Erin Marie Gilbert, 24, was a stunning young woman, kind and responsible, who loved her family and had a close relationship with them. She was an aspiring novelist and planned to enroll in cosmetology school.
In 1994, Erin lived in San Francisco but relocated to Alaska to join her sister, Stephanie Juarez, and Stephanie’s family at Elmendorf Air Force Base, now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Stephanie’s husband was in the military and traveled extensively for work, leaving Stephanie alone with their two children. She asked Erin to live with them.
Erin found work as a nanny for a family known to Stephanie. Everything was going well for the young woman, and she was excited about her future.
After moving to Alaska, Erin often frequented an Anchorage bar called Chilkoot Charlie’s or Koot’s to locals.
Erin met David Combs at Koot’s during the summer of 1995. According to author Jenn Baxter, the pair exchanged telephone numbers in early June and ran into each other again at Koot’s on June 30. Erin and Combs decided to go together to the 20th Annual Girdwood Forest Fair the following day.
The fair is an annual event that “features Alaskan artists, hand-crafted items, exotic foods and entertainers from all over Alaska,” the website states.
Combs arrived at Stephanie’s home at 4 p.m. on July 1, 1995, to pick up Erin. Stephanie’s older son encouraged Erin to take a cellphone with her, but she decided against it.
Erin and her date arrived at the fairgrounds at 5 p.m. Witnesses saw Erin and Combs together at a beer garden shortly after.
Combs said they left the fair at 6 p.m., and he and Erin walked back to his car, but the car would not start. Alaska requires drivers to have “headlights on where a roadway is posted to do so,” as Seward Highway, for example. Combs later said he forgot to turn them off, and the battery died.
He told Erin he had a friend who lived nearby and that he would walk to get help. Erin stayed in his car, waiting for him to return.
Combs claimed he walked for about two hours and never found his friend’s house. He returned to his vehicle, but Erin was gone. He tried starting the car again, and it started immediately.
Combs assumed Erin got tired of waiting and went back to the fair. He claimed he searched the fair for her until about 1 a.m. but never found her.
The following day at 7 a.m., he called Stephanie to ensure Erin arrived home safely. Stephanie checked Erin’s room in her house. Erin was not in her bed, and Stephanie could tell she had not slept in it. Stephanie drove to Girdwood, had festival officials announce her name onstage, and searched the fairgrounds and nearby forest. When they couldn’t find her, Stephanie called the police. She also informed a local news station to get Erin’s picture and details on television.
Police conducted an extensive air and ground search but found no sign of the missing woman.
Investigators briefly considered the possibility that Erin left voluntarily. Still, her family vehemently denied this, saying Erin was close with them and would never have gone without letting them know her whereabouts.
Police also considered that Erin might have ventured into the woods and got lost, but she was never one to do that, and there would have been no reason for her to do so unless she was running from someone or something.
Police interviewed Combs, who gave several statements, but his story never changed since Erin vanished. According to Southern Girl Crime Stories on YouTube, Combs never participated in any searches after that morning and refused to take a polygraph test.
No other witnesses came forward with sightings of Erin, which has frustrated the police.
After Erin’s disappearance, Stephanie made regular trips to Girdwood to search for her lost sister. She plastered missing person posters around the area, but all efforts led nowhere.
Stephanie and her family relocated to Washington in September 1996. She occasionally returned to Alaska to search for her sister or any evidence of her whereabouts.
Erin’s family put up a $35,000 reward in 2017 for information leading to the young woman’s whereabouts or the person responsible for her disappearance. Police received a few tips but nothing substantial.
Erin’s case has been assigned to the Alaska Bureau of Investigation’s Cold Case Investigation Unit. Detectives are not treating Combs as a suspect but would like to speak with him again. They have tried many times to contact him, but he never returns their calls.
Erin Gilbert has now been missing for 27 years. Her family has a Facebook page set up for her.
Anyone with information regarding Erin’s case can call the Alaska State Troopers at (907) 428-7200.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
This one is obvious, I know. Combs likely killed Erin. However, what I find interesting is that his story never changed, which suggests he told the truth, or at least partially. But why on earth would Combs leave a young woman alone to walk to a friend’s house? Why didn’t he take Erin with him? Why didn’t he ask someone at the fair for help if his car did not start?
Also, I Googled the fairground area. I do not understand why anyone would spend TWO hours trying to find a “friend.” I don’t think he did.
Another problem I have is that supposedly Erin and Combs left the fair at 6 p.m. to go to his car. They arrived at 5. Why on earth would they drive one hour to stay only an hour? Where did they plan to go?
If not for the witnesses who saw Erin and Combs at the fair, I would have said they never arrived.
A Facebook user recently posted on Erin’s page about another man being with Combs that day and that Alaska State Police know about this man. No idea who the friend is, but if this is true, he sure as hell knows Erin’s fate and/or participated in killing her.
Erin’s family says on her page that Combs was NEVER cooperative with the police, contrary to what podcasts and other outlets report. They have asked him numerous times to bring in his attorney to answer questions, and he refuses.
For me, not coming forward to speak with the police again speaks volumes. Why haven’t you talked with them if you have nothing to hide?
I could not find a picture of Combs; however, I found a David Combs on Facebook that lives in Palmer, AK, about 45 minutes from Anchorage, specifically the Air Force base where Erin resided with her family. Combs would be around 52 now, and this man does look to be that age, but it’s hard to say.
And I cannot believe that investigators even considered Erin randomly wandering into the woods. It’s freaking Alaska. Bears. That’s all I think of when I think of Alaska. North and west of the fairgrounds is a vast wilderness of NOPE. I know I would never wander into that, and I can’t see Erin doing either unless she was running from someone or something. Still, there were plenty of people at the festival, so she likely would have run back into the fair to get help.
You can see the big NOPE here in this picture.
There is the possibility that a random stranger saw Erin waiting at Combs’s car and kidnapped her. However, there had to be many people at the fairgrounds, so someone should have seen something.