The internal temperature of a cave is approximately equal to the average temperature of the climate above. This is true regardless of size or location. A unique combination of geothermal heat and insulation prevents the air and water inside the cavern from varying more than a few fractions of a degree throughout the year, regardless of external extremes in temperature.[1] Deviations from this rule are rare and have been subject to rigorous study from the moment of their discovery—with one exception, of course.

La cueva de la cabra lies near the border of Chihuahua and Coahuila de Zaragoza in northern Mexico. By all accounts, it is the only cave in the region that maintains an interior temperature below the freezing point. While atmospheric readings of the Chihuahuan desert report an annual average around 63°F,[2] the most recent measurements taken from inside La cueva de la cabra average out to just below 15°F.[3] Any possible explanations for this disparity remain little more than speculation. The prevailing theory, proposed by Dr. Miguel Hernández, postulates the existence of an underground ice formation somewhere beneath the cave.[4] Though scarce, such formations do occur naturally. According to the Utah Geological Survey, the geometry of some caves can cause cold air to be trapped underground, essentially refrigerating the cavern. These caves have drawn much attention from the scientific community due to their potential to retain year-round ice in areas where permafrost is otherwise impossible.[5] And yet, thus far, La cueva de la cabra has been left out of this conversation.

The fact of the matter is, until Dr. Hernández’s ill-fated expedition, La cueva de la cabra was little more than a folktale, rarely told outside its country of origin. Aside from its anomalous temperature, the cave is almost too easy to overlook: it lies nestled between two hills, in a remote portion of the desert. The nearest population center, a town called Hércules, is home to fewer than 4,600 residents.[6] The precise distance from the cave to the town center remains undetermined, but is estimated to be approximately 18 miles.[7]

Because there are no paved roads or even beaten paths leading directly to the cave, this distance quickly deters casual visitors. Without an all-terrain vehicle and extremely specific directions from one of the handful of individuals who have found La cueva de la cabra and lived to tell the tale, any would-be explorers run the risk of stranding themselves off-road in the middle of the desert. In the summer heat, with a limited water supply, this negligence all too quickly becomes a death sentence.

Beyond the cave’s inaccessibility, those few who’ve made it in and out unscathed depict a cold but otherwise unremarkable environment. Statements taken from the search party sent in after Dr. Hernández’s team describe one long corridor with a small cavern at the back to the left, resembling an upside down “L.” A smattering of stalactites hang from the ceiling, collecting more densely towards the center of the main passage. The distance from the mouth of the cave to its furthest wall amounts to just over 650 feet. It stands slightly more than 10 feet in height, with a width of about 4 feet at its narrowest and about 13 feet at its widest.[8] Compared to caving destinations like thecenotesof the Riviera Maya, with their snorkeling and diving tours; [9] or the 53-mile long Sistema Huautla in Oaxaca;[10] or La cueva de los cristales, with its mind-boggling 40-foot gypsum crystals[11]—it’s clear to see why tourists, cavers, and geologists alike rarely bother to seek out La cueva de la cabra.

That’s not to say the cave has gone entirely unnoticed; on the contrary, knowledge of La cueva de la cabra has been shared by word of mouth for generations. An exact date of its discovery would be impossible to pinpoint, but the earliest written record of the cave seems to appear in a collection of Mexican folktales titled simply Cuentos. Compiled by Ignacio Cuarón, Cuentos was originally published in 1890, and has been reprinted a handful of times throughout the twentieth century, most recently in 1998. In this latest version, translated by Isabel Mann, the story of La cueva de la cabra reads as follows:

Long ago, a young woman was engaged to wed a man she did not love. She protested the union, but once her parents laid eyes on her suitor’s fortune, their hearts would not be moved. The night before their wedding, as the clock struck twelve, she packed a bag with all that she could carry, crept into the stable, and stole a single milking goat. On the day of her wedding, the bride was nowhere to be found. Stricken with grief and anger, the suitor went to the girl’s father and said: “Let us go from house to house and search until we find her.” So they went to every house and stable in the village, but the girl was not inside. Then the father said to the suitor, “Let us gather the men of the village, and go out into the desert, and search until we find her.” For three days they searched far out into the desert, and on the third day, the girl’s father heard the bleating of the goat. He followed the sound to the mouth of a hollow cavern. When he stepped under the cool shadow of the cave, however, the bleating stopped. He called his daughter’s name, but no voice answered. There was no sound inside the cave, not even the rustle of leathery bats’ wings. The father fled, for he knew no creature that ventured there would leave alive. The men abandoned their search, and neither the girl nor the goat were ever seen again.[12]

Or so the story goes. Whether La cueva de la cabra earned its name from this version of the tale or another, the presence of the cabra—the goat—is a constant. One variation claims that the runaway bride was lured to the cave by the sound of the bleating goat. But, when she sought refuge in the mouth of the cave, “a chill struck her heart,” and she turned and ran back into the arms of her betrothed.[13] This “chill” felt by either the father or the bride is as far as any iteration of the story goes toward addressing La cueva de la cabra’s signature coldness.

