Mystery of missing kayaker: He’s finally identified as ‘Palisades Pete’

3 weeks ago 3

A sheriff’s deputy haunted by the disappearance of a young kayaker provided the link that helped solve the mystery: His body was found years later, in a different river, in a different state, and had gone unidentified for decades.

The ending of the saga was provided in an account this week from the sheriff’s office in Idaho’s Bonneville County.

Kyle Martin. (Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office) 

The beginning was 26 years ago, when Kyle Martin — a 24-year-old Pennsylvanian who was working at the Wort Hotel in Wyoming’s Jackson Hole —  went kayaking on May 30, 1995, with a friend on the nearby Hoback River. Their intended 15-mile trip was cut short when the friend lost his paddle. Martin said he’d go on ahead to where their shuttle car was waiting and would drive back to pick up his companion. He never returned.

Two days later, Teton County sheriff’s Deputy Dave Hodges was part of the search crew when Martin’s blue kayak was spotted overturned under a downed tree in the Hoback. As the young man’s family looked on, a helicopter used a cable to lift the snag — and for a moment the onlookers saw Martin’s body. And then it was gone, submerged and swept away.

For weeks, crews searched for the body, with no result. Though Martin’s family knew he was dead, the case officially remained a missing person. And Hodges never forgot it, he told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

This year, the deputy — now the longest-serving member of the Teton County office — was flipping through a copy of Forensics magazine when he ran across an item about some human remains found in Idaho.

Bonneville County sheriff’s investigators had been trying for almost 20 years to identify the skull and several bones found in 2002 at Palisades Reservoir. An expert had determined they belonged to a man about 25 to 45 years old.

For a while, the investigation focused on a 1980 boating accident in which two men and two children drowned, but those victims were not a match.

As identification technology advanced, investigators solicited DNA samples from relatives of missing people. In March of this year, a Texas biotechnology laboratory called Othram Inc. read about the case of “Palisades Pete” — as the unknown man had been nicknamed — and offered to help by compiling a genealogical profile.

The company started publicizing the case, asking for crowdfunding donations to finance the effort and for information from families of missing people.

When Hodges saw the magazine item about “Pete,” he immediately thought back to June 1, 1995. A sheriff’s deputy haunted by the disappearance of a young kayaker provided the link that helped solve the mystery: His body was found years later, in a different river, in a different state,

He called the Bonneville County sheriff with his hunch. The confirmation came with a DNA sample provided by Martin’s mother, now in an assisted-living facility. It was a match.

The body had been swept more than 30 miles — from the Hoback into the Snake River, and then across the state line to where the Snake is dammed into Palisades Reservoir.

The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office this week thanked a list of those who contributed to the outcome — including Othram, Hodges, the FBI, academic experts, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the crowd funders — and said it “is happy to be a part of providing answers and closure to a family who have waited for so long missing their loved one.”

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