There are many, many cases of vanished people and mysterious deaths out there, which I have frequently covered here at Mysterious Universe. They are always baffling and surrounded by oddities and weird clues, and some are often noticeably more bizarre than others. One that has continually perplexed and inspired deep discussion and debate is that of one Don Kemp, a man who mysteriously vanished and reappeared dead years later amidst numerous bizarre clues and incidents and whose death only served to pose more questions for what has become one of the more well-known disappearances in modern times.
The whole strange case revolves around 35-year-old Donald Kemp, also called Don, who was a successful advertising executive on Madison Avenue, in New York City, living the good life before a fateful and debilitating car accident forced him into a lengthy rehabilitation. He found himself reviewing the course of his own life, and according to friends and family, Don became withdrawn and often expressed a deepening contempt for and disillusionment over the materialistic society he had so long been a part of. Whereas he had always been eager to be a player in the materialism-driven lifestyle of an ad exec in New York, he now found himself yearning for something quiet and simpler, and he began to seek to escape the hectic life of the bustling city and all of its possessions and cast off the shell of his old life.
The first thing he did was to quit his advertising job, after which he became increasingly absorbed with, and by some accounts obsessed by, writing a book on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, that he would toil away on with every bit of free time he had, which considering the absence of his job was a lot. Still, he still often expressed dissatisfaction with being in New York. Perhaps it was because of this unhappiness and his desire to write his book in peace that prompted him to suddenly sell practically all of his worldly possessions and head out for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, way over on the other side of the country. It is known that he made it as far as Cheyenne, where he was reported as wandering about for several hours in a museum while keeping to himself and not talking to anyone, after which he left, forgetting his briefcase in the process, which would later be found to contain important things such as traveler’s checks and his diary. He would never reach Jackson Hole, and this would be the last time anyone reliably saw him alive.
The day after Don’s visit to the museum, on November 16, 1982, at around 10AM, highway patrolman Randy Teeters and his partner came across an abandoned SUV on a desolate rural stretch of highway surrounded by bleak prairies for miles around and with no human habitation in sight. The vehicle’s engine was still idling, its doors were wide open, and various items and clothing were found strewn about on the highway and the frozen winter ground around it. The only sign of the occupant was a single set of footprints that led off into the snow out into the empty prairie. The whole sight was eerie to say the least, and Teeters would say of the surreal scene:
Neither of us had seen anything like this. The vehicle was left forty miles from any town, on an off ramp, running, stuff strung out of it, the doors open, a relatively new vehicle, not one that someone would just leave. I have no idea what would inspire anybody to walk out through that prairie in the middle of winter. We considered possibly someone under medication that didn’t know what they were doing due to the medication, or being out of the medication, possibly that would affect him to the point of where they would just walk out into the middle of nowhere.
Since there was obviously someone potentially in a lot of trouble a search was immediately called for, and aircraft flew over the prairie scouring it for any sign of the driver of the vehicle, and in the meantime a look into the SUV showed that it belonged to none other than Don Kemp. Despite a thorough search of the area by air over flat, open terrain, the missing man could not be found, but there were various signs of him. One was a duffel bag containing items of clothing, soap, and a teapot. Another was an abandoned barn 6 miles off the highway, which held signs that someone had recently been there and had tried to start a fire without success, as well as three discarded socks. Other than that there was nothing. At the time authorities speculated that he had had some sort of mental snap and had wandered off, with Sheriff C. W. Ogburn expressing concern that Kemp was mentally unbalanced, and a deputy Rod Johnson, who had spent hours flying over the prairie looking for him, later saying:
I felt the guy was disorientated, and I felt that he didn’t want to be found. If he would’ve wanted to be found, he would have heard the aircraft, could have waved his arms, got our attention, gone up to a ridge, anywhere, and been sighted.