Photo from ‘The Box’ re-opens case of missing hillbillies

image Some of you may have noticed the last few postings of The Box have been missing on Tuesdays. That’s because, as regular readers of this feature, you have developed an investigative journalist’s eye for detail. For those who may not have noticed because of reading with irregularity, you may want to add Triscuits to your diet. Regardless, the reason The Box has been on hiatus is simple: journalism is a dangerous job.

Especially when “Skippy” the rabid, blindfolded squirrel is unaccounted for.

Each Tuesday, with Skippy’s help, I utilize my investigative journalism skills to determine the circumstances within a photo selected from The Box: a collection of unidentified photos that has remained unclaimed in our newsroom since the 1980s. Sort of like those 1984 graduation party photos your kids found and that you deny being in.

To ensure the selection process is completely random, I wait until my fellow reporters are deep in concentration (on Instagram) before dumping the contents of The Box onto the newsroom floor. That’s when I holler “RELEASE THE SQUIRREL!” and Skippy goes to work: The photo closest to the first person who screams — whether it be man, woman or editor — is chosen.

However, two weeks ago Skippy went AWOL after being released from his state-mandated steel-reinforced habitat by an unwitting college intern who, according to her therapist, won’t stop repeating, I just wanted to pet the mean squirrel. Until yesterday, the only sign of Skippy was a constant gnawing that we finally traced to the janitorial closet. Inside, we discovered “Bill” from composition, who had been hiding from Skippy and gnawing on a broomstick out of sheer nervousness. And possibly a need for fiber.

It wasn’t until I tried mimicking the mating call of a rabid squirrel (By playing Justin Bieber’s “If I Was Your Boyfriend” at high speed) that I was able to coax Skippy back into his cage. This morning, as a sign of trust, I emptied The Box onto the floor and let him loose again. He returned my trust by making or newest reporter, “Jack,” scream.

Great to have you back, Skippy.

Which brings us to this week’s mystery photo!

Have you seen us? This group of hillbillies was last seen near a country road they thought would take them home. Possibly to West Virginia.
Have you seen us? This group of hillbillies was last seen near a country road they thought would take them home. Possibly to West Virginia.

As an investigative journalist, the first step is to analyze the photo and look for clues that can help establish a location and timeline to start from. Thanks to my keen eye for detail, I was able to immediately rule out Los Angeles, New York City or any major metropolitan area. This effectively narrowed the scope of my search to wooded areas where hillbillies might stand around with their instruments. Next was determining an approximate timeline which, in this case, was actually pretty easy once I compared hair styles…

Mystery hillbilly
Mystery hillbilly
Russell Hitchcock, lead singer of Air Supply.
Russell Hitchcock, lead singer of Air Supply.

Clearly, the lead singer in our mystery hillbilly group was influenced by the hair stylings of Air Supply lead singer Russell Hitchcock, offering irrefutable evidence that this photo was taken between 1980 and 1983, before Hitchcock’s “permed” phase sparked nearly a decade of horrible mullet perms throughout the Deep South.

Armed with a time and general location, I left the office to find the exact hillbilly location where the photo was taken. A hunch told me I would find it in West Virginia. Near the Blue Ridge mountains. Most likely along the Shenandoah River. I knew I’d better hurry because life is old there. Older than the trees in fact, but younger than the mountains — which meant there was still a chance some clues, while almost in heaven, were still alive and somewhere along those country roads.

That’s when it hit me: a hunch. Or a feeling, really. Like I should have been home yesterday. Moments later, my editor validated that feeling when she called and asked, “Where the hell ARE you?!?”

Once back at the newspaper, I visited “The Morgue,” which is really just where we keep old issues of Siuslaw News dating back to the late 1800s, but that we call The Morgue to freak out kids on Cub Scouts tours…

Pointing at a random newspaper archive in "The Morgue" for added drama.
Pointing at a random newspaper archive in “The Morgue” for added drama.

It was here my suspicions were confirmed. According to a May 18, 1982 article, “Police are seeking help in locating a group of missing hillbillies from West Virginia who were last seen on the Oregon Coast. Authorities believe group members may be suffering the effects of hallucinogenic mushrooms…


…and have reportedly been referring to a woman called ‘Mountain Mama’ whose voice they hear in the morning as she calls them.”

