The Cold Case of the Missing Person, a Dead New Age Prophet, and an Occult Book
by Richard Yearns
When Sally Arins was first reported missing six years ago, police were confident they’d be able to find her based on an abundance of evidence and first hand accounts. But a lack of funding and an inept department riddled with bureaucratic roadblocks has left the case cold.
“We went to Sedona on a whim, chasing a silly mystery and trying to kill a little time,” says Gus Edwards, a bookstore owner from Estes Park, Colorado, and friend to Sally.
“I found a copy of an ancient book of maps and we decided to follow some leads to learn more about the book, which took us to Sedona.” The mystery, according to Edwards, was “just a distraction.” The two were hunting down the origin of a text from an ancient occult group called The Hermetic Order or Owl, or just “Owl,” as Edwards usually shortens it. “Nothing more than a small group of people who built out a library of strange texts,” Gus brightens up when he talks about Owl, “They were prolific, but their books were often limited to one copy.” In the six years since Sally’s dissapearance, Gus has split his obsessions between finding her and learning more about Owl.
Gus is a tall man with a small demeanor. He shrinks into the background if you don’t keep your eye on him. He sneezes a lot. I interviewed him several times for this story in a variety of places, but the only place he ever seemed at home was at his book shop in Colorado. Over the last few years, he’s traveled to Sedona several times to keep pressure on the Sedona Police Department to find Sally, but he does most of his work from his bookstore in Colorado. His relationship with the department has been adversarial from the start.
“First they treated me as a suspect, they grilled me for days,” Gus deflates when he tells this part of the story. “They basically ruined the copy of the book that brought us into this mess to begin with because they kept going through it looking for clues. Pages are missing and the binding, which was already cracked, is not non-existent.”
Ultimately, the police ruled Gus out, based on a lack of evidence in the case pointing to any suspect, let alone him. SPD has refused repeated requests for an interview for this article, claiming they “Cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.”
Gus wasn’t alone when he last saw Sally, though. He was with local bookstore owner and self-declared prophet Melinda Bakersfield. Gus and Sally had turned to Bakersfield for help in their search. Bakersfield passed away days after Sally’s disappearance due to a heart attack, but Gus has always asserted her innocence in connection with Sally’s disappearance. “Melinda and her partner, Alexis, helped us out. Like any bookshop owner, she was curious to see where the texts lead us. Melinda had a lot of knowledge in her head about Owl, but didn’t always write it down.” Gus seems saddened at the loss of Melinda’s knowledge more than her life, but perhaps that’s just how bookstore owners view each other, as repositories of knowledge and nothing more. In either case he’s protective of her story and remains, even six years later, uneasy when I try to bring her up.
Melinda Bakersfield is a tougher nut to crack. Her partner, Alexis Farns, refused several interview requests, but Melinda has been a fixture in Sedona social circles long enough that most people know her story. At her core, she was searching for the truths of the universe and was never shy about turning to unpopular means to find those truths. She’s been known to throw a seance to speak with a dead colleague, lean on local newspapers to investigate stories (ahem), and her bookstore, Isis Antiquity, was a well known hot spot for New Age thinkers. To many, Melinda was seen as a prophet and teacher, one who wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power, but also the type of person who’d do whatever it took to get what she wanted.
The narrative around Sally’s disappearance has never shifted much. “We went on a walk to one of Sedona’s legendary vortices,” Gus stresses this word, “vortices,” and eyes me carefully to make sure I write it down correctly, “It’s not vortexes,” he tells me in a sidebar, “Even though that’s what a lot of people like to say.” When I finally assure him I’ll spell it correctly in the paper, he continues, “Sally laid down on the ground and closed her eyes for a while. It was some ritual Melinda convinced us was worth doing to understand Owl better. Sally seemed a little embarrassed, so Melinda and I walked away. When we came back an hour later, Sally was gone.”
In the years since, Gus has kept up his search, even though SPD hasn’t touched the case. “At some point, I realized the police weren’t going to pursue the case, so I’ve tried to do my best to learn all this new technology and keep the search alive.” Gus is referring mostly to the spread of the internet and its increased role in society. Where he once rejected technology—his book shop only added a credit card machine after customers complained—he’s since embraced it. Now, Gus has a “netbook,” and regularly logs onto to check in on his missing persons “groups” on Facebook.
Gus also runs a Usenet group dedicated to Owl, “I know Usenet is often associated with bad stuff, but it’s the only place I’ve found to host text and scans where we can talk about them as a group.” Gus’ face flushes red when he refers to the fact that Usenet, once a repository of conversation and text amongst cyber-adept nerds, has dissolved into a forum for pornography and illegal copies of movies, video games, and books. Gus tells me the Owl newsgroup has some 200 followers, and they’ve uploaded a variety of different texts from around the world. When I ask him to show me, he shakes his head and smiles, noting that these works were reserved for people who’d take them seriously, not for newspapermen. When I tried to log into the newsgroup later, I wasn’t able to get into the group.
When I ask Gus why he assumes Sally is alive, he shrugs me off. “There’s no body,” he points out, “and let’s be honest, it’s not like this was a murder scene. We were messing around looking for a book, then following a lead from a New Age bookstore owner to supposedly magical vortices in the desert. Not exactly the kind of thing that makes you think about murder.”
When I follow to the next logical question of what happened, if not murder, Gus gets flustered. He sneezes a few times and shakes off the question. “I’m not here to rewrite history with my presumptions. When I know what happened, I’ll know. Until then, it’s a void of knowledge. We can’t go around creating false narratives. That’s what gets recorded and later it’s assumed as fact. You have to be careful with this stuff.” Gus gives me a look that suggests I shouldn’t follow up on his line of reasoning.
Gus is obsessed with words and their meaning. He manages to always search for truth in books, yet remains cautious of their meaning in the present tense. I suppose that’s why he doesn’t entertain the idea that Sally was kidnapped or murdered that day. There’s a default assumption we all tend to make when presented with facts, and if we push back on those, the evidence can lead elsewhere. With the SPD unwilling to continue working on the case, Gus is the only left who seems to care what happened to Sally. When I left his bookstore for the last time, we shook hands, and, adjusting his glasses, Gus said to me, “We don’t always find truths in the world, you know, sometimes we find them in books.”
Correction: This story was updated to add clarifying details around the technology Gus uses to search for Sally and Owl.