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The Young Woman Who Mysteriously Disappeared During A First Date — Erin Gilbert

Mystery

By Based On a True StoryPublished about a month ago 9 min read

In Alaska there are about 3,000 disappearances every year, a figure that is still striking if we take into account that 736,732 people live here according to the 2014 census.

In many cases, these people appear alive or dead and in others the natural conditions of the American State, plagued by rivers, glaciers and an extreme cold, complicate the search, so you will never hear from them again.

Almost all its inhabitants know someone who disappeared without a trace... And perhaps the natural conditions already mentioned will serve to cover certain crimes that over the years remain unsolved.

Erin Marie Gilbert was born on May 4, 1971 in San Francisco, California. During her childhood her parents separated, which is why she moved with her mother and two older sisters to Everett, Washington.

Even so, she spent long periods in San Francisco with her father.

Her family and friends describe her as a dynamic, affectionate, intelligent and responsible girl. That kind of person who liked to make people laugh.

Erin was very close to Catherine and Stephanie, her two sisters, so much so that she ended up living in the house of one of them.

In 1995, Stephanie lived with her husband and two children at the Anchorage Air Force base, Alaska.

As her husband spent a lot of time away from home for his work, she persuaded Erin to go live with them, so she would not be alone and would help her with the care of her children. The girl accepted and once there she began to make a living as a nanny.

In her free time she used to practice all kinds of sports, especially basketball, and although in the future she wanted to be a writer, she planned to go to cosmetology school in the coming months.

Since it was new, Erin didn’t know many people in the city but she still used to go to a bar in Anchorage called Chilkoot Charlie’s where all the locals also met. It was there where a week before the events he met a boy named Dave Combs.

The two fell right away, that’s why they exchanged phone numbers. As they met again on June 30 at the bar, they planned to have a first date.

To do this, they decided that the next day they would go together to the Girdwood forest fair, 1 hour’s drive from Anchorage. This place is one of the most touristic in Alaska and is surrounded by mountains and glaciers.

In winter people go skiing and in summer hikes, rafting and fishing courses are organized. The main attraction at that time is the forest fair.

On July 1, 1995, 24-year-old Erin was very excited about her first date with Dave. When she went out to wait for him, she didn’t do it alone, her sister along with her husband and children waited with her to meet the boy she was going to go out with.

Dave arrived in his car at 4 in the afternoon and met the family. Once they gave their approval, Erin got into the car with him. Her 4-year-old niece told her that she should take a mobile phone but she laughed and told that it would be fine.

Unfortunately, that was the last time her family saw her because in a matter of hours Erin’s trace was lost forever.

The facts:

As I said before, Anchorage was an hour’s drive from Girdwood, so Dave and Erin arrived at about 5 p.m.

At the fair they were walking and having a drink at one of the stalls, which was certified by several witnesses.

When they returned to the car at 6, the first problem arose and that is that it did not start. Recently, in Alaska it was mandatory to drive with the front lights on at all times, regardless of whether it was day or night. Dave, who was not yet used to having the lights on during the day, forgot to turn them off when parking the car. When he saw that it didn’t start, he assumed that the battery had been discharged.

At that moment the boy did something that I personally find strange, instead of going to the fair, who was right next door to ask for help, he told Erin that a friend of him lived nearby. His plan was to walk to his house to help them with the car. Meanwhile, Erin would have to wait inside this one.

According to Dave’s version, he walked for two hours but could not find his friend’s house; when he finally returned to the parking lot of the fair, Erin was no longer there.

At that moment he thought that the girl had been angry for having to wait so long alone, so without knowing what to do, he got back into the car and tried to turn it on.

In the time it was stopped, some kind of miracle had to happen, because suddenly it started. For 15 minutes he left it going and then he returned to the fair thinking that Erin would be there.

Dave was looking for the girl until 1 a.m. and when he didn’t find her, he assumed that she had found some way to return home. Since it was already late, he decided to wait until 7 in the morning to call and check if she had arrived well.

As soon as the phone rang, Stephanie knew that something was wrong. Her sister had not returned the night before and this was not normal for her. The young woman had never been absent a whole night, and the few times she was late she had warned Stephanie.

At that moment she went with her husband and children to Girdwood where they toured the fairgrounds in the hope that Erin would be there. Stephanie got someone to take the stage to announce that they were looking for a missing person, thanks to this some of the attendees of the fair joined the search.

But the young woman gave no signs of life so Stephanie did two things: first she warned the police and then she went to a local television to include the photo of the girl in the news.

Immediately the authorities began an intensive search through the area with the help of helicopters and dogs that lasted several days. But it seemed that the girl had vanished into the air because they didn’t find a trace of her.

