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Bob Wildoner

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Bob Wildoner

A quick trip turned to disaster

Hot springs in Saline Valley
Hot springs in Saline Valley

On May 4, 2021, Bob Wildoner set out on a trip to repair a disabled vehicle at the hot springs in Saline Valley, in a remote corner of Death Valley National Park. He told his wife to expect Cindy Lee to expect him home in a few days.

Bob always stayed at Lower Warm Springs
Bob Wildoner at the hot springs
Bob Wildoner at the hot springs

Bob was a regular visitor to the hot springs, where he was known by his handle “Badwater Bob.” He was well-liked by others in the close-knit community and knew his way around the unique desert oasis.

Bob and Cindy
Bob and Cindy
Bob was a Corvette enthusiast and experienced auto mechanic.
Bob was a Corvette enthusiast and experienced auto mechanic.
Bob was a experienced auto mechanic
Cindy Lee with Bob’s Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Cindy Lee with Bob’s Ford F-150 pickup truck..

In April 2021, Bob had driven a Dodge Ram pickup into Saline Valley. But the Dodge blew its radiator, so he left the pickup with the campground host Lee Greenwell aka “Lizard Lee” and hitched a ride back to civilization.

Cindy Lee with Chuck Stowman
Cindy Lee with Chuck Stowman.

Bob planned to drive his Ford F-150 pickup into Saline Valley, replace the Dodge’s radiator, then return with his best friend Chuck Stowman on another day to shuttle the Dodge home.

On Tuesday, May 4, Bob left his and Cindy’s home in Apple Valley, California. In keeping with his usual routine, Bob promised to call Cindy when he reached Big Pine, California. Beyond there, he expected to lose cell service.

Around 2:30 p.m., Cindy’s phone rang. It was Bob, saying he was about to head into Saline Valley. That was the last time anyone heard from Bob.

The search for Bob ended quickly

The search for Bob

On May 5, Lee Greenwell, the campground host, spotted Bob’s pickup truck parked in a dirt roadway. Early the next morning, with the truck still sitting unattended, Greenwell alerted park rangers.

A pair of rangers arrived at the hot springs late in the afternoon on Friday, May 7. Around midday on Saturday, a ranger phoned Cindy and confirmed that her husband hadn’t returned home.

Cindy called the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, only to be told that park rangers needed to complete their investigation first. On the evening of Saturday, May 8, park officials contacted the Sheriff’s Office to report Bob missing.

Five days after Bob left home, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office launched a search and rescue mission. But the ground search was cut short because of extreme heat, with most of the searching done in a single day.

The search grid for the Bob Wildoner case
The search grid for the Bob Wildoner case.

Cindy and the rest of Bob’s family felt that the search was slow to start and ended far too soon. Here’s my first article about the case:

Investigation in 2023 turned up a key clue

In March 2023, Stuart Jeffries and I pushed through fresh snow in Stuart’s Jeep Cherokee and were able to reach Saline Valley via the south access road.

Stuart Jeffries
Stuart Jeffries.
Saline Valley
Saline Valley.

After visiting the area where Bob parked his F-150 pickup – in the same moonless conditions Bob encountered – we concluded that he probably took a wrong turn coming out of the nearby bathroom and became disoriented.

Bob may have turned in this direction, away from his truck.

Saline Valley bathroom
Saline Valley bathroom.

Stuart donned sandals same as Bob was wearing, and we tried to recreate his route. By doing so we were convinced that at some point Bob would have realized his mistake, doubled back, but that he likely missed the Lower Warm Spring campground and kept going.

Warm Spring campground

This approach eventually led Stuart to discover a damaged sandal that Cindy positively identified as belonging to Bob. The sandal had ruptured in a manner that suggested Bob stepped on a rock in the darkness, slipped, and took a hard fall to the right – the sort of fall that could cause a broken leg or hip.

Cindy said the adhesive tape on the sandal was patchwork done by Bob
Cindy said the adhesive tape on the sandal was patchwork done by Bob.
sandal patchwork
Sandal patchwork .

If Bob fell and injured himself where no one could see or hear him, then it stands to reason that when the blazing sun rose the following day, he would have sought shelter in one of the caves nearby. But if Bob crawled into a cave and then passed away from heat, thirst, shock, and/or exposure, his remains could have been swallowed up by the unstable terrain.

The caves in that area were and are highly unstable. Monsoon rains – such as occurred in summer 2022 – could have caused a collapse of the cave Bob died in. Stuart and I found several caves that appeared to have recently collapsed.

This area was freshly collapsed
This area was freshly collapsed.
Another large and recent collapse
Another large and recent collapse.

Here’s my follow-up article about the case, setting forth a theory about what may have happened to Bob Wildoner: https://www.reviewjournal.com/local/local-nevada/new-clue-emerges-in-veterans-death-valley-disappearance-2751732/

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