In some ways, Rebekah Martinez's case isn't that different from most of the hundreds of people who go missing in Humboldt County every year. Her mother expected her to call and, when she didn't, phoned law enforcement at 1 a.m. on Nov. 18 to report her missing, saying her daughter had told her she was going to work on a marijuana farm but fell out of touch (also not atypical). And as happens in most of these cases, it seems Martinez quickly reconnected with her mother and both went on with their lives.
Where Martinez's story deviates from the norm is what happened next: She went on to become a burgeoning reality television star on the hit show The Bachelor, which began airing last month, though her name was never cleared from the state's missing persons database. That set the stage for the story we broke Feb. 1 that quickly went viral, with newspapers and websites throughout the country running headlines about the reality star who was missing in plain sight.
But lost in the viral coverage was how Martinez's story, and some other less sensational ones like it, have exposed some major flaws with the state's missing persons database and the way these cases are handled. It overshadowed the stories of dozens of people who are truly missing and the family members desperately waiting for closure. Vikki Joseph is one of those family members, her brother Jeff Joseph having gone missing near Willow Creek on June 21, 2014. She's been researching his disappearance ever since and trying to bring attention to his case, which she fears isn't being thoroughly investigated by the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office.
"It's not fair to all these families who have been looking for answers for years and, because we're not on a reality TV show, there's no spotlight," Vikki Joseph said. "Actually, it's bullshit. It's not right."
Last week, the Journal ran a cover story — "The Humboldt 35" — examining why Humboldt County has the highest per-capita rate of missing persons reports in California. As a part of the story, we posted a slideshow to Facebook featuring images of each of the 35 people listed on the California Attorney General's database as having gone missing from Humboldt County and asked if readers recognized anyone. Within minutes, an astute reader — Amy Bonner O'Brien — replied with an emphatic yes, and pointed out that Martinez is currently vying for love — or at least stardom — on The Bachelor.
After some Googling returned Instagram images that appeared very similar to Martinez's, we compared her missing persons profile with that on The Bachelor website and found a host of similarities. So we reached out to the sheriff's office, which prompted an email from public information officer Samantha Karges to the deputy who initially took Martinez's missing persons report, noting the similarity in images and asking if Martinez was still listed as missing.
Ten minutes later, the deputy emailed Karges back: "I just got off the phone with Rebekah. She is in fact the same person. She has been removed from (the Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit)."
We reported the story and it quickly went viral, fueled in part by a tweet from Martinez herself that linked back to the Journal's reporting and said, "MOM. How many times do I have to tell you I don't get cell service on the Bachelor??" She followed up with a crack about her driver's license photo and a post on Instagram a short time later with a picture of herself on the side of a milk carton.
While Martinez seemed to have some fun with the story that increased her newfound celebrity profile, others — including family members of the truly missing — found elements of her case unnerving.
The timeline of events remains a bit murky, but The Bachelor began filming its current season Sept. 20. A few days prior, Martinez posted on her Instagram account that she was "giving up" her phone and social media for several weeks, which makes sense as the hit show reportedly requires contestants to turn in their phones to prevent any details of the show from leaking before it airs.
At 1:06 a.m. on Nov. 18, Martinez's mother called the sheriff's office and reported her daughter missing, saying she last heard from her the morning of Nov. 12, when Martinez called on "a friend's phone" to say she was going to work on a marijuana farm in Humboldt County and would see her in seven to eight days.
"The deputy followed procedure, following up on all leads and forwarding the case to the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigations Division," according to a press release.
It's unclear if Martinez was still on set at The Bachelor at this point and just made up the marijuana farm story or if she'd been eliminated and was actually headed to Humboldt County. What is clear is that on Nov. 23 she resumed posting photos to Instagram, breaking her Bachelor-imposed radio silence.
On Dec. 12, according to the sheriff's office, a deputy contacted Martinez's mother by email, asking if she'd heard from her daughter. She responded that, in fact, her daughter had reached out to her the afternoon of Nov. 18 — the same day she'd been reported missing. The deputy reportedly asked the mother to have Martinez contact an investigator as soon as possible, as law enforcement can't clear a missing persons case until making direct contact with its subject.
