It took seven years of searching for their missing son, but the Maddux family finally found their answer: Josh had died. The family was finally able to bury their son, say their goodbyes, and begin the process of moving on. Considering that his body was found in a pretty strange place, they only had more questions, like “how did he get there?”
Josh Maddux was 18 years old, in May of 2008, when he decided to leave his house in Woodland Park, Colorado to go for a walk. The town, with a population of 7,500, is only 20 miles west of Colorado Springs. That day would be the last day anyone would see Josh alive.
Ever since he was a child, Josh was known for being outgoing and made friends pretty easily. He was also extremely creative. He loved playing the guitar and writing stories. Even after the family was hit by a horrible tragedy, Josh’s family said he was always a happy kid.
Two years before Josh disappeared, his older brother took his own life. There are some people that think the suicide might have changed Josh, but there was no change in his behavior. Josh continued living his life the best he could, and remained the happy person he had always been. He had the ability to turn anything into a fun time – even if that meant he had to break the rules a bit.
Josh had a bit of a reputation for being a jokester. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Josh to sneak into choir practice wearing a robe, or announcing his candidacy for class president during debates. But that was pretty much the extent of his pranks, and he never got into any real trouble. His parents knew he was just a free spirit, which gave them hope when he went missing.
“He always told us that he was going to have a great adventure and he may not talk to us for a while,” said Josh’s older sister, Kate Maddux. “When he said awhile, we thought maybe a few years.” Months eventually turned into years and the family realized that something had to have gone terribly wrong. Regardless, his family refused to give up hope.
Mike, Josh’s father, never stopped looking for Josh. He searched every single campground of the national forest. He also visited the Colorado Springs homeless shelters quite frequently. Mike and his wife ended up getting divorced and moving out of town, but he kept the house in Woodland Park just in case Josh ever returned home. In September 2015, Mike finally learned that son would never come back to him.
Only a quarter-mile away from their home was a historic cabin that was being torn down for new development in the area. A steel fireplace insert was being torn down by construction workers when they found a horrific discovery. Inside the stone chimney was a dead body, frozen in time in the fetal position. It didn’t take authorities very long to find out its identity.
The coroner was able to identify the body as Josh’s through dental records, forensics, and gender analysis. The family was shocked when they found out. “I about had a heart attack,” said Mike Maddux. After all that time, Josh’s body was only a few blocks away. How could the police have missed that?
Once his family reported Josh as missing, the police looked everywhere for him. But apparently no one ever looked inside the cabin. The cabin had be vacant since 2005 and the owner had only used it for storage. But he did remember there being a horrible smell the last few times he had went inside. But the cabin not being searched is definitely not the strangest part of Josh’s death.
The coroner examined Josh’s body but there were no signs of trauma. “There were no broken bones. There were no knife marks. There were no bullet holes,” said coroner Al Born. Because there was no evidence of assault, the coroner ruled his death as “accidental by an unknown cause.” The coroner believed he climbed into the chimney and had gotten stuck. But there were other details that pointed to foul play.
When Josh was found, he was naked from the waist down and he was only wearing a thermal shirt. The rest of Josh’s clothes were thrown all over the cabin near the fireplace. This proved that Josh had been inside the cabin. The owner of the cabin, Chuck Murphy, doesn’t believe that Josh climbed down the chimney. He believes he was forced into it. Why did he think that? The top of the chimney was blocked.
In order to keep raccoons and other critters from getting inside, rebar was installed on top of the chimney. “There’s no way that guy crawled inside that chimney with that steel webbing,” he said. But because the chimney was torn down by construction workers, there was no way to prove that theory. Unless they got some new evidence, there was nothing the police could do.
Because the coroner said that Josh’s death was an accident, the Woodland Park police couldn’t continue to investigate it. “Because of the way he ruled it, it’s his case and not ours,” said Commander James Holloran. Even though his parents were able to find his body, that doesn’t mean they were able to find peace.
“We’ll never really know what happened to him. It’s a horror story in my mind to imagine what my brother must have gone through. It’s a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” said Kate Maddux. Maybe one day more evidence will be found so the family can find closure. Until then, it’s all a mystery.