From a scientific standpoint, this may seem like an odd omission; but from a literary perspective, it’s important that the setting remain vague, so readers can imagine La cueva de la cabra lies just beyond the border of their own small town. The cave itself functions less as a setting and more as a warning, a cautionary tale to any disobedient young women in the household. Whether the bride capitulates and lives or disappears forever, the message is clear: obey, or else.

We can only wonder which—if any—iteration of this tale found its way to Dr. Hernández’s young ears during his many childhood trips to Chihuahua. Born on October 12, 1988 in the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Miguel Arturo Hernández made some of his happiest memories visiting family south of the border.

“He was a real good kid, never got in trouble or nothing,” recalls Luisa Morales, Miguel’s first cousin: “Actually it was kind of annoying how good he was. We did everything together when he came to visit, but somehow I always ended up getting the chancla, even when he deserved it. No one ever suspected him ’cause he was so quiet.” When asked what she thought happened to her cousin, Ms. Morales knew one thing for certain: “He’s dead. If he was alive, we would have heard something by now. It’s just a matter of finding the body.”[14]

As much as the Hernández cousins enjoyed each other’s company, there was one family member young Miguel adored more than anyone else: his mother. He was her only child, after all, and she his only parent. The pair were exceptionally similar in both temperament and appearance: he had her chocolate-brown eyes and heart-shaped face, her shyness, intelligence, and striking curiosity.[15] Mother and son remained close as little Miguel grew up and left home to continue his education—a pursuit which Marianela adamantly encouraged. When he earned his doctorate, Dr. Hernández dedicated his dissertation in her honor: “Para Mamá, mi seguidora primera y más feroz.[16]

But before Miguel Hernández could grow into the auspicious doctor of geology he was destined to be, he would have to follow his mother across the country. The pair relocated to Richmond, Virginia in 1996, effectively putting an end to the sibling-like relationship he shared with Luisa. Miguel was devasted by this separation, not to mention the social challenges of adjusting to a city whose Hispanic residents account for less than 7 percent of the population.[17] Even so, he managed to find one companion with whom he could commiserate: a neighbor boy by the name of Alexander Bryant.

“A match made in heaven,” the senior Mrs. Bryant called them, in an interview with The Las Vegas News Network: “They’d come home from school together, Mikey always with his head down, always frowning at something. A rock, a bug, a book—whatever the boys got their hands on that day. And then there was Alex right next to him, always with a smile on his face, always trying to make Mikey laugh. On the weekends they’d walk out the door at nine in the morning and you wouldn’t see them again ’til nine at night, and they’d come running in with bruised up knees and empty stomachs, ready to tell you all their adventures. That was the thing Alex liked best about him, I think. They shared an adventurous spirit.”[18] Miguel Hernández and Alexander Bryant’s friendship persisted through high school—they graduated in 2004—and the boys kept in touch as they embarked on their collegiate journeys: Hernández at MIT, and Bryant at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Already several years ahead of his peers, Dr. Hernández earned his Bachelor of Science degree in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at the age of twenty. Just five years later, he would complete his doctorate in geosciences at Princeton University, immediately establishing himself as one of the youngest and sharpest minds in the field. His thesis focused on soil erosion and the prevention thereof across Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Sudan, and he continued to travel throughout this part of the world after earning his doctorate.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Alexander Bryant was making a smaller but no less ambitious name for himself in the field of meteorology. Although he was no star pupil, Bryant nonetheless earned his bachelor’s degree in 2008, and returned home to Richmond, where he interned for the local branch of the Weather Channel.[19] But it wasn’t long before his adventurous spirit took hold, and he followed its call to Las Vegas, Nevada—not as a tourist, but as the brand new weatherman for Channel 6, LVNN.

Those already familiar with Bryant’s story know that while Alexander may have lacked Dr. Hernández’s insatiable intellect, he more than made up for it in raw charisma. True, he could analyze atmospheric data sufficiently, if not prodigiously; but he was a natural on camera, and the ease with which he maintained his famous smile quickly earned him popularity among executives and viewers alike.[20] Nonetheless, it is necessary to acknowledge that hindsight may have colored public perception of Alexander Bryant’s tenure at LVNN. After all, people paid similar compliments to Kathleen Bryant, before her husband’s disappearance.[21]

When asked what first attracted her to the young, charismatic weatherman, Mrs. Bryant replied: “Same thing everybody remembers about Alex. His smile.” Kathleen was a field reporter at LVNN when Alexander joined the team. “I was mostly doing traffic, a few public interest stories, your standard local news fare,” she recalls. “Not that there weren’t big, urgent stories to tell. McFadden had a monopoly on those—him and Olivo, the ‘senior reporters.’ I had to fight tooth and nail just to get a word in. Then Alex comes along, some kid fresh off his bachelor’s, and all of a sudden he’s on-air every day. I would’ve hated him, if it was possible to hate Alex.”