Martinez apparently never reached out and her case consequently sat unnoticed until a Journal reader made the connection.
And it's worth noting here that Martinez's case isn't the only one that the Journal's reporting helped clear from the system. The day before her story broke, just as last week's Journal was hitting newsstands, we received a call from Daniel Ogden Stromberg, who'd been reported missing by family in July of 2017. Stromberg reported that he was living in Eureka with a roommate, entirely unaware that the Eureka Police Department had listed him as missing until he picked up a copy of the Journal and saw his name in print. And while researching an information request for this week's story, Karges found that a man reportedly missing since February of 2010 — John Leyden — had been arrested four months later in Seattle and should have been cleared from the system almost eight years ago.
So it's understandable that family members of the missing — people like Vikki Joseph — would see all this and wonder just how much law enforcement attention is being paid to their loved ones.
Tammy Jones Lankford, whose cousin Robert Tennison went missing in Alderpoint in January of 2009, said she has been frustrated at times with the sheriff's office's handling of his case, noting that she felt not much was done until she began personally working with a deputy on it in 2013.
Lankford said she's glad Martinez is safe but found her Twitter joke about the public release of her driver's license photo being the "worst part" of the ordeal to be naïve. Until you have a family member go missing, she said, you can't possibly understand the pain.
"It's really hard to understand how someone can be so flippant about being presumed missing ... considering it's a near epidemic in Humboldt County," she said. "Why some get highly publicized and others go completely ignored is beyond me. I'm glad this story has a happy ending for her family. I just wish our family had the same."
The following is a list of every person currently listed as missing from Humboldt County on the California Attorney General's database, as well as a few others the Journal became aware of in researching this story. It's unclear why they aren't included in the AG's list.
Mary Elizabeth Stuart was last seen with her two small daughters, Fannie Fawn and Jessie Flo, then ages 1 and 2, on Dec. 10, 1977. She left her home in Honeydew with her two small daughters in tow to visit a television repair shop, do laundry and buy groceries. Her station wagon was found a month later but the family has never been seen again. Mary Elizabeth's husband, Byron Stuart, was considered a key suspect but he died in 1996. A neighbor, Joe Paff, told the Journal that in the week after the disappearance of his family, Stuart was behaving erratically, using drugs and saying that Mary and the children had been taken by aliens. Mary Elizabeth, now 72, was described as standing 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing about 135 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair. Her daughters would now be 42 and 43.
Edrel Mae Pierce was 57 when she disappeared on May 17, 1981. She reportedly walked a short way down her driveway in Honeydew to mail some letters and never returned. An extensive search of the area by locals and law enforcement with cadaver dogs revealed nothing. She was said to be in poor health and suffering from a mental disorder. The area where she disappeared has been turned into a cannabis grow. Pierce, who would now be 93, is described as standing 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing about 150 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair. She was last seen wearing a light blue London Fog raincoat and a small white gold Bulova watch.
Ollie Letrell Cader, who would now be 81, has been missing for more than 35 years, since he was last seen in Humboldt County on Oct. 9, 1981, when he was 45. Cader is described as standing 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing about 145 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair. He was last seen wearing a green shirt. According to the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, Cader's case has been forwarded to the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office as a possible homicide.
John Stewart Campbell was last seen Feb. 16, 1985. An 18-year-old Humboldt State University student, Campbell was reported missing by a residence hall advisor and a park ranger later found his vehicle in a wilderness area but there were no signs of a robbery, according to University Police Chief Donn Peterson. In the subsequent decades, the chief said, leads have taken the investigation to Canada, Ohio and elsewhere but the case remains an active, open missing persons investigation. Campbell's family, Peterson said, has held out hope. "It's a heartbreaking case," Peterson said. "The parents have no closure." Campbell is described as standing 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighing about 160 pounds, with blue eyes and blond hair. He has some discoloration on his face, as well as freckles. He would now be 51.
