Editor’s note: Dave Mastell is a friend of mine from Texas A&M University. His brother has been missing for several years, but missing person cases of adults are difficult to pursue because grown-ups are free to go “off the grid” if they choose. Many assumed that Keith was dead or living on the streets as a homeless person. And although his family now believes he’s been located, it hasn’t really been verified and he still has not made contact with his loved ones. – April Towery
On Friday, April 27, 2018, I found my brother.
After 10-plus years of searching miscellaneous information through the Internet and countless unclaimed remains cases an arrest record turned up In San Francisco, CA in August 2017. It was the first we’d heard of Keith since 2006.
Keith left with the shirt on his back in a taxi cab to presumably go to work at a local mill in Denton, Texas, in April 2006. Our friend, Kim, whom my dad married in 2003, was the last to see him as he never showed up to work that day. He never collected the paycheck that was waiting for him. The only explanation he left was “you have done enough” when asked by Kim who had been willing to give him a ride to work that day.
Like Chris McCandless who became Alexander SuperTramp for Jon Krakauer’s story, “Into the Wild,” Keith had simply vanished. He was no stranger to the homeless lifestyle though. A minimalist by necessity, I knew he could be very ingenious when it came to improvising and adapting with little financial resource. I’d hoped he would turn up on the radar at some point. In December 2006, I found a picture on 0friction.com, a climbing website for posting places and climbers at the time and I swore I saw him! I gathered it to be somewhere around Lake Tahoe where sure enough he could be seen challenging a boulder problem that he loved nothing more in the world to do. I was sure it was him! And upon first inspection and inquiry it was! The picture appeared to be him climbing a rock somewhere immersed in nature, which is how he wanted to be and how he wanted to live.
Was that how he wanted to be and live? The question remains fundamental to the crux of what Keith is; a wanderer searching for his way and living life on his terms? Or was he mentally ill and suffering? Was his mind crying out inside, trapped by a blockade of loneliness and non-reality. The picture on the climbing website was not him. I confirmed it with the photographer twice.
And therein lies the ultimate question. How is Keith? San Francisco Police Department prohibits the release of mug shots on arrest records where there is no consent from the individual. I have been round and round with them on a public records request for the arrest record on Keith Mastell in August 2017. After much effort and through some creative endeavors the detective from Highland Village Police Department - where Keith went missing - was able to talk to the San Francisco Police Department and confirm physical descriptors. We know that hair color, eye color, height, and date of birth all match. Disturbingly 156 pounds at 6 foot 2 inches was hard-hitting reality. But we have no mug shot that would show Keith’s physical appearance less than a year ago and now at the ripe age of 35 years old vs. 24 when we last saw him. I worry and wonder about his well-being.
Keith lived with me for approximately three years in Austin. I moved there after I graduated Texas A&M in December 1998. I loved Austin when I first visited our middle brother, Brian, to see music. So when I graduated I came to Austin on New Year’s Eve and stayed with Brian for a week. I eventually found a one-bedroom apartment east of I-35 where I began to look for work. It was exciting to be that central in Austin. Keith eventually moved down to Austin after he graduated High School in 2000.
I don’t know specifically when and where I fell in love with rock climbing, but I know Keith and I fell in love with it at about the same time. The greenbelt in Austin is a mecca for good overhanging limestone climbing. It was challenging and beautiful out there. We spent a good three years climbing all over Texas together. We made an epic road trip to Bishop, Calif., one spring. It was fantastic! We road tripped for three weeks driving out and back. Climbing, living and bonding. It was as simple as that. And I knew Keith knew he could live like that full time, unconfined from the shackles of responsibility that enabled normal folks the fruits of society. From “Into the Wild” soundtrack there is a song called “Society” by Eddie Vedder that calls out, “Society, your crazy greed, hope you’re not angry, if I disagree, society, have mercy on me, hope you’re not lonely without me.” Probably one of the greatest truths to homelessness in my opinion. Like all parallel journeys the Alexander SuperTramps must test their idealism.
And that probably happened, but Keith never popped back up on the radar. I hired a private investigator out of Corpus Christi to begin looking for Keith in November 2017. We’ve accomplished so much in such a short period of time. Amy Ward has really given me a road map to making contact with Keith. And part of it involves something Keith didn’t necessarily want. Society. The tools of word of mouth especially through social media invoke us all. But also in a very simple sense, what if it all came down to one letter? Amy said, “If you only had one chance to say something to your brother, what would it be?”
I love you brother. I’ve been looking for you for a long time just to tell you that. I want to offer you my contact information so that if you choose to reconnect with me I am but an email or phone call away. I can tell you I am not perfect and I deeply regret and am sorry for anything I said or did that may have hurt you. If you choose to contact me it will be with respect for your privacy first and foremost. I can be reached at email@example.com or 512-786-6820. I hope this message finds you safe and well.
With love, your brother,