Erik Lamberg Went Missing in the Wilds West of Willits

A photograph of Erik attached to a Mendocino Sheriff press released regarding his disappearance.

Erik had the smog of Los Angeles in his rearview and Oregon’s fertile fields ahead when he left his Hermosa Beach home. Hoping to find solace from his substance abuse and mental illness, he instead found himself lost in Mendocino County never to be seen again.

On May 23rd, 2013, Erik struck north from his SoCal home of Hermosa Beach driving a Silver 2004 Honda Odyssey. Since 2000, his family had been rocked by Erik’s addictions and mental illness. Samantha (Erik’s wife) and he had separated periodically to protect the kids from this instability. Two years before his northward journey, Erik’s father had passed away leading to a prolonged period of volatility. Erik left that late-spring day with the purpose of finding a sober living facility in Oregon, though no specific treatment center was ever identified.

Samantha spoke with Erik on May 26th, three days after leaving Hermosa Beach. (In Cold Case Mendocino’s research, no information was provided justifying the inordinate length of Erik’s trip. According to Google Maps, it takes approximately 8.5 hours to travel from his home to where his vehicle was discovered.) In the last conversation he would ever have with his wife, Erik told her the van had broken down in Leggett and needed repairs. The car would be towed 25 miles south to Laytonville to a mechanic.

Laytonville’s Budget Inn

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Erik stayed at Laytonville’s Budget Inn for two nights. According to motel staff, his behavior did not indicate anything was awry. After the first night, Erik apparently became impatient waiting for the mechanic to return from the long weekend and chose to reclaim the vehicle. It is still unclear how Erik was able to get the vehicle running again.

On Tuesday May 28th, Erik left Laytonville stopping at a market before leaving town. This transaction is the last time Erik would be seen alive.

At this point, Samantha’s concerns were growing. She had not gotten any updates from Erik regarding the vehicle or his northward journey. On Wednesday May 29th, she contacted Mendocino Sheriff reporting concerns about her husband who was in the area. Based on the report, a Be On The Lookout was issued to all Northern California law enforcement for a Silver Honda Odyssey.

A 2004 Honda Odyssey

Just days later 20 miles deep on rugged Sherwood Road west of Willits, ATV riders found a van matching the description of Erik’s stuck in mud and seemingly abandoned. Large scraps of bark and sticks had been placed under the tires indicating someone had attempted to extricate the van themselves.

A map portraying the essential landmarks in Erik’s final days

Between the off-roaders finding of the vehicle and law enforcements investigation, Samantha described how, “The car was intact when the ATV people found it, but by the time police had it towed, it had been broken into. There were things in the car when he left – a pretty expensive camera and a couple of computers – but those were not there.”

The site where Erik Lamberg’s vehicle was located. The vehicle was stuck in the ditch depicted in the photograph.

It is worth noting that the van was found south of Laytonville. Some suggest this southward route indicates Erik was considering abandoning his Oregon destination and returning to his Hermosa Beach home.

Using bloodhounds, Mendocino Sheriff tracked Erik’s movement. According to a Facebook post, sheriffs “followed a possible scent for about eight miles” that then returned back towards the vehicle. Law Enforcement surmised Erik had been seeking assistance but then returned to his vehicle when none came.

Due to the dense foliage and lack of concrete clues, the efficacy of aerial investigation was limited and ground searches waned. Samantha worked doggedly to collaborate with local law enforcement and media to spread word of Erik’s disappearance throughout the Mendocino region.

Mendocino Search and Rescue on ATV’s searching the length of Sherwood Road trying to determine if Erik Lamberg left the main road

The search for Erik was reinvigorated in July 2013 when a local woman heard a report of the missing person on KZYX. Her boyfriend was a professional owl caller and had been working at night near the area the van was found. The boyfriend described how on May 31st he heard what sounded like “a man screaming as if he was scared out of his mind.” This occurrence would have been only three days after Erik had entered the woods.

The break in the case spawned renewed search and rescue attempts. Bloodhounds were once again utilized and found scents nearby the site of the man screaming. Unfortunately, this did not lead to any concrete clues about Erik’s disappearance.

As of now, ground and aerial searches have been suspended. Samantha continues to update the “Help Find Erik Lamberg” Facebook page. With posts dating back as far as June 3, 2013, only two days after the discovery of his van, Samantha and family documented their tragic and difficult process of initial discovery, searches, and eventual acceptance. Never before has Cold Case Mendocino seen such a substantive social media effort to create awareness of a local missing person.

Online sleuths have hypothesized Erik’s disappearance could be related to the Old Sherwood Rancheria in close proximity to where his van was located. Two other Mendocino County Cold Cases (Danny Ray Michael in 1995, Mark Maples in 2012) are directly related to that area. Though intriguing, Cold Case Mendocino hesitates to connect Erik’s disappearance to these others. Erik came from far away and spent most of his life in an urban area. For many locals Mendocino County’s forests are their backyards but to many urbanites can prove formidable.

Essential Questions about the Case

  • Why did Erik take three days to drive from Hermosa Beach to Leggett when Google Maps says the drive should 8.5 hours?
  • What specific rehabilitation center/sober living facility did Erik intend to receive treatment from? Are there any AA/NA/Support Group buddies that could provide more context to where Erik intended to go?
  • Why did Erik turn west onto Sherwood Road? Some suggest this indicates a change of mind and decision to return home.
  • How did Erik fix his car on Sunday, May 26th and make it drivable? Was there a mechanic at the shop that could offer information on Erik’s intentions and motivations to pick up the car early?
  • What is the connection between the missing computers/cameras and Erik’s disappearance? Were serial numbers of those products ever identified and cross referenced against local pawnshops?

Sources

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