Charles Detweilder Allen was last seen Oct. 21, 1985, in Arcata, when he was 24. He was reported missing by a long-time friend on Nov. 4 and reportedly may have been suicidal and in possession of a handgun. He's described as standing 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing about 140 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair. Allen would now be 56.
Penelope Jo Milbourn was 25 and pregnant when she disappeared from Eureka on June 7, 1988. Her case file indicates that she was addicted to drugs and had an unspecified personality disorder at the time of her disappearance. Milbourn, who would now be 54, was described as standing 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing 130 pounds, with blue eyes, brown hair and a tattoo of roses on her upper right arm.
Thomas Page Locke was last seen Dec. 12, 1988, in Redway. He had just turned 22 and would now be 51. Locke is described as standing 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing about 165 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair.
Daniel Thomas Pogue, who would now be 53, was last seen by his family in Eureka on Oct. 1, 1990. Little is known about Pogue's case except he has a tattoo of a rose on his left leg and was evidently in police custody in Trinity County as of April of 1991. He was reported missing in 1994, according to Eureka Police Department. Pogue, who was about 26 when last seen by family, is described as standing 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighing about 200 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.
Andrea "Chick" Jerri White was a 23-year-old living in Hoopa when was last seen in Blue Lake on July 31, 1991, hitchhiking back from a court date in Eureka. She left behind four children, the youngest of whom was about 1 year old. White, who would now be 49, had a 5-inch scar on her left temple. She's described as standing 5 feet tall and weighing about 115 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.
Roger A. Anderson was last seen Feb. 15, 1993, in Eureka. He was 33 at the time and would now be 58. Anderson is described as standing 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing about 160 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair. He has a scar in the middle of a finger on his right hand.
Hannah Rowell was last seen Sept. 1, 1993, and was reported missing six days later by a friend, according to EPD. Rowell, who was 29 at the time of her disappearance, is described as standing 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighing about 120 pounds with hazel eyes and red hair. She was last seen wearing a black sweater, flowered stretch pants and sandals. Today she would be 53.
Lorie Lynn Walters-Pope was last seen by a California Highway Patrol officer on Nov. 19, 1996, on State Route 36 near Alton and was reported missing by her ex-husband. She is described as standing 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds, with blue eyes and red hair. She was 44 at the time of her disappearance, Walters-Pope would now be 66. She remains classified as an "at-risk missing person and/or a voluntary missing person," according to the sheriff's office.
Karen Mitchell disappeared while walking down Broadway on the afternoon of Nov. 25, 1997, at the age of 16. A witness described Mitchell as having possibly gotten in a light blue four-door sedan driven by a white man who looked to be around 60 to 70 years old. EPD has investigated a number of different leads, including information that she was alive and well and tending bar in Iowa (proven false) and that her disappearance was connected to eccentric scion Robert Durst (unproven). Mitchell, who would now be 37, is described as standing 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 130 pounds, with blue eyes and blond hair.
Katie Elizabeth Wantz was last seen Oct. 28, 2001, in Eureka. She was reported missing Nov. 12 by a friend. Wantz, who would be 37 now, also goes by Katie Masterson and is described as standing 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing about 140 pounds with brown eyes and brown hair. She has a tattoo of roses on her back. She was 20 at the time of her disappearance.
Chris Robert Giauque was reported missing Aug. 9, 2003, after the then 36 year old was last seen driving on Spy Rock Road in Southern Humboldt. Giauque, who also went by James Anthony Beam, is described as standing 6 feet tall and weighing about 145 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair in long dreadlocks. He was last seen wearing Carhartt pants and a Hawaiian print shirt. He would have celebrated his 51st birthday Feb. 2.
Joan Penderell Taylor left her home in Bayside to go for a walk on Nov. 23, 2003. A neighbor reported seeing her on Jacoby Creek Road near Quarry Road later that evening. Taylor was 63 at the time and reportedly suffering from dementia or other, unspecified mental health issues. She was described as standing 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 135 pounds, with blue eyes and blond hair. She was last seen wearing a green rain parka and rain paints and silver Nike hiking boots. Today she would be 77.
