Smoke from distant wildfires filled the air one autumn morning in 2021 when I met my father in the town of Mountain Green, Utah. We wheeled his plane, a small two-seater with a bubble canopy, out of a hangar and onto the tarmac at the Morgan County Airport.
Our plan was to survey a remote area of northern Utah where some investigators believed the remains of Sheree Warren might rest.
I wriggled into the back seat and buckled the five-point harness tight, then placed a headset over my ears. My dad shouted “clear prop” and the plane’s engine roared to life. We rolled down the taxiway in the morning sunlight and turned onto the asphalt runway, then accelerated into the air.
The plane climbed out of the Morgan Valley, rising above the surrounding hills and mountains. We then headed northeast, toward Causey Reservoir.
I was at the time trying to understand how Causey and the mountains around it fit with theories of Sheree Warren’s presumed murder. The land in question sat about 20 miles east of Ogden, Utah. It was remote, privately owned and not open to the public. Getting up in the air, I figured, was the best way to put eyes on it.
I’d learned a witness told police in May of 1987 he’d seen Sheree Warren’s boyfriend, Cary Hartmann, on that same mountain just four days after Sheree disappeared. And I knew police still considered Cary a suspect in Sheree’s case.
A woman’s body behind Causey Dam
Sheree Warren had disappeared after leaving her work at an office building in Salt Lake City, Utah on Oct. 2, 1985. She’d told a coworker she intended to meet her estranged husband at a nearby car dealership and give him a ride home to Ogden, Utah.
At the time, Sheree was living with her parents and three-year-old son in the Ogden suburb of Roy. She did not arrive home that night and Sheree’s mother reported her missing to Roy police the following day.
An anonymous man called Roy police about a year-and-a-half later, on April 3, 1987. He said he’d stumbled across human remains in the mountains. A dispatcher instructed the man to instead call the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, because the supposed body was outside Roy city limits.
The caller dialed the sheriff’s office and spoke with a second dispatcher, who recorded the call. A transcript revealed the man said he’d found the body of a woman, as well as a purse, while searching for “sediments” in the mountains behind Causey Dam.
The caller refused to give more precise directions to the body. He hung up the phone when the dispatcher briefly placed him on hold.
Police in the Ogden area were at the time dealing with two unsolved disappearances, those of Sheree Warren and of a South Ogden woman named Joyce Yost. Investigators believed the anonymous caller might’ve found either one of these women. But a preliminary search around Causey came up empty. The information provided by the caller proved too vague.
About a month later, on May 8, 1987, police in Ogden arrested Cary Hartmann as part of an unrelated serial rape investigation. Detectives began questioning Cary’s friends and associates. One of them was an elk hunting guide named Allen Fred John, who was more commonly known as Fred Johns.
The story John told led police to wonder if there might be a nexus between Cary Hartmann and the unrecovered body on the mountain behind Causey.
The sighting of Cary Hartmann behind Causey
Sheree Warren case files showed Roy police interviewed John on May 13, 1987. John told detectives he’d been leasing several thousand acres on the mountain southeast of Causey Reservoir when Sheree Warren disappeared in 1985. He ran a guide service and provided his clients access to that ground during the annual elk hunt.
Utah’s general season elk hunt in 1985 opened on Oct. 2, the same date Sheree Warren was last seen alive in Salt Lake City. John reportedly told police that four days later, on Sunday, Oct. 6, he was patrolling the boundary of his leased land for trespassers when he came across Cary Hartmann and another man parked in a clearing.
Cary and Fred John were acquainted, having grown up in the same neighborhood. John told police he and Cary had also briefly been roommates during the mid-1970s. So John immediately recognized Cary Hartmann and stopped to speak with him.
According to detective’s notes, John said “Cary told him that they had been elk hunting but had not done any good so they were going home.” John had found this strange, because he’d never known Cary to hunt elk. Case records also showed John reported seeing another man with Cary on the mountain, possibly Cary’s younger brother Jack Hartmann, as well as two 3-wheeled ATVs.
