He ran out of gas on California’s Highway 101, and vanished forever

Scott Hayes went missing from Humboldt County days after his 19th birthday.

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office

In 1996, a 19-year-old California man headed down Highway 101 from Humboldt County to Southern California, where he said he planned to visit his girlfriend. After a mysterious string of events in and around Redcrest — a small town near the Avenue of the Giants scenic highway — he was never seen again.

California authorities are now seeking the public’s help to solve the 27-year-old mystery of missing person Scott Paul Hayes.

“Were you in Humboldt County January 1996? Please keep reading,” the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a plea on Facebook this week.


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On Jan. 8 that year, Hayes loaded everything he owned into his maroon Chevrolet Sonoma truck, and told his unnamed roommate he was heading to SoCal to see his girlfriend. The next day, his truck was found on the edge of the northbound lane of Highway 101 near Redcrest. The vehicle was out of fuel and locked, with Hayes’ belongings still inside, but Hayes was nowhere to be found. 

A witness in Redcrest later told detectives a man matching Hayes’ description told them he was out of gas in the early morning hours of Jan. 9. The witness gave the man a ride for around 10 miles until he reportedly started acting “strangely,” so the witness left the man under the Stafford overpass, “out of fear for their safety.” The witness did, however, leave to get a some fuel for the man. When they returned to the overpass, Hayes was gone. 

Another possible sighting of Hayes came from another witness at a motel in Rio Dell, a community five miles north of Stafford, later that day. This witness also said the man was acting strangely and was denied a room. After this, the man matching Hayes’ description was spotted walking north on Wildwood Avenue in Rio Dell, and never seen again. 

A Times-Standard story in 2009 reported that no credit or debit card transactions were recorded at gas stations in the area, and no hotel receipts were found by police at the time. “I mean, (he) just dropped off the face of the earth,” retired sheriff’s sergeant Dan Paris told the outlet.


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Public records reveal that Hayes previously resided in Poway, near San Diego, and was born on Jan. 7, 1977. His disappearance came days after his 19th birthday. If alive, he would be 46 today. 

After nearly three decades, authorities say that all leads have now run dry. “The Sheriff’s Office needs your help to bring closure to Mr. Hayes’ family,” the sheriff’s post read. 

Hayes is described as a white man, weighing 150 pounds and standing 6-foot-1, with blond hair and hazel eyes.

Anyone with information regarding Hayes’ whereabouts, or who may have seen Hayes in 1996, are urged to contact sheriff’s office investigator Mike Fridley at 707-441-3024 or the sheriff’s office tip line at 707-268-2539.


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