Seamus Murphy, who had recently changed his name from Michael Goggin, was last seen on Feb. 1, 2004. His truck was found down an embankment off the Mattole Road just south of the Mendocino Lighthouse on Feb. 4. Murphy, who would now be 41, is described as standing 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 200 pounds, with brown hair and green eyes. He was last seen wearing a tan Carhartt coat, black jeans and work boots.
Kawika David Benjamin Chetron was well known in his field for his underwater photography. He set sail from the Eureka marina on March 16, 2007, for Blunt's Reef near Cape Mendocino. His boat was found, half-submerged, the following day. Chetron, who would now be 43, remains missing. He is described as standing 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 150 pounds with brown eyes and red hair. He was last seen wearing a gray dry suit.
Christina Lindsey Walters was last seen walking out of a copy store in Eureka on Nov. 14, 2008. The then 23-year-old Wisconsin native, who also goes by "Airy Meadow," had reportedly been suffering from mental health issues. A week before disappearing, she'd been hospitalized after being found naked, bloodied and bruised on the doorstep of a stranger's home near Eureka, saying someone was out to get her. Walters, who would now be 32, was reportedly planning to fly back to Wisconsin to reunite with her mother when she disappeared. She is described as standing 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighing about 125 pounds, with green eyes and red hair. She has tattoos on her hip and neck.
Robert Tennison went missing from Alderpoint on Jan. 20, 2009, reportedly after visiting the area from Stanislaus County to sell a dirt bike. He was 37 at the time and left behind four children. Tennison, who would now be 45, is described as standing about 6 feet tall and weighing 150 pounds, with sandy blond hair, a full beard and mustache and one blue and one green eye.
John Leyden was last seen Sept. 1, 2009, at the San Francisco Park Police Department and was believed to be en route to Texas or Washington. Leyden, a known transient who would now be 54, has been classified as a "voluntary missing adult" by the sheriff's office. He was reported missing Feb. 22, 2010, by his estranged wife. He is described as standing 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing about 150 pounds, with blue eyes, brown hair and a tattoo reading "Sacramento" on his abdomen. While pulling information for this report, sheriff's office spokesperson Samantha Karges said she came across an attachment from the Seattle Police Department indicating Leyden was booked into jail there on June 12, 2010, at which time Leyden should have been cleared from the missing persons system, "so he should no longer be considered as a missing person."
Kevin Michael Kelly was last heard from Nov. 1, 2012, and was reported missing by his sister on Nov. 24, 2012. A known transient who lived in Humboldt County, Kelly is classified as a "voluntary missing adult" and had been reported missing out of Ukiah prior to being listed by the sheriff's office. He is described as standing 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing about 160 pounds, with blue eyes and blond hair. Kelly would now be 56.
Gregory James Kuljian was 16 when, attempting to rescue his father, he was swept out to sea near Big Lagoon. Both of his parents drowned and Gregory's body has never been recovered. He has been a missing person since Nov. 24, 2012. He was described as standing 6 feet tall and weighing about 140 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair. He was wearing a black shirt and gray jeans when he went into the water.
John Edward Morgan was last seen Aug. 25, 2013 and reported missing by his mother the following day. Morgan, who would now be 65, had serious medical problems and was believed to be depressed and suicidal, according to APD. He is described as standing 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing about 140 pounds, with hazel eyes and gray hair. Morgan is a diabetic.
Sheila Franks was last seen leaving a friend's house in Fortuna to go for a walk on Feb. 1, 2014. Her disappearance is rumored to be connected to that of another woman, Daniele Bertolini, whose remains were recovered in 2015. Bertolini and Franks disappeared within a week of one another. Franks had a previous arrest for assault with a deadly weapon in 2011. Also known as Sheila Sherrell, Franks would be 41 now. She is described as standing 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing 130 pounds, with blue eyes and blond hair.
