On May 25, 2009, Tim and Corinne - friends and avid desert hikers - met near an old talc mine in the Malpais Mesa Wilderness to climb a peak with the unimaginative name of 7189. They parked beside a Joshua Tree on the mine road, got their gear situated and stared up at the conical summit 2100 feet above with its ramparts of dark volcanic rock.
In a picture they took before setting out, Corinne is smiling broadly. Tim regards the camera with a flat almost hostile stare.
Picking their way up the ridge, they noted flowering cacti and the wildflowers that make spring in the Mojave such a magical time. A placid collared lizard, soaking up the sun, allowed Corinne to pick it up and admire it.
As they climbed, the views increased in magnificence. To the south, behind them, the broad expanse of Centennial Flat sloped up to become the Coso Range. Mounts Whitney, Muir and Langley snow-kissed and massive rose to the west, and hazy in the eastern distance they could make out Death Valley’s highest peak, Telescope.
Higher up, the rocks turned a gorgeous red. Massive lava bombs lay scattered among them - huge, smooth lozenges that resembled elephant skin.
At some point, Tim mentioned he wasn’t feeling well and began to slow. Corinne pushed on ahead, waiting for him at intervals until they made the summit. Digging out the register there, Corinne scrawled her website and “Beautiful Day!” Tim wrote, “Great day in the hills! Praise the Lord!” They sat down, shared some cookies and took in the views. Rested and recharged, they began the return journey.
But when they got back to their vehicles, something went horribly wrong. I couldn’t find any details of why it happened; whether there was an argument or Tim had a psychotic break, I’m not sure. What’s certain is that Tim attacked Corinne, garroting her into unconsciousness. Either believing she was dead, or in a fit of contrition, he released her. I’m guessing he came back to his senses since they clearly had a conversation after she returned to consciousness.
An examination of the timestamps on her photos gives some insight. There is a two hour gap between the photo she took when first returning to her vehicle and when they parted ways. At 4:51pm there is an image of her gps with the total elevation they had climbed. The next photo is timestamped 7:02pm with the caption “…Decided I should drive home and [Tim] followed me out to make sure I was ok to drive.” It had to have been in that interval he attacked her.
The next photo is at 7:56pm: a closeup of her face, eyes filled with blood. She managed to drive herself to the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital where a nurse noted the lurid, red ligature mark on her throat.
After they parted, Tim headed east on the 190 to return home to Trona, turning south through Darwin. But he never made it. At the Slate Range Crossing, he parked his Jeep and fatally shot himself.
Corinne recovered physically but has struggled with PTSD since the attack on that bright spring day in the Mojave when someone she trusted suddenly turned on her.
The desert is full of stories. Some glorious and full of adventure, others grim and inexplicable.
Please note that I’ve changed their names in attempt to protect her privacy and his family’s.