This is part two 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 the tenacity of a parent unwilling to let the legacy of his child fade into the night. New to this series? Part one can be read by clicking here.
In the quiet, secluded landscapes of northern California, a chilling mystery haunts the memory of Chris Giauque. Over twenty years ago, late in the afternoon of Saturday, August 9, 2003, Chris left his Salmon Creek home in Southern Humboldt and never returned. On that Saturday, Chris headed out on a journey to meet with a business associate, Ben Lomax, to collect a substantial sum of money owed to him for income generated from a property in the Spyrock region of Mendocino County.
Chris’s father, Bob Giauque, learned of his son’s disappearance two days after his failed return from his scheduled meeting with Lomax. According to Bob, his son’s wife, Becca, notified the family that Chris was missing only after she, Lomax, and a lawyer, reported Chris missing to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
Prior to the sudden disappearance of the cannabis mogul, things appeared to be looking up for the 36-year-old. Having recently been released from federal prison, Chris was eager to start a new chapter in his life and tie up loose ends from his time away. Two weeks prior to his last meeting in Spyrock, Chris had joyously married Rebecca in a grand outdoor wedding in Trinidad, surrounded by friends and family.
Though in attendance, Bob was not happy about his oldest son’s choice for a bride. Having never been fond of Rebecca, Bob questioned her love and devotion to Chris. Unbeknownst to the father of the groom, the wedding was the last time Bob would see his son.
In the following weeks Chris resumed life as the leader of his large cannabis enterprise.
Some of Chris’s crew claimed that while Chris was in prison, Lomax was living large, worrying some that Lomax was spending more than his portion of the proceeds of the grow property on Simmerly Road. According to those close to Chris, the boss tried to meet up with Lomax multiple times to settle up the money owed to him during his time incarcerated. One member even stated that Lomax was ducking Chris. However, Lomax was in attendance at Chris’s lavish, bachelor party in San Francisco, and later at ‘Reggae on the River’, a large, multi-day, music festival. Attendees of both events stated there was no apparent animosity between the two.
On the night of his disappearance, Chris’s actions did not indicate he had any apprehensions of his meeting with Lomax. He reportedly turned down the offer of one of the crew to accompany him to the property he co-owned with Ben Lomax, and Adrian Vasquez.
Chris arrived that evening at Government Pond, where he met Ben Lomax for a ride onto the property. Due to Chris’s probationary status, he wanted to avoid being seen at the illegal grow therefore leaving his truck behind and riding with Lomax to his trailer on the property to settle up their business. For the same reason, Chris never carried a firearm, but never left home without his knife, which he had with him at the time of his disappearance.
According to Ben Lomax, after conducting their business inside a trailer home on the Simmerly Road property, he drove Chris back to his truck at Government Pond. Lomax said that Chris was last seen driving down Iron Peak Rd., while Ben Lomax headed to an area with cell phone reception to make several phone calls.
However, Chris never made it home.
A Trail of Suspicion
Becca, Lomax, and a lawyer reported Chris missing two days later on August 11, 2003. The delay in the reporting and the presence of a lawyer raised questions about Becca almost immediately. To this day, those closest to Chris remain divided on whether his new wife had something to do with his disappearance.
One crew member stated that Chris and Becca had a designated meeting location in case of emergency, set up primarily with law enforcement raids or theft in mind. They reported that when Chris did not arrive by the next morning, Becca went to the meeting location and waited, though Chris never arrived.
Those that saw Becca during that time stated she was distraught with fear but unsure what she should do. Going to the police meant admitting where Chris was going, why, and with whom—handing law enforcement information that could land them all in prison while jeopardizing the business Chris had built. Talking to the cops was against the crew’s code–outlaws pitted against law enforcement in the War on Drugs, cops were not to be trusted. If arrested, keep your mouth shut and ask for a lawyer, was the number one rule reiterated over and over across the Emerald Triangle. It did not seem unusual for many within the crew for Becca to have neighbor and friend, attorney Ron Sinoway, accompany her and Chris’s trusted friend Lomax to report him missing.
And yet others still believe Becca’s actions implicate her.
