LAS VEGAS — The baffling disappearance of a Reno man while traveling along Interstate 80 in northern Nevada has some lawmen considering a chilling possibility — that a serial killer might be prowling Nevada roads, picking off unsuspecting victims.
Patrick Carnes has been missing since mid-April, but there are others who have vanished in the same area.
The police are reluctant to spook the public for no reason, which is why some of the disappearances have been publicized, but there’s been little open discussion about a possible serial killer along I-80. The investigation has led some lawmen to suspect that a killer, or killers, working as long-haul truck drivers are prowling that lonely corridor up north, carrying out what might be thrill-kills.
For the Carnes family, the past 11 weeks have seemed like an eternity. The three Carnes brothers have traveled hundreds of miles back and forth along I-80, plastering trucks stops and motels with posters about their father, Pat, missing since April 14th. The worst part is simply not knowing.
“(It’s) like stuck in neutral — not going forwards, not going backwards,” said Ken Carnes.
Pat Carnes is an 86-year-old military veteran, mentally sharp and independent, who was traveling from Toledo, Ohio to Reno in mid-April, accompanied by his loyal companion Lucky, described as a coffee table with legs.
He drove west on I-80, which slices through the high desert punctuated by western towns like Elko and Battle Mountain. His cross country journey ended 20 miles east of Winnemucca when a local woman spotted Carnes’ abandoned Subaru in a field just off an exit ramp.
“A lot of time here in the rurals, you find cars parked out in the desert. People park and hike, rock hunt and just leave their vehicles. This was unusual where it was parked, quite unusual,” said Humboldt County Undersheriff Curtis Kull.
Undersheriff Kull says it was unusual that Carnes’ vehicle was on the south side of the highway, since Carnes was traveling west. If he had pulled over, it would have been on the north side. Also unusual was the position of the car in the field.
To Kull and others, it looked as if the car had been dumped. A wide search of the area, by air and by land, failed to find any sign of Carnes or Lucky. There was nothing wrong with the Subaru, no blood or signs of a struggle were found, and there were no unusual fingerprints.
Detectives form Humboldt, Lander, and Elko Counties have checked rest stops, fuel stations, fast food joints along I-80 for clues, but have found no sign of Carnes. The one thing they do have is a solid timeline. They know where Pat Carnes was at 9 p.m. the night before his car was found.
Police have obtained a dash cam video recorded by a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper on the night of April 13th. The trooper had already pulled over a trucker when Carnes passed by in the right hand lane. The trooper dropped what he was doing and chased Carnes, who seemed to be traveling in tandem, behind a big rig trucker.
“(There was) nobody else on the road. He is right behind that rig,” said Kull.
The trooper pulled Carnes over at a spot six miles east of Wells. The video shows Lucky’s wagging tail in the back seat. Carnes apologized for not yielding the right lane and then made a remark that Kull thinks is key to the mystery, “I’m only following him because he is going to Elko.”
“‘I’m only following him because he’s going to Elko,’ and the ‘him’ we figure is the truck that he is directly behind,'” said Kull.
The same dash cam video that spotted Carnes’ car passing by also caught a grainy image of the truck he was following. Kull has received dozens of comments from truck drivers about the identity of the rig, but none have panned out. Yet. Kull is certain that whoever was driving that truck knows what happened to Pat Carnes, and might even be responsible.
“My gut tells me there’s two people involved — just for the logistics, just for the ability, whether something happened west of Wells, where he stopped. ‘Hey old man, come on and get up in the cab because you’re tired,'” he said.
The fact is, missing persons cases are reported in the hometowns of the people who are missing, not in the little towns along I-80. The Carnes family thinks there could be many more cases out here than anyone knows.
“The car was found. How many disappeared with no car? So you don’t even know that maybe this is the area where they disappeared. If you don’t find the car, if he hadn’t got stopped outside Wells, we wouldn’t have known he got this far,” said Tom Carnes
The case is more chilling in light of a similar disappearance five years earlier. Judith Casita of Reno drove east out of town and vanished. A month after her disappearance, her car showed up in the same field off the same exit where Carnes’ car was found, and Kull says there have been other disappearances out here. Is it the work of a serial killer? Is that possible?
“Very,” said Kull. “Sure.”
I-80 is a major artery for the nation, busy with all sorts of traffic during the day. But after the sun goes down in the Big Lonely, and darkness swallows up the high desert, truckers are pretty much all that you see.
As Kull has searched for Pat Carnes, he has also developed an interest in Grant Moedl of Rexburg, Idaho, across the state line. Moedl vanished a month before Carnes did. He has recently been found — his body and car were underwater in a reservoir and no foul play is suspected.
To the east, Utah authorities are looking for a young man who disappeared in May along I-80 near Dugway. To the west, an elderly hitchhiker vanished in April in California’s Humboldt County. Is it possible that the trucker who was traveling with Carnes is a killer — even a serial killer — maybe a husband and wife team who somehow gained Carnes’ trust along the road?
“We got into the scenario with truckers. Pat, prior to getting into computers, was a trucker in southern California and had an admiration for truckers — trusted truckers,” said Kull
In 2009, the FBI established a task force to look at serial killers working as truck drivers. Since then, the bureau has profiled more than 200 possible trucker killers and more than 500 murder victims, many of them prostitutes.
At least 10 suspected serial killers have been arrested, including Chester Todd who was picked up in February in Las Vegas, suspected in a string of rapes and murders.
The bureau has a map of possible trucker slayings, including six in Nevada, but, has done little to publicize the task force and would not comment on this report.
Kull, who has only 15 officers to cover 10,000 square miles, didn’t know such a task force existed until we told him. The bureau is now lending its expertise to the search for Carnes and a possible serial killer in a big rig. But the longer it goes, the worse it looks.
“There is somebody out there who had to see something. I’m not saying they saw it and are not talking, but out of the corner of your eye, you saw something and kept going,” said Tom Carnes.
Thousands of tips and ideas have poured in over the past few days, in part because the Pat Carnes case was highlighted on a broadcast of Coast to Coast A.M., the late night radio show.
Truck drivers responded in a big way, offering ideas about the mystery trailer in the freeze frame. Anyone with information about any of these cases is asked to contact the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.