Lone Member of Yuba County Five Still Missing After Forty Years

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On Friday night February 24, 1978, five young men from Yuba County, California, attended a college basketball game at California State University in Chico.

After the game was over, the men—all of whom had mild mental or psychiatric disorders—stopped at a local convenience store to grab some snacks and drinks before heading home. Unfortunately, the five men vanished and never made it to their destination.

Four Bodies Discovered in National Forest

According to the Sacramento Bee, “More than 100 days passed before the snow melted and search parties found four of the boys’ bodies in rugged Plumas National Forest, midway between Lake Tahoe and Mt. Lassen, about 75 miles northeast of Marysville.”

The bodies of Bill Sterling, 29; Jack Huett, 24; Ted Weiher, 32; and Jack Madruga, 30, were found approximately 20 miles from their abandoned Mercury Montego. But the most mysterious discovery was that the fifth member of the group, Gary Mathias, was nowhere to be found. To this day, his remains have not been recovered.

Mathias: The Black Sheep of the Group

Mathias was seen as the outlier of the group. The other four’s mental disabilities manifested at an early age while Mathias was first placed in a psychiatric ward during his sophomore year of high school.

He used drugs throughout his time in the Army and was medically discharged for paranoid schizophrenia. While in prison for his AWOL arrest in 1973, he assaulted two sergeants, punching one in the face, causing him to bleed from his mouth and nose. He said he didn’t like being in the army and thought “if I hit a cop, maybe they’d let me out.”

He was also caught taking advantage of his cousin’s 17-year-old wife while she was sedated from the medicine she took to treat an ongoing illness. Mathias was found straddling the young woman while touching her inappropriately.

Mathias’ track record for erratic and violent behavior continued throughout his life.  A friend of his, Janet Enzerra, said that Mathias was “a very violent person, hurting several men seriously, and (said) that he also hates women.”

Theory of Foul Play

The Sacramento Bee also reported that the Yuba County Police Department received a mysterious phone call on three straight days stating the caller knew where the bodies were located:

“About three weeks after the boys went missing, a Yuba City woman named Debbie Lynn Reese picked up the telephone… ‘Hello?’ she said. ‘I know where the missing five men are,’ a man on the other end of the line said before hanging up.”

“The man called back the next day… and said, ‘I need help ‘cause I really hurt those guys bad.’ When she asked ‘who did you hurt?’ he replied, ‘don’t play dumb with me’ and hung up.”

“There was one more call the next day, on March 17. ‘Those five guys are all dead,’ the man said. ‘They’re all dead?’ Reese asked. ‘They’re all dead,’ he repeated. Then he hung up, and Reese never heard from him again.”

Although the authorities don’t believe the caller was Mathias, they are still open to the possibility he was involved in the other men’s deaths. The evidence discovered in a nearby trailer, along with how the young men died, could still indicate that Matthias was responsible.