Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Hunter finds human bones

Remains may be of Iowa man who disappeared in 2001

Express Staff Writer

A hunter last weekend stumbled upon the remains of a man that police believe to have been missing since the fall of 2001. The remains were found on a ridge near Galena Lodge, 22 miles north of Ketchum. The discovery Saturday, Oct. 16, may bring to an end a missing persons mystery that the police have been trying to solve for nearly three years.

Kenneth Johnson, of Hailey, was deer hunting on a ridge near Titus Lake and Coyote Creek when a skull and several pieces of bone caught his attention, said Sheriff Walt Femling. A 9 mm handgun, a fanny back and a wallet, all presumed to belong to Cris Zimmerman of Forest City, Iowa, were found near the bones. Zimmerman is one of three missing persons from 2001 whose whereabouts remain a mystery.

?We believe we have found Cris Zimmerman,? Femling said. The sheriff?s office notified the family Monday of the discovery and a meeting was being scheduled with Coroner Russ Mikel to retrieve the remains, confirm the identity of the body and determine the cause of death.

Three years ago in November police searched for three days for Zimmerman after his car--abandoned in the Galena parking lot for a week--linked him to a missing person?s report in Iowa, Femling said. The search was abandoned when bloodhounds and cadaver dogs found no trace of him.

Police are still investigating the site of the recovery in the heavily forested area southwest of Galena Lodge. Although police were unsuccessful in their 2001 search, they knew that Zimmerman had left Iowa about Oct. 29, 2001, because it was reported that he did not show up for work. On Nov. 1, Zimmerman checked out of the AmeriTel Motel in Twin Falls.

Police records show that the search for Zimmerman, which started on the morning of Nov. 9, produced only a 13-page letter in Zimmerman?s car that talked about suicide and being depressed, Femling said.

?There were numerous hunters in the area. Nobody saw him,? Femling said. He added that people interviewed during the investigation said someone fitting Zimmerman?s description had been asking about trailheads and appeared to be traveling alone.

Two other people who remain missing from 2001 are Bellevue resident Robert "Stubby" Swaner and Ketchum resident Jay Pitkethly. Swaner?s vehicle was found July 12 on Fisher Creek Road on the western side of the White Cloud Mountains in southern Custer County. A search of the area that started the following day was abandoned July 18.

Pitkethly, 42, has been missing since Sept. 16, 2001, when he apparently abandoned a borrowed car in Gimlet, south of Ketchum. Blaine County Search and Rescue conducted an extensive search of the area for several days, but found no indication of what had happened to him. It remains a mystery as to whether Pitkethly voluntarily disappeared, succumbed to the effects of a head injury suffered earlier that day, or was the victim of violence by others.

Although the Zimmerman case appears to be closed, the search for Swaner and Pitkethly remain missing-persons cases since police have found no sign of them.

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