Updated: Oct 4, 2020
Located in Central Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, Superstition Mountains is an apt name for the range, as it’s home to a number of mysteries and legends. Its history dates back 9,000 years ago, with some of its many inhabitants including the Apache Indians, Spanish explorers, Mexican gold miners and American trappers. One story is of the “Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine,” about a man named Jacob Waltz who supposedly knew where the world’s richest mine was.
Here is a list of deaths in the Superstition Mountains Arizona
1848 - 2013
1848: The Peralta massacre was the alleged killing of a Mexican family by Apaches. It is generally featured as an element of the legend of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine. All were killed except for one or two Peralta family members who escaped into Mexico. This area is known today as the Massacre Grounds.
1870's: Prospector Jacob Weiser, partner of the Dutchman Jacob Waltz, died of wounds received by attacking Apaches after escaping the mountains to a nearby ranch.
1880: Two soldiers who had shown rich gold ore in Florence went into the Superstitions and disappeared. Their remains were found with a bullet hole each in their skulls. (This may be an incident which occurred in the Four Peaks Region)
1881: A prospector by the name of Joe Dearing, who was working as a part time bartender in Pinal, heard the stories of the two dead soldiers and began to look for the lost mine. He soon returned to Pinal, claiming that he had found an old mine, describing it as “the most God-awful rough place you can imagine… a ghostly place.” Dearing continued to work as a bartender until he could save enough money for the excavation. To make even more money he then went to work at the Silver King Mine. Just a week later he was killed in a cave-in without ever disclosing the location of the mine to anyone.
1884: Mr. Pedro Ortega was found shot dead some thirty feet from the home of Jacob Waltz, dead of shotgun wounds. Waltz later told the sheriff that Ortega's partner shot him after "borrowing" Waltz's shotgun, but many believed that Waltz himself had killed Ortega.
Another report is of two Soldiers who found a mine and later were found murdered. It is said through the years is that they are buried not far from the Quarter Circle U Ranch. (Rumor is that Author Barry Storm had made the entire story up.)
1885: On September 29th Joe Deering also spelled Dearing died. Deering was injured a couple days prior to his death when a huge boulder crushed his leg in an underground mining accident at the Silver King Mine. Deering said he had only worked the mine twice, but always went out through the desert and not the mountains for fear of running into the old Jacob Waltz.
1891: Jacob Waltz, known as "The Dutchman," who died of pneumonia on October 25th, in Phoenix, leaving beneath his deathbed a candle box containing 48 pounds of rich gold ore. The Legend was born.
1892: The last known death caused by an Apache attack in the Superstitions, Charles Dobie. The 13 year old was murdered, supposedly by Indians. The house had been ransacked, provisions taken, and other evidences of a visit by Indians. A short distance from the house the body of Dobie was found, shot through the body twice, and his head crushed and limbs mangled by heavy boulders that Apache had stoned him with.
1896: The old “Hermit” Elisha Marcus Reavis died alone along the trail about four miles south of his mountain home around April 10th. The decomposed body, half-eaten by wild animals, were found just off of Roger’s Canyon. (Known as Grave Canyon today.) A coroner's jury was summoned from Florence to the site. It was decided that Reavis had died of natural causes.
1910: The skeletal remains of a female were found in an elevated cave in the Superstition Mountains. Pieces of tiny gold nuggets were found next to the remains, but no remnant of any kind of clothing.
1931: Adolph Ruth, a retired 78-year-old veterinarian and avid treasure hunter, arrived at the Barkley Ranch on May 13th, with a “Peralta Map.” A search for his body commenced when he failed to return two weeks after having been escorted to his camp site. Almost a year later his remains were discovered on the eastern slope of Black Top Mesa, on January 8th, 1932, with what appeared to be two bullet holes in his skull.
1934: The Superstition Mountains claimed the life of Adam Stewart.
1936: In December Roma O'Hal, mountain hobbyist and broker from New York, died from a fall when he was searching for the Lost Dutchman mine.
1937: An old prospector by the name of Guy “Hematite” Frink was lucky enough to return from the mountain with a number of rich gold samples. In November though, he was found shot in the stomach on the side of a trail in, or near La Barge Canyon. Next to Frink's decomposing body was a small sack of gold ore.
1945: Author of THUNDER GOD’S GOLD, Barry Storm, claimed to have narrowly escaped from a mysterious sniper. Storm speculated that Adolph Ruth might have been a victim of the same sniper. (Storm passed away in 1971, in the Veterans Hospital in Long Beach, California. He never found the mine.)
1947: James A. Cravey (Article Above)
1949: On November 9th, prospector James Kidd went to work in the Superstition Mountains and never returned. It was thought that he had fallen down a canyon. He was officially declared deceased in 1956.
1951: The body of Dr. John Burns of Oregon was found with a single bullet hole through him. Even though there were no powder burns and a ballistics expert testified the shot had been from some distance. The “official” ruling was that the death was accidental.
1952: A Joseph Kelly, a native of Ohio, went into the Superstition mountains and vanished.
Two California youths, Ross Bley and Charles Harshbarger, also disappeared in the Superstitions that year.