The family also looked for her on their own, including Curt Gilbert, the father traveled to Alaska to help find his daughter,

As the last person who saw Erin was Dave Combs, he became a person of interest to the investigators.

It is important to mention that the boy cooperated in the initial stages of the investigation and gave several statements to the detectives. His story of the day Erin disappeared never changed. He insisted that he left her in the car and when he returned two hours later, she was no longer there.

However, several weeks after the disappearance, Dave made a somewhat strange move. He went to a police station to get the polygraph test but when he was in the middle he left without completing it.

For their part, the agents were convinced that Erin’s case was a disappearance and emphasized that they were not investigating a homicide. For them there was no reason to think that she was not alive.

But with the passing of the months they began to get frustrated by the total lack of evidence in the case. They just had no idea where Erin could have gone.

Stephanie refused to abandon the search for her younger sister and made regular trips to Girdwood to see if she could find any clues.

She walked through kilometers of forests and hung thousands of posters of the disappeared, but nothing brought her even closer to her sister’s whereabouts.

Finally, because of her husband’s work, she moved to Washington in September 1996, yet she periodically returned to Alaska to look for Erin.

In 2017, the family offered a reward of $35,000 for any type of information that led them to the whereabouts of the young woman or to the person responsible for her disappearance; Although they received several calls, the detectives could not follow solid clues.

To date, the case is taken by the unresolved cases unit of the Alaska State Police. A detective routinely reviews the thousands of pages of Erin’s file in the hope of finding anything that has been overlooked. There have been no recent advances in the case, but it is still considered active and detectives believe that it can still be resolved.

According to the police, Dave Combs is not suspected of Erin’s disappearance, but they still have some questions they would like to ask him. It’s true that he cooperated with them at first, but he hasn’t talked to anyone about the case in years. An unresolved case detective has made several attempts to talk to him, but he has not returned any phone calls.

The detectives believe that Erin arrived at the fair safely, since they have witnesses who remember seeing her and Dave there, but they have not been able to find anyone who has seen Dave during the hours when he claimed that he was walking looking for his friend’s house, so this part cannot be confirmed.

It is known that Erin’s family has not had any contact with Dave since the disappearance. On the page they have enabled on Facebook for the search for the girl they tell her the following:

“Dave Combs, if you follow this page please call me and tell me where Erin is and what happened. Have the courage to finish this horrible journey in which we continue to look for her.”

Theories:

As in this type of case, there are several theories that emerged at the time about what could have happened to Erin that night.

When the detectives interviewed Erin’s family, they raised the possibility that the girl might have left voluntarily, but Stephanie was sure that was not the case.

Erin had too much to live for and absolutely no reason to flee. She was a mature and responsible girl, she loved her job and was about to start the school of cosmetology. She dreamed of one day becoming a successful author and was very close to her family. According to her, her sister would never have left without calling them.

There is another theory that it says that when Dave went to get help Erin, tired of waiting, decided to look for her on her own. Maybe someone saw her alone and took the opportunity to kidnap her.

Based on the principle of the previous theory, the agents considered the possibility that the girl had been lost in the forest.

Maybe tired of waiting for Dave, she went out to look for help on her own and got lost. The agents know that many people have died in Alaska after getting lost in the forest. However, Erin had never been a person prone to wander alone and less in a wooded area having the fair next door.

And then there is the theory that points directly to Dave Combs, the last person who saw her alive. And it is that in his story there are several things that are not logical.

To begin with, his car ran out of battery and instead of going to the fair that was right next door to ask for help, he decided to look for a friend’s house. There are no witnesses to this and during the two hours that in theory he was out Erin disappeared.

To this must be added that the battery of the car that was charged as if by magic after it was exhausted, not to mention what it did during the polygraph test.

This theory leads us to think that maybe when they returned to the car something happened between them and Dave tried to hide it by making the girl disappear..

However, despite all these things that may seem suspicious to us, they never found anything against them.

To this day, Erin’s family is aware that a long time has passed, which makes a happy ending unlikely. They are convinced that someone knows what happened to her that night, that’s why the reward is still standing.

It’s been 28 years since Erin Gilbert was last seen. If she was still alive, she would be 51 years old.

Thank you for reading the case and subscribing❤️

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About the Creator

Based On a True Story

Hi everyone! My name is Marta and every week I write about true crime, always with an educational purpose.

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Comments (1)

  • Margaret Brennanabout a month ago

    Yes, there are so many who disappear in Alaska. I've watched so many documentaries on those stories. Yours is awesome. Loved reading it.

Based On a True StoryWritten by Based On a True Story

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