It started as a trip to a collegiate basketball game. The five men, often referred to as “boys” by family and friends, were set to play their own basketball game for the recreation center they frequented. The group was excited for the upcoming game they would play in, which was part of the reason their families were alarmed when they had not arrived home the morning after the collegiate game. On February 24, 1978, the story of the Yuba Country Five began, and the nightmare of their families did as well (Rossen).
The basketball game, which was at California State University, Chico, ended at approximately 10 PM that night. Jack Madruga, 30, had driven the group in his 1969 turquoise and white Mercury Montego, a car which would be forever associated with this case (Gorney). Madruga was an army veteran, having served in Vietnam, and was particularly close to William “Bill” Sterling, 28. The youngest of the group was Jackie Guett, 24, and the oldest was Theodore “Ted” Weiher, 32, who were as close as Sterling and Madruga. The final member of the group was Gary Mathias, 25, who had also served in the army, but was discharged after drug issues while stationed in Germany and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Mathias left his medication, which he took regularly, behind that night, leading to the belief that he had planned on being home in time to take the next dose. The last time we are sure the five were seen was at a Behr’s Market, where they stopped for junk food on the way home from the game. From there, they drove east, despite that their homes were south of the store (Rossen).
It was their parents that raised the alarm when they didn’t arrive home by the next morning. While Mathias was known to occasionally stay out late with friends, the other four were home-bodies with fairly regular schedules (Gorney). They were, for lack of a better word, predictable. The four not being home by morning was extremely unusual for them. Despite the families alerting authorities to the missing men, the abandoned car was not found until February 28th. The car still had gas in the tank, and most of the junk food had been eaten except half of a candy bar. The keys were not in the car and a window was left rolled down. Authorities theorized that the car had gotten stuck in the snow and for some reason, the five men who should have been able to get the car out chose to abandon it. According to Madruga’s mother, the Mercury Montego was Madruga’s prized possession and he wouldn’t have driven it somewhere it could have been damaged. The rolled down window also struck her as odd, both leading her to believe that the five had been forced to drive up the mountain (Rossen).
After news broke of the disappearance, a witness came forward. Joseph Schons, 55, had been on the mountain the night the five men disappeared. According to his story, he had been driving up the mountain to see if the conditions were okay to bring his wife and child up at a later time when his car got stuck in a snowdrift. While trying to free his car, he suffered a minor heart attack (Rossen). Schons claimed that, while resting in his car after his heart attack, he heard a whistling outside. When he left the car, he spotted five men and what appeared to be a woman with a baby in car headlights, and he heard them talking. He called to them for help only for the headlights to turn off and the talking to stop (Gorney). Schons also claimed to have seen two cars, one of which was a pickup truck, and the group get into one of the cars and drive away (Rae). Early the next morning, Schons felt well enough to attempt to get help and left his car, heading for a lodge nearby. Along the way, he spotted the Mercury Montego, but at the time thought nothing of it. The car was 70 miles from the basketball game the group had attended. It was on the road that Schons reported he saw it on that the car was found, also called in by a park ranger (Rossen). The car was in the Plumas State Forest, just past Elke Retreat and sitting at elevation 4, 500 feet. Another witness, a woman who owned a store about an hour from the abandoned car, reported seeing five men in a red pickup truck. Two of the men stayed in the truck while two more bought food and one more made a phone call from a phone booth. This is not confirmed to have been the Yuba County Five (“The Haunting Case Of The Mathias Group (Yuba County Five) — Strangeoutdoors.Com”).
In early June of 1978, motorcyclists came upon an abandoned forest service trailer 19 miles from the abandoned car with a broken window and an unusual, and thoroughly disgusting, scent permeating the area. Authorities were immediately called and inside, Weiher’s remains were found. Weiher had been draped in sheets, eight in total, in a manner that seemed almost ritualistic (Rae). His leather boots were missing from his body, his feet badly frost bitten, and he was emaciated. He had lost approximately 80 to 100 pounds, nearly halving his weight at the time he disappeared (Gorney). It was estimated, based on the growth of his beard and other factors in his autopsy, that he had been living in the trailer for eight to 13 weeks before his death (Rossen). What was unusual was that the trailer was filled with C-rations, only 36 of which were eaten, and freeze-dried meals (“The Haunting Case Of The Mathias Group (Yuba County Five) — Strangeoutdoors.Com”). The opened C-rations, which were military rations, had been opened with an Army P38 can opener, which only Mathias and Madruga would have known how to use from their time in the army. Weiher’s nickel ring, which his name engraved, his gold necklace, his wallet, and a Waltham watch missing crystals were all found on a table in the trailer. The watch was unfamiliar to the families (Gorney). To add to the unusual discovery, there was a propane tank that could have been turned on and would have heated the trailer, as well as matches and plenty of material to start a fire to keep warm. Yet, none of these items had been used (Rossen).
