Jack Thomas was 66 years old when he went missing on June 15, 2016, while hiking in the backcountry near Atlanta, about 35 miles east of Idaho City.
Seven years later, his remains were finally found, Boise County officials told the Idaho Statesman on Monday.
Boise and Elmore County officials searched for Thomas for about two weeks after he went missing near the Queen’s River trailhead, according to prior Statesman reporting. The Nampa man had transmitted his location using a satellite GPS device on June 15 but did not return as expected the day after.
Boise County Sheriff Scott Turner told the Statesman some backcountry hikers in the Sawtooths located some of Thomas’ personal items in late July. They shared the GPS location of the items — a wallet, some clothing and a hiking boot — with Elmore County officials who determined the location was actually over the Boise County line. Turner told the Statesman officials were “99.9%” sure they had located Thomas thanks to the items they found.
Turner said it took a few weeks to coordinate a search effort. The agency hired Sawtooth Outfitters to lead Boise County Sheriff’s Detective Max Sprague, Boise County Coroner Pam Garlock, U.S. Forest Service law enforcement personnel, Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue officials and a cadaver dog to the site where Thomas’ items were found.
Garlock in an interview said she was able to identify Thomas’ remains with certainty due to the serial number on a medical device used in a knee replacement. She said Thomas “probably succumbed to hypothermia due to a fall.”
‘He loved that place,’ detective says
Sprague told the Statesman in an interview that the group covered 20 miles of backcountry on horseback the first day of the trip in early August. The following day, they reached the area where the wallet and clothing were found, about half a mile from Benedict Lake, and began to search.
Sprague said as they located more items, like Thomas’ ice axe, iPod and cellphone, they had a clearer picture of where to continue searching. Eventually they located skeletal remains, a day pack and a satellite GPS device.
Thomas was a seasoned hiker who loved spending time in the backcountry alone, Sprague told the Statesman. He said he believes Thomas, whose remains were about half a mile from the trail, had left the route to visit nearby mountain lakes. On his way back to the trail, he may have experienced “a tragic event” that left him incapacitated, Sprague said.
“If something happened where he could’ve asked for help, he would have,” Sprague said, noting Thomas was carrying a satellite GPS.
“He was a guy out there doing exactly what he loved to do,” Sprague added. “He loved that place.”