Instead, according to Kathleen, their chemistry was instantaneous: “He asked me out three or so months after we met. I think certain people were surprised it took him so long. But he was young, you know? Five years younger than me. That was enough to catch their attention. I found out later, the camera guys made bets whether he’d dump me for one of the interns, or propose.”[22]

This allegation has been more or less confirmed by the Channel 6 crew, some of whom have been eager to comment on their former colleague’s contributions to LVNN. A sound engineer who worked on the show alongside the Bryants went so far as to describe Kathleen as “vixeny,” with “a clear preference for younger men.” This particular crewmate requested to remain anonymous.[23]

To her credit, Kathleen made no attempt to conceal her reputation from her future husband. Maybe it was her honesty that inspired Bryant to propose after just 18 months—or maybe, he was hoping to discourage certain behaviors from his rapidly growing fanbase. After all, the young fiancé’s rocketing success could only be matched by the rise in popularity of Facebook fan group, “Soccer Moms for Alex Bryant.”[24]

The happy couple moved in together in July 2010, and one year later, they were married. Even after all the speculation surrounding their relationship, the wedding was an undeniable success. Both of their families, friends, and associates at the network filled the halls of Caesar’s Palace in droves.

“What was it like?” asked the Bryants’ former colleague, Samantha Han, in her bombshell interview: “Was it a magical wedding?”

“Oh yes,” Kathleen replied.

“The happiest day of your life?”

“Of course.”

“If you could go back to that day, what would you say to your husband?”

“I would say, I love you. I miss you. Never, ever go to Mexico.”

“What if you could talk to him now? If Alex is out there somewhere, listening to us, what would you want him to know?”

The camera focuses tight on Kathleen’s face, catching the crease at the corner of her eye, the thin, firm line of her lips. She addresses the audience with a pleading stare.

“Come home. Just, please come home.”[25]

During this portion of the interview, Han is presenting a photograph of the Bryants at the altar, gazing lovingly at one another. Kathleen is aglow in her white gown, her smile demure, almost shy—not the full-toothed beam she brought to LVNN. Opposite her, Alexander wears his signature grin, boyish and handsome. Over his shoulder, slightly out of focus in the far right of the frame, stands Miguel Hernández.

The prodigious doctoral candidate managed to postpone his studies long enough to be Alexander Bryant’s best man. This was the first time Kathleen met Dr. Hernández—“Mikey,” as her husband called him. Her initial impression was that of an awkward, mild-mannered man, whose bond with Alexander rivaled her own.

“Honestly, I thought he was kind of a dork at first. He was nice enough, and super intelligent, you could tell right away. But I got the impression he didn’t really know how to talk to people. Which was kinda weird, you know? For Alex’s best friend, he couldn’t have been less like Alex.”[26] And yet, their boyhood bond hadn’t faded one bit in the six years since the pair had shipped off to college, nor would it falter over the course of the Bryants’ marriage.

If the story of Alexander and Kathleen’s wedding could be told in a single photograph, then the walls and shelves of the Bryant family home spelled out their marriage in pristine script: Alexander and Kathleen dangling from a cliff face in Yosemite National Park (their honeymoon destination); the happy couple posing with a FOR SALE sign in front of a chic bungalow, SOLD stamped over the sign in bright red letters; Alexander, shirtless, lounging in what appears to be a kiddie pool in their new backyard; Kathleen in hiking boots and a sun hat, bounding over layers of red rock; Alexander beaming as he accepts the 2014 Achievement Award for Outstanding Broadcast Meteorology from the American Meteorological Society;[27] Kathleen in profile, backlit by the rising sun, caressing her protruding belly; pregnant Kathleen and Alexander with all of their colleagues on the set of LVNN, celebrating the station’s fiftieth anniversary; Alexander and Kathleen in a hospital bed, cradling newborn Abigail Bryant; baby Abigail in a white gown, Alexander holding her over a baptismal font; the growing girl nibbling her fingers, tasting her first chocolate, celebrating Christmas, Easter, her first, second, and third birthdays.[28]

The Bryants had achieved many of their lifelong dreams in just a few short years: they had the perfect family, perfect careers, the perfect marriage. And yet, the discerning onlooker might notice a subtle distance growing between the couple, starting with the birth of their daughter. Slowly but surely, baby Abigail dominates each frame, on her own or in one parent’s arms, the whole family hardly ever assembled into a single picture. The last photograph to feature all three Bryants depicts a family trip to the Grand Canyon, Alexander on one side of the frame and the girls on the other, flashing their signature smiles, the vast canyon between them.

