Great Smoky Mountains

Susan Clements - Strange disappearances from U.S. National Parks

Mitzie Sue “Susan” Clements, disappeared September 25th, 2018, Body found October 2nd, 2018, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North carolina/TENNESSEE

susan clements disappearance

Update October 3, 2o18

Search crews found the body of Mitzie Sue "Susan" Clements approximately two miles west of the Clingmans Dome parking area and three-fourths of a mile south of the Appalachian Trail on the afternoon of October 2nd. Why did she walk away from the parking lot when she separated from her daughter and then what happened? Authorities have dismissed foul play.

Mitzie Sue "Susan" Clements death clingmans dome

Mitzie Sue “Susan” Clements, 53, was hiking with her 20 year old daughter on Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 near Clingmans Dome in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, when she mysteriously vanished after they lost sight of each other.

Susan, a mother of three, disappeared around 5pm in an area close to the parking lot, about 1/4 mile from Andrews Bald, on the Forney Ridge Trail in the National Park after her daughter decided to hike ahead a short distance with the intention for her to turn around and meet up. Susan’s daughter wanted to climb up to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower (6,643 feet in elevation), and because she was hiking faster, she told her mother she would go ahead and then meet her back at the parking lot. They weren’t separated for very long but when when she arrived back at the lot, she couldn’t find Susan. She waited a short while, walked around, retraced some of her steps and then contacted the park authorities when her mother failed to arrive some hours later. The two of them intended to do a day hike only so were not carrying supplies or heavyweight clothing.

Clements is white with light brown hair and blue eyes, 5'6" and 125 pounds. She was last seen wearing a green zip-up sweater, black workout pants over black leggings, a clear rain poncho and gray Nike running shoes with light green soles.

Susan from Cincinnati was on vacation in North Carolina when she disappeared. The Great Smoky Mountains lies on the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, and Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park

forney ridge trailhead Great smoky mountains

125 trained searchers with drones, sniffer dogs and helicopters from 30 “search and rescue agencies” helped park staff in a large-scale search of the area but nothing was found including clothing or other clues. The weather was poor with rain, fog, wind and low temperatures in the 40s which hampered search efforts due to limited visibility. Clingmans Dome Road was closed to accommodate the infrastructure needed to manage and expedite the search. The area also has poor cellphone service so Verizon set up a portable cell tower. In a news release, officials said the cell booster is “providing the critical cell and data coverage needed to effectively manage and support the search effort in this remote location.”

As of October 1st, searchers had hiked more than 500 miles on trails and conducted intensive off-trail “grid-searches” of approximately 10 square miles in the steep, rugged terrain that straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border. The searchers were left frustrated by lack of evidence given the resources deployed in the area where Susan disappeared.

search for susan clements morning briefing

Susan Clements disappearance is in the same area as that of Trenny Lynn Gibson who also vanished from the Forney Ridge Trail in 1976 and was never seen again and was believed to have been abducted.

Susan’s disappearance from the trail is strange given the limited time she was away from her daughter and proximity to the parking area. Maybe she was bundled into a car and driven away or left the Forney Ridge Trail for some reason and was lost in the wind and rain? Another disturbing story from the Great Smoky Mountains.


Jenny Bennett - Disturbing deaths in U.S. national parks

Susan J. Bennett (Jenny), disappeared June 1st 2015, Body Found June 8th 2015, Lester Prong area of Greenbrier, above campsite 31, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Jenny Bennett, Great smoky mountains death

Jenny Bennett, aged 62,  was an experienced hiker in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a member of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club and the author of a popular blog called "Endless streams and forests" in which she documented many of her hiking outings and illustrated them with her photography.. She also wrote two fiction books based in the Smokies. A 2014 book, "The Twelve Streams of LeConte" and "Murder at the Jumpoff" in 2011. Jenny also wrote an ongoing Wordpress blog called "Endless Streams and Forests" 

On March 31, 2015, Jenny decided to leave North Carolina and move to St. Johnsbury, Vermont due to her desire to live nearer to her sister in Massachusetts. Those who knew her described her as being excited by the move. She had located a home to buy.  She was supposed to have moved out of the house in Sylva by Monday, June 1, 2015. A prospective renter who came to the house found boxes but no trace of her or her car. Her landlord and brother contacted authorities and she was subsequently reported missing to park rangers on Sunday June 7th.

There were few hikers tougher than Jenny Bennett. She took on any challenge in the Smoky Mountains. She had hiked many routes that most hikers don't know, and would not attempt even if they did. She developed a knee problem in 2012, in which the knee would periodically dislocate and she would force it back into place, then continue with the hike. Ultimately the knee problem became nearly unbearable, and she concluded that an operation to correct the condition would be required. Nonetheless, Jenny kept on with the big hikes as long as she could.