Searches were conducted with and without law enforcement, friends and crew members knowing the vast network of rural roads and Chris’s favored spots. They searched to no avail, until August 13, 2003, when Chris’s blue Toyota Tacoma was found parked along the Avenue of the Giants near Elk Creek Road, fifty miles north of Chris’s last known location, not far from his Salmon Creek home.
The appearance of the normally dirty truck, wiped clean, on the side of the road, was a sign to many that Chris would not be coming home alive.
Law enforcement had a difficult task attempting to locate a missing man, who, by nature of his business, operated in the shadows, and backroads of the rural mountains. His associates and friends were hesitant and mistrustful of law enforcement, calculating the weight of their words to help their friend without destroying what he built.
Additionally, though by all accounts, Chris was last seen in Mendocino County, due to Chris’s disappearance being reported in Humboldt County, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office remains the lead agency in charge of the missing person’s case. The current Mendocino Sheriff Matt Kendall said that Humboldt and Mendocino counties have a good working relationship as neighbors, collaborating often. However, in addition to any possible red tape between jurisdictions, the nature of investigating a missing persons case versus a homicide, which both counties agree they’re likely dealing with, is varied.
At the time, according to the last known person to see Chris, Ben Lomax, Chris left in perfect health with a large sum of money, driving treacherous roads after dark; a story Lomax readily told law enforcement.
Humboldt County’s Missing Persons/Homicide Cold Case Investigator, Mike Fridley, says that the possibility that Chris had possibly wrecked needed to be examined. The case took a more sinister turn when Chris’s truck was discovered in working condition back in Humboldt County. Even then, witnesses were hard to come by.
“That is very typical of these cases where other illegal activities are involved. …[T]here’s a big difference between growing cannabis versus murder, and yet, people are still hesitant to come forward,” Kendall said explaining that it makes crimes harder to solve when witnesses refuse to speak to law enforcement.
With the cops poking around and suspicions growing, Chris’s crew fractured under the stress of Chris’s absence. And, without Chris, the newly formed familial ties with Becca unraveled quicker than they were formed. Bob Giauque said that her refusing to talk with him the day after she reported his son missing didn’t help.
Sides were formed with and without intention, inhibiting the free exchange of knowledge, accusations and suspicions reigning as the crew that held Chris’s empire together, crumbled under the weight of his disappearance and presumed death.
Without Chris, crew members moved on, setting up their own grows, or leaving the cannabis industry behind, the memories of their time with Chris as wild as the man that extended his hand to many just as easily as he taunted law enforcement.
The Spyrock Connection
With nobody found, Chris’s case went cold. A year after Chris’s disappearance, private investigator Doug Newton entered the scene, seeking answers. Bob has long believed his son never returned to his truck after meeting with Lomax.
According to Bob Giauque and his investigators, after Chris’s disappearance, Ben Lomax also retained a lawyer, Jane Wilson. Wilson simultaneously represented four other individuals law enforcement wanted to question regarding Chris’s missing person’s case, Scott McKinney, Freddie Delgado, Victor Suarez Jr., and Eric Barnett. While Delgado split from Wilson and spoke with law enforcement, according to Bob’s investigators, it appears the other three were never interviewed by law enforcement regarding Chris Giauque’s disappearance.
Bob says that a few days after Chris disappeared, two of Chris’s friends from the Salmon Creek crew went to the Spyrock property to look for Chris. There, they reportedly met Scott McKinney at a gate on Simmerly Road with his left forearm bandaged from what he stated was a self-inflicted injury. The two crew members said McKinney let them through the gate, onto the property where they reported Ben’s trailer was cleaned with a strong bleach smell, contrary to its normal messy state.
During his investigation, Newton discovered inconsistencies in the accounts given by individuals connected to the case, particularly McKinney, who reportedly initially claimed a self-inflicted arm injury but later altered his story.
Two years later, the four individuals connected to Chris’s case were indicted in a federal marijuana conspiracy, shedding light on their potential involvement in his disappearance. However, the investigation didn’t lead to concrete answers regarding Chris’s fate.
In June 2014, Chris Giauque’s father received a series of mysterious phone calls from an unidentified individual. According to Bob Giauque, the caller claimed to have firsthand knowledge of Chris’s disappearance and revealed shocking details. According to the caller, Chris was killed in a premeditated setup, orchestrated by four individuals: Ben Lomax, Scott McKinney, an individual known only as “Vic,” and the caller himself. In this grim account, Chris allegedly stabbed Scott McKinney in self-defense during a confrontation, causing a severe injury to Scott’s upper body. Subsequently, Chris was killed with his own knife, and his body was wrapped in a tarp to avoid bloodstains in the vehicle used to transport his remains away from the property.
