The body of 37 year old Tanya Eshbaugh of Cawker City was discovered at 2:19 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. She was found dead in a field near Waconda Lake about three miles from where her car had been abandoned Sunday morning amid blizzard conditions which were as extreme at that time as people in the local area can remember in many years.
Eschbaugh was last heard from around 5 a.m. Sunday morning while en route from Cawker to Beloit where she worked in the Dietary Department at Hilltop Lodge. After traveling an unknown distance east from Cawker City on Highway 24 she phoned her employer and said she could not safely navigate the blizzard conditions and was returning to her apartment in Cawker City.
Compounded by darkness in the predawn hours of Sunday, the conditions were as severe as they were at anytime as the storm system moved through the Waconda Lake corridor where Eschbaugh was traveling at the time. Heavy blowing snow and near zero visibility created dangerous and what have proven to be treacherous conditions.
Sometime following her call to Hilltop Lodge on her attempt to return home, her vehicle left the roadway near Mile Marker 204 on Highway 24 in the vicinity of Granite Creek between Glen Elder and Cawker City. Apparently, the vehicle was stuck in the ditch and Eshbaugh is assumed to have attempted to continue toward home on foot. It is unclear whether or not she tried to contact anyone after her vehicle got stuck or why she may have been unable to despite having called in to work earlier in the commute.
Eshbaugh was not known to be unaccounted for until after she failed to arrive at Hilltop Lodge for her scheduled shift Monday morning. When attempts to contact her failed, the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) was contacted, advised of the situation, and requested to perform a welfare check at Eschbaugh’s residence at 10 a.m. Later in the day, just before 5 p.m., the MCSO issued a press release to local media requesting their assistance in spreading the word about the ongoing search.
The cause of death is presumed, but not yet officially confirmed, to be due to exposure in the harsh conditions of heavy blowing and blinding snowfall coupled with wind chills well below freezing. KAKE-TV in Wichita reported at about 3:15 p.m. Tuesday that Mitchell County Sheriff Tony Perez told them he believes Eschbaugh got disoriented and didn’t know which way she was going after leaving her vehicle in near zero-visibility conditions.
Hilltop Lodge issued the following statement via social media at around 6:20 p.m. Tuesday evening.
“Hilltop Lodge Retirement Community Staff and Residents want to extend our deepest Sympathies to the family of Tanya Holt Eshbaugh. Tanya worked here at Hilltop Lodge Retirement Community just shy of 2 years in our Dietary Department as a Cook. Tanya was the sweetest person with a heart of Gold and she is gonna be missed by everyone! Rest In Peace Tanya… we all love you!”