Details of Disappearance
Fugate was last seen at the Chiricahua National Monument Park in Arizona on January 13, 1980. He worked as a ranger for the park. It was in the off season, and so that day he was the only permanent staff member on duty. The only other person was a seasonal employee who worked as a clerk.
At 2:00 p.m., Fugate left his office to do a foot patrol on a nature trail. He told the clerk to shut down the visitor's center alone if he didn't return by 4:30 p.m. He was last seen walking towards the park's entrance. He has never been heard from again. He left his radio behind and didn't take anything with him besides his keys.
An extensive search of the park turned up no sign of Fugate. The park covers 12,000 acres and the terrain is very rugged, with numerous canyons and arroyos. There were rumors that he had left voluntarily or that he had been killed after stumbling across an illegal drug or illegal immigrant smuggling operation in the park. Some park employees reportedly saw vehicle spinout tracks on a primitive road near the Faraway, and indications of a struggle in the dirt.
One park employee reportedly saw Fugate in a pickup truck at 4:00 p.m. on the day of his disappearance, slumped between two other men. The pickup was traveling away from the monument at a high rate of speed. The police put the witness under hypnosis in an effort to improve his memory, and he recalled that Fugate looked "sad and dejected" and that one of the men he was with was wearing a green jacket, and the other wore a red, black and white plaid shirt, had a Kenny Rogers type beard and appeared to be in his thirties.
In February 1981, the National Park Service (NPS) formally fired Fugate for abandoning his post, and demanded his wife return the $6,925 they'd paid her during the time they had him listed as missing.
The NPS's regional chief detective told one reporter he believed Fugate was "living with a paramour somewhere, very healthy" and that finding him was not a priority. (He had had several affairs during his marriage, which his wife was aware of and had acquiesced to, and she stated none of his relationships with other women were serious.)
The NPS refused to have Fugate listed as deceased for six years, and so his wife was unable to collect her husband's survivor's benefits or pension. In 1986, however, an NPS investigator and an Arizona Department of Public Safety investigator, working together, examined the records of the search and investigation and concluded there was no reason to believe Fugate had left on his own and was still alive somewhere. His wife's application for benefits was then approved.
Fugate has never been located.