A true tale of murder, drugs and alcohol in Yellowstone National Park

By Paul Miller as told to Megan Paulson

A young man staggered down the road, clad in Levis and a t-shirt. He tried desperately to flag down a vehicle. I stopped my car by the Boiling River turnout and walked up to him. Blood dripped from his mouth and stained his shirt.

He collapsed into my arms. I lowered him onto the ground and then called for backup on my radio. As a ranger for Yellowstone National Park, I was in full uniform on my way to a night shift at my duty station in Mammoth.

During that time in the mid-1970s, the Boiling River recreational area between Mammoth and Gardiner had become an area of crime fueled by illegal drugs and alcohol. The Park Service ignored the alcohol consumption and nudity that was commonplace.

“Who did this?” I asked the wounded man.

“My best friend,” he said.

Then he died.

After performing several rounds of CPR, I brought him back around. When he came to, he threw up in my face. It was obvious he had been eating Doritos.

Ranger Marc arrived with the patrol car, and together, we loaded the man into the back seat while I continued tending to him. Looking closer, I saw what appeared to be two bullet holes: one in the front of his neck and one in the back of his chest. The drive to the clinic at Mammoth only took a couple minutes.

Who would have shot their best friend, and why? I wondered.

We left the injured man at the clinic after getting his California ID and called in on the radio to further alert the rest of the Park. Our next goal was to go back down to Boiling River to see if we could find a shooting suspect. As we neared the area, we saw two men who appeared to be hiding something.

Marc covered me while I approached the men. It appeared they were doing cocaine, so I asked for their IDs and then searched them and the area. While interviewing the rest of the people at Boiling River, a bulletin alert came across the radio: a vehicle with California plates had gone off the road; single individual running through the trees away from the car.

By radio we alerted the ranger handling the situation that the man shot in the Boiling River area had also been from California. We suspected the man running from the car accident was a likely perpetrator.

Shortly after we concluded gathering information at Boiling River we heard another radio call-in. The individual who’d crashed his car had been arrested.

A follow-up investigation concluded the two men had stolen a vehicle from California and driven it to Yellowstone. High on illegal drugs, they were sitting in the parking lot arguing about whether to use their drugs themselves or sell the drugs to get money for food and gas.

The passenger got out and came around to the driver’s side, where the driver had his window down. The driver shot the passenger under the chin with a 22-caliber pistol. As the passenger turned and ran, the driver shot him again. I found him shortly after.

The driver had headed toward Norris, speeding. When he crashed the vehicle, he got out and ran, throwing his pistol into a swampy area to get rid of it. Rangers arrested him. He confessed to murdering his best friend.

After this murder in the 70s, the Park implemented new regulations to get the Boiling River recreational area under control, and rangers stringently patrolled there. Now it is a place where families can go without being bothered by illegal activities.

After 30 years, I am now retired from my work as a ranger. I still enjoy going for a warm soak in Boiling River – usually once a week. But to this day, I don’t eat Doritos.