LOST AND FOUND?…. By late last night, after news outlets picked up on the fact that no one seemed to know where South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) has been since Thursday, the governor’s office issued a statement hoping to “clarify” matter. Sanford, his aides said, is hiking the Appalachian Trail and is completely fine. Nothing to worry about. Mystery solved. Move along, nothing to see here.

But, when looking at the details of the story, and watching how various explanations evolved yesterday, the story of the disappearing governor appears more, not less, bizarre.

Remember, early on, the governor’s wife conceded that she doesn’t know where her husband is, but said Sanford needed some time away “to write something.” The governor’s office said he decided to “recharge” after the legislative session, and has decided to “work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside.” A few hours later, that version of events changed, and the governor is now “hiking.”

But even now, no one — not his wife, not his staff, not his security detail — seems to know exactly where Mark Sanford is, and no one from his family or administration has actually spoken to him. His spokesperson’s statement last night conceded that his office is clueless as to his exact whereabouts.

“I apologize for taking so long to send this update, and was waiting to see if a more definitive idea of what part of the trail he was on before we did so,” said Joel Sawyer, the Republican governor’s spokesman. Sawyer added that he will update the public on Sanford’s specific whereabouts as soon as he knows them.

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (R) called Sanford’s office yesterday afternoon and demanded an “immediate phone conversation with the governor.” That didn’t happen.

“That request was denied because the governor’s chief of staff does not know where the governor is, and has not communicated with the governor since he left South Carolina last Thursday,” Bauer said. “I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one, including his own family, knows his whereabouts.”

The State reported this morning, “Sanford’s last known location was near Atlanta late last week. A mobile telephone tower there picked up a signal from his phone, according to a source familiar with the situation. Since then, the governor’s state and personal phones had been turned off, and Sanford had not responded to phone or text messages.”

Why mobile telephone tower was used to track down Sanford, and who requested such a search, remains unclear.

It’s also unclear who’s running the executive branch of South Carolina’s state government, what would be done in the event of an emergency, or when the elected two-term governor of the state may return.

To be sure, Sanford has taken breaks without his security detail before, and it’s understandable to think the governor wouldn’t bring a team with him to go hiking. But that doesn’t change the fact that, during his tenure as governor, Sanford hasn’t gone this long without at least checking in with someone.

Josh Marshall added, “Put it all together and this is starting to sound a lot like the governor is genuinely missing.” Given what we know, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion.

Update: As of about 10:30 am, Sanford has reportedly checked in with his chief of staff, is wrapping up his hiking trip, and will return to work tomorrow.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.