After three days of scouring the banks of the North Platte River, Matt Miller and his small search party once again returned to Campbell County empty handed this week with no sign of the man they were hoping to find.
The outing last week was the team’s first search for Chance Englebert in nearly a year in the wake of the pandemic that stalled efforts to find the missing Moorcroft man.
In a case that has spurred numerous podcasts and just as many competing theories of what might have happened, Englebert disappeared on July 6, 2019, after walking away from his in-laws’ house in Gering, Nebraska. Englebert, then 25, had been spending the holiday weekend with his wife Baylee and infant son.
It’s not clear exactly what happened.
Englebert had spent the day golfing with his father-in-law and other members of his wife’s family. They’d reportedly been drinking when someone made a comment about Englebert’s new job.
He’d just been laid off from a coal mine but had already secured a new job due to start the following Monday.
Whatever was said angered Englebert, who told his wife he wanted to go home to Moorcroft. When she hedged, he walked off, calling Miller to come get him.
Miller, who was in Gillette, called Englebert’s mom in South Dakota, while Englebert said he’d start walking the roughly 35 miles from Gering to Torrington.
He never made it. This last time Chance Englebert was seen was on surveillance footage that showed him walking down the 700 block of O Street in Gering, wearing Wrangler jeans and shirt and a trucker’s cap.
Calls and texts to his phone went unanswered. The last text message – an incomprehensible jumble of numbers and emojis – was sent from his phone at 9:08 p.m.
That in itself was odd, according to his mother Dawn, who said Englebert never used emojis. Someone else must have been using his phone, she believes.
Despite a massive search involving 17 agencies, drones, divers, cadaver dogs and hundreds of volunteers on foot, horseback and ATVs, Englebert remains missing.
Both Dawn and Baylee say Englebert would have never walked away from his family, both vehemently agreeing that something must have happened beyond his control.
Theories that he might have fallen into the North Platte River during a storm on the night he disappeared are hard for his mom to believe.
Her son was an accomplished athlete — an avid swimmer, rancher and bareback rodeo rider who had gone to college on a rodeo scholarship.
Hundreds of tips have turned up nothing, according to lead Brian Eads, an investigator with the Gering Police Department who was with the Nebraska State Highway Patrol at the time of Englebert’s disappearance.
Eads said tips continue to come in regularly.
Along with police efforts, several amateur and seasoned detectives have weighed in on podcasts, as did a Tarot card reader who said that Englebert is likely no longer alive and is buried in a field, killed by someone who held a grudge, is now paranoid about the situation and one day will snap.
Another detective familiar with the case who asked not to be identified endorsed the theory that the key to solving the mystery is finding that person.
“Somebody’s conscience is bothering them,” he said. “Identify that person and work on them.”
Eads did not comment on whether the department has identified any solid clues or persons of interest, saying the investigation is ongoing.
“We are actively following up on tips and welcome any new ones,” Eads told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.
Baylee has refused requests for interviews, telling the Rapid City (South Dakota) Journal that interviews in the past have led to death threats against her and her family.
A temporary protection order was issued against a former South Dakota state senator who Baylee accused of stalking her after she refused to be interviewed for a story on the legislator’s Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Miller and his wife Tanya continue to work with his family and others to find him. Prior to the pandemic, Miller and his wife, both coal miners, drove from their home in Pine Haven, Wyoming, to Nebraska on their days off to search for their missing friend.
Last week’s search along the banks of the North Platte River was the first in almost a year for the group. For three days, they braved snow and heavy winds to comb roughly a dozen properties between Torrington and the Wyoming state line, looking for any trace of Englebert.
They turned up nothing.
Dustin Easton, who drove from his home South Dakota to join the search party, wasn’t discouraged. He’s never met Englebert, he said, but his disappearance haunts him nonetheless.
He grew up in this part of Nebraska, and knows members of both Baylee’s and Chance’s families through ag and rodeo connections.
Easton wonders how a guy can just go missing?
He’s troubled by this notion, which has changed the the way he sees the landscape he knows well and once trusted.
“It’s kinda surreal,” he said by phone on his way home Wednesday. “I grew up here and now I can’t think about the river in the same way anymore.”
He will return for the next search in July, he said, acknowledging that the desire to find Englebert has gotten under his skin as he continues to actively follow the case and stay in touch with Miller and family.
Along with the next search, Englebert’s mom Dawn wants to host a memorial walk in her son’s honor in July. Details will be posted on Miller’s Facebook page, Let’s Start with Chance (https://www.facebook.com/groups/474898930097246/).
In the meantime, Miller has no plans to stop searching until he brings his friend home.
“What are we going to do?” Miller said. “We’re not giving up. We’re going to keep looking.”
For all things Wyoming, visit Cowboy State Daily online at cowboystatedaily.com and signup for the Cowboy State Coffee Break. Reprinted with permission of Cowboy State Daily. Copyright 2020.