While the newlyweds set out to make a family, Dr. Hernández remained single, childless, and wholeheartedly devoted to his career. He continued to travel after earning his doctorate, returning home only when his research allowed. His work was featured in Geology[29] and GSA Today,[30] and prior to his disappearance, he accepted a tenure-track position at Casper College in Wyoming, which funded his upcoming research and provided the young doctor with a permanent residence for the first time in his adult life.[31] In celebration of this milestone, Dr. Hernández made one fateful decision: he booked a flight to Mexico, to reunite with the members of his family he had not seen since his earliest childhood.

“I didn’t go,” Luisa Morales now regrets. “We had all scattered by then, to different parts of the country. I think me and Miguel were the only ones who ended up in the States. Anyway, it was hard to get us all in one place.” In the end, the reunion became a road trip. Dr. Hernández drove for more than 11 hours between his abuelos in the city of Chihuahua, and his cousins at the Universidad Metropolitana de Coahuila in Monclova.[32]

All the while La cueva de la cabra lay inert, undisturbed, awaiting its next victims.

Dr. Hernández’s interest in the cave piqued in late 2017, shortly after returning from his trip. On November 29, he sent three emails, each containing an identical link. The first he sent to Luisa Morales, with one simple question: “¿Has escuchado esto antes?”[33] The second, he sent to Alexander Bryant. In the body of this email, he discussed his own research as well as several colleagues’ investigations into cold trap caves in North America, their unique capacity to retain ice throughout the year, and how these caves could theoretically become great allies to humanity in the fight against climate change.[34] Third, Dr. Hernández saw fit to share this information with one final confidant: me.

I met Miguel Hernández at MIT, long before he was a doctor of anything. Though I have always preferred the liberal arts and he the sciences, we shared a sense of anxiety for the fate of our planet, and a certain indefinable chemistry. We kept in touch over the years—albeit infrequently—so I was not at all surprised to discover, out of the blue, a message in my inbox with the subject, “Thought this would be right up your alley.”[35]

El hombre que entró a la cueva con diez dedos y salió con once.Closer to an urban legend than a folktale, this story pops up in a handful of horror forums across the web, primarily on Spanish language sites—but Dr. Hernández managed to find an English version to share with his monolingual associates.[36] The title is translated as “The Man Who Entered the Cave with Ten Fingers and Left with Eleven.”

The story takes place during the Mexican Revolution. For context, this war was the result of decades of mounting conflict between the terratenientes—who owned the land—and campesinos—who worked the land.[37] As legend has it, a wealthy young terrateniente fled north toward the US border, in the hopes that his riches may buy him refuge from Pancho Villa’s men:

He rode by night and slept by day, and when the campesinos found his horse, he continued on foot. After untold hours wandering the desert by moonlight, the young man stumbled across La cueva de la cabra. Had he any knowledge of the cave’s reputation, no doubt he would have carried on a little farther—but he only knew that dawn was fast approaching, and he needed cover from the sun and his pursuers.

The man shivered as he entered the cavern, and felt his breath fog with each exhale. Nonetheless, he pulled his coat tight around his shoulders, and laid down to rest. But as he began to fall asleep, a sound near the cave’s entrance brought him to his feet once more. It was a man’s voice, maybe two or three men. Had he been followed so closely all this time? Or had some other poor souls sought refuge in his hiding place?

Either way, the young man did not want to alert them to his presence. Cautiously, quietly, he crept deeper into the cave. His steps were small and his progress slow; he dared not strike a match, but with no light to guide his way, he could only imagine what obstacles might lie ahead. The air grew colder and colder with every step, or so it seemed. But each time he paused to catch his breath and warm his hands, the echoes of the men’s voices came back a little louder, a little closer.

And then he took one wrong step.

A loose rock shifted under his weight, and all of a sudden he was falling face-first toward the ground, arms outstretched to cushion his fall. One hand found purchase on a slender piece of rock, which momentarily steadied him before snapping off in his fist. Disoriented, he clung to the structure which had righted him, and listened.

The cave was dead silent—no voices, no sound at all. While he waited, paralyzed, for the voices to return, his empty hand found an unexpected softness. Light as a cobweb and stringy, even his nearly-numb fingers could not mistake the sensation: it felt like hair.

