Yuba County Five: What Happened to Them? Was Gary Mathias Ever Found?

The third episode of Netflix’s ‘Files of the Unexplained’ focuses on the intriguing and unsolved mystery of the Yuba County Five. The group of five men, four of whom had some form of learning disability, went missing while returning home after attending a game. They were part of a basketball team that was poised to compete in a Special Olympics basketball tournament the next day, and the excitement of the group was incredibly high.

Considering how much they’d looked forward to their game, it becomes impossible to comprehend how and why they drove into the woods, abandoned their car, then walked for miles into the snow and went uphill, not downhill, without the clothing and the supplies they would have needed to survive in that weather. What happened to the men to make them change their path, to make them leave the comfort and warmth of their car? Several other questions arose when they were eventually found, making the case even more perplexing.

Ted Weiher, Jack Madruga, Bill Sterling, and Jackie Huett Succumbed to Hypothermia

The five young men went missing on February 24, 1978, but it wasn’t until June 4, when the snow started to melt, and the thaw started to set in, that four of the five men were found. The arrival of summer allowed the paths to open, which had been closed or rendered inaccessible due to the snow. One of the first places that were looked at was the United States Forest Service trailer about 20 miles from the point where the abandoned car of the victims was found.

The window of the trailer was found broken, and inside, the dead body of Ted Weiher, 32, was found, wrapped in eight sheets, most probably to keep him from freezing to death. Considering the facial hair on him, it was estimated that he may have survived for about three weeks since the group went missing but eventually died due to starvation and hypothermia. He was found to have lost almost half of his body weight, with terribly frostbitten feet.

What makes things more tragic is that in the same trailer, the investigators found enough food and supplies that could have kept Weiher and the group alive for at least a year. The propane tank that could have been used to heat up their accommodation and the cans of food that could have sustained them were found unused. The reason behind this is attributed to the men’s disability, which would have prevented them from using the things that didn’t belong to them. Even if they had figured out a way to use the propane tank and open the cans of food, their habit of sticking to a set routine and not doing something off the path would have made it difficult to do these new things.

On June 6, it was found that not all men made it to the trailer. On the road towards the trailer from the location of the car, the remains of Jack Madruga, 30, and Bill Sterling, 29, were found on opposite sides of the road. They were about eight miles from the trailer, which suggests that they perished on the way and never made it to the trailer. Both of their deaths were attributed to hypothermia. Only the bones of Sterling were recovered, while Madruga’s body had also been devoured by the wildlife of the forest.

Two days after this, Jackie Huett’s, 24, remains were also recovered about two miles northeast of the trailer. It is believed that he made it there with Weiher and Mathias, but it remains unclear why he left the relative comfort of the trailer. Only bones remained of him too, and his clothes were used to identify him. Later, his death was also attested to the effect of hypothermia.

Gary Mathias’s Missing Persons Case Remains Open Even Today

Of the five men, the only one who seems to have vanished without a trace is Gary Mathias. The 25-year-old was the only one who didn’t have a learning disability. However, he was schizophrenic and had a history of drug abuse, due to which he was given a psychiatric discharge from the army. Considering the clues around the trailer, it is believed that Mathias made it to the trailer with Weiher and Huett, but it remains unclear how long he stayed there with them and why he moved on when he did.

Mathias’ tennis sneakers were found in the trailer, and the C-rations that were consumed by the trio were opened with a P-38 can opener, which may have belonged to Mathias, as he was the only one in the trio who was familiar with it due to his time in the military. It is also believed that Mathias took Weiher’s missing shoes before he left the trailer. Some items, like the three blankets from the trailer and a rusted flashlight, were recovered about a quarter-mile northwest of the trailer, but there is no way to know how they got there.

The thing that perhaps worked against Mathias was his schizophrenia. He had been on medication for a while, due to which he was doing rather well. He hadn’t had any violent episodes or otherwise in a long time. However, he needed his pills regularly to function properly. He took three pills in the morning and three at night, and if he didn’t take them for two weeks, the effect of the pills would start to come undone, and he would be in a very bad state.

Even if Mathias somehow survived the first two weeks, the lack of pills would have made the situation dire for him. In fact, it would have been much more difficult for him due to his mental illness as compared to his friends. It is possible that he left the trailer when the effect of the medication started to wear off and most likely walked into the woods, possibly getting lost along the way and meeting an end similar to his friends. However, the lack of substantial proof of his fate has given rise to many theories about what may or may not have happened to him, though nothing can be confirmed.

The podcast about the case on Mopac Audio revealed a memo from the cops, which says: “Gary Matthias is believed to be a victim of foul play. This case remains open as a missing person/homicide case.” It is interesting how the word “homicide” has been used here, and it makes one wonder what additional information the cops had to take that direction in the investigation. Whatever it was didn’t do much good, and the mystery surrounding Gary Mathias’s disappearance remains just as unsolved as it was all those years ago.

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