The Unusual Death Of Don Kemp

On November 16, 1982, an abandoned SUV sat on a road in rural Wyoming. Its doors were hanging open, its engine was running, and clothing was scattered around it. The car's owner, Don Kemp, a 35-year-old former advertising executive, was nowhere to be found. While some of Kemp's belongings were found in the early stages of the search, not a single trace of his body appeared until four years later (via Unsolved).

While the discovery of Kemp's body several years later — just a few miles from where his SUV had been found years earlier — made it seem like an open and shut case, some aspects of it just didn't add up to Kemp's family and friends. Month after Kemp disappeared, there were multiple reports of people having seen him more than 100 miles from where SUV and body had been found, and a friend received a series of mysterious messages on her answering machine indicating that Kemp wanted to speak to her (via Observer-Reporter). Phone records managed to place the calls she received in the same town where people had reported seeing her.

He decided to call it a day on Madison Avenue

Don Kemp had spent years working as an advertising executive, but as the years went on, he began to have second thoughts about his life and career, especially after sustaining injuries in a traffic accident. "He had become disillusioned a bit with materialism. Don loved the good life, and New York was the epitome of that," his sister Kathy Dobe said, per Unsolved. "And I think he wanted a simpler time and a quieter time, and I think that's what drew him to that area."

Kemp was really into history and decided to sell most of his belongings and drive out to Wyoming, where he planned to write a book about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The last time Don Kemp was seen alive — at least verifiably alive — was at a museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, witnesses reported seeing Kemp alone, perusing the museum's exhibits, and not talking to anyone. He also reportedly left behind an attaché case that contained traveler's checks, some diaries, and a pair of driving glasses.

His SUV was found in the middle of nowhere

The day after Don Kemp was seen at the museum in Cheyenne, his Chevrolet Blazer was found abandoned on a desolate stretch of road in the middle of the prairie. According to Unsolved, a highway patrolman named Randy Teeters was the first to come across Kemp's SUV. He was quick to note the highly unusual way the car had been left behind. "The vehicle was left 40 miles from any town, on an off-ramp, running, stuff strung out of it, the doors open, a relatively new vehicle, not one that someone would just leave," he said.

Near the side of the road was a set of footprints heading away from the road and out into the wide-open prairie. This was yet another detail that befuddled Teeters. "I have no idea what would inspire anybody to walk out through that prairie in the middle of winter," he said (per Unsolved). "We considered possibly someone under medication that didn't know what they were doing due to the medication, or being out of the medication, possibly that would affect him to the point of where they would just walk out into the middle of nowhere."

The ensuing search turned up very little

Authorities put together a search effort for Don Kemp that even included flying over the surrounding area in an airplane. Police did discover a duffle bag with some of his belongings, and the footprints found by the roadside led them to a barn where they discovered signs of a campfire and several of Kemp's socks. According to Unsolved, the search was called off due to an incoming blizzard, which also made search efforts in the following days virtually impossible. Sheriff C.W. Ogburn was convinced that Kemp had simply wandered off into no man's land all alone. "Well, I think he was disturbed, he was having mental problems and possibly some health problems, and he just couldn't cope with it," the sheriff said (per Unsolved).

However, Kemp's mother, Mary Kemp, saw things much differently. She was convinced that her son had fallen victim to some form of foul play and that the alleged assailant planted the SUV and duffle bag to give the appearance that Kemp had simply wandered off by himself. "My son was murdered. I definitely believe this. Absolutely. He was murdered," she said (via Unsolved).

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Kemp's friend received a mysterious phone call

Several months after his SUV was discovered, Judy Aiello, Don Kemp's friend and co-worker of 10 years, came home to five missed calls and two messages on her answering machine. "My son didn't use his name, but Judy says she recognized the voice. She says my son spoke in a strained, urgent voice and gave a number where he could be reached," Mary Kemp told the Observer-Reporter. Another reason Aiello was sure they came from Kemp was that her New York City phone number was unlisted.

The number Kemp gave was traced to Casper, Wyoming, about 150 miles from where his SUV was found. What deepens the mystery even further is that Casper is the same town where there were two separate reported sightings of Kemp after he vanished. According to Unsolved, one sighting occurred at a local tavern, while the other occurred at a traveling exhibit focused on Abraham Lincoln, the subject of the book Kemp planned on writing in Wyoming.

Aiello called the number left on her answering machine and had an odd interaction with the person on the other end of the line. When asked to speak to Kemp, the man said "yes," but quickly switched his answer to "no." She then asked if the man could relay the message that she had called to Kemp, and he said he would.

A body was discovered, but some questions remain

Authorities in Wyoming conducted several interviews with the man who had been renting the trailer in Casper, where officials believe the calls to Judy Aiello were made there (via Unsolved). "He told us on all occasions, in all interviews, that he had no knowledge of the phone calls and that he had not made the phone calls," said Captain Mark Benton of the Natrona County Sheriff's Department. "I had an occasion to show him a picture of Donald Kemp, and he said that he did not know Donald Kemp, had never seen Donald Kemp, and knew nothing of his whereabouts."

However, not long after the interviews, the man — who the Observer-Reporter named as Mark Dennis — left Casper. Three years after he initially disappeared, a group of hunters discovered Kemp's body just a few miles from where his SUV had been abandoned. Sheriff C.W. Ogburn offered his thoughts on what happened (per Unsolved): "We never did suspect foul play. He was out there, and was avoiding us, stayed away from us, and I believe on the second or third day, he was gonna try to get back to his vehicle, and he didn't make it."

Still, Mary Kemp believes there's more to the story and that a major piece remains hidden in the phone calls received by Judy Aiello (via Unsolved). ​​"Who made the phone calls? That's the big question, who it was. It had to have been my son," Mary said.