In 2003, two hunters found a skeletonized body in a wooded area outside of Marion, a small town west of Kalispell. The bones had been mostly scattered at the bottom of a precipice, but there was at least one bone remaining at the top as well. Parts of the skeleton were never recovered at all.
Various items were found near the body, including a .22 caliber pistol, marijuana pipe, water bottle, sunglasses, and a copy of a sci-fi novel. But nothing identifying.
To this day, the event is a Montana mystery that, so far, has not seen any resolution. But some recent events may just turn the tide.
The man is jokingly referred to as Cliff, but no one knows his real name. The name Cliff is a dryly morbid alias, an example of the gallows humor that might be necessary to make this kind of work palatable. Because this isn't just a case of someone taking a misstep, planting their foot in the wrong place and having an unfortunate fall. It coudld be a suicide. And some think this could be a murder.
Interestingly, the area in which the body was found is accessible by foot by not by vehicle without a key, as it is on private land. This means that Cliff almost cetainly hiked into the area. Also, the scattered state of the bones (probably because of scavenging animals) suggested that Cliff may have been dead for some time, even years, by the time his body was found. After looking at the likely dates of manufacture of the items Cliff carried (including a bottle of Aleve likely made in the mid nineties, and a handful of coins, the lastest of which was from 1990), it seems likely he died in the mid-to-late nineties.
The gun was bought by someone in Sandy, Utah, who claims they later sold it to a pawn shop or gun show. So Cliff bought the gun, somewhere.
Dental records were a bust. The only thing that labs at the time were able to say was that he was a white male somewhere between 18 and 36.
It is unclear whether it was a clue or not, but in the intervening years they discovered that someone had left a small metal cross at the top of the cliff after which he takes his temporary name. Who left the cross, and their relationship to the deceased are matters of pure speculation at this time.
However, DNA testing has offered some clues. Cliff's DNA seems to resemble that of some people from certain Appalachian communities, and he may be at least distantly related to people with these last names:
- Saylor, Helton, Brock, or Blanton from Harlan County, Kentucky
- Ward, Linn, or Barrett from Montgomery County, Indiana
- Greene, Epperson, Seales, or Trent from Hancock County, Tennessee
Watch a news report from WBIR Channel 10 in Knoxville, Tennessee below. And if you have any information on who this poor man might be, please contact Flathead County Sheriff's Department at (406) 758 - 5585.
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