30 years ago, a Daily Herald sports writer vanished on a mountain. Last weekend, his son climbed it.
Thirty years ago today, Daily Herald sports writer Keith Reinhard vanished without a trace. Reinhard told folks in the tiny Colorado town where he was taking a sabbatical from the newspaper that he was going to hike up a mountain looming above the town. That was the last sighting of the Algonquin father of three, who was known for his mane of long gray hair and his passion for hard work and telling stories.
This past weekend the sports writer's son, Kai-allen Reinhard of McHenry, made it to the top of Pendleton Mountain overlooking the old mining town of Silver Plume.
"It was very emotional," says Reinhard, 54, who stood at the peak near the remains of a wooden tram tower and thought about his dad. "It was something he always wanted to do. And who knows? Maybe he did."
The abundance of theories and lack of evidence intrigues Eric Walter, a filmmaker who is doing a documentary about the bizarre story. Walter, who joined Reinhard's son on the mountain trip, spent much of the past four years interviewing Reinhard's family, friends, the search team and the residents of Silver Plume, a town still debating whether the death of a mine owner in 1887 was a suicide or murder. Titling his documentary "Dark Side of the Mountain," after a line coined in Keith Reinhard's unfinished novel before he vanished, Walter invites people to comment on his darksidedoc.com website as he puts the finishing touches on his film.
One of the largest search efforts in Colorado, with hundreds of volunteers and bloodhounds and airplanes, followed Keith Reinhard's disappearance on Aug. 7, 1988. After a week when 10,000 man-hours turned up no sign of Reinhard, the search was called off and the mystery took on a life of its own.
"I think he got abducted by someone who didn't want him to talk," Kai-allen Reinhard says. The elder Reinhard was writing about the earlier mystery of a Silver Plume resident named Tom Young, who disappeared in 1987. Reinhard rented the same storefront Young had used, and asked a lot of questions after the body of Young, whose death was ruled a gun suicide, was found on a mountainside a week before Reinhard vanished.
Walter, who has filmed hundreds of hours of the breathtaking and foreboding landscape, says he thinks Reinhard died on that mountain by accident and his remains just have not been discovered yet.
"Before I went to Silver Plume, I thought, 'How could you not find him?'" Walter says. But after spending time in that rough and steep terrain that reaches almost 13,000 feet, "I could see someone being swallowed up by the mountain," Walter says. Police reports described the mountain as "very physical with no path, loose rock, and heavy vegetation," and "heavily pockmarked with everything from small holes to large mine shafts." The paws of search dogs had to be bandaged because of the sharp rocks. A search pilot crashed into the mountain, killing himself and critically injuring his fellow searcher. The police reports notes, "There has never been a single piece of physical evidence as to where Keith Reinhard went."
Many of the residents of the small mountain town, where the population shrinks to 100 during the winter, embrace a more spectacular theory.
"They believe Keith is alive and faked his disappearance," says Walter, who interviewed people who think Reinhard, who would now be approaching his 80th birthday, has spent the past three decades sipping exotic drinks on a tropical island. Others think he killed himself or came across some unsavory character on the nearby I-70 expressway that runs next to the town 40 miles west of Denver.
"There is circumstantial evidence for all these theories," Walter says.
"It's very likely that there will never be a definitive answer to what happened to him and why. But I'm OK with that," says Carolyn O'Donnell, Reinhard's second wife. She remarried after Reinhard was declared dead but says she is grateful for the time they spent together. Relatives all say they are certain Reinhard is dead, because they can't fathom that a man so committed to his family and children would willingly miss out on their lives, and the lives of his grandchildren, one of whom is named Keith.
"Knowing how much he loved his kids, he would have been a terrific grandpa, and loved every minute of it," his widow says. In a letter to his boss and friend Bob Frisk, the Daily Herald sports editor in 1988, that arrived days after Reinhard disappeared, the sports writer wrote, "I love these mountains and want to live in them before I die in them."
Three decades later, the mystery of Keith Reinhard lives in those mountains.