What Happened to Michael Jose Malinowski? Mysteriously Vanished in 1996

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Michael Jose Malinowski, 37, was a mental health counselor at Greater Trenton Community Mental Health Center in New Jersey, where he was born and raised. He was divorced and lived with a roommate, Greg Rossi, across the Delaware River in Yardley, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.

Michael lived a healthy lifestyle. He was a vegetarian, did not use drugs, and seldom drank alcohol. He loved the outdoors, often went hiking, and frequently stayed at the Pine Tree Lodge, now Pine Lane Lookout, at 98 Pine Lane in Gaines, about 250 miles northwest of Yardley.

While his life was good in the East, Michael yearned to relocate to Washington State to be near his son, John, then 10, who lived with his ex-wife.

Unfortunately, John would never see his father again.

The Disappearance of Michael Jose Malinowski

On Thursday, October 24, 1996, Michael attended a psychology seminar in Chester County. He rented a gray and silver 1995 Sentra because his old vehicle was in poor condition.

Michael checked into the Pine Tree Lodge at around 4:30 p.m. for a two-night stay. That evening, he called Greg, and everything seemed fine. Sometime after the phone call, Michael vanished and has not been seen since.

On October 27, 1996, a Forestry Bureau worker found Michael’s rental car in the parking area at the Barbour Rock access on the west rim of the PA Grand Canyon in Tioga State Forest, less than 10 miles from Gaines.

Maps of the location of Michael Jose Malinowski disappearance.

The manager at the Pine Tree Lodge called Gaines Township Police Chief Mark Resue and reported Michael missing on Monday, October 28, 1996. Because Michael frequented the lodge, the manager assumed he would come back. After all, he had paid for two nights, and someone had slept in the bed on the night of October 24. Michael had neatly put away all his belongings. His coat hung over a chair in the room, and a pair of shoes was under the bed.

When police arrived at Michael’s car, they found several items inside:

  • An unzipped day pack on the front seat containing a cellphone
  • Michael’s jacket hanging over the passenger’s seat 
  • A partially empty water jug and some apples and crackers 
  • There was an open camera case minus the camera on the dashboard.

Michael had planned to go hiking on the trails and take pictures of the breathtaking views of Pine Creek Gorge.

INVESTIGATION

Pine Creek Gorge in Pennsylvania where Michael Jose Malinowski disappeared in 1996.
A view of Pine Creek Gorge (a.k.a. Pennsylvania Grand Canyon) in autumn/Snottywong, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Steve Farrell, then the superintendent of Colton Point State Park, told The Philadelphia Inquirer in December 1996: “Up to 125 firefighters and other volunteers, dogs trained to find people dead or alive, nine rappelling teams, and three helicopters spent five days from daylight to dark searching the canyon’s walls and came up empty,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in December 1996.

Farrell also said the search was one of the “most extensive searches ever conducted in that rugged, mountainous area, yet no trace of Michael was found.” 

It appeared as if Michael had parked the Nissan Sentra, possibly filled a couple of bottles with water, grabbed his camera, and taken off for a hike over trails he had hiked several times before. Someone, a family member or friend, gave police a photo album showing Michael’s pictures of the area during different seasons.

According to UncoveringPA.com, hikers should use caution when trekking the Barbour Rock Overlook Trail “as the cliffs below the rock drop far into the gorge. In some places, a wooden rail fence has been set up, but in other spots, there’s nothing to stop you from going over the edge.”

Did Michael somehow lose his footing and fall to his death? That is one theory behind his disappearance, but there are a few more.

THEORIES

Police and park officials had several theories about Michael’s disappearance, although all had “holes in them,” they said.

  • Michael had a fatal or incapacitating accident and died in the woods
  • He died by suicide after trekking far from where he parked the car 
  • Michael arranged his disappearance
  • Someone known to Michael or a random stranger killed him, either at the canyon or near his cabin 
  • A hunter accidentally killed Michael, panicked, and fled with the body.

The Pennsylvania State Police found no evidence of foul play or indication that Michael would have taken his own life. Resue said nothing suggested Michael would have voluntarily disappeared because he looked forward to moving to the Pacific Northwest to be near John. Michael’s credit card accounts have not been touched since his disappearance. 

Additionally, there was no evidence of a struggle or foul play in the cabin or in and around the rental car to support the murder theory.

The police did not believe a hunter killed him because it was grouse and squirrel season, and deer hunting was not allowed, Resue said.

The police investigation never revealed what happened to Michael. He remains missing 27 years later, and little information is available on his disappearance. I could not find his son online, so I am unsure where John is now. Michael’s father passed away in 2004.

Sources

Good, Meaghan. “Michael Jose Malinowski.” The Charley Project. https://charleyproject.org/case/michael-jose-malinoski

McCrary, Lacy. “Yardley Man Gone After Excursion to Park.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. December 24, 1996.

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