Missing 411: The Hunted
Directed by Michael DeGrazier | Written by David Paulides
David Paulides is a fairly controversial figure in the world of the paranormal and unexplained. The former police detective is the prolific author of the Missing 411 series of books, which detail accounts of people who have seemingly inexplicably gone missing in the woods and wildlife areas of the world. Paulides’ books have examined a large cross-section of missing persons reports, from North America and beyond, some dating back decades. But he does not examine all cases of missing persons. The incidents he’s interested in all fit certain criteria: the people have gone missing in the woods or other outdoor setting; they have all been separated from others in their group; they have vanished near water or large granite/boulder deposits; dogs cannot seem to track the victims; clothing is often partially or completely missing from the victim; the missing seem to vanish in geographical clusters; they are found (alive or dead) in an area that was previously searched, and so on. Essentially, these are cases that have extremely odd or unusual circumstances surrounding them. A mentally ill person going missing in the woods would not qualify for Paulides’ studies; nor would anyone who purposely wanted to be missing. Rather, Paulides focuses on people who shouldn’t have gone missing, and if they did, should have been quickly and easily found by search and rescue teams. Paranormal enthusiasts seem to love him, as there is an implied “abnormality” to the disappearances, while skeptics appear to not really care for Paulides, claiming he’s seeing patterns where there are none. But is either the love or loathing deserved?
The Missing 411 books examine disappearances in nature, from small children to experienced hunters. And it’s the hunters who are the subject of the new movie by Paulides, “Missing 411: The Hunted.” A small sampling of some of the more unusual cases are included here in the movie to serve as examples. Thomas Messick, an 82-year old hunter who went missing in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, was an experienced woodsman who really didn’t have the physical capability to wander far from his hunting position, yet seemed to vanish without a trace. The Santa Fe cluster is examined, and involves an experienced female hiker named Audrey Kaplan who went missing and was then found in some very mysterious circumstances, as well as Melvin Nadel, an elk hunter who had a leg injury, who went missing approximately 150 yards from his vehicle. In another bizarre case from the Santa Fe cluster, Stanley Vigil was driving with friends while hunting when he got out of the car to track a deer. Fog quickly rolled in, and he simply vanished. And for me, the most fascinating case in the whole film is that of Aaron Hedges, who went missing while elk hunting with 2 friends in the Crazy Mountains in Montana. It’s a case that gets weirder and weirder as the story is told by an otherwise stoic and unflappable sheriff, and the ultimate resolution is baffling. There are more stories, but you get the gist: no matter how you look at these cases, they are weird and don’t seem to make much logical sense.
The last two stories presented here are really where the movie takes an odd turn, and I can understand why some critics take umbrage with the change in direction. While all of the prior cases that were presented were all a bit unusual and leave one really scratching their head as to how these people could have gone missing, the last two cases are undeniably paranormal in nature. And neither case has anything to do with missing people (which to his credit, Paulides does acknowledge). In the first case, Paulides interviews Ron Morehead, a hunter who has been using a camp in the Sierra Nevadas since the early 1970s, and has collected some disturbing recordings of alleged creatures who would stalk his hunting camp. The film makes no mention of this, but anyone with even a remote interest in Bigfoot is familiar with Ron Morehead, his “Sierra Sounds,” and his connection to Bigfoot research. I’m sure Paulides and Morehead have been at the same paranormal conventions many times over, so I’m not sure why this wasn’t addressed. All of that aside, the Sierra sounds, which have been described as “samurai chatter,” allegedly are sounds of Bigfoot-like creatures around Morehead’s camp, yelling and communicating with each other, sometimes in what sounds like a foreign (some would say Japanese-sounding) language, and even responding to the hunters’ mimicking responses. Creepy stuff, whether you believe Morehead or not. I understand why Paulides included this story in the movie, but by the same token, I can understand why skeptics grab hold of this for ammunition against his credibility.
The last story is similar to the Morehead case, both in its paranormal nature and in the fame of a person directly connected to the account, again without ever really acknowledging who the person is. The incident is aptly titled “The Predator Case,” and follows a female hunter who witnessed an unusual sight while in her tree blind: an amorphous, seemingly “cloaked” figure moving through the trees, sort of like how the Predator camouflaged itself in the Predator films. The hunter also captured an unusual image on her cell phone during her sighting, and the image is not just blurry, but also of an aspect ratio that would have been impossible to capture on her old Blackberry phone. Her husband provides some detailed analysis of the photo, because he’s an expert – and also quite familiar to anyone with an interest in the paranormal: Dr. Bruce Maccabee. A physicist with a Ph.D. and extensive Navy experience working for the U.S. government, Maccabee was also the preeminent video analyst for hundreds of alleged UFO videos as a member of NICAP and MUFON. Again, the film sort of sidesteps ever directly mentioning this fact, leaving any uninformed viewers to wonder why this Maccabee guy should be trusted as an expert. It seems like a willful avoidance of “paranormal stuff.” Yet the movie ends with the definition of paranormal, in text on the screen, backed by spooky music.
Overall, the movie is a fascinating examination of a very human mystery. The stories of the missing hunters and experienced outdoorspeople are thoroughly researched, with interviews with family members, sheriffs, and other law enforcement personnel who led and participated in the searches. It’s not just Paulides who thinks something is weird with these cases, as some of the law enforcement officers and search and rescue professionals also candidly admit, on camera and quite sincerely, that these cases made zero sense. This is no low-budget production, either. The cinematography was breathtaking, and the score, while subtle, was perfectly eerie. Paulides hosts and narrates, and does a masterful job of setting up the stories and connecting all of the strange plot points. He is definitely knowledgeable about the cases, the facts surrounding them, and why they are so mysterious. For the most part, he walks a fine line, and very well I might add, of insinuating that something weird is going on with these cases, without coming out and saying “Hey, this is paranormal!” Because honestly, I don’t think he believes that’s necessarily the case. Not for all of the cases, anyway. But I appreciate his open-mindedness.
Honestly, I don’t understand the ire the skeptics seem to have for Paulides. Yes, perhaps the number of people missing is not statistically unusual. But he doesn’t really ever say that it is. What he is saying is that these particular cases, which all meet certain criteria of being odd, are unusual in their clusters and in their circumstances. He never says Bigfoot murdered these people, or that aliens abducted these people, or that mystical portals opened up and swallowed them into a parallel dimension. His position is simply that these cases, when looked at closely, are very, very strange. Some of these people did not have the means to vanish so completely due to failing health or limiting physical injuries. In many cases, nothing of the person was ever found. Not a gun, not a backpack, nothing. Predators would have left something behind, even just a scene of the attack. But in these cases, there never is no evidence of animal predation. Sometimes the victims body or possessions were found many, many miles from where they should (or could) have been. So while I agree with the skeptics that perhaps there’s nothing unusual about the number of people who have disappeared, there’s definitely some strange gongs-on when it comes to how these people have gone missing,and the clues that were left (or not left) behind.
“Missing 411: The Hunted” is a must-see for anyone with an interest in unexplained mysteries, paranormal or otherwise. The stories presented are sad, bewildering, and deeply unsettling. There’s a great mystery presented here, and there’s something more going on with these cases than we are being led to believe. There might be rational explanations for some of these stories, but watch for yourself, and you’ll soon see that the effort to explain some of these mysteries rationally starts to feel a bit more ridiculous than simply accepting the paranormal alternatives.