Text by Alyson Sheppard
Kevin Jones, Utah's state archaeologist, and Derinna Kopp, a physical anthropologist, recently expressed doubts in their essay, "Everett Ruess—A Suggestion to Take Another Look," on the Utah state history Web site.
"Based on available data, we think there are several evidentiary reasons to keep the investigation open, and to have the analyses replicated by independent researchers," they wrote.
The critics question the validity of Aneth Nez’s story, the Navajo tribal member who said he knew how Ruess died. These doubts are primarily based on the Navajo taboos against touching blood, the historic Navajo rivalry with Utes, and the strength needed to carry a body hundreds of feet to the reported grave. Jones and Kopp also believe the photos of the teeth show traits of a Native American diet, not consistent with non-natives, and the superimposed photos of Ruess and the skeleton lack sufficient scale to determine its validity. And while they agreed the DNA evidence "seems to be unassailable," they said the need for two DNA tests implies a discrepancy.
"We’re not suggesting that the mystery of Everett Ruess’s disappearance has not been solved," they wrote. "We do hope, however, that additional, independent studies will be conducted to address questions that still remain."
ADVENTURE Contributing Editor David Roberts acknowledges that contradictory data exists, but believes a lot of it is unreliable and suspect–such as the supposed dental records, which didn’t have Everett's name on them–and thinks the DNA evidence is solid. "I am still completely confident in the results," says Roberts, who has been researching the Everett Ruess story for more than a decade. "This mystery has created new mysteries that are even more insolvable. But what surprises me is the passion and even anger this has stirred up. You can understand the family getting passionate, but even supposed impartial bystanders are getting hot under the collar."
Ruess's niece and nephew, whose DNA was used to link the skeletal remains to Everett, spoke recently at an Everett Ruess symposium hosted by the Glen Canyon Institute in late June.
"We are 100 percent convinced that it is Everett," said Brian Ruess, Evertt's nephew. "I believe the DNA results prove that it is an uncle of ours beyond a statistical certainty, and seeing as there is no other missing uncle to our knowledge, we're pretty confident that it's Everett." (Editor's Note: However, in a New York Times article published July 5, the Ruess family seems less confident.)
Five other experts intimately involved in the case also spoke at the symposium about their experiences and theories of the Everett remains, all saying the DNA tests were persuasive.
And while critics have pushed the Ruess family to pursue more scientific tests, Brian Ruess, who said this has tormented his family for 75 years, isn’t bothered. At this time, they still plan on cremating the remains and spreading them in the Pacific Ocean, as is the Ruess tradition.
"The aspect of this that affects our family, which does not affect any of the rest of you, is that of closure," Brian told the symposium audience. "This can be dragged on forever. Everybody can challenge every last piece of evidence, but there will never be a resolution of every single question because no one was there. [Our family] is convinced, and we are not going to play the game of 'is it, is it not,' to the detriment of our emotional health."
- Nat Geo Expeditions
The Boulder scientists who worked with ADVENTURE on this mystery are compiling their reports, which will be released in the near future.
Solution to a Longtime Mystery in Utah Is Questioned – New York Times
Utah scientists question Everett Ruess DNA findings – Salt Lake Tribune
Photographs, clockwise from left: The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California City, City of Oakland, Gift of Paul S. Taylor; Dawn Kish (3)