Third body found in Superstitions

Apache Junction / Gold Canyon News
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski January 24, 2011

Superstition Search and Rescue has found the body of a third man in the Superstition Mountains Saturday, Jan. 15, believed to be Utah treasure hunter Curtis Merworth.

Robert Cooper, director of SSAR’s urban search and rescue, said the discovery of the two other bodies two weeks ago helped in the recovery process.

“He (Merworth) was on top of Black Mesa, tucked under a tree,” Cooper said. “He found a nice shade tree and found some dirt. When you lie down, your body shuts down. I imagine he was on his way out for help.”

Local author and 26-year treasure hunter Rick Gwynne found two skeletal remains Jan. 5 near Yellow Peak and Second Water Trail. They are believed to be Ardean Charles and Malcom Meeks.

“It took a treasure hunter to find treasure hunters,” Cooper said. “That gave us a point last known. Our last point of last known was the vehicle but the whole wildnerness was the search area. When Rick found the body, the search area became between the bodies and the car.”

“We are persistent,” Cooper said. “We just never quit.”

According to Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Jeff Sprong, the remains are in the process of being identified. However, Gwynne is convinced that they are two of the Utah treasure hunters missing since July 6.

“I got to looking at them,” Gwynne said. “I said, ‘They must be those guys from Utah.’ There’s two of them. I got to looking around I saw the wallet of the one fellow. I went over and picked it up. It was belonged to Malcom Meeks.”

Gwynne said there were obvious signs of hypothermia.

He said he’s “pretty sure” he found Charles as well.

“(Charles’) lantern was lying right beside him on low light,” Gwynne said. “His glasses were in his pocket. They were on these rocks, I’m guessing at night time.”

Gwynne, who is due to soon have hip and knee replacement surgery, said he stayed the night in the mountains to make the hike down easier on him. Upon exiting the mountains, he called a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office deputy that he knew and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office representatives followed.

“We flew out and I showed them where the bodies were,” Gwynne said. “At that point, they took over and brought the bodies out, both of them.”

Gwynne said that he believes the story that the trio was treasure hunting. People he has spoken to, however, are surprised that the men were not found earlier.

“They were out in the open,” he said. “When I flew over in that chopper, even though I knew where they were, they were extremely hard to see. The skulls looked like white rocks.”

Sprong said he is waiting to hear back from the medical examiner’s office about the identification of the bodies as well as the causes of death.

“We’re looking into the fact that this is possibly going to be two of the men,” Sprong said. “Unfortunately, we can’t confirm it until we get information back from the medical examiner.”

Sgt. Jesse Spurgin, of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said, the department spoke to the detective working the case on Thursday, Jan. 20, and the medical examiner still has not made a definitive identification on the bodies.

“Once final ID has been made, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office will provide a news release,” Spurgin said.