Terrified that he may have stumbled across some long-slumbering beast, the terrateniente turned tail and sprinted as fast as his frozen legs would carry him. He burst out of the cave and kept running, straight into an unsuspecting company of revolutionaries. He was then promptly hanged. Only after his body had thawed in the midday sun did his frozen fist unfurl, and reveal the finger he had ripped from the thing in the cave.[38]

“Pretty damn spooky,” I wrote back, and thought little else of it, until word of Kathleen Bryant’s rescue—and all that it implied—reached my office.[39]

Of their expedition into La cueva de la cabra, this much is certain: Dr. Hernández arrived in Hércules on August 8, 2018. He secured two rooms for himself and his guests at a hotel on the outskirts of town, rented a silver 2015 Jeep Wrangler, and consulted several incredulous locals about the most efficient route to La cueva de la cabra. Three days later, Alexander and Kathleen Bryant flew into Aeropuerto Camargo in Chihuahua, the nearest regional airport. That night, the trio shared a raucous reunion dinner at Antojitos Locos. They were seen by several regulars, and Mr. Bryant’s Mastercard was charged for the meal. According to staff at the Hotel Real Paraíso, the Bryants left their room at approximately 10 a.m. on August 12 and walked to the Astron gas station next door, where Dr. Hernández was filling up the rental car. They chatted with the attendant, paid in cash, and drove west into the desert.

They did not return to their rooms that night. By the end of the week, when it was time to check out, hotel staff found both of the Bryants’ passports in their bags, which had not been touched since their first night in town. The Jeep Wrangler was located three days later, near the mouth of a cave. A search party recovered two notebooks, a barometer, and a broken headlamp, but none of the missing persons.[40] Word of their disappearance soon began to circulate north of the border as well; the Bryants’ absence was immediately noticed when they failed to return to LVNN, and Dr. Hernández missed his new faculty orientation at Casper.[41]

Finally, eleven days after the team set off in search of La cueva de la cabra, Kathleen Bryant was found wandering Death Valley National Park, more than 1,100 miles from her last known whereabouts. According to her rescuers, she was mumbling to herself and appeared to be intoxicated, though toxicology reports later revealed that she was not under the influence of any substances.[42]

An ambulance brought Kathleen Bryant to the emergency room at the Southern Inyo Hospital in Lone Pine, CA. There, she was diagnosed with severe dehydration, second-degree frostbite, and a traumatic brain injury—most likely a concussion.[43] Local police met her at the ER soon after her arrival, but quickly realized she was in no state for an interview. The cops came back the next day, and the next, each time with more questions for Kathleen to answer, each answer a little more lucid than the day before.

“All those interviews are kind of a blur at this point,” she would later admit, “I told them everything I could remember, but they just kept asking the same questions. Then they wanted me to take a polygraph. My lawyer said it would be a bad idea, while I was still recovering. That’s where the trouble started.”[44]

Kathleen was discharged from Southern Inyo Hospital on August 30, and her parents escorted her back to Las Vegas. It would not be a happy homecoming, however; within 48 hours of her return, Kathleen Bryant’s house was swarming with LVPD officers, warrant in hand. They confiscated all electronics on the property, searched Alexander’s study, and ransacked the couple’s personal files. The raid provoked a media frenzy: KLAS,[45] KTNV,[46] FOX5 Las Vegas,[47] and of course LVNN[48] stalked their prey to her parents’ Spring Valley condo, where she attempted to lie low until she had the all-clear to come home—this courtesy extended only after a five-hour interview with Detective Calvin Avery of the Las Vegas Police Department and FBI Agent Tim Colby.

Kathleen Bryant is adamant that she told nothing but the truth in her police interviews; but, as a reporter herself, she knew that public perception carries far more currency than truth. When pressured to justify LVPD actions at the Bryant home, Detective Avery made sure to broadcast Kathleen’s “refusal to cooperate.” In his own words: “we have reason to believe Mrs. Bryant has not been entirely honest with us.”[49]

“I think some of our viewers are wondering, ‘If she really is innocent, if she has nothing to hide, why not take the lie detector test?’ How do you respond to that?” asked Samantha Han, during her “Please Come Home” interview.

“I’m just taking my lawyers’ advice,” said Kathleen.

“Right, but, why don’t your lawyers want you to tell the truth? What do they know that we don’t?”[50]

“What a disaster,” Kathleen reflects. “I only agreed to do that interview because she swore to keep it classy, to make it about Alex. Instead, she made it all about Samantha. Have you seen LVNN lately? She’s their poster child, she’s getting all the best stories. So much for journalistic integrity.”[51]

All the while, the Feds began investigating Dr. Hernández’s contacts, reaching out to anyone associated with La cueva de la cabra, no matter how loose the connection. I met Luisa Morales the first time we were called in for questioning. “They wanted to know about that story he sent us before he died,” she said. “Sorry, disappeared.” She amended her statement for my sake. We agreed on most things, but not this. She told me the Feds’ inquiries circled around the cave, and whether she thought his interest in it had been purely scientific, or if she had perceived another reason he might want to go there. She said no, she couldn’t imagine any other motive.[52]

My interrogation followed more or less the same script, with one significant addition. Just how intimate was my relationship with the acclaimed geologist? Was it romantic in nature? Homosexual? In the time that I knew him, had Dr. Hernández expressed interest in any other men? A childhood friend, perhaps? Would I be willing to testify for the prosecution—if, of course, they had anyone to prosecute?

