Perplexing clues in the Mark Russell Irby case have left investigators with more questions to ponder, many of which may never be answered.
Irby’s body was found in June by four anglers 50 feet from Chevelon Canyon Lake, five months after Irby left his Forest Lakes home for a quick spin around the neighborhood.
The body was found fully clothed and with no evidence of foul play.
Three months earlier, two hunters from Snowflake recovered Irby’s red ATV a mile southeast of the lake, off Forest Service Road 170.
Lt. Rex Gilliland, with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, said the ATV was found with fuel in the tank and in running condition.
Why a man would leave a running ATV in possibly several feet of snow to hike is unknown, and one of the questions Gilliland is trying to answer.
“I don’t know if we can ever answer that,” he said Monday. “But it begs a whole lot of questions.”
Gilliland is awaiting the results of an autopsy from a forensic anthropologist who was brought in to examine the remains after a traditional autopsy yielded few results. Because Irby was missing for several months, bones were the only things remaining when the hunters found him.
Family members last saw Irby, 51, Jan. 2 around 10 a.m. before he headed out for a short ride on his ATV.
Irby told his wife that he would ride the loop around the Forest Lakes subdivision and return. The family had planned to return to their main home in Chandler upon Irby’s return. Since he only planned to take a short ride, Irby left wearing a shirt, jeans and plastic “Croc” shoes.
Rescuers searched the surrounding area for 1,800 hours by foot and 20 hours by air, but found no tracks.
The Chevelon Canyon Lake area was not included in the initial search grid, based on Irby’s past riding behavior, his plans to take a short ride and the winter weather. Because searchers were not in the area, Gilliland said it is unknown how much snow was on the ground and what could have driven Irby to leave his ATV.