By Matthew Copes
They made an attractive couple.
Bessie was a short, cute and smiley, and though Glen wasn’t what most would call classically handsome, he was tall, dark, and fit.
They would set out on an epic adventure, but like many tales of mystery and intrigue in the American Southwest, the facts of Glen and Bessie’s lives are muddled with hearsay and utter fiction, and the resulting picture is murky at best.
Depending on which source you believe, Bessie was born in either Maryland or West Virginia on December 29, 1905. Glen Rollin Hyde was born in Twin Falls, Idaho on December 9, 1898, or as other sources claim in the state of Washington on the same date.
Both she and Glen were pursuing their educations on the west coast when they met onboard a ship traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1927. Bessie was just 22 and recently separated from her first husband, a man who wasn’t thrilled about granting her a divorce.
One might think that at the very least the date of their marriage would be indisputable, but various sources claim that it took place on either the 10th or 12th of April 1928. Frankly, what’s important is that it did take place in April of that year, and there seems to be unanimous agreement that it happened in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Impulsive, Bohemian Bessie and stalwart, adventurous Glen were married the following year, and their decision to spend their honeymoon rafting the mighty Colorado would turn out to be the most fateful decision of their young lives.
Glen had gobs of river rafting experience under his belt, and was intent on setting a new record for the quickest passage through the Grand Canyon. If they had succeeded Bessie would have been the first woman to complete the grueling trip.
Instead of settling for a standard launch, Glen decided to build his own – a flat-bottom scow known for its stability in rough, rocky, and often shallow water like that found in the Green and Colorado Rivers. He christened her, Rain in the Face.
Glen and Bessie’s scow was completed in October of 1928, and on or about the 20th of that month they stowed their gear, launched it into the Green River, and embarked on their now-famous journey. According to legend, when Glen and Bessie said their final farewells to friends and family, Bessie seemed nervous and tentative. To those present that day it was a clear sign that she’d allowed herself to be drawn into a situation with which she wasn’t entirely comfortable. Glen’s reputation as an overbearing taskmaster and bully fueled the palpable unease that permeated the gathering, but the two set-off, and one of the Southwest’s most enduring mysteries was set in motion.
They estimated that the trip from Green River, Utah to Needles, California would take about six weeks, but after nearly a month they’d just made it to the Grand Canyon, which was only the halfway point. While en route they came into contact with only two or three folks depending on which accounts you believe. The first was a haggard river runner who was apparently shocked that their gear didn’t include life jackets, and who purportedly told them that their scow wasn’t up to the task for which it had been built: a strange remark considering how far it’d already traveled.
The next chance meeting came when the newlyweds met two brothers who ran a photography studio on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. After the couple’s disappearance became common knowledge, the Kolb brothers claimed that when they met Glen and Bessie and took their picture, Bessie seemed distracted and less than enthusiastic about continuing on, which mirrored the sentiment of those who’d seen them off in Utah. Emery Kolb also said that upon seeing his daughter clad in a fancy dress and shoes, Bessie mused aloud, “I wonder if I shall ever wear pretty shoes again.” Despite the strange comment and her suspect demeanor, Bessie continued on, and decades later Emery Kolb would play into the saga in a particularly macabre way.
The last man they may have met on the way was Adolph Sutro, the grandson of a former mayor of San Francisco. Though it’s not certain, it has been claimed that Sutro rode in the scow with Glena and Bessie to Hermit Rapid where they arrived on November 18, and if that’s the case, he was the last person to see them alive.
Over the next few weeks the couple were alone, and when their anticipated arrival date in Needles had come and gone, both Emery Kolb and Glen’s father sounded the alarms. Considering the remoteness of the area, cobbling together search and rescue parties was no easy task, but in the following weeks land and air searches were conducted. A scow was eventually sighted by an experienced local pilot, and when rescuers reached it by boat they discovered that it was Rain in the Face. It was intact and stowed with gear, but Glen and Bessie were conspicuously absent.
