This is part one of a two-part article on the life, disappearance, and search for justice for Chris Giauque – a skinny kid from the Bay Area who built a cannabis empire while fighting for legalization–and on the tenacity of his parent unwilling to let the legacy of his child fade into the night.
Building an Empire
We often believe that the death of a loved one is the worst possible outcome, and yet loved ones of the missing may tell you the unknown is excruciatingly worse; the space in between holding on and letting go, trapping those left behind to search for answers, encased in a never-ending grief.
Bob Giauque has lived in the space in between for the last twenty years since his son Chris went missing on August 9, 2003, after meeting up with a friend and business partner in a remote area of Mendocino County. Though Bob has long accepted that his son was likely murdered all those years ago, neither his body nor justice has been found. As the final years of Bob’s life tick by, his need for answers amplifies, wanting, needing to know what happened in the final moments of Chris’s life before his own life comes to an end.
In the face of this mystery, Chris’s father has spent the last twenty years and untold amounts of money searching for clues, employing a private investigator, and offering a staggering $400,000 reward for information that could lead to the discovery of his son’s remains and to long-awaited justice.
Bob believes his son’s involvement in the cannabis industry, and those he called friends, played a key role in his disappearance. Cannabis was illegal in 2003 when Chris left to collect money from a business partner and never returned. The illegal nature of their business led to a delay in reporting his disappearance, and a history of mistrust of law enforcement has silenced those who may hold a clue that could solve this twenty-year-old mystery.
When Bob and his wife Charlotte welcomed their first child, Chris Robert Giauque on February 2, 1967, they had no idea that their infant son would face adversity and overcome it, becoming the larger-than-life activist for the decriminalization of cannabis, building an empire only for it to come crashing down with his sudden disappearance.
As a child, Chris’s journey began against a backdrop of health challenges that would have deterred a lesser spirit. At an early age, the youngest Giauque was diagnosed with a heart condition that he underwent surgery for, leaving him with a vertical scar on his chest for the rest of his life. Due to his early health issues, Chris, by all accounts, tried to live life to the fullest, always uncertain of the time he had left on this earth. He embraced life as a fleeting gift, and in doing so, he exhibited a tenacious approach to life’s challenges. But it was this very sense of urgency that led him down a path where his ideals and the law collided.
During his teen years, Chris engaged in rambunctious fun that pitted him against the local authorities and caused his parents more than a few restless nights and a trip to Juvenile Hall. The youth pushed the envelope with pranks and late-night joy rides much to his parents’ exasperation, though his close relationship with his mom left Bob as the disciplinarian.
As a young man, with his rebellious, live-life-to-the-fullest attitude well entrenched, Chris suffered another monumental setback; An accident left Chris with a broken back and little chance of walking. However, after a risky surgery where a rod was placed in his spine, Chris’s dogged determination helped him not only walk, but recover fully, though he was plagued with pain.
In addition to his tenacious nature, Chris was incredibly intelligent. After high school he was accepted to U.C. Davis where he studied veterinary medicine. There, Chris became involved with NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, that was founded in 1970. Chris went on to serve as the chapter president of the Davis NORML group. According to several of Chris’s close friends, he was a champion of the medicinal properties of cannabis, using the plant as pain relief due to his injuries.
During his days in Davis, Chris’s relationship with cannabis grew as he became emmeshed in the culture and advocacy work to decriminalize the use of the plant. In addition to his personal use and advocacy, Chris was growing cannabis, an illegal endeavor regardless of the medicinal properties as the plant, having been classified as a Schedule 1 drug in 1970 along with drugs like heroin. Regardless of the federal classification, Chris grew and sold marijuana, while advocating for the decriminalization of the plant he believed in.
As with any clandestine operation, those that Chris allowed close to him became an extended family. By nature of the illegality of his actions, to allow someone into his inner circle was to allow them access to information that could lead not only to theft, but also the loss of his freedom, and even death.
Chris’s charm drew people in as the young man rejected societal pressures, bucking even his father, as he dived deeper into cannabis culture, growing dreadlocks and skirting the law.
Feeling heat from local law enforcement, Chris made the decision to move to Humboldt County, the cannabis capital of the United States, eventually building a cannabis empire in the rural regions of Southern Humboldt.
Those within Chris’s inner circle talk of a camaraderie that transcended the constraints of laws and social norms. As with his Davis crew, many of whom followed Chris to Humboldt, Chris soon built a circle of close confidants, not just workers, but friends that he helped elevate in return for their loyalty and hard work.
As state eradication efforts raged in the hills, law enforcement and outlaws kept upping their games. It wasn’t uncommon for sheriff deputies to hang from a rope beneath a helicopter in order to find carefully camouflaged marijuana “patches” sometimes even grown in the branches of trees. During this time, Chris was methodically expanding his operation. Meanwhile, he kept up his advocacy work, pushing against laws regulating the cultivation and use of a plant he believed should be available to all.