1955: Charles Massey (Article Above)
1956: A man from Brooklyn New York reported to police that his brother, Martin Zywotho, who he believed was searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine, had been missing for several weeks. A month later Zywotho's body was found with a bullet hole above his right temple. Although his gun was found under his body, the death would eventually be ruled a suicide.
1958: A deserted campsite was discovered on the northern edge of the mountain. At the campsite were a bloodstained blanket, a Geiger counter, a gun cleaning kit but no gun, cooking utensils, and some letters, from which the names and addresses had been torn from. No trace of the camp’s occupant has ever found.
1959: Fortune hunters Stanley Hernandez and Benjamin Ferreira thought they had discovered the elusive mine during their trek into the mountains. Whether out of greed, or perhaps some kind of dispute over how they would handle their newfound wealth, Hernandez killed Ferreira. Hernandez later learned that what the friends had thought was the motherload was actually pyrite, better known as Fool’s Gold.
Two men who were hiking in the Superstitions that year became involved in some kind of dispute. Lavern Rowlee was shot by Ralph Thomas, who reported that he had been attacked by Rowlee and shot the other man in self-defense.
1960: A beheaded skull was discovered in the Superstitions Mountains with two bullet holes. The skull turned out to be the remains of Franz Harrer, a student from Austria.
Robert St. Marie was killed by prospector Edward Piper.
1961: A family picnicking near the edge of the mountain discovered the body of Hilmer Charles Bohen buried beneath the sand in a shallow grave. Bohen was a Utah prospector who had been shot in the back. No clues as to who committed the murder were found.
Walter J. Mowry (Article Above)
Jay Clapp, a prospector who had been working on the Superstition on and off for about 15 years. He had last been seen in July and the search was eventually called off. His headless skeleton was finally discovered three years later, identified by two cameras with the initials “JC” scratched on them.
1963: Vance Bacon, a hired man working for Celeste Marie Jones fell to his death from the top of Weaver's Needle. According to some sources, there were rifle shots heard and some indications of foul play.
1964: Searchers found the bodies of Richard Kremis, 21, of Mesa, Ariz., and his brother Robert, 17, of Fredonia, about 150 yards apart in a snow covered canyon on the western slope of Arizona’s legendary Superstition Mountains. They went hunting in the mountains early in the morning shortly before a storm struck.
1970: Albert E. Morrow crushed body was found in the Superstitions on September 10th, beneath a boulder in a tunnel caused from a cave in.
1973: Charles Lewing, 32, shot Ladislas Sancho Guerrero, 35, in self defense at the Robert "Crazy Jake" Jacob's campsite. Employment dispute.
1976: Harold Lewis Polling walked into camp and unstrapped his .44 Magnum revolver and hung it on his shoulder. When he leaned over his bed the revolver fell, hit the ground and discharged. The bullet hit Harold in the left side. The bullet penetrated Polling’s lungs and spleen. Internal bleeding was the cause of Polling’s death.
1976: Vague accounts report a prospector Dennis Joseph Brown, 21, of Anaheim California, who was murdered February 23rd. Shot once in the left chest .22 weapon.
1978: A young Mexican vaquero named Manuel Valdez died at the hands of unknown assassins. They laid waiting in ambush, a short distance from the ranch house, and shot him several times without provocation. After their evil deed, his killers buried his body in Fraser Canyon near a large Cottonwood tree. If it were not for his small dog “Prieta” his body would probably still be there. Manuel’s young black dog lay at the foot of his hastily dug grave until an outfitter using the old ranch discovered the site.
1980: Rick Fenning (Article Above)
1984: Walt Gassler, a prospector who had been searching for the Lost Dutchman’s mine for most of his life, was also found dead in the mountains. On May 4th, Don Shade and another guide discovered his body propped against a rock near Charlebois Ridge. on the trail above Charlebois Spring. It was obvious he was dead, and they quickly rode to notify the sheriff. Because Gassler died on the county line, both Pinal and Maricopa County sheriffs were involved in the case. Shade informed the sheriffs that he had seen a man darting in and out of the bushes near Gassler’s body, but the Pinal County medical examiner reported that there had been no evidence that Gassler had met with foul play. Gassler’s death was ruled to have been from natural causes, possibly a heart attack.
2009: 35 year-old Jesse Capen of Denver, a Lost Dutchman mine seeker who is thought to have fallen to his death. His body was found in January 2013, wedged in rocks beneath a cliff.
2010: Curtis Merworth, 49, Ardean Charles, 66, and Malcolm Meeks, 41, went missing while searching for the Dutchman’s treasure. The trio, who were described by family members as “gold crazy,” had been rescued from the same area after a failed treasure hunt just one year prior.
In January, a fellow treasure hunter stumbled upon the remains of Charles and Meeks. A week later Superstition Search and Rescue located the skeletal remains of Merworth about a half mile away, resting under a tree. It is widely speculated that the trio succumbed to the elements in the searing July heat.
2012: Kenneth Clark, an avid hiker with family in West Michigan, died in the Superstition Mountains. He was 56.
Robert Bitton, Age 71, of Apache Junction, Arizona, formerly of North Branch, died suddenly on February 28th, while hiking in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.
2013: The body of Eric Fernandes, 23, was found on June 3rd by a hiker who, along with some friends, had taken it upon themselves to keep searching after authorities held back.