In a court of law, the term “Gay Panic Defense” refers to a strategy in which the defendant claims to have experienced a temporary, violent bout of insanity in response to the gender or sexuality of the victim.[53] For my own sake, I must clarify that this is speculation—but as a consequence of this line of questioning, I surmised that the prosecuting parties intended to put a twist on this concept: a “Gay Panic Offense,” if you will. Perhaps Kathleen Bryant, having discovered her husband’s illicit affair with another man, took advantage of La cueva de la cabra’s remote location, killed both of them, concealed their corpses, and proceeded to disguise herself as a fellow victim.

It’s a sensational interpretation of the evidence, if a little overzealous; but with no bodies, no blood, no DNA to speak of, any case brought against Kathleen Bryant would have to be built on circumstantial evidence. Kathleen’s injuries, her difficulty explaining what happened in the cave, and the mystery of how she ended up in Death Valley all indicate some degree of deception on her part. The prosecution would have to arrange these omissions into a plausible depiction of her means, motive, and opportunity.

By the end of 2019, Kathleen’s impending arrest and trial seemed all but inevitable. But then, much to Kathleen’s relief, the whole world shut down. The unstoppable machinations of the law ground to a halt thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic finally making landfall in the United States. In light of this glossy new tragedy, interest in the Bryants died as swiftly as it had been born, and La cueva de la cabra slipped mercifully back into obscurity. In December 2020, the FBI passed their investigation off to the newly elected DA, who has not pursued the case further.[54] Still, Kathleen keeps in close contact with her lawyers.

“They would kill me if they knew I was talking to you right now,” she says, levelling her gaze at me. She’s just as striking in person as on camera—perhaps even more so, in the aftermath of her ordeal. The purple circles under her eyes have never quite faded, and the bones in her face and fingers stand out a little more prominently than they did on LVNN. She wears her hair in a high ponytail, as if to exaggerate this skeletal effect.

We are sitting in her living room, surrounded on all sides by the smiling faces of Alexander, Kathleen, and Abigail Bryant. A FOR SALE sign once again dangles at the foot of the driveway. Kathleen hopes that the property value will cover her legal fees, so she won’t have to dip further into her parents’ retirement savings or, worse, her daughter’s college fund. Her father is entertaining Abigail in the next room while we talk, his smokey voice rising and falling in cadence with the little girl’s. Alexander Bryant has just missed his daughter’s eighth birthday.[55]

My own investigation into his and Dr. Hernández’s disappearance dried up along with everybody else’s. Only recently did I pick up my old files and start arranging them into something like a coherent narrative. Luisa suggested I reach out to Mrs. Bryant—to see, after all these years, what pieces she might be willing to add to this puzzle. I did not expect a response; Kathleen had refused every invitation to interview since Samantha Han’s ambush. I saw no reason why she would choose to speak with me. Luisa, on the other hand, was more confident.

“She’ll talk to you,” she assured me. “She has a type. I guess Miguel did, too.”[56]

The lights never go out in the Bryant family home. All day and all night, the windows glow a shimmery, bluish white. Kathleen has switched to LEDs—they’re more efficient, she tells me, and brighter.

“He was right next to me, closer than you are now. I could’ve touched him. We were holding hands, before the lights went out.”

This is the story Kathleen Bryant claims she told time and time again, from that very first interview at the Southern Inyo Hospital to her final confrontations with the FBI. This is the story that convinced them she was lying—or at least, not telling the whole truth.

“We made our way to the back of the cave, made sure Mikey had all his data, and then we finally turned around. I was glad to get going. We all bundled up before we went in, but not enough to keep out the cold. It couldn’t have been more than twenty degrees.”

The trio were in good spirits as they trudged back towards the mouth of the cave, moving considerably faster than they had on their journey in. Dr. Hernández was convinced his theory was correct. He intended to write up a brief summary of their findings that evening, and return in the morning to gather further evidence.

Alexander Bryant made a joke—“something about the Chupacabra,” Kathleen recalls, and the odds they might encounter him in a place like this.[57]

Originally the brainchild of a Puerto Rican woman who stayed up too late watching scary movies, the Chupacabra rapidly gained infamy in Mexico and the southern States in the 1990s and early 2000s, as small-time farmers began to blame the creature for attacks on their livestock. Despite its reputation as one of North America’s most popular cryptids, the legend of the Chupacabra is widely understood to be fiction—and entirely unrelated to the mythology surrounding this cave’s titular cabra.[58]

“I told Alex to knock it off. It was dark enough in there to get spooked without imagining some kind of monster waiting to pop out at us. He just laughed me off, said we were all a little too old to be scared of the dark.”

I asked Kathleen if she knew any of the lore surrounding La cueva de la cabra at the time of the expedition. To my surprise, she claimed she didn’t: “if I heard any stories about people going missing in that cave, I wouldn’t have come. I wouldn’t have let Alex go either, but he probably knew that.”

