Body found off Highway 20 believed to be that of Wilma Mott Barnhart |

Body found off Highway 20 believed to be that of Wilma Mott Barnhart

Wilma Barnhart

A motorcyclist taking a ride on a remote county road off Highway 20 found a vehicle believed to be that of a missing Grass Valley woman Monday night.

Wilma Mott Barnhart, who vanished July 7, was found dead inside the vehicle.

“The ID is tentative, but all indications are that it’s her,” said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal. “It’s pretty tragic.”

Barnhart, 74, lived alone in a mobile home park on Primrose Lane. She was supposed to spend the night of July 7 either at the Lake Englebright home of longtime friend Sheri Anastasio or the residence of another friend off Rattlesnake Road.

“(W)e’re having a hard time dealing with the fact that she was alone (while she was stranded) for a long time. She was such a social person that we just can’t imagine what she went through.”
Stacey Schafer Kennedy
Friend of Wilma Barnhart

She never showed up at either house.

She was reported missing July 10, and Grass Valley Police officers put out an advisory and a missing-persons report; they subsequently issued a Silver Alert July 13.

The California Highway Patrol had done a flyover of the areas Barnhart might have traveled through and saw no sign of her vehicle, and her friends covered many of the areas she might have traveled in, as well.

Barnhart shopped at Rite Aid at 10:52 a.m. July 7, then bought gas from Flyers on Plaza Drive at about 12:12 p.m. She also used her debit card at a Bank of America ATM machine on South Church Street in Grass Valley at about 1:20 p.m..

There had been no further financial activity recorded for Barnhart, and her disappearance was considered unusual because she had no known health issues.

Concerned friends and family organized multiple searches to no avail, even calling in the county’s Search and Rescue team to accompany a psychic up to a remote state park area.

A motorcyclist called 911 at about 6:20 p.m. Monday to report finding Barnhart’s vehicle about six miles down Burlington Ridge Road, a rarely traveled service road off Highway 20 near the Skillman campground.

“She was high-centered on a log and couldn’t get out,” Royal said.

Royal described the area as having heavy tree cover, adding the vehicle would not have been visible from the air.

“We believe she died in her vehicle,” Royal said.

According to Royal, Barnhart kept a journal after she became stranded; it was not clear when she died.

Barnhart’s friends were devastated at the news that her body had been found.

“I’m going to miss her like crazy,” Anastasio said before choking up.

Stacey Schafer Kennedy said she only had known Barnhart for about eight years but considered her to be her adopted grandmother.

“When I moved up here and I started bowling, she was the first one to greet me and my parents and my son,” Kennedy said.

“We’ve just been really close.”

Kennedy called Barnhart “a very strong woman,” adding, “She was a fighter … She was a force to reckon with.”

Kennedy said Tuesday had been a rough day for Barnhart’s friends.

“After a month, we definitely didn’t expect her to be found alive,” she said. “But we’re having a hard time dealing with the fact that she was alone (while she was stranded) for a long time. She was such a social person that we just can’t imagine what she went through.”

Kennedy said that Barnhart’s wedding anniversary was July 10, and her friends believe she might have gone up Highway 20 to reach the campsite she used to go to with her husband, who died several years ago.

“We’re all trying to figure out why she didn’t get out (of her vehicle) and walk for help,” she said. But Barnhart had had multiple knee replacement surgeries, so she didn’t walk well, Kennedy said, adding, “She wasn’t very sturdy on her legs.”

Barbara Day, a Grass Valley resident who has brain damage, said Barnhart gave her a ride the Sunday she disappeared.

“She had given me rides a few times,” Day said, adding that they frequently talked about Barnhart’s now-deceased daughter, Joy, who was disabled.

“She just loved everybody,” Day said, a sentiment echoed by Stacey Kennedy, who said, “She would give anyone the shirt off her back if they needed it.”

Terry Kennedy, who organized many of the searches for Barnhart, said he was deeply appreciative of the volunteers who helped out.

“To all the volunteers — over 75 the second day of the search — I cannot express how much I want to thank them for all their hard work and their efforts, the blood and sweat they put into trying to find her,” he said.

“My goal for organizing the searches was to find her, to get her home so we could have closure,” he added.

“Now we need to put her to rest … The bowling alley is not going to be the same without her.”

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email or call 530-477-4229.

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