Gail D. Cox, 59; Journalist Was Subject of Search in ‘85

Times Staff Writer

Gail Diane Cox, a veteran legal affairs journalist who made news by surviving four days lost in the rugged Trinity Alps west of Redding in 1985, has died. She was 59.

Cox died Friday at her mountain home in Forest Falls in the San Bernardino Mountains northeast of Redlands following a long illness, said her friend and colleague Milt Policzer.

Modest and reluctant to draw attention to herself, Cox inadvertently became the subject of a widespread search in June 1985, when she went looking for wildflowers during a Northern California vacation.

She wandered off the trail, became disoriented and got lost in the mountainous, brush-covered terrain.

After the innkeeper of her rented cabin reported her missing, 38 sheriff’s deputies and volunteers spent a futile four days searching for her, aided by dogs and helicopters.


Unseen by the searchers, Cox arranged her own rescue when she set fire to green boughs, hoping to ward off insects as well as signal for help. A fisherman saw the smoke, found her and led her to a ranger’s station.

“I’m very fortunate,” Cox said afterward. “I was not going hiking or on a camping trip. I am not an outdoors woman. I went to see some wildflowers at a lake.... " When she became lost, Cox was wearing a caftan over a bathing suit and a $9.95 pair of tennis shoes.

She carried a purse that had no water and no food other than a packet of salmon jerky, which she said tasted so bad she couldn’t eat it. The purse did have a book of 12 matches, and she used 8 to set the signal fires.

Her only injuries were hunger, dehydration and a few cuts and bruises.

Asked later by a Times reporter how she survived without food, the corpulent and jovial Cox said, “What do you think? I lived on my fat!”

Cox was for many years the Los Angeles bureau chief for the National Law Journal, a publication respected by lawyers and judges across the country. In addition to serious stories about legal trends, examinations of high-powered law firms and analysis of key judicial decisions, she wrote a popular annual series called “Stupid Judge Tricks.”

Describing the series as “stories of sheer, what-were-they-thinking injudiciousness,” Cox related stories of judges caught in such acts as brandishing guns, making advances toward defendants of the opposite sex or terrorizing underlings.

Cox also wrote articles that appeared on the Op-Ed page of The Times and in other publications. Earlier she worked for radio station KPFK-FM (90.7).

A graduate of Pomona College, Cox was known by friends for her ability with crafts and cooking. She recently won a Forest Falls-area chili cook-off.

Cox is survived by three nephews. Services will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 1 at Big Falls Lodge, 41303 Valley of the Falls Drive, Forest Falls, CA 92339. Memorial donations can be made to the Forest Falls Community Center Inc., in care of Mountain Air Real Estate, P.O. Box 139, Forest Falls, CA 92339.