Raymond Jones poses with his two daughters and son Jeffrey Jones. Raymond’s body was recently found after he disappeared 53 years ago. (Family photo)
IDAHO FALLS — For most of his life, September has been a hard month for Jeffrey Jones.
He was born on Sept. 7, his dad’s 27th birthday, and for 12 years, they celebrated their special day together. But in 1968, on their birthday, Jeffrey’s dad, Raymond Jones, went hunting in the east fork of Hayden Creek in Lemhi County and never returned.
“Every September, the memories come rushing back,” Jeffrey tells EastIdahoNews.com. “Several years ago, I got a tattoo on my arm that is a portrait of my dad. It has Sept. 7 on it and the phrase ‘Wake Me up When September Ends’ from the Green Day song.”
Two weeks ago, Jeffrey turned 65 on the day his dad would have turned 92. Three days later, a bowhunter found a wallet, boot and some skeletal remains in the area where Raymond disappeared. Lemhi County Sheriff deputies were called and determined the 53-year mystery of the lost hunter had been solved.
“The bowhunter was going from one hunting area to another and took a shortcut and just happened to come across my dad,” Jeffrey explains. “It’s quite amazing because they had a lot of people up there searching for him along with helicopters and scent dogs, but they never did find him.”
Jeffrey remembers his outgoing, well-liked dad always had a smile on his face. Raymond and his wife, Elizabeth “Betty” Jones, married in the mid-1950s and loved dancing, fishing and doing everything together. They spent time racing stock cars, but one day Betty was in a terrible wreck that paralyzed her from the waist down.
“That had a lot to do with them splitting up, and they ended up divorcing,” Jeffrey says. “My sisters and I stayed with my mom in Montana while my dad moved to Salmon and remarried. He would come, get me in his plane and take me back to Salmon for two to three weeks every summer and then bring me back home.”
Even though it’s been over five decades, Jeffrey will never forget learning his father was missing. He was with his mom in Montana celebrating his 12th birthday when they received a phone call from two of his uncles saying Raymond had disappeared while hunting.
Two days later, a birthday card for Jeffrey arrived in the mail from his dad that must have been sent before the hunting trip.
“I believed for a long time that he would be found. I kept hoping, and it was probably 15 years before I finally gave up,” Jeffrey says. “Rumors and stories kept circulating that somebody had seen him or that he took off. I heard all this stuff and just kept expecting or hoping that he would walk through the door one day.”
Betty passed away in 1986. Raymond’s second wife is still living in Montana, but his parents and siblings have died, except for his 89-year-old sister.
Jeffrey says he never expected the call he received last week from a deputy saying his father’s remains had been found. Since then, he’s spoken with the bowhunter who discovered his dad.
“I’m very relieved to know what happened. I’m grateful to the guy that found him,” Jeffrey says. “I couldn’t ask for a better person to find my dad. After talking to him, he’s just a super guy.”
The hunter, whose name has not been released, told Jeffrey there were cliffs with layers of slab rock above Raymond’s remains. Before he left camp, Raymond told other hunters he was going to look for mountain goats. The bowhunter believes Raymond may have seen some at the top of the cliffs and tried to climb them.
“He could have been tempted to climb it, and the hunter thinks rock came off that cliff and landed on him,” Jeffrey says. “There was a stone covering most of his lower body, and it matched the rock above him. If the fall didn’t kill him, that rock for sure did. That was the opinion of the hunter.”
Jeffrey plans to travel from his home in Billings to Salmon this weekend to collect his father’s remains. He will take them to Miles City, Montana, and have them buried next to Raymond’s parents.
“The past week and a half have been surreal, but I’m very lucky to know what happened to my dad after all these years,” Jeffrey says. “I could have gone my whole life without knowing. But now I know, and it brings some peace.”