After Jenny's inspiration and mentor in the 1980's, Charlie Klabunde, passed away in February 2015, Jenny organised an outing on March 22, 2015, to pass the Jumpoff on the Smokies' Boulevard Trail, then descend into Lester Prong to a spot to disperse Charlie's ashes. Jenny made it from Newfound Gap to the beginning of the descent from Boulevard Trail, but her knee gave out yet again, and she could not continue. She returned to her car and back to Sylva, while the remainder of the group continued on and completed the memorial as Jenny wanted. That she could not accompany the group to do this for her beloved mentor was tough for Jenny.

Jenny Bennett back pack on trip to scatter ashes

For many years Jenny did off-trail hikes in the nearby wilderness and often on her own. Her blog had its last post on May 27, about hiking in the Balsam Mountain area, following trips on May 24th and 27th. She had an undeniable sadness about leaving the mountains she so dearly loved. She was having a hard time saying goodbye to the Smokies, and the many memories they held for her.

Friend and fellow hiker Peter Barr said at the time "She was one of the most experienced off-trail hikers that I knew, and she knew the backcountry of the Smokies as well as anybody. That was absolutely her passion, exploring all of the creeks and slopes of the Smokies and particularly in the Greenbrier area.". Barr got to know Bennett through an online group interested in off-trail hiking. He met her for the first time during a hike in the Greenbrier area. "Jenny was a really strong hiker but could also talk off-trail exploration for hours and hours and hours," he said. "She was really fascinated with every single creek and every ridge in the Smokies and in that particular region of the park had hiked almost all of them."

Jenny Bennett, Great smoky mountains death

Her car was quickly located at the Porters Flat Trailhead on June 7th and then Jenny's body was found about 9:30 am the next day in the Lester Prong area of Greenbrier above campsite 31 in the Smokies. Strangely, she was found by park rangers in a sitting position in Porter's Creek with her head resting on rocks.

The autopsy report  from the Sevier County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Jenny had died of environmental hypothermia due to cold exposure from partial submersion in the creek. She also had bruises on her right hip and elbow consistent with a fall. However, she did not have any internal or musculoskeletal trauma. In addition, the coroner reported she had a toxic level of the anti-histamine drug, diphenhydramine, in her blood which was considered a significant contributing factor in her death and pointed towards an intentional overdose.

Jenny Bennett Mount Jefferson back pack on trip to scatter ashes

The death of Jenny Bennett is very disturbing and sad. She seemed to be optimistic about starting a new life in Vermont but at the same time sad to be leaving the Smokies behind. Was she sad enough to take a toxic overdose of an antihistamine? Did her knee give out again, causing her to fall in Porter's Creek and freeze to death? She often went hiking alone, off-trail but this can be very dangerous in the rugged terrain of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. What happened to Jenny in May 2015 will never be clear but certainly she was an amazing lover of the outdoors.

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.

Trenny Lynn Gibson - Strange Disappearances from U.S. National Parks

Teresa "Trenny" Lynn Gibson, Disappeared October 8, 1976,Clingmans dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee 

Trenny Lynn Gibson great smoky mountains disappearance

On October 8th, 197616 years old, Teresa  (known as"Trenny") Lynn Gibson went with 35-40 of her classmates from Bearden High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, on a field trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The students were hiking around 1.8 miles to Andrews Bald from Clingmans Dome and then back on the Forney Ridge Trail.

The group separated into small groups when they arrived at the trail depending on how fast they could walk. Despite there being such a large group, there was only one teacher supervising, in addition to the bus driver. According to some accounts, no one was informed by the school where they were going until they actually arrived or were on the way to the trailhead.

Clingmans Dome Great Smoky mountains map

Trenny hiked with several different sections of her classmates at different paces during the day. She was last seen at approximately 3:00 p.m. near Clingman's Dome, walking on a moderately steep trail with sharp drop-offs and dense undergrowth on both sides and she was said to have left the path to the right after spotting something. She was wearing a blue blouse, a blue and white striped sweater, a borrowed brown plaid heavy jacket, blue jeans, blue Adidas shoes and a diamond and star sapphire ring. Trenny was never seen again and her body never found.

Great smoky mountains national park

The trail was popular with walkers and her sudden disappearance was strange given that that she had been with other people and there had been groups of students both in front of them and behind, as well as other hikers.

Trenny Gibson disappearance

Because of the weather, helicopters couldn't begin searching for Trenny until the afternoon of October 8th and fall foliage made it harder for search and rescue teams to look down onto the ground.

