Atlas Obscura is Hiring! Join us in pursuit of wonder.

Island Park, Idaho

Yellowstone's Zone of Death

A legal loophole makes it possible to get away with murder within this 50-square-mile section of Yellowstone. 

The 50-square-mile stretch of Yellowstone National Park that spills over Idaho’s border is a legal no-man’s land. It’s an isolated spot, one devoid of roads or any permanent human inhabitants. It’s also missing legislation to prevent people from being charged with serious crimes.

The loophole has to do with the Sixth Amendment, which dictates that a jury must be comprised of people from the state and federal district where the crime was committed. Because this portion of Yellowstone is in Idaho and the park itself lies within the jurisdiction of Wyoming, it means a jury for a crime committed there would have to come from people who both live in Idaho and fall under Wyoming’s federal jurisdiction.

It would be an impossible jury to form, as this uninhabited part of the park is the only place to fit such criteria. And since Yellowstone is federal land, the individual states involved have no legal jurisdiction to amend the issue.

Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University, brought the loophole into the spotlight in 2005. In a paper published in Georgetown Law Journal called “The Perfect Crime,” Kalt outlined the legal technicalities that put this potentially murderous geographic anomaly on the map. He sent copies of his work to various government authorities before it hit print, hoping someone would close the loophole.

Nothing happened. Even though news of the loophole made national headlines, federal legislators have yet to take any action. Dubbed the “Zone of Death,” the area garnered additional attention after it inspired the 2008 novel Free Fire by C.J. Box, and later the 2016 horror film Population Zero.

Know Before You Go

The GPS coordinates lead to the Buffalo Lake campground, which is located within the zone.

Edit Place