As is made explicitly clear by the title of Netflix’s Murder Mountain, working among the Humboldt County marijuana farms featured on the show can come at a dangerous cost. But how does a seemingly normal northern California community amass the state’s highest per-capita missing persons rate? Why are there so many missing people in Humboldt County?
According to California County News, 717 people per 100,000 go missing in Humboldt County every year, compared to a state annual of 384 missing people. The numbers for missing children are also quite high: Humboldt is ranked sixth in the state for missing minors. However, Bob Lowery, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told the North Coast Journal that he doesn’t find the high rate of missing children in Humboldt County that suspicious. "It could be that the county sheriff and local police are very aggressive in accepting reports and getting them into the system," he said. "If you dig into those number a little deeper, the reports are generally going to be runaway children."
Furthermore, many of the adults reported missing aren’t gone for long. The North Coast Journal reports in the same article that of the 313 missing reports filed for adults in 2016, most cases were closed: 230 people returned or were eventually located, 15 were arrested, eight were declared "voluntary missing," five were marked withdrawn, one was marked "unknown," and 51 were classified as "other," the last of which includes suspicious circumstances. In fact, the Lost Coast Output points out that while Humboldt County has the highest per-capita missing persons rate in California, it also has the highest per-capita rate of found people in the state.
And there is at least some explanation as to why Humboldt has such a high number of missing people. Lt. Dennis Young of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office explained to the North Coast Journal that part of the difficulty in resolving these cases is that, "No one wants to cooperate with a missing persons investigation," largely because Humboldt is a hub for the illegal marijuana trade. "Many people from throughout the state, nation and world come to Humboldt County to work in the cannabis industry," Young continued. "They often times will not communicate with friends and family regarding their location … Many of those individuals will return home and no one notifies law enforcement that they are no longer missing. Consequently, they remain in the database."
So, though Humboldt’s high per-capita missing persons rate could suggest it’s one of California’s most dangerous counties, it could also just be a result of people in the community not being in contact with their loved ones. After all, as many people note in Murder Mountain, it’s a place people go to get off the grid.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not cause for concern. The fact that men like Garret Rodriguez, whose story is featured in the docuseries, end up missing only to be found dead show that in Humboldt County, sometimes the stakes are life or death.
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