Searchers used about a half-dozen dog teams with Bloodhounds and German Shepherds to look for Trenny. Three of the tracking dogs picked up her scent at the intersection with the Appalachian Trail. They followed it by Clingmans Dome Tower, Some of the dogs last detected her scent along the roadside about a mile and a half from Newfound Gap but then then the dogs stopped.

Since the dogs led to a local road this gave credence to a theory that she had been abducted but would someone involved with foul play wait in the bushes on a steep slope away from the trail with so many hikers around? Some accounts tell of cigarettes and a beer can found in the area near the road whether the sniffer dog had come to a halt. A second search from April 18th to May 5th 1977 also failed to turn up any leads.

Clingmans dome trail great smoky mountains
Clingmans dome trail great smoky mountains

A fellow Student, Robert Simpson was said to have been implicated as Trenny's hair comb was found in his car, but police did not consider him a serious suspect.

Parents Robert and Hope Gibson alerted authorities about a past incident in which a young man had tried to break into their home. Hope Gibson shot him, and the young man later threatened to harm Trenny. Knox County deputies looked into the incident, but the lead went nowhere.

One theory goes that Trenny was taken to the Clingman's Dome observation tower and held against her will or voluntarily whilst the area was being searched. The tower itself was not investigated at the time. Subsequently when searchers left, she was taken to the roadside and left by car. 

Clingmans dome trail great smoky mountains observation tower

A classmate and friend, Kim Pouncey said in an interview in late November 2017 (Appalachian unsolved) that she wonders if  Trenny just took off from the park and that maybe she just wanted to leave, to get out."My feeling is somebody was waiting for her (in the park)," she said. "There was a parking lot very close. ... I've always felt like Trenny planned it, and that was her way out."

By October 12th, four days after her disappearance, the search was scaled back to about 20 people. Extensive searches of the park continued until the end of October 1976, but Trenny has never been found. The chief ranger told reporters he was almost certain she was not in the park. Searchers went back to the park in 1981, but again nothing. She had vanished off the face of the planet.


Thelma Pauline "Polly" Melton - Strange Disappearances from U.S. National Parks

Thelma Pauline "Polly" Melton, Disappeared September 25, 1981, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Thelma Pauline "Polly" Melton disappearance

58-year-old Thelma Pauline Melton, often called “Polly” by her friends, was hiking with two of her friends on the Deep Creek trail near the Deep Creek and nearby campground in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was an easy trail that Polly had been hiking for 20 years and she knew the area well. For some reason during the course of the hike at around 4 pm, she decided to quicken her pace and rounded a bend or hill in front of her friends and literally disappeared forever. 

Great smoky mountains Deep Creek

Her friends searched the area where she had been just moments before, but could find no sign of where she had gone. She suffered from high blood pressure and nausea for which she took medication, making it seem unlikely she could have got a long way in a short time. Her friends had actually been teasing her about her slow pace not long before she disappeared. Melton's friends assumed that she had returned to the campground where the Airstream trailer owned by Polly and her husband was parked. Her companions arrived at the campground at approximately 4:30 p.m., but there was no sign of Polly. Her husband was inside the trailer, while his wife and the others hiked the trail, but he had not seen Polly since the group left. Her medical problems had caused her to lose her driving licence and she did not have any car keys with her.  

Great smoky mountains Deep Creek trail sign

The two ladies and her husband reported Polly missing at around 6 pm and a large search was launched, but no sign of her could be found. Authorities were unable to even get a good set of tracks to follow, which would have made things easier considering Melton’s left shoe had apparently had a noticeable crack in the sole which would have made her tracks easy to differentiate from those of other hikers. No trace of Polly Melton has ever been found and she remains missing.

One theory is that Polly ran off with a secret lover. She had no children and worked at a facility as a volunteer serving meals to the elderly. She did not sign up for work on the day she vanished, which was a little unusual and on the last day she worked, the day before she vanished, she used the telephone at work several times to make local calls, the first time ever that she had done this in the 4 years she had been there. Perhaps Polly arranged for someone to pick her up whilst on her hike, to make it look like she was lost in the woods, thinking that this way would be easier on her husband, rather than him knowing she left him for somebody else. This is postulated as a reason why she picked up her pace and moved ahead of her companions on the trail.

Michael Hearon - Strange Disappearances from U.S. National Parks

Michael Hearon, Disappeared 23 August 2008, Happy Valley, Blount County, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.

Mike Hearon disappearance Blount County

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.

Bell Branch road, happy valley, tennessee

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!