Yuba County Five Updates: Is the Case Solved In 2024? Netflix's 'Files of the Unexplained' Mystery Speculation Today

By Klein Felt Posted:
Yuba County Five Files of the Unexplained

Netflix's 2024 docuseries Files of the Unexplained left audiences wondering if the Yuba County Five case was ever solved. 

The streamer's latest true crime hit follows eight real-life cases focusing on bizarre and unexplained happenings that have evaded explanation for years. 

Episode 3 of the series centers on the missing Yuba County Five, a group of men who went missing in the Californian mountains in 1978. 

The Yuba County Five Case Explained

Yuba County Five Case

The case of the Yuba County Five, explored in Files of the Unexplained Episode 3, gripped audiences after being included in Netflix's 2024 true crime docuseries. 

The Californian cold case centers on five men from Yuba County, California who went missing in the winter of 1978. 

The five men (Ted Weiher, Gary Mathias, Bill Sterling, Jack Madruga, and Jackie Huett), each with mild intellectual disabilities or psychiatric conditions, disappeared on the night of February 24, 1978, following attending a Chico Stae basketball game. 

Despite an extensive search that immediately followed their disappearance, the men were not found. Their car (owned by Jack Madruga) was located in a snowbank in Plumas National Forest, a long way from their home. The car was in working order, with no sign of struggle or evidence of why they abandoned it. 

Months later in June 1978 (after a melt of the snow shed), four of the men's bodies were found.

Weiher was found dead 12 miles away from the abandoned vehicle in a forestry trailer. Only bones of Jack Madruga, Bill Sterling, and Jackie Huett were found, with investigators believing some of them lived for as long as three months in the wilderness before dying of starvation. 

Gary Mathias (25) was never found. Some believe he may still be alive and could have orchestrated the events that led to the deaths of his four friends. 

The Biggest Yuba County Five Theories

Because of the mysterious circumstances behind the disappearance of the Yuba County Five, the case has become rife with speculation. 

Nearly 30 years later, authorities still do not have a good explanation for what happened to the California men. 

Some investigators believe (as transcribed by ABC) that the group became lost in the snow on that cold night in February 1978 and started to succumb to what is known as "around-the-corner syndrome."

This would have seen them following tracks from other vehicles have getting lost in the mountains. 

However, other detectives seem to think the group left their car, got tired, and decided to lie in the snow.

Family members speculated foul play may have been a factor as well. Jack Madruga's mother, Melba Madruga, stated she was adamant her son "never went up there on his own," adding he was "either tricked or threatened."

Jackie Huett's brother, Tom Huett, thinks the five young men could have been the victims of a targeted attack, with Ted Weiher's body being placed in the U.S. Forest Service trailer he was eventually found in but some "very scary" bad actors (via Digital Spy). 

He posited the boys were the victim of a revenge plot by some local bullies, saying it was a long-lasting grudge against Gary Mathias that led to someone taking "his vengeance out on all of them."

Others subscribed to the theory that Gary himself was the one behind the mysterious deaths. 

In the documentary, Jack Madruga's niece Cathy Roberts thought the other men were scared of Mathias, which could have led them to follow him into the Californian wilderness:

"I do know, God forgive me, Doc and the other guys were scared of Mathias. Gary was going to go to the game with them and they didn't really want him to go but they were too scared to say anything. And that came from my uncle."

She also claims to have seen Mathias in a bar in the Browns Valley, California area within a year of the bodies being found. According to Roberts, she was sitting in the establishment and locked eyes with who she thought was Mathias. The men then got up and ran. 

Mathias' sister, Tammie Phillips, believes her brother could have never done such a thing. Her idea of what happened sees the boys (including Mathias) getting lost in the snow, and after "weeks without his [schizophrenia] medication," Mathias became separated from the group before dying in the cold Californian wilderness like the other boys:

"I do believe he didn't make it out of there any more than the other boys did."

Toby Wright, author of the book Things Aren't Right: The Disappearance of the Yuba County Five, also does not think Mathias could have killed the other four men. He said Mathias' "schizophrenia is easy to use as an excuse," but there is no proof suggesting it was him:

"His schizophrenia is easy to use as an excuse. But there's no proof of Gary ever pulling something like this before".

While things could change, the case of the Yuba County Five remains open. No evidence suggests a clear conclusion is in sight. 

Files of the Unexplained is streaming now on Netflix. 

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- About The Author: Klein Felt
Klein Felt is a Senior Editor at The Direct. Joining the website back in 2020, he helped jumpstart video game content on The Direct. Klein plays a vital role as a part of the site's content team, demonstrating expertise in all things PlayStation, Marvel, and the greater entertainment industry.