|Erik Lamberg, 52, of Redondo Beach, Calif., has been missing since May 27, 2013, when he was last seen near Laytonville, Calif. His family is continuing to search for clues to his whereabouts. Courtesy photo.|
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA – On the night of May 31, a man working in a remote wooded area of Mendocino County heard a chilling sound.
Michael Stephens, a biologist working as an owl caller, was near the Clare Mill Depot along the Skunk Train route when he heard screaming coming from an old shed in the area.
Understandably spooked, Stephens left the area but reported the unsettling occurrence to a forester on the property. Railroad officials checked the area the next day but found no one, according to Lt. Shannon Barney of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.
Nearly two months later, Stephens' girlfriend, Angela Harney, heard an interview on KZYX with Samantha Lamberg, a Hermoso Beach woman searching for her missing husband, Erik.
Erik Swan Lamberg, 52, was last seen by a Laytonville Budget Inn employee on May 27. Lamberg's vehicle had broken down and he was staying at the motel.
His wife said he last used his credit card May 26, the same day she spoke to him for the last time.
He's since vanished, leaving no traces, except some possible sightings. His abandoned vehicle later was found in a wooded area near Willits.
Samantha Lamberg set up a Facebook page to generate information about her husband, and she said that's how Harney contacted her with the tip about the screaming Stephens heard on the night of May 31.
The information resulted in a law enforcement search of the area that began late last month. While search dogs showed some interest in spots along the search route, no definitive sign of Erik Lamberg was found, according to Lt. Barney.
Searching for answers
Samantha Lamberg said her husband has struggled with mental illness for years.
Erik Lamberg suffers from bipolar disorder and over time has become increasingly paranoid and erratic, his wife said.
“We spent a long time living alongside mental illness when he was taking his meds,” Samantha Lamberg said.
However, she said he had stopped taking his medications and was having substance abuse issues, which was impacting their 10-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son.
After his father died in June 2011, Erik Lamberg became less compliant with requirements to take his medications and his addictive propensities increased, his wife explained.
“His dad’s death left him broken,” she said.
He would be up all night, wanting to wake up their daughter to help him sort coins, she said.
Because of the impact on their children, Erik Lamberg moved out and began living with his mother in nearby Redondo Beach, according to his wife.
It was around May 22 or 23 that Erik Lamberg left his home, heading for Oregon to get into a sober living facility. His wife said she didn't see him the day he left or the few days beforehand. She didn't believe he was suicidal.
Before he had left he had tried to get into a sober living facility in Southern California but had encountered delays while waiting for the insurance approval. He also had an argument with his mother and brother, and was no longer speaking to his mother, his wife said.
Samantha Lamberg said she and her husband were speaking every day. She talked with him as he was on the road, last talking to him on May 26 when he had broken down in Leggett. She said he was waiting for a tow service and was extremely paranoid, believing someone had canceled the tow truck.
“He sounded freaked out, he sounded paranoid,” she said.
She called him that night, he said he was OK and he was staying in Laytonville.
When she heard nothing more from him, she did her own investigation, checking his phone records and finding that his last phone call was to her late on the night of May 26. A group text sent from a rehab group was sent to his phone on May 27.
His credit cards didn't show any activity after paying for the motel room in buying food in Laytonville on May 26, Samantha Lamberg said.
She called, texted and sent a Facebook message to him. There was no response.
A person at the motel reported speaking to him on May 27, Memorial Day, the same day he moved his vehicle from a repair shop to the Budget Inn, she said.
The next day, Erik Lamberg was gone.
|Erik and Samantha Lamberg in 2011. Courtesy photo.|
Clues and dead ends
Samantha Lamberg reported her husband missing to the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday, May 29.
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office reported that it took a missing persons case and issued a “be on the lookout” for Erik Lamberg to all Northern California law enforcement agencies.
The agency said deputies confirmed Erik Lamberg's silver 2004 Honda Odyssey was repaired by a local mechanic and he had stayed in the Budget Inn for two nights, but had checked out on May 28.
Samantha Lamberg said there was a report that her husband's vehicle was seen in a remote area west of Willits on May 29. At that point she said it had not been broken into.
Three days later, on Saturday, June 1, two young Lake County men running hounds 20 miles west of Willits in the Sherwood Road area found Erik Lamberg's abandoned Honda Odyssey. The sheriff's office reported the vehicle appeared to have gotten stuck in a ditch and was abandoned.
The vehicle had been broken into, and a search around it for signs of Erik Lamberg yielded no results, sheriff's officials said.
“It's still a mystery me what happened with the car,” Samantha Lamberg said.
She said the Honda was then towed to clear the road, which concerned her because she thought her husband may have been going back to the vehicle.
It was around that time that Stephens reported hearing screaming during the middle the night near the Skunk Train depot.
Samantha Lamberg said the timing and the location made sense from a practical standpoint, as her husband could easily have gotten from Laytonville to that area within the three days since he had last spoke to her.
There is another reason she felt Stephens' account could describe her husband.
“We had seen him scream like that before he left on at least one occasion,” she said, recalling her husband being “absolutely terrified” during that particular incident.
“I think that’s why the sheriff took it so seriously, too,” she said.
It was nearly two months later that she did the radio interview with KZYX and got the tip about Stephens hearing the man screaming.
Barney acknowledged that the tip that resulted from the radio interview led to the renewed search on July 31.
He said search dogs showed interest in areas around the depot, but added, “We didn't find anything there.”
Searchers found a shed with fir boughs that had been arranged as if they had been used as a bed, and signs that there had been a fire. “There was really no way to tell how old it was,” said Barney, so they could not determine if Lamberg had been there.
He said the team searched all the stations along the Skunk Train line, and at one point a search dog showed interest in an area by the station above Crowley. However they found nothing.
The area where the search was taking place is very remote, with thick, heavy canopy, lots of trees and drainages, Barney said. It is the same area where the search for alleged murderer Aaron Bassler took place last year.
Samantha Lamberg believes her husband could have been picked up or gone underground. “That approach would be more consistent with him,” she said, considering his bipolar condition and his paranoia when he left home.
“It's conceivable,” she said. “It’s hard to put yourself in the head of someone who's bipolar and off his meds.”
She said he also could be fearful of police.
Barney believes that it's unlikely that Eric Lamberg was picked up or went off the grid. “It's a possibility but it's a long shot,” he said.
He said Mendocino County authorities do have some outstanding missing persons cases involving people getting lost in the woods. “We do have a couple, that they're just lost in the hills.”
Most of the missing persons cases in Mendocino County involving people who are never found involve the ocean, Barney said.
He said right now they're just trying to generate leads. Until they get some new clue, “It's basically in hold mode,” Barney said.
So far she's received tips about a person matching her husband's description being seen in Colton and in Covelo. She's passed that information along to Mendocino County Sheriff's officials.
“At this point I think that's how it's going to have to happen,” she said of how the important information is coming in.
Barney said Mendocino County authorities will follow up any lead they get. But search and rescue operations usually have higher success immediately after a person goes missing, he said.
He said search and rescue efforts usually focus on one area. When a person has been gone a long time, the expectation is that they have moved from that area. At that point, Barney said search and rescue professionals refer to them as being somewhere in “the rest of the world.”
“Due to the length of time he's been out there, he could technically be anywhere,” Barney said of Erik Lamberg.
Erik Lamberg is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs approximately 200 pounds. He has sandy blond hair and blue eyes.
Anyone who may have seen him or otherwise has information about his whereabouts is asked to call the Mendocino County Sheriff's Dispatch Center at 707-463-4086.
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.