Jax Menez Atwell has more than ten years of investigative experience in law enforcement agencies in Arizona and California. He has been a private investigator since 2008 and specializes in hard-to-solve cases, including those that are intertwined with the folklore and legend of the Alaskan Wilderness.
History Channel’s “Missing in Alaska” utilizes Jax’s pragmatic approach and investigative experience to keep the three-person team on task as they try to unlock the mysteries of The Alaska Triangle. Read our interview with Jax below.
The Alaska Triangle. More missing people than the Bermuda Triangle, yet less well-known. Why do you think that is?
“I think the easy answer is Alaska is just not understood by most people in the lower 48, let alone the rest of the world. The cases of missing people haven’t been publicized or glamorized by the press in even a small degree that the Bermuda triangle gets. You’re also looking at a huge land mass that can fit roughly the state of Texas and California in it with room to spare. That kind of land mass is hard to wrap your head around when you’re considering that only 700,000 people live there, roughly!”
What do you think the explanation for all the missing people might be? Do you think there’s one broad explanation like people lost in the wilderness and the weather or do you think it’s more complicated than that?
“Oh, I don’t think you can put the cause into any one category. Alaska is truly a wild land that can swallow you up real fast. Due to its land mass the climates, terrains, weather systems are so different depending on where you are. If you were alone or without any means of help, dying from the weather, injury, or facing attack from wildlife, it is not a place where 911 is going to assist you!
If you take that into consideration it’s not really crazy to see how deaths and disappearances can become part of folklore and legend. The reality that things that haven’t been discovered or aren’t known to exist in a land mass and unforgiving land like Alaska, is more than plausible. The problem is the evidence is hard to come by.”
What drew you to investigating the ‘tough’ cases like you do?
“The lure to investigating something tough is located deep down inside any good investigator especially when it becomes personal. My fellow cast member, Tommy Joseph, lost his father in very mysterious circumstances in Alaska. His idea was to bring together his knowledge of Alaskan folklore, a crypto-zoologist and someone like myself that will keep the investigations on track and true to investigative form as opposed to letting the excitement of something unknown cloud our judgment.”
What do the cases you investigate, in general, have in common? What are the differences?
“They’re all vastly different in the evidence that we have to start out with. Unlike the other two in my team I don’t start out believing we are on the trail of a legendary creature. I start out with the most plausible explanations and work my way in a systematic fashion ruling things out. They are common in the fact that we are left at the end with a few plausible explanations and one of those is usually the existence of whatever we were looking for to begin with.”
What are some of the legends and folklore that you’ve found to be related to some of the missing people in Alaska?
“Alaska is so vast and its natives are so different from place to place. The folklore and legends follow suit. There are always your normal things like the hairy man, aliens and UFO’s, and spirits like the Nahani legend BUT Alaska offers some very unique things like the Southeast’s Otterman, the polar Vortexes, and even man-made issues like HAARP, which delves into the issue of mind control and governmental interference. All of these have a consistent theme of people disappearing without a trace. The “without a trace” is the important part to focus on because eventually some evidence of someone dying or disappearing of natural means should be found.”
When gathering information and talking to eyewitnesses, how do you sort out truth from exaggeration from legend and lies?
“This question is so important to an investigator. As humans our brains fill in missing components to something witnessed by the senses. If you’re speaking about vision you could be getting three different answers on the same person witnessed. For example one man saw the other man as bald, the other has him wearing a red hat, and the third man sees the same person wearing a hooded sweat shirt. These people can be able minded capable people but the brain fills in facts that it missed. As time goes by it increases exponentially. As an investigator it is important to recognize this and sort it out. People probably believe what they saw or remembered seeing and truly aren’t lying but that doesn’t mean the facts are correct. You have to compare all the evidence and witness statements are just a portion of that!”
Do you think the Alaska Triangle and the Bermuda Triangle have anything in common, including the possibility of similar explanations for the disappearances that happen there?
“This is a very curious question that we did address in the first episode. The concept of the Vortex phenomenon was very scientific and hard to wrap our head around. We had to talk to many experts in scientific fields. The range in what you may believe occurs with these Vortex is wildly different from drastically altering magnetic fields, which would take planes way off course and not in any kind of search grid, to the extreme of Vortex being portals with the even more extreme of possible extraterrestrial use. I am by far not on the far end of that spectrum but the magnetic field disruption is a very real thing that is identical to what planes experience in the Bermuda Triangle area. In fact we learned there are possibly 13 confirmed similar areas in the world but potentially a lot more! I can’t give too much more away you will have to watch the episode!”
How many investigations, at this point, are ongoing? Have you solved any of the open disappearances?
“For the most part they are all on going. You have people who have devoted their entire lives and careers to following just one of these mysteries. It is important to keep that in mind when investigating primarily cold cases with very little evidence. The best part is just going through it all, having open forums of discussion, and in the end just realizing that there is a plausible explanation that might light in the unexplained.”
Catch up and watch more when Missing in Alaska airs on The History Channel.