Ruess, a gifted and adventurous youth renowned for his writings and art, simply vanished in the canyon country in 1934, at the age of 20. His whereabouts have been the topic of much speculation in the subsequent 74 years. Despite years of search, the desert has not given up its secret about the fate of Ruess.
Now, a Bluff resident is dedicated to investigating the possibility that Ruess was murdered in San Juan County. Dennison “Denny” Bellson has spent much of the past month tracking the details of a family story about a murder long ago.
Bellson first heard the story in May about his grandfather, Aneth Nez. In the story, Nez, then in his 30s, witnessed the murder of a white man with light brown hair in an area south of the San Juan River. The few details of the story include that Nez witnessed the murder from a vantage point high above the valley floor below. He said that the man was killed by a group of unfamiliar Native Americans, who hit him over the head with a rock and then stole two mules.
Nez buriedthe body soon after the murder and returned to the scene of the crime many years later, in the 1970s, for ceremonial purposes. He never did notify authorities of what he had witnessed in the 1930s. Nez passed away in 1983.
Bellson said he never heard of Everett Ruess until after he heard the story. He said Ruess’ name was mentioned several times as he asked local residents for information on unsolved crimes in the 1930s.
Determined to investigate further, Bellson began to search near the Poncho House ruins south of Bluff, assuming the murder took place there.
It didn’t take long before Bellson found human remains and notified authorities. Upon closer inspection, investigators determined the remains were of a mother and child and were several hundred years old.
Even after the first failed effort, Bellson was determined to track down the mystery. The FBI agents encouraged him to continue to look, just not near Anasazi ruins. So he returned to maps and talked to family members to narrow the search area. The research sent him several miles north of the Poncho House ruins.
With a metal detector and a keen eye for detail, Bellson searched for an area that fit the criteria. The first clues he was getting close were the remains of saddle leather strewn about the area. Bellson guesses his grandfather may have used the saddle to move and bury the body and simply abandoned the saddle afterward.
Bellson eventually found human remains, including a skull with apparent blunt force trauma to the head. He has not disturbed the remains until law enforcement officials are able to investigate.
Law enforcement officials discussed the challenges faced in identifying remains of a body that has been exposed to the elements in the canyon country for more than 70 years. Possible evidence that may help identify the body include dental records or materials interred with the body.
Bellson has learned much about Ruess in the past month. In addition to books, videos and on the internet, he has heard that a Navajo Medicine Man once dreamed that Ruess would eventually be found near the San Juan River.
Ruess was a young man from Monterrey, California, who left his comfortable surroundings and pursued his dream of solitude in the Desert Southwest.
While many speculate Ruess was killed in the Escalante region by jealous prospectors or from a fall, he spent time in the San Juan wilderness east of the Colorado River.
Bellson speculates Ruess may have left the Escalante area, where he was known to be in 1934, for Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, where he had been the prior winter. The trail would have led through San Juan County, where he may have run into trouble, Bellson hopes that his search for the identity of the body near the San Juan River helps solve the mystery of Ruess. He quoted a family member, who said, “There is somebody down there in that canyon who had a family somewhere. They still wonder where he is.”
Time will tell whether this is simply a new chapter or the final chapter in the Everett Ruess mystery.