Mystery in the Mountains: The Unsolved Case of the Yuba County 5

Mysteries intrigue and excite. They compel and disturb. They poke and pull at our imaginations as we struggle to wrap our heads around exactly what might have taken place.

Very few mysteries have ignited my interest as much as the unsolved case of the Yuba County Five.

Much like the Dyatlov Pass incident, I find the disappearances and subsequent discovery of the bodies of the young men involved in this case to be particularly intriguing given how little we know and how much remains unanswered even decades after the fact.

If you’re someone who is interested in mysteries as much as I am, let’s take a closer look at the unsolved case of the Yuba County Five, what may have taken place, and why this case still continues to haunt us today.

Who Are the Yuba County Five?

Yuba County Five
From left to right: Gary Mathias, Jackie Huett, Jack Madruga, Ted Weiher, and Bill Sterling.

The Yuba County Five consisted of Jack Huett (24), Gary Mathias (25), Bill Sterling (29), Jack Madruga (30), and Ted Weiher (32).

I believe it’s important to introduce the Yuba County Five first and foremost as friends to preserve their memory as people rather than as subjects of a disturbing case.

After Gary Mathias was given a psychiatric discharge from the United States Army and returned to his parent’s home in Marysville, he developed a close-knit group with the other four guys mentioned above, all of whom enjoyed sports and were even part of a basketball team known as the Gateway Gators.

What’s important to know about each of these men is that they all struggled with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues, with every member of the group living with their parents.

This is something I bring up because it will be important in our discussion of what may have happened to each of the men later.

What Exactly Happened?

The five men drove up to California State University Chico on February 24th, 1978 to watch a college basketball game.

Madruga and Mathias were the only men with driver’s licenses, so the group hopped into Madruga’s 1969 Mercury Montego and set forth on their 49-mile journey to see the college team take on UC Davis.

The game ended before 10 PM, around which point the group stopped at the nearby Behr’s Market in downtown Chico to buy snacks and various refreshments, much to the store owner’s chagrin, who remembered the group due to their arrival so close to closing time and her inability to actually start getting to close the store.

They then departed, never to be seen again.

Well, not alive, that is.

Several of the men were discovered months after the incident, with Gary Mathias being the only one who never turned up.

The following timeline made it easier for me to digest the key details, and it will help you see everything at a glance as you learn more about the case too.

February 28th, 1978

A ranger from Plumas National Forest reported seeing a turquoise and white 1969 Mercury Montego parked on the side of the Oroville-Quincy Road.

The authorities believe that the car had become stuck (although some feel as though it could have easily been moved) and the men had left the car.

But this raised more questions. Why were they taking a mountain road that wasn’t on their way home? Why did they leave the safety of the car?

Authorities also took care to make sure the car was functional and had no damage, which investigation proved true.

June 4th, 1978

Ted Weiher’s body is discovered in a trailer, with several sheets wrapped around it to indicate that he was trying to stay warm.

It’s suggested that, due to beard growth, Weiher had lived for around eight to 13 weeks.

His feet were badly damaged and his shoes were nowhere to be found, but other personal effects were found in the trailer, including evidence that Mathias and Huett may have been there.

More strangely, there was no evidence that a fire was attempted and the propane tank wasn’t used.

Some ration cans were opened, but there were more rations that remained untouched.

June 5th, 1978

The bodies of Bill Sterling and Jack Madruga are discovered, with evidence pointing to them perishing due to hypothermia.

The authorities believe that one had fallen asleep due to the effects of hypothermia and the other stayed by to be with them, only to succumb as well.

June 7th, 1978

Jackie Huett’s remains are discovered, and it’s also believed that he perished from hypothermia.

The search for Gary Mathias continued, but the only part of him that ever turned up was his shoes next to the body of Ted Weiher.

What Are Some of the Theories Surrounding the Case?

Given the strange circumstances surrounding the disappearances, there are many theories, some of which make a great deal of sense to me.

Let’s break down some of the most common theories about what really happened to the Yuba County Five.

They Became Lost

Authorities believe that the group may have gotten lost on their way to visit friends of Mathias, who lived in Forbestown.

Freshly plowed snow may have provided them with a route that they thought they should follow, only to result in them getting stuck and not knowing what to do, leading to their deaths.

Gary Mathias Lost His Temper

Some speculate that Gary Mathias may have had something to do with the disappearances, although it should be noted that his case is currently open as a missing person or homicide case.

Gary Mathias has been prone to violent outbursts and psychotic episodes in the past, which some believe may have resulted in him becoming violent and doing something to the others.

That said, this theory has very little to back it.

Pre-Meditated by Gary Mathias

Continuing with the above suggestion, another theory that has been floated around is that Gary had convinced the guys to go on this route for whatever reason without making a lucid decision, guiding them to their demise.

Again, there’s little evidence to support this assumption.

An Unknown Suspect

There’s a theory that a bully had gotten ahold of Gary Mathias, killed him, and then scared the others into staying where they were.

However, this theory may not make sense given that Gary’s shoes were with Ted Weiher, unless Weiher had somehow held onto them after Gary was killed.

Regardless of all the speculation, there’s not enough evidence to draw any definitive conclusions, leaving the families with far more questions than answers.

Why Would This Happen?

Remember how I said that it was important to mention that all members of the group suffered from intellectual disabilities or mental health issues?

The reality is that this could have been a simple accident that none of the Yuba County Five were equipped to deal with.

Many marvel at the strange decision not to try to push the car, use various resources to survive, or make other decisions that would have ensured all members of the group got home safely.

But without full use of their mental faculties, things that appear common sense to us may not be the same to those who struggle with learning difficulties and find themselves in a scary, uncertain situation.

No matter what the reasons are for the events that transpired that night, it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever get clear answers to what really happened to the Yuba County Five.

5 thoughts on “Mystery in the Mountains: The Unsolved Case of the Yuba County 5”

  1. Did anyone ever think that maybe those guys just wanted to disappear on their own? What if it wasn’t about getting lost or something sinister? Haven’t seen this angle much.

    1. Interesting point! It’s like something out of a book, isn’t it? But I guess the evidence suggests otherwise?

    2. Actually, considering their personal items and cash were left behind, it makes that theory a bit hard to stand. But you’re right, all angles should be explored.

  2. theCuriousCat

    i’m not so sure about gary mathias losing his temper being a big reason. feels like there’s more to the story we’re not seeing. what else could have happened that night, you think?

  3. Maybe they all decided to start a new life as Yetis. Ever think of that? Lol, but seriously, it’s a puzzling case, Agent Johnson.

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