The Murder Theory

A final theory that is often mooted holds that the entire incident was an act of premeditated, cold-blooded murder. The suspects are almost always the same: Patricia Mercer, Carrie Mercer, or Cassidy Daniels, and the true target is almost always one of the three, with the others as innocent bystanders and collateral damage.

It was well-known in Findlay that Patricia Mercer, who was a single mother, and Carrie Mercer had been growing apart for some time. It was also well-known that Cassidy Daniels had been spending a considerable amount of time in the Mercer household, and that she was seen by Patricia as something of a surrogate daughter. The Mercers had quarreled loudly enough to be heard by neighbors at times, and Carrie Mercer had announced her intention to attend an out of state school not long before the trip began, something that their relatives attested had devastated Patricia, who had hoped her daughter would attend Idaho Community College and remain close.

For her part, Cassidy Daniels’ parents had just finished a trial separation by getting back together and had a well-known history of marital difficulties. These partly stemmed from the death of Cassidy’s only sibling, her younger brother Maxwell, at age 6. Maxwell had gotten into a quantity of toxic chemicals, including rat poison, and suffered from chemical burns and internal hemorrhaging. Some have noted Cassidy’s reputation as a manipulative and devious social climber as evidence that she, age 10 at the time, was behind her brother’s death. Could she have sought to remove Carrie Mercer from competition for a surrogate mother, and badly miscalculated?

Finally, Carrie Mercer’s fragmentary online diary entries were examined by police after her disappearance. While it confirmed that she had been having difficulties with her mother, the diaries also revealed that Carrie was a lesbian, and had written a number of flirtatious ‘letters’ to classmates she named as A, B, and D. Cassidy has been suggested as the subject of these letters, and the fact that the alphabetical pseudonyms skipped the letter “C” was much commented-upon at the time. After all, Cassidy has just begun dating a boy around her age–could Carrie have been possessive, or jealous, enough to kill?

All three had access to poisons; Cassidy’s parents sold pharmaceuticals, and her father would die of an opioid overdose in 2011, while Patricia and Carrie both participated in a multi-level marketing scheme selling mineral supplements that, in concentrated form, could be quite toxic. Speculation in particular swirled around the contents of three open canisters that bore signs of having been used for mixing chemicals that were found in the Mercer basement.

It need not have been any of them; investigations showed that William Reznik had been cheating on Maria Cruz for months, and that Cruz had also been unfaithful several times. Marcus Washington and Jose Ramirez Jr. were occasionally rumored to be a couple, as well. Any one of the tangle web of relationships in the small town of Findlay suggests a motive for murder, or perhaps even a suicide pact.

There is just one problem with all these theories: poisoning or murder on a hike is needlessly complex and fraught with uncertainty. The hikers had plenty of time, and opportunity, to murder one another before they were anywhere near Sagebrush Mountain. And while some of the post-mortem effects could be explained by overdoses of some drugs, no known substance can account for all of them.

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