They walked for thirty or forty minutes before they realized something was wrong. As Kathleen describes it, “we came around a bend on the way in that took us to the furthest, darkest part of the cave. But heading back, our path never curved. We just kept walking straight down—we should’ve been climbing out of the cave, but instead, we were descending. I said we should turn around, but we were all pretty sure this was the direction we came from, and if it wasn’t, the boys wanted to see where it would lead.”

They kept walking. Another half hour passed, and the temperature continued to drop. Kathleen shivers at the memory: “We were running out of options. The thermometers were reading in the negatives, and we weren’t prepared for sub-zero temperatures. Eventually I just stopped, said I wouldn’t go any farther. Nobody argued. Alex thought we could’ve got disoriented somehow, and wandered down the wrong path. Mikey said no, that wasn’t possible. It was a small cave. But this tunnel we were in, there were no stalactites, no memorable formations, just one long chute. He said it looked man-made.” Worthy of note: La cueva de la cabra was searched top to bottom by U.S. and Mexican authorities in the wake of these events, but no investigation revealed anything comparable to Kathleen’s description of this long, unnatural corridor.

It was Miguel’s idea to turn out the lights. The crew had only been inside La cueva de la cabra for a couple of hours; if they were anywhere near an exit, they should’ve been able to see at least a trace of sunlight. Kathleen Bryant squeezed her eyes shut as they click, click, clicked off their headlamps, and opened them to a vast blackness, darker than the backs of her eyelids.

“I saw nothing. That’s the only way I can describe it. Your eyes look and look but they don’t see. If you’ve never experienced it, you can’t possibly imagine what it’s like.”

A cave is the only natural environment in which a person may witness total, absolute darkness. But Kathleen Bryant claims she also experienced an unnatural silence inside La cueva de la cabra: “It was like the opposite of an echo, like talking under water. I said Alex’s name and heard my voice go nowhere. It made me feel weightless, dizzy. I couldn’t stand it. I had to turn my light back on.”

And when she did, she was all alone.

“I didn’t know what to do. They were right there a minute ago, and then they were just … gone. Like an invisible hand reached out of the dark, and snatched them away.”

She called their names, screamed them into the depths of the cave, but no sound returned—not even an echo. Beginning to panic, Kathleen Bryant turned and ran as fast as she could, her lungs seizing in the cold. “I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, I could barely see past my breath. I must’ve hit my head on something. I remember the pain, smack in the middle of my forehead. Next thing I know, I’m in a hospital bed in Lone Pine.”[59]

We wrap up our conversation just as the sun begins to set, coloring Kathleen’s house gold against the indigo sky. She walks me out to my car. I thank her for her time, and she gives me a tired smile.

Dr. Miguel Hernández and Alexander Bryant entered La cueva de la cabra more than four years ago, soon to be five. In that time, the desire to seek justice for their disappearance has dwindled out in all but a few restless minds. That desire drove me across the country, in search of a person I had never met—someone who, by her own admission, could not give me the answers I needed most: was Kathleen Bryant the real monster inside La cueva de la cabra that day? Or was she just a traumatized woman, alone in the dark?

I pull out of the driveway and begin the long journey home, Kathleen’s house shrinking in my rearview mirror, shining from all its windows.

Don’t forget to check your local haunted caves and prophetic nightmares for A. C. Silva. Please comment below, follow the author on Instagram, or consider donating a sum to this magazine as thanks for this experience.

[1] “Cave Climates,” National Cave and Karst Research Institute, accessed December 26, 2021,

[2] “Chihuahua Climate, Weather By Month, Average Temperature (Mexico),” Weather Spark, accessed June 22, 2022, .

[3] Miguel Hernández, “Measurements and General Observations” (unpublished manuscript, August 12, 2018).

[4] Miguel Hernández, “Grant Proposal—DRAFT” (unpublished manuscript, December 2017).

[5] Jim Davis, “Glad You Asked: What Are Ice Caves?” Utah Geological Survey, Utah Department of Natural Resources, accessed January 3, 2019,

[6] “Hércules (Coahuila De Zaragoza),” Pueblos America, accessed on November 11, 2022,

[7] Hernández, “Measurements and General Observations.”

[8] Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Bryant-Hernández: Findings,” public record, accessed on February 2, 2022.ández_findings/.

[9] Cacinda Maloney, “Cenotes: The Underwater Caves of Mexico,” Points and Travel (blog),

[10] Andrew Bisharat, “Sistema Huautla, the Deepest Cave in the Western Hemisphere Is Bigger than We Thought,” National Geographic, June 8, 2018,

[11] Paola Gerez Levy, “La Cueva De Los Cristales, Un Tesoro Geológico Escondido En Chihuahua,” Travesías, June 8, 2020,

[12] Ignacio Cuarón, comp., “La Cueva de la Cabra,” in Cuentos, trans. Isabel Mann (New York, NY: Penguin, 1997), 34–37.

