Details of Disappearance
Mathias was last seen near Oroville, California on February 24, 1978. He went missing with four friends: Jackie Charles Huett, Jack Antone Madruga, William Lee "Bill" Sterling and Theodore Earl "Ted" Weiher. The men were part of a day program for mentally handicapped adults and played on a basketball team. Photos of all of them are posted with this case summary.
Mathias's companions, who were close friends with each other and frequently spent time together, were all mentally disabled to some degree. Huett couldn't read, write or dial a telephone and was very dependent on others, but the others were higher-functioning. It isn't clear how Mathias, who didn't have intellectual disabilities, got to know them.
On the night of February 24 - 25, they were supposed to play a basketball game in Chico, California, then return to their homes. They all lived with their parents. Mathias and Madruga were both licensed drivers; Madruga was going to drive them that night.
The five men never returned home. On February 27, their car was found on a mountain road in the snow on a Plumas National Forest service road, 70 miles from Chico and far from their route home. Although it was at the snow line and its tires had spun, it wasn't stuck and the men could have pushed it free, and it had a quarter tank of gas and was in operable condition.
The area where the vehicle was located is heavily forested, mountainous and rocky. The snow was four to six feet deep, and a storm was raging in the area at the time. The men were not dressed appropriately for the weather; they all wore street clothes and low-cut shoes. Madruga was the only one who ever drove that vehicle, he didn't like camping or cold weather, and none of the men were familiar with the area.
In June 1978, after the spring thaw, the bodies of Madruga, Huett, Weiher and Sterling were found. Authorities found Weiher's body in a Forest Service trailer in the Daniel Zink campgrounds, nineteen and a half miles from where the car had been. He was lying on a bed, with eight sheets pulled over his corpse and tucked around his head.
Weiher had lived for an extended time period, perhaps four to six weeks after arriving at the cabin, but eventually died of exposure. He had lost 80 to 100 pounds before dying, he had lost five toes to frostbite and he had blood poisoning and gangrene in his lower legs. His shoes were missing, but his ring, necklace, and wallet with cash were sitting on the table next to the bed. There was also a gold Waltham watch, with its crystal missing. It didn't belong to any of the five men.
Weiher had apparently gained access to the trailer through a broken window. Although there were matches and paperback books and wooden furniture, no one had started a fire, and no one had touched the propane tank nearby. 31 cans of food from an outside from an outside storage shed had been opened, but there was an unopened locker in the shed that contained enough food to have fed all five men for a year. The cans of food needed to be opened with an Army P-38 can opener, which only Mathias and Madruga would have had experience using.
It's worth noting that, according to his family, Weiher had very poor judgment and lacked common sense. Once, when his family's home caught fire in the night, Weiher's brother had to physically drag him out of the building, as Weiher wanted to go back to sleep so he would be well-rested for work the next day.
Investigators believe Sterling and Madruga never made to the trailer; their bodies were found eight miles short of it, on opposite sides of a mountain road, two days after Weiher's body was found. Police think Huett and possibly Mathias came to the trailer with Weiher, but then left again. The day after Sterling and Madruga were found, Huett's skeletal remains were located along the same road, but much closer to the trailer.
Searchers did find three wool Forest Service blankets and a rusted flashlight about a quarter of a mile northwest of the trailer. They found Mathias's sneakers inside the Forest Service trailer with Weiher's body; authorities think Mathias might have put on Weiher's shoes, which were a larger size than his own, after his feet got swollen from frostbite. An extensive search turned up no sign of him or his body.
Mathias first showed signs of mental illness in high school and was hospitalized as a sophomore. He joined the Army in the early 1970s, but abused drugs consistently during his years in service, and his mental illness got worse. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and given a medical discharge.
After his discharge he returned to California and continued to abuse drugs, including methamphetamine, and was arrested and jailed multiple times for various offenses, including violent attacks on both men and women. He was hospitalized multiple times and had a history of escapes; once, in 1974, he escaped from a state mental hospital in his pajamas and watched and hitchhiked almost 100 miles home. Another time he walked from Portland, Oregon to Marysville, California, a distance of 540 miles.
His life straightened out after he began taking his psychiatric medications consistently. He held down a job at his stepfather's gardening business and also had disability pay from the Army, and by the time of his disappearance he had not been arrested or "gone haywire" in two years. He became friends with Huett, Madruga, Sterling and Weiher a few months before they all disappeared.
The four men's relatives believe it's possible that Mathias was somehow involved in the incident that lead to their deaths. Investigators don't believe Mathias is still alive, however; they stated that he always kept in touch with them, and without his medication he could not have been able to stay off the grid even if he had wanted to.
Mathias is presumed deceased, but remains classified as a missing person.