Dateline   |  August 23, 2013

The Rescue of Hannah Anderson, Part 4

A group of horseback riders tell police about an encounter they had in Idaho backcountry that gives investigators their biggest break yet.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> just an average morning, nothing unusual about it. we probably got up a little later than usual, but that might be an age issue. [ laughter ]

>> tuesday morning, three days after hannah anderson went missing in san diego , two couples way up in idaho were finally getting around to their postponed horseback trip to morehead lake for fishing and a couple of nights sitting around their campsite.

>> spur of the moment , we said it's time to go, the fish are getting big and we need to go and get some.

>> the couples in idaho hadn't heard a thing about a deadly house fire, kidnapped girl or amber alert when they set out on their trail ride . mark john , the former elected county sheriff , his german born wife krista and their friends mike young , a rancher and his wife mary , a college mathematics professor. they made camp at the trail head that night before the grueling ascent into the high country the next morning.

>> every state claims to have the roughest, steepest country, but until you get to idaho , you haven't seen it.

>> the riders and animals wering moving at a good clip, always wary of shale rock that could send a skittish horse and rider plunging into the steep canyon below.

>> you don't ever want to fall down. you'll keep rolling until you hit bottom.

>> if you don't have the back country experience of these four friends and the horses and horsemanship to get you in and out, no roads up here, then you've probably got no bisque here in the first place. which is why mike riding single file lead was surprised to see two hikers, a man and a teenage girl with only one light day pack between them.

>> i think we startled them a little bit when we come up on them. i concentrated on features quite a bit when i ride past and hers is the first face i seen. she had a -- to me a pure look of fear on her face.

>> fear?

>> yeah. when i looked at him, just one of them faces that kind of give you a prickly feeling. it give me quite a gut feeling on the two. they were totally out of place.

>> it was apparent to the riders that these two were at the very least recreational hikers out of their depth. the wrong foot gear, wrong clothing, no water bottles . the girl was wearing sweats, okay for the mall maybe but not out here where summer hail could be just minutes away.

>> mary was the next rider by.

>> by the time i had reached the couple, he was standing right next to her with his arm around her.

>> in a romantic kind of way or protective kind of way or how do you read it?

>> i thought at the time a protective kind of way.

>> mark the sheriff didn't see the fear that mike did in her eyes but by then she was consciously averting her face. he didn't know what to make of the untalkative pair.

>> first i was trying to put it together as if it was a father daughter or boyfriend, girlfriend. none of that fit.

>> the trail riders pushed on past the hikers two-man tent nearby. then took a break to water their horses in the water ahead. mike started talking about the fear he saw in the girl's eyes. by then, all four were wondering what was going on with those two out of place hikers.

>> it's not leaving us alone. something isn't adding up here.

>> but the friends goal was fishing at morehead lake, a favorite spot down the switchback about an hour ahead. they dismounted, hoofed it in and caught six fish between all four of them.

>> the fishing needs to restock that lake. it's bad.

>> as they headed home for the long ride back to their base camp , they were surprised to once again come upon the two hikers. the pair now had brand new 50-pound backpacks and had covered a lot of distance on foot from where the riders had previously encountered them. the man with a few days of beard was petting an old gray cat cradled in his arms.

>> i said what are you doing with a cat in here? they're just good bait for wolves and mountain lions . he just kind of put a smirk on his face and kept stroking the cat.

>> mark turned and spotted the girl then. 25 yards away or so dangling her feet in the water staring out into the lake. mark called out a little joke about her feet killing all the fish. she didn't respond. but as the party rode on, she turned her head to them.

>> i heard her say, looks like we're all in trouble now.

>> what did that mean?

>> by then, krista 's head was buzzing with mike owes growing conviction that something was wrong here. she wanted to turn back and talk to the girl on the qt.

>> as a mother and grandmother, i just thought i would just nonchalantly ride close to her and say here's the rocks we fished on and out of the corner of my mouth ask her without moving, are you in trouble?

>> krista , you really thought that?

>> i really thought that. take your feet out of the water if you are and still pointing. but mark held me back.

>> she want to talk to her. i said you leave it alone . that might be a family dispute, lovers quarrel, leave it alone . let's ride on out of here.

>> at camp that night, the steaks and corn tasted good but they could not get the two on the trail out of their heads.

>> mike says that guy just made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. i did not like his looks. and he mentioned to me, he said when we get home, we need to watch the news and see if something is going on.

>> the thing that kept coming back was the look in her eyes.

>> the next morning, thursday now and five days since hannah and dimaggio had last been seen, they loaded the horses and headed home.

>> mark was getting the last of the gear stowed at home.

>> finally i come in the house and she's got the tv on. i looked up and there's an amber alert flash on the tv screen. i said, krista , that's the girl we seen on the mountain. i said, call mike and mary tell them to turn their tv on and check this out.

>> now both couples were on the computer reading up on the girl in the amber alert . san diego , a fire, a murdered mom and brother. the photos definitely the girl. the guy? hard to say exactly. mike and mary were pretty sure it was him. with that, the former sheriff got on the phone with the idaho state police , then the command post head in san diego .

>> he talked to me and he said his final comment was he says, you might have just blown the lid right off of this thing.

>> the search map on the entire american west had gotten a lot smaller. but could rescue teams pinpoint jim dimaggio's exact location in time to rescue the girl hannah ? the clock was now very much ticking on a cornered man in unfor giving back country terrain.