Lewis Barrett Welch Jr.

Welch, circa 1971

  • Missing Since 05/23/1971
  • Missing From Nevada City, California
  • Classification Lost/Injured Missing
  • Sex Male
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 08/16/1926 (97)
  • Age 44 years old
  • Height and Weight 6'0, 150 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A denim jacket, Frisco jeans and boots.
  • Medical Conditions Welch was depressed and suicidal at the time of his disappearance. He had also been drinking heavily.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian male. Graying red hair, blue or brown eyes. Welch's nickname is Lew. He has a thin build and is balding.

Details of Disappearance

Welch was part of the "Beat movement" of the 1960s and was a relatively known poet. He associated with other Beat writers including Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder. Kerouac wrote about Welch in his novel Big Sur; the character he based off of Welch is called "Dave Wain." Welch had lived with Snyder and Whalen and attended Reed College, where he wrote his thesis on the writer Gertrude Stein.

Welch moved to New York after graduating college. He began to have emotional problems afterwards, moved to Florida and completed a course of therapy. He then studied philosophy and English at the University of Chicago before moving to California, where he drove a cab while devoting most of his time to writing. He got involved in the San Francisco literary scene. People who knew him stated he was a very talented writer, but his multiple nervous breakdowns crippled his career.

Welch was depressed and was drinking heavily by 1971. He was last seen on May 23. He was staying with Snyder in Nevada City, California at the time. Welch walked out of Snyder's house carrying a gun he'd taken from Snyder's foot locker. The gun is described as a stainless steel, heavy-frame .22 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. Welch has never been heard from again. He left a note behind reading:

I never could make anything work out right and now I'm betraying my friends. I can't make anything out of it -- never could. I had great visions but never could bring them together with reality. I used it all up. It's all gone. Don Allen is to be my literary executor -- use MSS at Gary's and at Grove Press. I have $2,000 in Nevada City Bank of America -- use it to cover my affairs and debts. I don't owe Allen G. anything yet nor my Mother. I went Southwest. Goodbye. Lew Welch.

Although Welch is presumed to have committed suicide, his remains have never been located.

Investigating Agency

  • Nevada County Sheriff's Department
  • 530-470-2400
  • 530-265-7880

Updated 5 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated February 12, 2013; details of disappearance updated.