A day later, Madruga’s and Sterling’s remains were found 11 miles from the car (Gorney), on the opposite side of the road from the trailer containing Weiher’s remains and approximately 4.5 miles from the trailer. Authorities believed that their bodies had simply given up on them as the remaining members of the group continued on. The keys to the Mercury Montego were found on Madruga (Rossen). Madruga was found near a stream, having been dragged about 10 feet by animals that were scavenging his remains, lying face up and with his watch wrapped in his right hand. Sterling was not far, in a wooded area, scattered across a 50 foot area. All that was left of his remains were his bones (Gorney).
Huett’s remains were found two days later, unfortunately by his father, Jack. Jack Huett found his son’s spine, and soon other bones were found in the area. His levi’s were found, along with his ripple-soled “Get Theres” shoes. The next day, his skull was found approximately 100 yards downhill from where the rest of his remains had been found by an assistant sheriff. The Huett family dentist was able to identify Huett through his dental records (Gorney). Mathias body has never been found, though his shoes were found in the trailer with Weiher’s body, leading to the belief that he may have taken the shoes, which would have been better for the terrain (Rae).
Northwest of the trailer by a quarter mile, three wool blankets from the forest service were found along with a two-cell flashlight. The flashlight was turned off and rusted, but how long it had been there was unable to be determined (Gorney). Schons had claimed to have seen flashlights outside his car while he was still waiting for help to come, though this story is questionable due to his condition at the time (Rae). Several more tips have been called in in the years since the five disappeared, but none have panned out beyond Schons’ statement. The families even turned to psychics, who predicted things such as the five had been kidnapped and were being held in either Nevada or Arizona, or that they had been murdered. According to the psychic, the five had been killed in a red house, possibly stained wood or brick, that was two stories and in Oroville, numbered either 4723 or 4753. This home was searched for, but it was found to not exist at all (Rae). Weiher’s sister-in-law has her own theory: the five saw something, whether they knew it or not, at the basketball game that night that prompted someone to follow them, or chase them, into the mountains (Rossen).
The Yuba County Five are remembered by their families. Ted Weiher, who had an intellectual disability, was known to have worked as a janitor and at a snack bar for a period of time before his family urged him to quit due to worry about the stress. Jackie Huett, while not diagnosed with any disabilities, was frequently described as being “slow” by those around him. Bill Sterling was known to be a generous person, often volunteering at mental institutions doing things such as reading to patients. He was known to be a man of his faith, often bringing the Bible with him to the institutions. Just like Weiher, Sterling was known to be intellectually disabled. Jack Madruga was known to be a good friend, and was the only one of the five who could drive. He was also known to be disabled. Gary Mathias was doing well after struggling for a few years with his schizophrenia and had been working for his step-father, Bob, part-time as a gardener at his landscaping business. The five were all part of the Gate Way Project, a project in Yuba County for people with disabilities, and played basketball for the Special Olympics together. On the night they disappeared, none of them were dressed for the weather, which was likely part of their unfortunate fate (Rae).
Rossen, Jake. “‘Bizarre As Hell’: The Disappearance Of The Yuba County Five”. Mentalfloss.Com, 2018, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/532063/bizarre-hell-disappearance-yuba-county-five.
Gorney, Cynthia. “5 ‘Boys’ Who Never Come Back”. 5 ‘Boys’ Who Never Come Back, 1978, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1978/07/06/5-boys-who-never-come-back/f8b30b11-baeb-4351-89f3-26456a76a4fb/. Accessed 4 Apr 2021.
Rae, Kendall. The Bizarre Disappearance Of The Yuba County 5. Youtube.Com, 2019.
“The Haunting Case Of The Mathias Group (Yuba County Five) — Strangeoutdoors.Com”. Strangeoutdoors.Com, 2017, https://www.strangeoutdoors.com/mysterious-stories-blog/2017/12/7/mathias-group-from-yuba-city.