[13]Juan Hidalgo, “La Joven y la Cabra,” in Cuentos de Miedo para Niños (Chapultapec, Mexico: Ediciones Tecolote, 1994), pp. 18–19.

[14] Luisa Morales, interview with the author, October 6, 2021.

[15] Miguel Hernández, personal communication to author, 2004–08.

[16] Miguel Hernández, “Erosion and the Prevention Thereof in a Warming World,” dedication (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2013), vi. 

[17] United States Census Bureau, “QuickFacts: Richmond City, Virginia,” accessed on July 1, 2021,

[18] The Look Back, episode 4, “Please Come Home,” hosted by Samantha Han, featuring the Bryant family, aired September 14, 2018, on Las Vegas News Network (LVNN).

[19] Alexander Bryant, “Résumé,” last modified 2010, PDF file.

[20] Facebook post, “Popularity Poll—Viewer’s Choice!” Las Vegas News Network (LVNN), July 13, 2010. 

[21] For context, see “Excellence On Air Award,” Association for Broadcast Journalism, November 13, 2011.

[22] Kathleen Bryant, interview with the author, June 13, 2022.

[23] Christopher Barnett. “From Mistress to (Suspected) Murderess: Inside the Mind of Kathleen Bryant,” Las Vegas Review, March 4, 2019, 14–16.

[24] Facebook fan page for the local weatherman, November 2009–February 2019.

[25] The Look Back, “Please Come Home.”

[26] Kathleen Bryant, interview with the author.

[27] American Meteorological Society, “2014 Awards and Honors Recipients,” accessed October 18, 2021,

[28] Kathleen Bryant, interview with the author.

[29] Miguel Hernández, “The Impact of Soil Erosion on Global Climate Change,” Geology 46, no. 3 (March 2013): 20–28.

[30] Miguel Hernández, “Solution in Static Ice Caves and Post-Speleogenetic Erosion,” GSA Today 25, no. 1 (2015): 17–23.

[31] “Employee Directory,” Casper College, accessed June 2, 2018, .

[32] Luisa Morales, interview with the author.

[33] Miguel Hernández, email message to Luisa Morales with the subject, “¿Has escuchado esto antes?” November 29, 2017.

[34] Miguel Hernández, email message to Alexander Bryant with the subject, “Up for another adventure?” November 29, 2017.

[35] Miguel Hernández, email message to the author with the subject, “Thought this would be right up your alley,” November 29, 2017.

[36] “El hombre que entró a la cueva con diez dedos y salió con once,” La Fundación Para La Preservación De La Historia y La Cultura Latinoamericana, accessed December 8, 2017,

[37] EDSITEment! “The Mexican Revolution: November 20th, 1910,” National Endowment for the Humanities, published March 19, 2012,

[38] “El hombre que entró a la cueva con diez dedos y salió con once.”

[39] Miguel Hernández, response to email with subject, “Thought this would be right up your alley,” December 3, 2017.

[40] Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Bryant–Hernández: Findings.”

[41] Kathleen Bryant, interview with the author.

[42] Las Vegas Police Department, “Investigation and Interview of Kathleen Bryant,” LVPD 3740, August 24, 2018.

[43] Southern Inyo Healthcare District, “Kathleen Bryant: Discharge Summary and Preventative Care Recommendations,” August 29, 2018.

[44] Kathleen Bryant, interview with the author.

[45] Morning News, “Missing Reporter Found, Named Primary Suspect in Own Disappearance,” reported by Cheryl Swank, aired September 3, 2018, on KLAS.

[46] Action News, “Las Vegas News Anchor Subject of FBI Investigation,” reported by Bruce Jameson, aired September 3, 2018, on KTNV.

[47] News This Morning, “Breaking: Police Search Home of Missing Reporter,” reported by Jacqueline Schwartz, aired September 1, 2018, on FOX5 Las Vegas.

[48] Morning News, “Unprecedented Raid on Bryant Home Raises More Questions Than Answers,” reported by Samantha Han, aired September 5, 2018, on KLAS.

[49] Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Bryant–Hernández Case Update,” November 2019,

[50] The Look Back, “Please Come Home.”

[51] Kathleen Bryant, interview with the author.

[52] Luisa Morales, interview with the author.

[53] National LGBTQ+ Bar Association, “LGBTQ+ ‘Panic’ Defense,” The LGBTQ+ Bar, accessed March 11, 2022,

[54] Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Bryant–Hernández: State of the Case 2020,” December 2020,

[55] Kathleen Bryant, interview with the author.

[56] Luisa Morales, interview with the author.

[57] Kathleen Bryant, interview with the author.

[58] Bjorn Carey, “El Chupacabra Mystery Solved: Case of Mistaken Identity.” LiveScience, accessed April 6, 2021,

[59] Kathleen Bryant, interview with the author.