Michael Hearon, Disappeared 23 August 2008, Happy Valley, Blount County, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.
At around 11am on August, 23rd 2008, 51-year-old Mike Hearon was last seen on his 4-wheel-drive ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) heading toward some heavily forested land near his 100 acre home on Bell Branch Road, Blount County, Tennessee. The area lies within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He was wearing a faded red t-shirt and pants. This was the last time he was ever seen and he has apparently disappeared off the face of the Earth.
Both of his sons, Andy and Matt, last heard from Mike on the Saturday that he disappeared. Andy said his dad called him about 9.30am to let him know that he was coming over to get a lawn mower they shared to mow his property in Happy Valley. Matt, 25, said he got a voicemail from his dad stating the same thing. Andy said he passed his dad on Gateway Road as he was returning to his home that morning. His dad had the mower and was travelling toward East Lamar Alexander Parkway, probably heading toward Bell Branch Road. Andy said, "I didn't pick up on anything different, nothing in particular,". Matt and Andy said one of their dad's best friends also talked to him that morning, with no sense of anything being wrong.
Neighbours on Bell Branch Road later told authorities they saw Hearon around lunchtime pulling into his neighbourhood. About 30 minutes later, two people reported seeing him on a 4-wheeler and said he waved as he drove down Bell Branch Road. Matt and Andy went on with their weekends and said it was not unusual not to talk to their dad over the weekend. At about 2 p.m. the following Sunday, they said they got a call from their grandmother who was worried that she had not heard from Mike. At about 8.30 a.m. the following Monday, their grandmother called again and said she still had not heard from her son.
Andy decided to check his dad's condo on Brown Court off Amerine Road, where he stayed three or four nights a week to be close to work. Mike was a builder and both of his sons worked with him as licensed contractors. Andy and Matt said two of their dad's three vehicles, a car and a motorcycle, were still in the garage. His bed was made and the lights were off.
Their grandmother decided to go and check the Bell Branch Road residence, where their grandfather had seen Mike's truck earlier that weekend while passing through. She told Andy and Matt that his 4-wheeler was still there and that the lawn hadn't been mowed.
Andy and Matt immediately drove to the residence. They said the windows of their dad's truck were down, the doors were unlocked and Mike's keys, ID clip, money and cell phone were still in the vehicle. They also realised the 4-wheeler their grandmother had seen, was an old ATV and that the newer 4-wheeler was missing. Mike's truck was also parked in a position that he would not have normally left it in, given that a bus parked on the property, and Mike always moved the truck before the bus came.
Matt and Andy repaired a flat tyre on the old 4-wheeler and began searching their dad's 100-acre property. They said they drove all of the ATV trails and checked the campground. Around 3 or 4 p.m., the sons decided to call the National Park Service who transferred the report to the Blount County Sheriff's Office to file a missing person report.
Between 6 and 7 p.m., authorities began arriving at the residence. They talked to Mike's friends in the neighbourhood and tried to pick up a scent with a sniffer dog, but were unable to track him.
They agreed that members of the sheriff's office, park service, emergency personnel and the family would meet before daylight the next morning to search. In the meantime, it began to rain heavily.
The next day, the missing ATV was found by a friend at 12.05pm, who just happened to be checking the area near Happy Valley Loop, about a mile from Hearon's house. Andy said it was found in a location that his dad did not frequently visit. Matt said "Once they found it there, I knew whatever happened was not an accident,"The 4-wheeler was found in a high gear on a steep hill and the ignition switch was left on, something that apparently Mike would never do.
In the vicinity of the All Terrain Vehicle, there was no trace of Mike or where he had gone, with the rain not helping. No footprints could be found, nor any trail through the dense underbrush that he could have used. Additionally, dogs could not pick up a scent, apart from in the truck back at the house, and searchers could find no evidence of an animal attack or foul play - torn bits of clothing, no blood or tissue, no bones, no sign of a struggle. In fact, there was zero evidence that Hearon had ever even been there at all. It was as if he had just spontaneously ceased to exist.
Hundreds of volunteers and officials covered about 450 acres, with some areas being searched more than once and included an aerial search with assistance from the Knox County Sheriff's Office helicopter, cadaver dogs from North Carolina, sheriff's deputies on horseback, private citizens with horses, ATVs and grid searches of the backcountry on foot. About 50 miles of hiking trails were also searched.
On the following Wednesday, cadaver dogs were also brought into the area. On Friday, the sheriff's office made the decision to scale back the search after nothing was found.
Some think that Mike went missing in a suspected drug deal gone bad, or by stumbling across an illegal pot farm. But it was strange that neither the tracker dogs or Cadaver dogs found a scent and no physical evidence was ever found. The fact that the ignition was left switched on in his ATV indicates that for some reason Mike suddenly left the trail and perhaps saw or heard something in the woods or was confronted by something or someone forcing him to abandon his vehicle immediately. Very mysterious!