Joseph’s nephew had started his search for his uncle, Joseph Halpern, missing since 1933, by contacting the sheriffs’ offices in the four Colorado counties that border Rocky Mountain National Park. The nephew asked about unidentified remains that might be identifiable with DNA comparisons. In 2009, when the NamUs System was inaugurated, the nephew, as a member of the public, entered Joseph as Missing Person number 2797. The National Park Service is listed as the contacting agency, and Joseph’s identifying information, as well as a profile of familial DNA, is now on file to be matched to unidentified remains. (See here for more information.)
Joseph’s nephew then pursued two federal sources of information––the Rocky Mountain Region of the National Archives and the FBI. The National Archives has an Accidents in National Parks file which contained, “A Report on the Disappearance of Joseph Laurence Halpern.” It was written on August 23, 1933 by John S. McLaughlin, former Chief Ranger of the Rocky Mountain National Park, and contained information on the first search, a photo of Joseph submitted by his parents, and a detailed colored map of six days of search routes.
The FBI mailed Joseph’s missing person file to the nephew after he filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The file included some, but not all, of his family’s correspondence. It did include the 1960 letter from Joseph’s brother, Bernard, stating his family’s suspicions about Samuel Garrick, Joseph’s friend and hiking partner. FBI Director John Edgar Hoover personally replied, reiterating that in the absence of any violation of a Federal statute within his jurisdiction, the FBI did not have the authority to conduct an active investigation.
The FBI file also provided some new, and startling, information that implied that Joseph may actually have walked away from the park. If so, did Joseph confide his plans to Garrick? Unfortunately, there’s no way to ask him, as he died in August 1976, in Deerfield, Illinois.
The new information included a letter from “Ted Wilson,” a Modale, Iowa, resident, in 1933, stating that Joseph had been part of a “rough crowd.” In addition, a letter mailed in 1936, from Samuel Greenfield, a family friend and resident of Los Angeles indicated that Joseph had been seen in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1934. Additional references tied Joseph to CCC and hobo camps, eerily echoing Joseph’s own words of wanting to be a hobo. In 1935, he, reportedly, worked for the Lewis Brothers Circus in Michigan.
Was there any truth to these sightings? Despite an extensive search of the mountain terrain where Joseph Halpern hiked, why have no skeletal remains, or even scraps of clothing, ever been found? Did Samuel Garrick, the hiking partner, know more than he admitted to, at the time? Three and four generations later, Joseph’s family is still waiting for answers. Any and all comments on this missing person case will be forwarded to them.
[This guest blog post has excerpts from the book, Cold Case Research: Resources for Unidentified, Missing, and Cold Homicide Cases, to be released by CRC Press in July 2012. For more on the book, see here]