Utah, Idaho, Arizona and Hawaii have been in the national headlines recently in the case of missing children J.J. and Tylee Vallow. While police strongly suspect their mother, Lori Vallow Daybell, knows where her children are, they are still missing.
Unfortunately, Utah is not inexperienced with missing persons cases. People don’t often vanish without a trace, but in some cases, that seems like the only explanation. Utah’s most famous missing persons cases span decades, and some remain unsolved, placing them among the more than 100 open missing persons cases (as of February 2019) in the state.
Whether open or not, you’ll most likely remember several of these cases. Here are some of Utah’s most high-profile missing persons cases.
Everyone in Utah — or the entire United States, for that matter — has heard the name Elizabeth Smart. She was Just 14 when a man abducted her from her Salt Lake City home in 2002. Smart’s kidnapping was both shocking and seemingly inexplicable.
While her younger sister, Mary Katherine, shared a room with Elizabeth and testified of a man taking her sister away at knifepoint in the middle of the night, neither the police nor the public understood the motive of such a random crime. In fact, many fingers pointed at Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s father, who was questioned and polygraphed by the police.
Nine months later, officials finally understood what happened — but the story didn’t get any less bizarre. Brian David Mitchell, who had once worked at the Smart’s home under the name "Emmanuel," had been holding Smart captive for nine months, repeatedly sexually assaulting and abusing her.
Thanks to Mary Katherine’s testimony and recognition of Mitchell — and the family’s unrelenting search — Elizabeth was returned to her Salt Lake City home in March 2003. Mitchell (who proclaimed himself a prophet) and his wife, Wanda Barzee, were charged with kidnapping, burglary and sexual assault and a host of other crimes.
It’s a cold case that doesn’t feel cold at all – that’s because everyone, including police, have a good idea what actually happened to Susan Powell, the West Valley City mother of two. It’s been just over a decade since Powell went missing, but a lot – a whole lot – has happened since December 2009. Though Powell has not officially been declared dead, her husband, Josh Powell and children, Charlie and Braden, are dead. In February 2012, Josh Powell murdered his children and killed himself in a house explosion in Washington State.
Though Powell’s body has never been found, West Valley Police — and the general public — believe Josh Powell was responsible for his wife’s death. The night before her disappearance, Josh took his children camping — in the middle of a blizzard and the middle of the night. He returned the next day to concerned friends and family members frantically trying to reach him. He claimed Susan was asleep when he left his home the night before. Whether that’s true or not is something Josh Powell took to his literal grave.
Nancy Perry Baird
She was young, beautiful, strawberry blonde and hasn’t been seen since July 4, 1975. That Independence Day, a police officer saw Nancy Perry Baird, a 23-year-old single mother, working as an attendant at a gas station on Highway 89 in Layton. Just 15 minutes later, Baird was noticed missing. To this day, she still is.
Police questioned Baird’s ex-husband and two friends and passed polygraph tests related to her disappearance. The motive for her plausible abduction is also unclear, as Baird had a four-year-old son she was unlikely to abandon, and her purse — with a substantial sum of cash still in it — was found at the service station.
The likely explanation for Baird’s disappearance is sinister; according to the AP, authorities believe serial killer Ted Bundy was the culprit, though he never confessed. Authorities suspect he killed at least five women in Utah (but confessed to more) from 1974 to 1975.
While Baird’s situation doesn’t fit Bundy’s profile exactly — for example, he didn’t abduct any other women from service stations — the timing of her disappearance makes the theory plausible. Baird’s body has never been found, so her missing persons case remains open to this day.
Emily Quijano Almiron and Gabriel Almiron
While families of missing persons often seek closure, that closure often comes with unimaginable heartbreak. Such was the case last September when Orem police found the remains of Emily Quijano Almiron and her three-year-old son, Gabriel Almiron, who had been missing since 2015.
Notwithstanding the lack of physical remains, police charged Christopher Poulson of Smithfield with both killings, arresting him while on vacation in Hawaii in 2017. Initially, Poulson pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree aggravated murder, along with several charges relating to disposing the two bodies and covering his tracks.
In hopes of a plea deal, Poulson admitted to the murders just last year, saying he was using meth and drinking alcohol when he fatally injured Gabriel, who then died in his sleep. In a panic, Poulson claimed he shot Almiron to prevent her from finding out. The story is more than a little suspicious since Poulson broke up with Almiron four days before she was reported missing. Last September, Poulson led police to the bodies, buried in a shallow grave near Eureka, in Juab County.
Garrett Alexander Beardsley
While there’s no evidence of foul play, Garrett Alexander Beardsley seemed to vanish into thin air near the Cuberant Lake in the Uinta Mountains in August 2004. Beardsley, who was 12 at the time he went missing, was fishing with his father as part of a Boy Scout wilderness trip. Beardsley left his father at the lake, walking just 150 yards to their campsite to change his wet shoes. But no one ever saw Garrett Beardsley again.
That August night, temperatures were low and Beardsley was out without food or provisions. While authorities believe he died of exposure, extensive searches of the area turned up nothing. Though the family held a memorial service for him in 2004, they told the Deseret News they wouldn’t have closure until they found Garrett.
Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado
A Mexican woman disappeared on her way home from school in Provo in 2015. Elizabeth Salgado was from Chiapas, Mexico and came to Utah to learn English. She had only moved to Provo one month before she went missing. According to the AP, she finished her mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not long before coming to Utah.
Her family — still living in Mexico — made desperate pleas to the public for help bringing Salgado home safely. Three years later, a hunter in Hobble Creek Canyon found her remains off the path in an area officials had passed by many times throughout the years she was missing.
To this day, investigators say they don’t know what happened to Salgado. According to a Deseret News article, Salgado’s remains were so decomposed that she had to be identified through dental records.
The 24-year-old American Fork woman went missing in February 2018 when she left her residential treatment center to go for a run. After reviewing surveillance footage from the National Park Service, officials identified Binks running on the National Timpanogos Cave Trail — several hours after roommates said she left for her run.
At the time, police didn’t know if the investigation was simply a missing persons case or a criminal case. When her body was found in American Fork Canyon in April 2019, officials say there were no signs of foul play, even though she was injured. They say she had two serious leg fractures and was found in a remote area of the canyon, known for its ruggedness and steep terrain.
While many of these people were either found or their remains located, there are still hundreds of missing Utahns. If you have any information on the whereabouts of any of Utah’s missing persons, please call the Salt Lake City Police Department at 801-799-3000.