Is Skeleton Found in Boulder Missing Person Ryder Johnson?

Ryder Johnson
Ryder Johnson Facebook
This weekend, skeletal remains were found near South Boulder Creek east of Gross Reservoir. The area is not far from where Ryder Johnson vanished on January 17, 2016, after leaving his job at Eldora ski area.

A Boulder County Sheriff's Office release reveals that the BCSO was contacted late on Saturday, July 29, by a fisherman who "had been bushwhacking along the creek in the Walker Ranch Open Space as he traveled east from Fisherman's Point when he happened upon the remains." A recovery effort was launched the following day, with investigators from the sheriff's office and the Boulder County Coroner's Office, as well as personnel from Front Range Rescue Dogs, taking part. The remains were found that same day; they are believed to have been "moved by wildlife" to the location.

The release adds: "The sheriff's office has one open 'missing persons' case that involves the general area of Walker Ranch, where the skeletal remains were located. Ryder Johnson, then twenty, was reported missing in January 2016, and his car was subsequently located, abandoned, in the 5800 block of Gross Dam Road. Multiple searches of the Gross Reservoir and Walker Ranch areas were undertaken at the time, all of which were unsuccessful in locating Johnson or any additional information or evidence related to his disappearance."

The BCSO stresses that "it has not yet been determined if the skeletal remains are related to the Ryder Johnson missing-person investigation or not," and this note of caution is understandable. After all, an Eldora staffer located a human foot and leg bone in June of last year, leading to immediate speculation that the remains would be traced to Johnson. Within a day, however, the sheriff's office doused this theory, likely because of the size and/or brand of the boot in which the foot was found.

A family photo of Ryder Johnson. - COURTESY OF THE JOHNSON FAMILY
A family photo of Ryder Johnson.
Courtesy of the Johnson Family
"The boot an employee of the ski resort is a left men's Rugged Outback snow-style boot," a BCSO announcement noted. "Inside the boot was a black sock and human remains consisting of a foot and the lower leg bones. The boot is a size 13. Yesterday's initial search of the immediate area where the boot was located was estimated to have been approximately 40,000 square yards...and no additional remains or related evidence was located. The investigative effort to identify who the remains belong to is occurring contemporaneous to the search effort. The preliminary investigation has led investigators to believe the remains are not those of Ryder Johnson."

Since then, Johnson's loved ones have worked hard to keep attention on the case. That August, we spoke to Rick Johnson, Ryder's dad, who revealed that friends and family were offering a massive $100,000 reward for information in the case. This amount had an expiration date — January 17, 2017, the one-year anniversary of his vanishing — in part because "we wanted to give it some sense of urgency," Rick told us.

The date passed without a breakthrough, and while the deadline was extended the following month, no new clues about Johnson surfaced. The same has been true for Seth Kienzle, who disappeared from Boulder in February 2016, and in a June post, Kienzle's friend Maggie Fitzgerald cited parallels between the two mysteries.

"It's definitely very strange how similar his story is to Seth's," she told us. "They were in such close proximity, they were so close in age, both of their cars had been abandoned." She had no indication that Johnson and Kienzle knew each other or that their fates were connected in any way. "It could be completely coincidental," she conceded, "but it's something we've all been interested in."

It may take a while before we know if the skeleton was Johnson. The BCSO states that "the coroner's office is statutorily charged with determining the identity of the decedent, as well as determining the cause and manner of death. Once a definitive identity of the remains has been made, it will be released by the coroner's office."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts