Dennis Martin - Strange disappearances from US National Parks

Dennis Lloyd Martin, Disappeared June 14th, 1969, Russell Field, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennesee.

Dennis Lloyd Martin Great Smoky Mountains

On June 14th, 1969 Dennis Lloyd Martin and his 9 year old brother Douglas plus his father Bill and grandfather Clyde and some family friends with two young boys, went camping for the father's day weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great smoky mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. They are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, and form part of the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province. The range is sometimes called the Smoky Mountains and the name is commonly shortened to the Smokies.

Dennis from Tennessee, was 6 years old but almost 7 years and on the day of his disappearance he was wearing a bright red t-shirt. He was a quiet boy and would not normally call out, but he would respond to his name being called, even by strangers. He was in a special education group at school, his mental age was a half year behind his age. 

The Smokies are covered with drainages eroded by creeks, with many giant boulders as well as steep cliffs cut with crevices. There are occasional wild cats and resident black bears but the landscape also features thickets of trees and vegetation that can trap you if you stray from an established trail. The thicket can be so thick that in one case it took a year to find an airplane, it could be almost impossible to find a lost child in that type of terrain. Roaring rapids especially after heavy rain (which there was at the time) could drown out sounds of screaming or crying. In March or April hungry bears come out of hibernation and they are at their most dangerous as there isn't much food around, but even in the summer they are known to attack people. 

The Martin family had set out from the Cades Cove Campground, they continued on for several more miles in the warm summer weather. They moved along Leadbetter Ridge above the Left side of Anthony Creek and made their final walk of the day to Russell Field, a grassy clearing in the forest with panoramic views across the Smokies. There the Martins camped the night, and headed on June 14 for the 90-minute walk east to Spence Field.

Late in the afternoon, the boys were playing a game of "hide and seek" in a grassy area of Spence Field and were planning to sneak up and scare the adults. Douglas and the other two boys went south and then west, Dennis went northwest, towards the Appalachian Trail, and disappeared into the forest. Literally a few minutes later, the boys jumped out of the woods but Dennis was nowhere to be seen.

Dennis martin disappearance

Between three and five minutes had passed without anyone spotting or hearing Dennis. At that point his father, Bill Martin,  began calling out to Dennis. Bill then followed the Appalachian Trail west for about a mile before heading back and he headed west again, this time all the way back to Russell Field, only to return, alone, to Spence Field.  But no sign at all of Dennis was found.

While the boys’ father was making this journey, the grandfather, Clyde, made his way back down Anthony Creek to Cades Cove, a distance of roughly 8.5 miles, and reached the ranger station shortly before 8:30 p.m. to summon help and at this point it began to rain very heavily with a nasty storm. In common with many, many disappearances in the National Parks, bad weather seems to hit the immediate area either immediately or within hours, hampering rescue efforts especially for sniffer dogs.

Specialist searchers began looking for Dennis in the following days and Green Berets even turned up unexpectedly, but had little or no contact with the core group. The search group increased to around 1,400 people and 1,110 helicopter sorties were flown. Several more inches of rain washed clues away in addition to the hordes of people and the weather made roads too muddy to travel by vehicle. Helicopters began transporting search crews from Cades Cove to the mountain top, but fog frequently kept them grounded.

Dennis Martin search
Dennis martin search

Despite all this manpower and two weeks of official searching (and unofficial searching until September) nothing was ever found. Not a trace!

Some time later, a family reported hearing a small boy scream in the woods around 3 miles from the spot where Dennis had vanished and noticed an "unkempt man" at the edge of the trees with something over his shoulder. The FBI said this was impossible and too far away, so they never even informed the Martin family. A shoe print was also found by the West Prong.

Several years afterward, an illegal ginseng hunter would come forward, claiming he had found the skull and other remains of a small boy in the same vicinity; however, a search of the area yielded no results so many years after the incident, as the man had feared that he might be arrested for his illegal activity in the area that led him to the discovery.  A ranger called McCarter said that the skull remains were allegedly found about 3 to 3 and a half miles downhill from where Dennis was last seen.

The lead park investigators believe that Dennis "Got disoriented, and perished in the wild." But death could have been caused falling or drowning, or animal attack.The family believes he was abducted as there was a road track near the field.

Great smoky mountains map

Russell Field: This is where the whole family was the day/night before the tragedy. They hiked the next morning to Spence Field.

Spence Field: The site of the tragedy, where Dennis Martin vanished without a trace after splitting off from his brother, and the unrelated Martin family friends' children when planning to sneak up and scare the adults at the site. This was on June 14th, 1969. 

Sea Branch: (Rowan's Creek) The area where a witness heard a "sickening scream" on the afternoon that Dennis Martin vanished and saw an unkempt man about three minutes later moving in the woods toward the scream. The time frame he gives is about 7PM. The distance is about 7-9 miles from Spence Field. 

West Prong (Near Pigeon River): The area where the Oxford type shoe print similar to what Dennis was last seen wearing was found. Investigators did not examine the shoe print finding in detail because the area had already been searched. However, it is noted that there were no small children involved in the search. This print was found at least after one rain storm had already been in the area.

Tremont's Big Hollow:The area where the skull bones of a small child were allegedly found a few years after Dennis went missing. The person finding the skull did not report it until 1985. The area is around 3 miles away from where Dennis was last seen at Spence Field, and 9 miles away from where the scream and unkempt man were reported by the witness.