb. 25, 1978. They never made it. The remains of four of the men were found in Northern California's Plumas National Forest that summer; the fifth was never found. Why the men were there at all, what befell them, and whether that fifth man might have been involved has remained the stuff of mystery for more than four decades. In a two-part series for the Sacramento Bee, Benjy Egel was given access to police evidence and spoke to people associated with the case to paint a picture of what certainly happened—and what might have. They were driving home from a Chico State basketball game when they went missing. The men, who ranged in age from 24 to 30, were described as mentally disabled, but that wasn't quite right in regards to one of them.
Gary Mathias—the one whose body was never found—"was an aberration," a man who didn't have an intellectual disability but was schizophrenic, violent, and frequently in trouble with the law. The group, who had all met at a program for adults with special needs, was last seen buying snacks in Chico. Their car was found Feb. 28 at the forest's snow line, with gas still in it. In June, Ted Weiher’s body was found inside a remote trailer used by the forest service. His beard growth indicated he'd been alive for as many as six weeks. Cans of food had been eaten from a storage locker, but a second locker went unopened. Mathias' sneakers were inside; Weiher's "sturdier" shoes were gone. Three more bodies were found within days, one nearby, two not. Egel writes it's possible Mathias too fell "victim [to] inexplicable circumstances," or that he went off his meds to be sharper for the next day's game and "inadvertently brought his friends out to their deaths on a schizophrenia-induced adventure." Or he could be alive. Read the series in full here and here. (Read more Longform stories.)