By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A nearly six-year-old mystery was solved Thursday when police announced that skeletal remains found on Mauna Kea last week belong to Brian Murphy of Plymouth, Mich.
Murphy, who was 67, went missing in December 2007 after telling an employee at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station that he planned to hike the steep Humuula Trail to Lake Waiau near the mountain’s summit.
He was described as a confident and avid outdoorsman but was not thought to have been properly dressed for the 3,820-foot ascent from the visitor center, which he attempted as a snow storm approached. No sign of him was found despite a multi-day search.
That changed July 30 when a hiking group came across the remains along with clothing in a remote area at the 12,000-foot level, about a mile southwest of the lake.
That location would place him away from the trail, which approaches from the east.
Police said they made the identification through dental records, but Denise Sheldon, a family friend, said those who knew Murphy were already certain it was him.
The giveaway, she said by phone, was the discovery of a University of Wisconsin t-shirt he was wearing the day he went missing.
“We were 100 percent sure,” said Sheldon, of Brownstown, Mich.
Murphy’s girlfriend, who was on the Hawaii trip with him but did not join him on the mountain that day, said she was also convinced it was him, adding the discovery helps provide the closure friends and family have lacked.
“It gives everyone a little peace,” said Karen Maurino, of Dearborn, Mich.
Maurino said she didn’t know Murphy planned to hike that day. She stayed behind to spend time on the beach, and said she urged him not to go because of the coming storm.
“He wanted to see the observatories and he wanted to see where they ski up there,” Maurino said. “I loved him and cared about him, and whoever thought he would go missing,” she said.
Maurino said Murphy remained active and loved to ski.
“He was a bit of a daredevil,” she said.
Murphy is survived by two daughters.
The family held a memorial for him a year after he went missing, Sheldon said. Maurino and Sheldon said they didn’t know what the family plans to do with the remains, which a police spokeswoman said will be turned over to a mortuary.
During the search, helicopters flew as high as the 10,000-foot level and ground searches went as high as 12,000 feet.
The night he disappeared, a foot of snow was expected to fall with temperatures dropping to sub-zero levels.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.