Neighbors of missing hunter describe how their ‘family’s mystery’ has been solved 53 years later
SALMON — Edith Pehrson’s children will never forget their mother telling them that when she died, she was going to find Raymond Jones.
Jones and his family lived next door to the Pehrsons in Salmon, and Edith’s husband, Ralph Pehrson, was good friends with them. They bowled together, went on hunting trips, and Ralph was likely the last person to see Jones alive on Sept. 7, 1968. Lemhi County Sheriff Steve Penner announced Tuesday that a hunter had found Jones’ remains in the east fork of Hayden Creek – 53 years after Jones vanished.
The Pehrson’s four children – Karyn Frederickson, Alan Pehrson, Leanne Spencer and Kendra Simpson – shared memories of Jones with EastIdahoNews.com this week. They were all young when he disappeared (Simpson had not yet been born) but remember their parents talking about their missing friend and constantly questioning where he could be throughout the years.
“We were pretty close. Ray came over a lot, and I remember my dad and him practicing shooting in the backyard,” Frederickson says. “They had hay, and they had a target, and once in a while, they’d let me change the target.”
Jones had a fun sense of humor, and Spencer remembers him trying to scare her by dressing up in a camouflage outfit from head to toe.
“Ray was always a teaser. I was little, and he got on this camouflage, and he crawled on his hands and belly in the grass towards our house,” Spencer says. “I went screaming into the house, ‘There’s a snake! There’s a snake!’ and my dad comes out thinking we have a rattler in the back, and there’s Ray – just laughing and laughing.”
Jones and Pehrson left to hunt elk on Jones’ 39th birthday, the family says. They went to the Hayden Creek area of Lemhi County, and Alan recalls his dad telling him what happened.
“They had seen some deer and Ray was higher up on the mountain than my dad,” Alan says. “The last thing my dad saw was Ray signal to him that he was going further up the mountain to chase after mountain goats. Then it started getting dark, so dad came back to the camp, and Ray never showed up that night or the next morning.”
Pehrson and two other hunters went looking for Jones and when they could not find him, they went into town and called the sheriff. A search was organized, but Jones was never found.
“One thing I remember is the sound of helicopters coming in at night while we were at home. It was dark, and my mom would just start sobbing,” Frederickson says. “I would say, ‘Mom, maybe they found him.’ She said, ‘No. If they’re coming in this late, they didn’t find him.’ I just remember every night she just cried and cried and cried.”
“When my dad died, my last words to him were, ‘Dad, go find Ray.'”
People speculated that Jones slid on some rocks and fell off a cliff. Others thought a boulder may have fallen on top of him, or he was the victim of an animal attack. There were even rumors that he left Salmon to begin a new life and had been seen in Arizona.
Edith was constantly checking on Donna Jones, Ray’s wife, as the couple had recently adopted a baby. Ralph helped with the searches and put away the bow he had been using the day his friend disappeared.
“I remember being in my parents’ bedroom (years later) and my dad couldn’t reach something in the top of his closet. He asked if I could climb up there and get it,” says Simpson, the youngest Pehrson child. “I reached back and said, ‘Oh, there’s a bow up there.’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s my bow and arrows. I don’t think I’ve ever told you the story.'”
“He told me about Ray and that he’s never touched that bow again. He just couldn’t bring himself to use it,” Simpson says. “They moved to Boise later and that bow stayed in that top closet until he passed away. I now have the bow and arrows in my possession.”
Ralph died in 2010, but before he passed away, he and his children were thinking about Jones.
“When my dad died, my last words to him were, ‘Dad, go find Ray,'” Frederickson recalls. “Then our mom – she was always saying, ‘When I die, I’m going to find Ray.'”
Edith died in June 2019, and when her children heard Tuesday that Jones’ disappearance had been solved, they cried. A bowhunter, taking a shortcut from one hunting area to another on Sept. 17, discovered human remains and contacted the sheriff’s office. Deputies found part of Jones’ wallet, and inside was identification with his name on it.
“Alan’s wife posted a news article and tagged us on Facebook. It wasn’t until I clicked on that article that I just started crying, and I called Leanne and said, ‘Are you sitting down? Go sit down because I have some news for you,'” Frederickson says.
The children have lost touch with Jones’ kids but have tried to find them. They also want to talk with the bowhunter who discovered their friend’s remains and plan on visiting the area where he was found next spring to honor Jones.
“Maybe (the bowhunter) was inspired to go that way and find that body because really … 53 years and nobody, nobody found him,” Spencer says. “I think of how many hunters go through that area constantly. It’s pretty surprising he wasn’t found in all these years.”
There are still many questions – like how Jones died – but the Pehrson kids say the news this week brings them closure and they like to think their parents may have had a hand in the discovery.
“This has been one mystery that has been part of our family forever, and we just wish all the Jones family some peace through this,” she continues. “And even though it took half a century, it’s incredible. It’s just incredible.”