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Mon, Dec. 09

Bones found below rim<br>date back to 1998

GC VILLAGE — It was April 1998 when 42-year-old Andrew Gradzik decided to take a trip to Grand Canyon. Family and friends never saw him again.

The Gradzik disappearance had been a mystery to Grand Canyon National Park officials since they conducted a two-week search for the Polish-born Canadian that spring 3 1/2 years ago. But the Canyon often has a way of providing answers when it’s least expected.

Another tragedy surfaced this year on the afternoon of Sept. 26 at Yavapai Point. A 52-year-old California man sat on the edge, dangling his feet into the vast canyon below before shocking onlookers with a leap to his death.

While GCNP’s search-and-rescue crew was recovering the body of the suicide victim, older human bones were also found in the same area. But how old were the bones and who was this person?

"The remains were originally sent to the Coconino County Medical Examiner’s office, then transferred to a Maricopa County forensic anthropologist," said Maureen Oltrogge, GCNP public affairs officer. "They made identification through dental records."

Bil Vandergraff, incident commander, reported that the human remains consisted of bones and clothing, scattered over a 200-foot area. Search-and-rescue personnel hiked to the scene on Oct. 9 to investigate the scene and recover the remains.

The forensic testing in Phoenix revealed the man’s identity. Yes, it was Gradzik He had fallen 360 feet from a spot on the rim near the Yavapai Observation Station on that 1998 vacation.

The man’s identification does not close the case, however. Oltrogge said the NPS-Coconino County Sheriff’s Office investigation continues regarding the cause and manner of the man’s demise.

Gradzik was a self-employed massage therapist from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Oltrogge said he apparently traveled to the Grand Canyon alone, checking into the El Tovar Hotel on April 21, 1998.

According to Vandergraff, the man’s reservation at the El Tovar was for six nights. When he didn’t check out of his room as scheduled, the El Tovar reported the suspicious circumstances to rangers.

"Maids entered his room and found what appeared to be all of his personal property still inside," Vandergraff reported. "The investigation revealed that he had neither returned home nor contacted friends or family."

The mystery surrounding Gradzik’s death appears to have three primary possibilities — accidental fall, suicide or homicide.

Vandergraff reported that the man was not described as suicidal or depressed, but he did previously attempt suicide.

Gradzik did send several postcards to friends with a postmark of April 23. In those postcards, Gradzik described meeting a man who offered to take him on private hikes.

Search-and-rescue rangers began an air and ground search, suspending the operation after two weeks. Vandergraff reported that the spot where Gradzik’s remains were located was out of the original search area.

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