Man found dead in John Day River

Grant County Sheriff's Department personnel man the command station during what was then a search and rescue effort west of Pine Creek Road on June 25. Randolph's body was not discovered until June 28, in a location outside the search area. Photo by Michael Lane

Dennis E. Randolph's body was found between Holmstrom Ranch and Eagle Rock Ranch.

Dennis E. Randolph, 45, of Mt. Vernon, was found dead in the John Day River just east of the city of John Day on June 28. The discovery is just the beginning of what may be a long and confusing case. "At this point, I'm baffled," Sheriff Glenn Palmer said Monday. Randolph, initially reported missing on Friday, June 25, was also seen by several witnesses on Saturday near Mt. Vernon.

The sightings on Saturday are what make the situation so baffling. Given the condition of the body, Palmer said he believed it had been in the river since Friday.

The situation seemed, at first, to be a straightforward missing person call.

At approximately noon on June 25 the Grant County Sheriff's Office received a report of a missing person in the Pine Creek area between John Day and Prairie City. Randolph was reported missing, and had failed to return to a residence on Berry Ranch Lane off Pine Creek Road. Randolph was last seen around 8:30 p.m. on June 24. Randolph had told companions he was going to walk up the north face of Red Hill, on private property, to look for antlers.

Members of the Grant County Sheriff's Office and Office Posse began searching the Red Hill and Dean Creek area early on the morning of June 25. Later that same day the search was extended east to the Pine Creek area and west to Dissel Creek near Marysville Road and south to the Malheur National Forest and Strawberry Wilderness. Footprints were found in the area, but it was unknown if they were Randolph's or if they belonged to members of a group who were searching for him during the evening of June 24.

The Sheriff's office resumed the search for Randolph on Saturday, June 26 in the Dissel Creek drainage. Searchers travelled the area by horse, ATV, jeep and foot. Approximately 30 posse members participated in the search.

Sheriff Glenn Palmer also requested the help of the Grant County Air Search. One aircraft was utilized in the operation of the search.

The Sheriff's office received information from three sources that a person matching the description of Randolph was seen in the Moon Creek area west of Mount Vernon, walking along U.S. 26, Saturday, June 26, around 6 p.m. During a subsequent investigation, two of the three people questioned positively identified Randolph from a photograph as the person seen on the highway. Reports from the three witnesses described this person as wearing clothing that matched the description of Randolph's clothes given to searchers. One additional report was that a man resembling Randolph was seen in the Moon Creek area on Friday morning.

Personal information obtained from Randolph's landlord and employer through the inquiry led investigators and searchers to believe Randolph had left the local area and the search was called off.

On the afternoon of Monday, June 28, Grant County Dispatch received a report of a body floating in the John Day River along the east highway near John Day. The body was discovered by Allan Mullin of John Day.

The body was identified, with the aid of a tattoo on the left shoulder and the Stanley work boots Randolph was reportedly wearing when he disappeared. The cause of death is unknown and is under investigation by Grant County authorities. Initial examinations showed no obvious cause of death, according to the Sheriff's office.

Despite the witness accounts on June 26, Sheriff Glenn Palmer said he thought that, from the condition of the body, it had "probably been in the river since Friday."

There are a lot of unanswered questions: If Randolph was lost, why did he cross the highway to reach the John Day River? If he was, in fact, attempting to leave the county and was near Mt. Vernon on Saturday, why was the body in the state it was? If Randolph did die on Friday, who did the witnesses see at Mt. Vernon?

Autopsy information from Portland should be arriving by late next week, which should hopefully give the investigation some information to work with, Palmer said.

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