Chris’s crew had a code of ethics of their own, a social contract that they lived by. Naturally a leader, Chris would take those that broke the contract to task. Those closest to him said that though he could be radical and unbending with his ethics, Chris was not violent. His generosity and acceptance within the group was a deterrent for those that might have questioned or challenged him.
Chris employed many, often helping those in dire need to get a foothold, putting them to work growing or trimming the large quantities of marijuana he was producing. He had middlemen that sold his product for him, friends in Davis that he trusted on his properties and with his weed. Those that showed initiative, talent, and earned Chris’s trust, were elevated, some being given a remote property and an opportunity, their success in their own hands.
In exchange, Chris got a percentage of the profits from the properties until the agreed upon time/investment was met. Several people in Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino were able to own property with an established cannabis business through Chris’s generosity.
The arrangements allowed Chris to reward crew members that were loyal while expanding his revenue streams as he received portions of the proceeds from the illicit grows, while enlarging his network as well as avoiding putting properties in his name, which was quickly garnering heat in the Emerald Triangle as it did in Davis.
Though many people were growing illicitly throughout the famed hills of Humboldt County, most were trying to remain undetected, keeping a low profile to aid in concealing their operations, skirting the law. Privileges we enjoy today under California’s adult-use legalization laws – ordering cannabis at a legal dispensary, cultivating personal use plants in our backyards, smoking a joint in a public space, enjoying a cannabis-infused oil massage – people then were being arrested and incarcerated for. Regardless of the empire he had to lose, Chris continued to thumb his nose at the law and those that enforced it, remained loyal to the mission of legalization and decriminalization.
In spite of several stints behind bars for cannabis cultivation, and hundreds of plants being seized in busts, Chris remained radical in his activism. He smoked weed while sitting on the hood of a cop car and chased after sheriff’s deputies grabbing plants from the back of their truck as they drove off with the cut marijuana, to name just a few of his more notorious stunts. Many within the weed-growing community, even some within his own crew, did not like the attention Chris’s activism brought, though some enjoyed seeing the skinny guy with dreads from Salmon Creek thumbing his nose at the cops that threatened the livelihood of many within the Emerald Triangle.
Though it cost Chris money and freedom, he remained true to his beliefs, living by the code of ethics he set forth, no matter the cost. His tremendous success in illegal cannabis cultivation was, in large part, due to his beliefs and structure, but ultimately, it is believed those long-held practices resulted in his death.
After serving time for a marijuana charge, Chris returned to his empire in the Emerald Triangle which was kept running in his absence by his trusted crew. Happy to be free once more, Chris set to resuming operations of his businesses. He quickly married his fiancé, Rebecca Smiley; a move Chris’s father was not keen on. He then set out to collect owed debts from his absence.
On the evening of August 9, 2003, Chris set out for a remote property in Northern Mendocino County, to collect $150K owed to him by his business partner, Ben Lomax. Chris had reportedly set Lomax, a friend and part of his crew, up with a grow in the rural, mountainous community near the Spyrock area. Due to Chris being on parole, the plan was for him to leave his truck along Iron Peak Road before riding with Lomax to the grow property.
Chris never returned from that meeting. His truck was found 50 miles north of the Spyrock area along the Avenue of the Giants on August 13, 2003, wiped clean.
Bob and Charlotte found out their son was missing two days after his disappearance when Chris’s new wife reported him missing, arriving at the Humboldt County Sheriff’s office in Garberville with Ben Lomax and a lawyer.
Seven years after his disappearance, Chris Giauque was legally declared dead by the County of Humboldt on September 9, 2010.
The body of Chris Giauque has never been located and no arrests have been made.
Part two of this two-part article will focus on the investigation into Chris’s disappearance.
Bob Giauque has created a reward fund totaling $400K. According to the website set up by Bob, “The sum of $200,000 is being offered for information that leads to the recovery of Chris’ remains. An additional sum of $200,000 is offered for information that leads to the arrest and subsequent conviction of the individuals responsible for this homicide. The reward funds are at a Santa Rosa bank in a trust fund and they will remain available through calendar year 2024.”
Anyone with information about this case is asked to call Bob Giauque at 707-865-0933 or Private Investigator Dawn King at 707-287-7603.
Sources can remain confidential.
Chris Robert Giauque
- Race: White
- Sex: Male
- DOB: 2/02/1967
- City of Residency:Salmon Creek, CA
- Age at time of disappearance: 36 years-old
- Height: 6 feet 0 inch
- Weight: 145 pounds
- Hair: Brown
- Eye color: Blue
Because Chris was reported missing in Humboldt County but last known to be seen in Mendocino County, both counties have conducted portions of the investigation. If you have any information about this case, you can contact the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office Tip-Line at 707-234-2100, MCSO Case#: 03-3247. Or contact the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at 707-268-2539 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, HCSO Case #: 200305305
Additional details about the disappearance of Chris Giauque can be found at www.chrisreward.org.
This article is written by Lisa Music, a local freelance journalist. To reach Lisa about tips, questions or comments, email her at email@example.com