Jeff Joseph was reportedly waiting to meet someone to make a deal near his Willow Creek farm when he stopped returning calls from his friends and family on June 21, 2014. His sister believes he was murdered. Joseph was 45 years old at the time and would have just turned 48. He's described as standing 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing about 210 pounds, with hazel eyes, a shaved head and brown sideburns.
Victoria Tatro reportedly had been in a fight after being accused of stealing someone's money before she disappeared on Aug. 1, 2014, at the age of 24. Tatro, who would now be 27, was described as standing 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 100 pounds, with green eyes and auburn hair. Tatro, who has a lip piercing, was also known to go by Kendra and Victoria Joy Scofield.
Daniel Michael Flanagan was last seen Sept. 17, 2014, in Eureka, driving a white 1994 Chevy van with California license plate 4W52958. He was reported missing more than a month later, on Oct. 27, by a roommate, according to EPD. Flanagan, who would be 55 now, is described as being 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing about 160 pounds, with hazel eyes and brown hair.
Kenneth Raymond Baker was 63 when a friend reported him missing Aug. 18, 2015, after he failed to return from a motorcycle trip to South Dakota. According to APD, Baker was last seen Aug. 13. On Jan. 31 of this year, police found human remains and a motorcycle down a steep embankment off of Highway 50 near Austin, Nevada. According to APD, Baker's wallet and other personal items were recovered at the scene. The remains have been sent for DNA testing. Baker is described as standing 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing 210 pounds, with hazel eyes and gray hair.
Mitchell G. Hernandez was reported missing on Nov. 23, 2016, by his mother. Hernandez, then 47, was last seen wearing a gray sweatshirt, a Dodgers jacket and green and tan Coleman hiking boots, carrying a backpack and a pistol. His backpack was found on the Eel River bar in Alderpoint by family members searching for him. Members of Hernandez's family have submitted DNA samples for testing purposes and they are currently being compared to a body that washed ashore at the South Jetty on Jan. 6, 2017, with results expected in a month or two. The investigation remains active, according to the sheriff's office. Hernandez is described as standing 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds, with brown eyes and gray hair. He usually wore two bracelets and a silver necklace with a cross and dog tags.
Ariana Yvett Osorio was last seen March 10 in Eureka and was reported missing March 21 by family members. According to EPD crime analyst Brittany Powell, Osorio, now 31, has been in contact with family members since being reported missing but has not yet contacted law enforcement to be removed from the database. She's described as standing 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighing about 170 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.
Anesi Sauta is one of four Southern California men reported missing May 22 after coming to the Mad River area to pick something up for a friend, look for agricultural work or for a property to purchase, according to the various accounts of relatives. The men traveled in a rented silver Jeep, license plate 7UGP903. Cell phones connected to the four men last pinged in the Stockton area on May 18 and 19. Numerous searches of properties associated with the case — all of which appeared to be recently abandoned marijuana grow sites — have come up empty. Sauta, who would now be 29 years old, stands 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs about 230 pounds. He has brown eyes and black hair, a tattoo reading "Family" on his chest, another of a lion on his right shoulder, one of an eagle on his forearm and four lines of script on his left breast.
Jeremy Dewayne Ashley is presumed dead after being last seen Oct. 9, when he fell into the ocean from a rock near College Cove Beach. A Coast Guard helicopter and members of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office searched for Ashley for several hours before suspending efforts at nightfall. One of Ashley's shoes was found the following day. Ashley, who now would have just turned 21, is described as standing 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 215 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.
Ivan Liñan Cano was last seen Nov. 28, when he reportedly attacked a friend in a car before fleeing into the woods along State Route 36 near Carlotta. Liñan Cano, 31, was reportedly suffering mental health issues that the friend was trying to get him help with at the time of his disappearance. Liñan Cano, who is from Spain, is described as standing 5 feet 8 inches tall with a thin build, brown hair, brown eyes and a reddish mustache and beard. He was last seen wearing a black jacket and dark, waterproof pants.
Two Rivers Tribune editor Allie Hostler contributed research to this report.
View slideshow: The Humboldt 35