The Boltmann Ambush

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crewtime 12/16/22 (Fri) 14:11:23 #93870112

Happy holidays, Parawatchers. A few of you asked me to look into the 2005 deaths of the Boltmann family — not a case that immediately jumps out as having a supernatural element to it. In fact, it seems exceptionally straightforward on the surface: a family of campers who were trapped by inclement weather and wildlife, and died as a result of ill-preparedness. But after a thorough investigation, I feel confident enough to say that there is something more going on in this case, even if I'm not exactly sure what it might be.

The Boltmanns were a family of four: Christopher and Selma Boltmann (45 and 41, respectively), married in 1993, and their two children Bradley (15) and Cassandra (10). Christopher was a successful broker at a hedge fund in Westport, Connecticut, which was the family's primary residence. Selma was working towards a real estate license, and the children attended a private school in the area. But Christopher owned multiple properties, one of which was an isolated cabin in Wheeler County, Oregon. Almost every year, the family would fly out to Oregon, rent a car, and spend a week or two in the cabin.

During these trips, it was understood by Christopher's colleagues that he would be out of cell service and functionally unreachable. This wasn't strictly true; they were told this by him, but Christopher was a hobby survivalist, and always kept a satellite phone in the cabin in case of emergency. He also kept a large supply of canned food and bottled water, as well as a number of hunting rifles and ammunition. He was also active on a number of survivalist web forums and the few camping stores in Westport that catered to such a demographic knew him by name.

In summary, Christopher Boltmann was well-equipped, knowledgeable, and experienced in his hobby, and most critically, was well-acquainted with the area after years of vacations and sabbaticals there. The Boltmann home had plenty of food, water, and first aid. It is exceptionally clear (to me, at least) that Christopher Boltmann was not the east-coast amateur who bit off more than he could chew that the Wheeler County Sheriff's Office framed him as after their investigation.

As an aside, I could not find a paper trail for Christopher Boltmann's ownership of the land the cabin sits on. The deed is in his name, and he paid taxes on it, but I was unable to find a date of sale or other obvious method of how he acquired the land. This may simply be the result of poor recordkeeping (or, I admit, inadequate investigation — this is not exactly my field) and appears unrelated to the case anyway, but I felt it pertinent to mention.

This is all background knowledge. Onto the incident.

crewtime 12/16/22 (Fri) 14:12:02 #93870114

In fall of 2005, shortly after Thankgiving, the Boltmann family took one of these vacations. Unlike the usual trips, which happened while school was on break, Christopher pulled Brad and Cassandra out of their school for a week for this trip. Christopher only informed his fund of his impending absence on the the 27th, which was the same day plane tickets were purchased for the 29th from Bradley International Airport in Connecticut to Portland International Airport. Selma's biweekly book club, comprised of a few neighborhood wives, met on the 28th in a local diner; her friends described her as unusually distant and disturbed. Though she insisted everything was fine, she did not inform any of them of the trip.

The security system on their 6-bedroom Westport home was armed at 6:07AM, indicating when they departed. They would never return. Christopher's Range Rover was left at home, the family instead piling their luggage into Selma's much smaller Prius for the hour-long drive to the airport. They arrived at the airport, were processed through security by 7:29AM, and waited at the gate until their boarding. Security camera footage from the airport gate show Brad drawing in his sketchbook and Cassandra reading a novel, while the parents are at a distance, engaged in a quiet but intense discussion. At various times, Christopher and Selma both look up and glance around, as though expecting someone. Finally, they board the plane 40 minutes later, at 8:06AM.

The flight from BDL to PDX is eight and a half hours long, with an hourlong layover in Chicago's O'Hare. They arrive at Portland International at 1:23PM, and security footage shows Christopher much more visibly relaxed, though Selma still appears guarded, keeping the children close at hand. After collecting their luggage, they take the airport shuttle to the rental car terminal, sign the paperwork, and pay the deposit for their vehicle — a Jeep Wrangler. The Boltmanns begin the drive to the cabin, which lies nearly two-and-a-half-hours outside of Portland.

At this point, records become spotty. In another departure from tradition, the Boltmanns avoid major highways like I-84 and stick to smaller frontage roads and bypasses wherever possible, which makes it nearly impossible to track them via highway cameras. They stop twice: once for gas at a Shell station about an hour outside of Portland, during which Selma goes to the bathroom and Brad purchases a Twix bar. And once more in a small general store attached to a service station a few miles from the location of their cabin at 4:07PM, where the family makes a number of small purchases. This is the last time Selma, Brad, and Cassandra are seen alive.

The cashier later noted to authorities that neither parent seemed particularly worried or concerned to him. Christopher was cheerfully conversing with him, and Selma and the children appeared to be in good spirits. Christopher mentioned they would be 'in the area' for the week and purchased some loose first aid items before the family departed, driving deeper into the forest, presumably to their cabin.

crewtime 12/16/22 (Fri) 14:12:37 #93870118

The next time the cashier sees Christopher Boltmann is the next morning. He comes in complaining that his cabin has no running water, and purchases most of the general store's bottled water (despite the cabin already being well-stocked) and leaves again.

Christopher does not show up again for two days, before returning on December 2nd. In stark contrast to his previous behaviour, the cashier described him as cold, distant, and almost suspicious in this meeting; he also notes that Christopher's appearance had degraded, with a sickly, feverish sweat and dark bags under his eyes. He says very little, and only inquires whether anyone else in the area has reported seeing any strange wildlife. When told no, the cashier claims Christopher obliquely threatened him — saying that the cashier was the only person that knew the Boltmanns were there, and that he was armed. He departed silently. This is the last time Christropher is seen alive.