I couldn’t find any additional information on this group, or whether it was ever found. With cooperation from authorities, I have obtained an artificially aged photo of what the group might look like today…

Apparently, investigators believe some members would have aged better than others .
Apparently, investigators believe some members would have aged better than others.

If you have seen any of these people, please let authorities know. But not before shaving that mullet. After 30 years, they can wait; that mullet can’t.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

50 thoughts on “Photo from ‘The Box’ re-opens case of missing hillbillies”

  1. Is the squirrel a relation of yours. I have a sister who’s uncles brother twice removed, well his daughter’s cousin Louella May is into squirrel meat….if you know what I mean…

  2. Laughed my way through this Ned. What does that say about me when I know all the words to ‘Take me home country roads’ and to everything that Air Supply ever sang?
    Wait! Don’t answer that.

  3. As a Canadian, I can’t help but think that Skippy looks an awful lot like a rabid beaver (that could be just a national mass illusion – you know: seeing what you are looking for). I know we’ve had this discussion before and you were clear that no one wants to try and tell Skippy he’s not a squirrel. Perhaps when he escaped he was seeking out his kin – much as you seek the truth. He may have been on a jurney (deliberate sic) of self-discovery. The picture that Skippy helped to choose ( by attacking the person closest to the photo he wanted you to see) may be a cry for help. I suspect that since your editor called you back just as you were getting close to an answer, that she may very well be in cahoots with others to keep Skippy separate from his kin. This makes it even more critical that you find those hillbillies shown in the picture. It may be the only chance Skippy has – his actions being an obvious cry for help. And you have to do it on the QT because if your editor gets whiff of this she shall most certainly try to thwart you. I was wandering the Blue Ridge Mountains back in ’67 and I swear I saw a much younger version of the same group on a small side road and they had a much happier squirrel/ groundhog/beaver with them. In retrospect he had very similar features to Skippy. It would explain why the group was in Oregon (searching for Skippy), why Skippy is so angry (separated from his family for decades), and how that particular picture came to light when there are thousands of possible pictures in The Box that could have been the center of today’s discussion..

    Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to clandestinely discover the whereabouts of Skippy’s family without arousing the suspicions of your editor. When you have finished reading this, please print it out, delete it from your computer and then eat the printed message. This shall ensure complete security. If you should be caprtured, I will deny any and all communications on this matter. Oh, and Skippy thanks you for your peceptive investigative jurnalism..

  4. That group is still touring downunder trying to figure out how the hell they are supposed to get off the god forsaken desert island…those two photos fit the timeline between arrival and recent perfectly.

          1. I wouldn’t worry about that Ned, us ’66ers have an unusual resilience when it comes to change…I say come down and see what happens.

  5. You didn’t even mention the photo bomber in the back. Obviously, not part of the “band”. Perhaps that is their main groupy. He may head up their fan newsletter. Oh, he may be a colleague of yours?

    1. You’re right! I thought those were drumsticks in his pocket until I noticed the discarded Chinese to-go container on the ground. How could I have been careless?!?

      *hangs head*

    1. I was wondering why there was moonshine buried in my backyard. It’s all coming together…

      And frighteningly, all those references to JD were Google-free!

      1. If you must know, I was reading those phrases and it took a bit but then involuntarily start to beller Mountain Mama…”oh I see what he did there!”
        It’s the simple things that get my foggy sludge brain moving. I think I’ll go read your tax post again…I need some motivation!

  6. It’s old news but…
    I just wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated you
    for The Jolly Lobster Blog Award.
    No, really.
    I did. 🙂

    You’ve probably already seen the details about it at my blog:
    But if not, here’s the address:

    If you don’t get into the blog awards, that’s okay too.
    I still like you.
    And I won’t make you or threaten to break the appendage of your choice. 😉

    1. I did see it and I thank you so much! I’m sorry for the delay; I got your message on deadline day so I didn’t have time to respond. Will be doing so today.

      Thanks again!

      — Ned

      1. Oh no worries and no hurries 🙂
        The reason I did that was because tech hates my guts. It’s a mutual thing. Sometimes my pings and comments hit the intended target and sometimes they don’t.
        That’s just me, trying to be better at following up. 🙂

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