The account provided by Fred John led some investigators to speculate Cary Hartmann might’ve killed Sheree Warren and hidden her body on the mountain behind Causey.
Sheree Warren at Causey Reservoir?
Causey Dam is an impoundment of the South Fork Ogden River. The mountain to the south and east of Causey divides its drainage from that of Lost Creek, which is a tributary of the Weber River. Lost Creek is also dammed, which forms Lost Creek Reservoir.
Causey and Lost Creek Reservoirs are both significant locations in the search for Sheree Warren. One can picture the relationship between Causey, Lost Creek and the mountain between them as resembling a percent sign: two circles separated by a slash.
A dirt road connects Causey to Lost Creek by way of a ridge atop the mountain between the two reservoirs. The road is gated at both ends. Most of the land on the mountain is privately owned.
The primary gate on the western, or Causey, side sits at the mouth of Skull Crack Canyon. This gate also serves as the entrance to a private cabin community known as Causey Estates. Cary Hartmann had at least three friends who owned land in Causey Estates at the time of Sheree Warren’s disappearance.
One of those friends, C. Brent Morgan, told police in May of 1987 he’d loaned Cary a key to the gate at Causey Estates in September of 1985. Morgan said he was not able to retrieve the key from Cary until at least a week after the date of Sheree Warren’s disappearance.
Morgan’s account meant Cary had a means to get through the gate and onto the mountain behind Causey at the time Sheree Warren disappeared, as well as on the date Fred John reported seeing Cary and another man up on the ridge.
On the eastern side, the gate sits behind Lost Creek Reservoir at the mouth of Killfoil Canyon. This gate served as one entrance to a sprawling ranch called Deseret Land and Livestock.
Cary was familiar with Lost Creek, having spent a significant amount of time fishing and deer hunting there with family and friends during the 1970s and 1980s. Cary had even taken Sheree Warren on a picnic to Lost Creek weeks prior to her disappearance.
Pinpointing the Cary Hartmann sighting behind Causey
Former Ogden police detective Shane Minor re-interviewed Fred John about his sighting of Cary Hartmann in 2001. At that time, John agreed to escort Minor to the location.
John and Minor traveled to the exact spot of the Cary Hartmann sighting together on May 23, 2001. Minor tracked the journey using his odometer. The route he documented ascended Pine Canyon, passing by the shack John used as a hunting lodge. It ended at a clearing on a ridge at the head of the Right Fork Guildersleeve Canyon.
COLD verified the location by comparing Minor’s notes to maps, as well as by matching photographs Minor took during a May, 2004 flyover. Our flyovers further confirmed the accuracy of the location.
The sighting of Cary Hartmann on the mountain behind Causey led investigators to suspect he might have killed Sheree Warren and disposed of her body there. But the location was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of rugged, steep terrain.
It was too much ground to effectively cover on foot, or even with cadaver dogs. Locating Sheree’s remains, if they were indeed on that mountain, would require a stroke of luck.
Hear what happened when police searched for Sheree Warren at Causey in Cold season 3, episode 7: Purgatory
Research, writing and hosting: Dave Cawley
Audio production: Ben Kuebrich
Audio mixing: Ben Kuebrich
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Additional scoring: Allison Leyton-Brown
KSL executive producer: Sheryl Worsley
Workhouse Media executive producers: Paul Anderson, Nick Panella, Andrew Greenwood
Amazon Music and Wondery team: Morgan Jones, Candace Manriquez Wrenn, Clare Chambers, Lizzie Bassett, Kale Bittner, Alison Ver Meulen
KSL companion story: https://ksltv.com/526472/cold-the-search-for-sheree-warrens-remains-part-1/
Episode transcript: https://thecoldpodcast.com/season-3-transcript/purgatory-full-transcript/