The caller had requested a small amount of money for a bus ticket out of the area.
Though Bob tested the caller by giving inaccurate information that the caller then corrected, according to Bob, MCSO Sheriff Matt Kendall, believes that the call may have been a scam to get the insubstantial amount of money from the grieving father.
Bob and his investigators have been unsuccessful in locating the caller or finding the evidence needed to corroborate his story, leading to an arrest.
Though the trail has run cold, neither Bob, nor law enforcement, say they are giving up. Humboldt County Investigator Fridley, knew Chris from his days as a deputy in the Southern Humboldt area. Regardless of Chris’s contentious relationship with law enforcement at the time, Fridley wants to solve this case and catch those responsible for Chris’s apparent homicide. “I’m still trying to …put this together, working on it, we’ve been looking at evidence and things like that. [He’s] a person …and I feel for his dad, because I’m a father too. And …he’s never been able to know what happened to him, [and] nobody’s ever been held accountable. …[N]o matter what he did, …obviously [he] didn’t deserve to be killed. That’s one of the cases I would love to solve,” he said.
Mendocino County Sheriff Kendall also wants to close this case, hoping with the legalization of cannabis, and the $400,000 reward available, those who may know something will come forward. The Mendocino Sheriff said that it isn’t uncommon for people to confess involvement to a crime years after the fact when the burden of the knowledge becomes unbearable. Those who may have been involved, and concerned about self-implication, can call the MCSO anonymous tip line (800) 782-7463. Kendall said, “The way that [the] tape works is you cannot even give your name, you have to remain anonymous. And we can answer questions through that.” Additionally, immunity questions can be posed through the anonymous tip line. “The district attorney has offered immunity on many things in the past, because let’s face it, somebody cultivating marijuana versus someone who commits a murder, I think that we can have a fair and equitable trade to solve a homicide case. But that’s a question for district attorney,” he stated.
Though the fear of retaliation and self-implication keeps even those who loved Chris from stepping out of the shadows, even now under the light of legalization, the stigma of cannabis cultivation remains a threat to new leaves turned, notoriety stymied, with many walking straight paths that may be rattled by the pitted paths of the past. Though most have talked with Bob and the private investigators he has hired, trusting Chris’s father when they won’t trust law enforcement, the vast majority of those involved with Chris’s cannabis business do not want their names tied to the case or tales of the larger-than-life man who vanished.
A Father’s Unrelenting Quest for Truth
The disappearance of Chris Giauque is a mystery that has haunted the Giauque family for far too long. With a substantial reward and a renewed commitment to uncover the truth, they hope that someone will come forward with vital information to solve this case and bring those responsible to justice.
On the twenty-year anniversary of Chris’s disappearance, Bob had a billboard erected along Highway 101 asking for information regarding the case. The sign faces southbound traffic in Laytonville, the nearest town along Highway 101 to the Spyrock area. According to Bob, the billboard and reward are working to generate more leads.
The billboard is just the latest development as Bob Giauque tirelessly seeks justice for his son. In 2018, Bob hired private investigator Dawn King who remains on the case today. In October 2020, Bob increased the reward fund to $400,000 in the hope of eliciting more information that could finally bring closure to this heartbreaking case.
Investigator Fridley is seeking anyone with knowledge about Chris’s disappearance, regardless of how small or insignificant the information may seem. He is convinced there are people that know what happened to Chris and implores them to come forward. He said one small piece of information could break the case, or at the minimum, reinvigorate the case to allow additional resources to be dedicated to this twenty-year-old mystery.
No charges or arrests have been made in connection to Chris Giauque’s disappearance and apparent homicide. All people discussed in this article are presumed innocent. Statements made by individuals about others are their opinions and have not be proven in a court of law.
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. Your assistance could be instrumental in solving this long-standing mystery.
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
Chris was reported missing in Humboldt County but last known to be 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 or the anonymous tip-line at (800) 782-7463, 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 chrisreward.org.