Doctor Jodean “Jo” Kay Elliott-Blakeslee, 63, was a physician at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon, and Amelia “Amy” Linkert, 69, had retired from teaching at Lowell Scott Middle School in Meridian, Idaho.

The two women left Boise in Idaho on September 13, 2013, to visit the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. They never returned. The Monument has dangerous, jagged rocks and stormy weather hit the area during their trip. What happened to Jo and Amy in the famous Idaho destination in September 2013? Just misadventure in the lava fields or something else?

What is the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve?

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is in the Snake River Plain in central Idaho was established on May 2, 1924. It is along US 20 (concurrent with US 93 and US 26), between the small towns of Arco and Carey, at an average elevation of 5,900 feet (1,800 m) above sea level. The protected area’s features are volcanic and represent one of the best-preserved flood basalt areas in the continental United States.

In November 2000, a presidential proclamation by President Clinton greatly expanded the Monument area. The 410,000-acre National Park Service portions of the expanded Monument were designated as Craters of the Moon National Preserve in August 2002.

The area has three major lava fields and about 400 square miles (1,000 km2) of sagebrush steppe grasslands to cover a total area of 1,117 square miles (2,893 km2).

The trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument

After leaving for the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, Jo and Amy failed to return from their visit as planned on Friday, September 20, 2013.

They were reported missing on Tuesday, September 24th. Employees who worked with Dr. Jo called the police when she failed to show up at work. However, the federal government was shut down at the time due to a funding crisis and that meant that the search started nearly a week later on October 1st. Fortunately, ten park service rangers continued to look for Jo and Amy on foot without access to government resources, such as search helicopters, dogs or planes in the days before the official search began.

They were spotted at a campground in Arco, which is about 18 miles away from Craters on September 19. Police say they found receipts from the Craters of the Moon visitor’s centre indicating that they were at the monument on Tuesday, September 24th.

Their vehicle was later found at the Tree Molds Trail parking lot, a popular trailhead in the monument. Strangely, the women’s dogs, cell phones and other items were found inside their pickup truck at the trailhead.  The fact that they left their two dogs behind suggested they didn’t plan to be gone for very long. 

Jo and Amy’s family said they wouldn’t go off trail, or out of sight of the track, because their dogs were in the car. Tammy Kerklow, Amy’s niece. said “They were both missionaries, they’re both avid hikers, survivalists, this is very strange. To have their phones, I mean I know they probably wouldn’t work in the caves but to leave them in the truck, that’s strange to us.”

The search and rescue team searched with that in mind. The search was concentrated in a five-square-mile area on the south end of the monument near the Tree Molds, Broken Top Loop, and Wilderness Trails. The search area was in rugged and often dangerous territory and prone to unpredictable weather. But they didn’t find them despite the intense search effort which saw 6,000 volunteer search hours.

Discovery of Amy Linkert’s remains

Search and rescue teams expanded the search area and on September 25th, 2013, in a lava field, northwest of the Tree Molds Trail, they found Amy Linkert’s body.

She was found face-up on the lava, wearing only a short-sleeve shirt and pants, but without a jacket, backpack, food or water. Rescuers believed she became disoriented while possibly searching for help and died of exposure. Authorities did not suspect foul play in her de*ath. Initially, the searchers believed they had found Jo as there was no identification on the body, but dental records confirmed that the body was actually Amy’s.

The Discovery of Jo Elliott-Blakeslee

Dr. Jo Elliott-Blakeslee

After the search had gone on a whole extra month, searchers finally found Jo about a mile from the location of Amy’s body in October 2013. It was two and a half miles from the pickup in an area that had overflights from search helicopters for the past month in an area where the rock obscured the body.

Both women appeared to have died of exposure and showed signs of dehydration. How and why the women were separated remains unclear. But perhaps one of the two became injured, and the other woman went to seek help and got into trouble.

Questions about the disappearance and de*aths of Jo Elliott-Blakeslee and Amy Linkert

Many questions remain about this case:

  • Why did Jo and Amy leave their dogs and mobile phones in the pickup suggesting that they were planning to stay in the vicinity? A storm apparently hit the area around the Monument around the time the two women were visiting. Were they panicked by the storm and became disoriented by wild weather?
  • Why was Amy found face-up on the lava, wearing only a short-sleeve shirt and pants, but without a jacket, backpack, food or water? Why did she go on the trail with no equipment or supplies? Clearly, the visit was intended as a short hike as the dogs were left in the vehicle. Was it really as simple as the weather changed? Perhaps.
  • How and why were Jo and Amy separated? Did one get injured before the other by the jagged lava rocks in the area?
  • Why was Jo found so far from the trailhead car park and why did it take over a month to find her body despite numerous flyovers by helicopters? The rock in the area can obscure bodies easily.

Although the authorities have dismissed foul play, it seems unlikely that the two just left their dogs behind and went wandering in this potentially dangerous terrain without supplies. What made them leave the pickup truck behind and then separate? As the family member said they were both keen hikers and survivalists, not naive and not inexperienced in these wilderness areas. A sad end to these ladies’ lives in the amazing scenery of the Craters of the Moon National Monument.

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