Creepy Mysteries: ‘Yuba City Boys’
The night of February 24, 1978 saw five young men go to a basketball game at Chico State, instead they became the focal point of one of the creepiest mysteries in American history. This case has been called by many “the American Dyatlov Pass” due to it’s bizarre nature. Each of the young men involved had a psychological or intellectual disability and ranged in ages of 24-32 and have dubbed by many the “Mathias Group” after member Gary Mathias. The unofficial ringleader of this group who was an army veteran who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was released from the army and moved in with his parents in Yuba City, California where he worked part-time for his stepfather. It was during this time period he forged a close friendship with others like him. Fellow army veteran Jack Madruga, was discharged due to “low IQ” and was the driver in their group due to him being the one who had a driver’s license. Madruga was friend with a young man named, William Lee Sterling, a deeply religious man who would spend hours at the library studying Christ-centered literature. There was also Ted Weihr who had held a series of jobs, which his parents urged him to leave. Weiher was almost always in the company of Jack Huett who he felt responsible for and would watch out for him.
These men all shared a love of basketball and on the fateful February night, they were making a road trip to see UC Davis play a road game. Once the game ended, they traveled a few blocks to a convenience store to stock up on road snacks, making it in right before the shop closed. This proved to be the last sighting of the boys as none of them made it back home. The next morning they were supposed to play in a Special Olympics sponsored basketball tournament with the team, the Gateway Gators. Considering how much they were looking forward to this tournament it was odd they did not make it home. Naturally their parents got the police involved and the Yuba County Sheriff Department took up the search.
A few days later on February 28, a park ranger at the mountainous Plumas National Forest, discovered Jack Madruga’s car which the boys had been travelling in, close to a campsite. It was not only an area a full 4,500 ft. above sea level, but it was also close to three hours away from Chico State and in the opposite direction of where they should have been going. Despite the rugged terrain, the 1969 Mercury Montego was undamaged and given that the doors were unlocked, investigators looked inside. They discovered a mess of wrappers from the snacks they had purchased at the shop. Using the car as the focal point, rangers and police officers combed through the nearby forest, but found no sign of the missing men. Granted the search was cut shorter than expected as a dangerous blizzard came through the region putting a halt to their progress. During this time they began to receive reports claiming to see the men with a pickup truck. One man Joseph Schons, claimed he saw the Mathias Group, with a woman and infant in the truck. Later he reported he saw them in the woods whistling.
The break in the case came in June 1978 when a traveler found a forest trailer with a busted window that had been isolated by the snowstorm that season. Inside investigators found the body of Ted Weiher. From there search and rescue teams fanned out and the next day discovered the bodies of Jack Madruga and William Lee Sterling. Both bodies were badly decomposed due to the elements and were only about 11 miles from where the car was initially found. Two days later Jack Huett’s scattered remains were the last to be found, tragically they were discovered by his own father who had joined the search party, and stumbled across his son’s Levi jeans and back bone. While Gary Mathias’ shoes were found in the trailer, he was nowhere to be found. The autopsies revealed that they had been living there for several weeks and passed away due to exposure, with Ted Weiher being the final one to survive before finally starving to death.
What puzzled investigators (besides why they were in the trailer to begin with) was what else was there inside. Despite the icy temperatures none of the men attempted to start a fire, even with the abundance of; matches, wood, and paper products lying around. In fact the trailer itself was hooked up to a propane tank which had not been touched. All of the men discovered had lost massive amounts of weight due to due starvation while stranded in the trailer, yet in the storage shed just outside there was a year’s worth of C-rations and freeze dried food. They had apparently consumed a few of the rations, but for some reason had stopped going to that food source, leaving several cans of C-rations behind.
As you can imagine several questions have been raised about the Boys of Yuba City. First and foremost is why they ended up in this mountainous terrain miles away from where they should have been. The trip to and from their destination was a straight shot on Highway 70, but instead they were found several hours away from the highway. Secondly what forced them top abandon their perfectly working car to travel twenty dangerous miles to the trailer? Did it have something to do with the pick up truck that was reportedly seen around them? And why did Ted Weiher starve to death in a shelter containing plenty of food? And to this day the biggest question remains; where is Gary Mathias? His body was not found in the same area as his friends, in fact his tennis shoes were the only thing ever found of his. Given his need to take medicine for his schizophrenia, the fact that he had gone months without them would make him unpredictable adding another obstacle to the search. A few miles away from the shelter, a search and rescue team discovered some blankets and a rusted flashlight, and theorized Mathias may have taken those and set out on his own. Jack Madruga’s mother believes something pursued them to the mountain, and forced them into hiding, hence why they did not attempt to start a fire or anything which may have drawn attention. Given that these were five able-bodied men who could take care of themselves, this would have to be something particularly threatening to force them to hideout like this and eventually lose their lives.