The searchers recovered a camera and Bessie’s diary which gave them some indication of how their journey had gone, at least up until the time they disappeared. Apparently they’d met the Kolbs and had their photograph taken on November 27th, after which they continued on, ultimately making it to the rapids at Mile 232. It’s well-known that Mile 232 is a notoriously dangerous stretch of river that’s infamous for the jagged granite boulders that lay just below the roiling surface. According to experts, it’s likely that their scowl hit one of them and that Glen and Bessie were ejected into the river where they probably drowned quickly. If that’s how it all played out, their cavalier unwillingness to wear life jackets may have sealed their fates.
Had Glen and Bessie’s bodies ever been recovered it may have put an end to the mystery and speculation that have surrounded their disappearances for the better part of the last century. However their bodies never were found, and the things that played out over the subsequent years couldn’t have been more dark and convoluted if they’d been written by Agatha Christie or Edgar Allan Poe.
Around a crackling campfire at Diamond Creek in the canyon’s fading light in the early ‘70s, a woman who’d pioneered the way the Colorado River was run stunned her captive audience by declaring that she was Bessie Hyde, and that she’d killed her husband all those years ago during a heated argument they’d had after a long day on the river.
The woman’s name was Georgie White, or so everyone thought, but when she died in 1992 friends going through her belongings apparently found a copy of Glen and Bessie’s marriage certificate, a revolver, and a birth certificate that showed that her real given name wasn’t Georgie, but Bessie. According to the birth record her last name was different than Bessie’s maiden name, but it certainly deepened the mystery. Though Georgie retracted her confession before her death, many still believe that she was in fact Bessie, and photographs of Georgie as an older woman bear some resemblance to those taken of Bessie when she was young.
Just after Emery Kolb died in 1976, friends rooting through the boathouse adjacent to his studio discovered a skeleton that appeared to have been there for some time, and when the news got out many followers of the saga thought the mystery was finally on the verge of being solved. The skeleton was sent to a forensic anthropologist who determined that it was that of a male Caucasian, about six-feet tall, who likely died while in his twenties. He found something else intriguing as well – a .32 caliber bullet lodged inside the skull that had been fired from a revolver manufactured around the turn of the 20th century. However after further inspection it was determined that the skeleton couldn’t have been Glen’s, ending the speculation that Kolb had killed him because he’d fallen in love with Bessie. It’s still awfully suspicious that a skeleton with a bullet in its cranium was found on the man’s property, and though he may have been involved in something nefarious, the question remains, was it related to the disappearances of Glen and Bessie?
The mystery has been featured in fiction and non-fiction books as well as radio and television programs, but remains unsolved.
For those looking to delve more deeply into the enigma, Brad Dimock’s book Sunk Without a Sound is wildly entertaining and informative, and probably the most complete work on the topic.
Perhaps someday in the future when the internet is just a silly relic of the past like the typewriter is today, some determined amateur sleuth will finally uncover the pieces that will, once and for all, complete the historic puzzle. But until then we’ll just have to use our imaginations and enjoy the romance and spookiness of it all.
“Disappearance of Glen and Bessie Hyde” Wikipedia, February 5, 2005, en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Disappearance_of_Glen_and_Bessie_Hyde&offset=&limit=500&action=history, Dates of access October 14-16, 2019.
“The Disastrous Adventure of Glen and Bessie Hyde” Steemit, 2018, steemit.com/history/@michelmake/the-disastrous-adventure-of-glen-and-bessie-hyde, Dates of access October 14-16, 2019.
“Glen and Bessie Hyde – Strange disappearances in U.S. National Parks” Strange Outdoors, February 24, 2018, www.strangeoutdoors.com/mysterious-stories-blog/2018/2/24/glen-and-bessie-hyde-strange-disappearances-in-us-national-parks, Date of access October 15, 2019.
“Confession or Deception?” History Collection, Undated, historycollection.co/agent-50-the-heroic-spy-who-saved-hundreds-from-japanese-clutches-in-wwii/, Date of access October 16, 2019.
“Grand Canyon Adventures – Glen and Bessie Hyde” Grand Canyon Visitor Center, July 12, 2011, explorethecanyon.com/grand-canyon-adventurers-glen-and-bessie-hyde/, Date of Access October 16, 2019.