Over the next four days, a huge storm moves over western Oregon, dumping a near-constant flow of snow and freezing rain onto the rural parts of the state, including Wheeler County. The cashier attests (corroborated by witnesses) that the inclement weather made it impossible for him to get to the service station, and so he simply stayed home with his wife and didn't make the trek to work again until December 7th.

Upon pushing through the several feet of fresh snow, he arrived at the general store to unlock it and realized that the power was out and that there was a large, bloody smear across the glass door to the store. He immediately called the county police, who sent out a squad car to investigate. The deputies arrived at 9:34AM. The blood was several days old and frozen to the glass, and there were no tracks or blood trails leading to or from the store — if they existed, they had been long since snowed over. It was only at the cashier's request that the deputies went to investigate the Boltmann house at all, as the officers did not want to make the taxing physical trek to the cabin.

crewtime 12/16/22 (Fri) 14:13:00 #93870119

At 10:20AM, the deputy made a call back to the sheriff's office requesting immediate backup, and reported the frozen corpses of two adults and two children. Three more squad cars arrived half an hour later, and officers began evaluating the scene.

All four bodies were found inside the cabin, which had taken significant exterior damage. Portions of the wood panelling had been aggressively torn apart and pulled away, and most of the windows on the south-facing side were broken. There were long, deep, large scratch marks across the porch and walls, substantially larger than those of grizzly bears. When officers tried to gain entry, they found the doors and windows had been barricaded from the inside with planks of wood and furniture — there were no obvious points of ingress.

They forced their way through a window and found a baffling, morbid scene. The bodies were all in different areas of the two-bedroom cabin — Brad was found in the childrens' bedroom under a pile of blankets, Cassandra curled up in a kitchen cupboard, Selma locked in the bathroom, and Christopher himself in the living room, directly across from the front door, holding his hunting rifle. All were initially assumed to have starved to death, based on their emaciated states — until deputies found large stores of dried, nonperishable foods and bottled water (a few of them open) in the kitchen. The bodies were airlifted away for a full autopsy shortly thereafter, and the cause of death was determined to be dying of exposure and thirst for Christopher, Cassandra, and Selma — and botulism for Brad.

After collecting a considerable amount of forensic evidence, the sheriff's office declared that the incident had been a tragic accident — overconfident campers who had let their bottled water supplies be tainted by botulinum, then trapped inside by an overaggressive, possibly rabid bear. Unable to go outside to use their satellite phone, Brad died of botulinum poisoning while the rest of his family wasted away, unwilling to risk drinking their own water, then died. The case was closed as a tragic cautionary tale.

crewtime 12/16/22 (Fri) 14:13:19 #93870121

This seems reasonable enough on the surface, but there are a number of glaring holes in this explanation:

Firstly, botulinum does not occur in bottled water; the safety mechanisms of bottled water companies are far too rigid to allow the presence of foreign bacteria to an extent that one might contract botulism from drinking it. Botulism is, however, noted to occur in canned food, which the Boltmanns had in scores. This raises two possibilities: either the botulism was in fact contracted from the canned meats, or it was placed into the bottled water. There is also the element that Christopher clearly elected not to dare drinking any more of the (presumably sealed) bottled water — the kind of decision only made when one has reason not to trust it.

Secondly, the explanation of a bear: as mentioned, the scratch marks and destruction left on the outside of the property are not consistent with the size of a bear's paws. But much more obvious than this is the fact that a bear, even a rabid one, does not behave this way. Most bears hibernate for long portions of the winter, leaving their dens only to get food and return. They would certainly not hang around a cabin for four days in an effort to kill any humans inside — rabies makes animals confused, terrified, and irrational, but it does not make them vengeful. Additionally, the bear only attacked the south-facing side of the house, where Christopher was; it ignored the north and west windows and walls, inside which lay Selma and Brad, respectively.

Third, the power being cut. This was explained as a natural result of the storm and snow — which is correct, sometimes power lines simply break. But the deputy did note in his original report that the cut to the nearby power line was 'clean.'

Fourth, and most importantly, the timeline does not match up.

It is clear through security camera footage of the Boltmann's behaviour that Christopher and Selma were scared of something or someone in Connecticut following them. But their trip to Oregon was extremely sudden and unplanned — if there was someone, they knew where the Boltmanns would go.

There's also the matter of the water being cut: as far as I can tell, there's no official explanation for why the water stopped working for the Boltmanns, but notably, there were no similar problems reported by surrounding households. And it was the initial loss of running water that forced the Boltmanns to rely on their contaminated bottled water.

And there is the enduring question: if the story is true, and the Boltmanns were trapped inside by an animal, who or what made the bloodstain on the door to the general store? The bear? The blood was human. One of the Boltmanns, having escaped the bear? Cassandra is too young to have made the trek, and Brad could not possibly have done it in his ill state. Only Selma or Christopher feasibly could have — and if so, why did they crawl back and rebarricade the door, rather than using the satellite phone to call for help? Not to mention the lack of any obvious physical wounds, of course.

crewtime 12/16/22 (Fri) 14:13:40 #93870124

None of these issues prevented the Wheeler County Sheriff's Office from considering the case closed, in a remarkably convenient ending to a strange saga. The Boltmanns were buried back home in Connecticut and written off as the victims of the harshness of nature.

But I think an objective analysis of the facts of the case make it quite clear that there is no scenario in which it is not a possibility that there is a fifth body somewhere in the Oregon woods — and that the deaths of the Boltmann family were less an accident and more a carefully planned and executed slaying by someone lying in wait well before their unplanned trip happened.

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