“Dennis has simply vanished so far without a trace. The impact of such a strange and mysterious event, if it turns out that way, would be stunning not only to his family, but the whole world.”

-Dwight McCarter, former Park Ranger, in a journal entry from 1969.

Cades Cove is one of the most rustic and forested areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is also one of the most visited places in the Smokies, where historic buildings, mountain views, and wildlife that include deer, turkey, and black bears, have made it a popular destination for decades.

Going all the way back to the turn of the last century, brothers John and Jim Martin, who owned a farm near Walland in the Little River drainage and operated sawmills in the area, began an annual tradition of driving cattle up the mountain during the summer months. The brothers would follow the Bote Mountain Trail all the way up to Spence Field, where their cattle would graze on the grass along the mountain ridge where the Appalachian Trail runs today, marking the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

In 1927, land purchases began which led to the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Cades Cove became a designated “historic” area in 1945. Even with the changes the region underwent over the decades, the Martin family tradition continued on, with or without cattle driving involved.

Father’s Day weekend, 1969, was an exciting one for Clyde Martin. Now the patriarch of the Martin clan, he was proud to be joined again this year by his 33-year-old son, William, just as Clyde had done many times over the years with his own father. However, the excitement had everything to do with the next generation of Martins that were in attendance: William’s two sons, nine-year-old Doug, and his six-year-old younger brother Dennis also joined them. It was Dennis’s first overnight hiking trip with the family, and while in the campground area, the family was also joined by Carter Martin, Ph.D. a teacher from Huntsville, Alabama, and his two boys.

The group’s trek began along the Anthony Creek Trail, which families today still use when entering the park. From there, the Martin families made their way up through the steep mountains along the Russell Field Trail, which took them all the way to the Russell Creek Shelter, where they spent their first night on the mountain. The shelter still appears today very much as it did in 1969, and families routinely use the spot for overnight camping along the Appalachian Trail on their way to destinations like Clingman’s Dome.

The Russell Field Shelter as it appears today (photo by the author).

The Martins awoke the following morning, and packing up their gear, made the short 2.9 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail to Spence Field Shelter, where they met Clyde’s brothers Bob, Doyle, Huse, and sister Irma, who were also joined by members of their families, and had arrived at Spence Field the day before. The small meadow where the newly built shelter stood must have looked much as it did decades earlier, when their ancestors came this way on their yearly cattle runs: thick beds of grass, lush mountain laurel, and blueberry bushes covered the small area of Spence Field between the shelter and the adjacent Appalachian Trail.

Weather was pleasant, and after lunch, the families were enjoying some leisure time on the natural cushion provided by the grass along the ridge. Dennis was helping his grandfather finish washing their camping utensils, and it was evident that he was eager to commence play with the rest of the boys, who soon were dragging the youngest Martin into a plot against the grown-ups nearby.

“We knew what they were doing,” William Martin would later remember. The boys were huddling like football players some distance away, planning how they could move in opposite directions around the edges of the field, and come around behind the adults in a surprise “attack.” William recalled that Dennis had been elected to travel alone “because they thought the red T-shirt he was wearing would spoil their scheme,” and while the others headed off to the south, Dennis went running in the direction of the Appalachian Trail, the same route the families had traveled in on earlier that day. It was now almost 4:30, and the elder Martins watched as the red-shirted conspirator moved up the trail alone, his father and grandfather chuckling about the “surprise” that awaited them.

How differently they might have felt, had any of them known it would be the last time they ever saw Dennis Martin alive.


William Martin shouted again, this time louder than before.

The surprise attack had come to a rowdy conclusion only minutes ago, as Doug Martin, joined by the two boys from Alabama, closed in on where Clyde and William were sitting on the grass together. Laughter ensued, but only for a time, since it quickly became apparent that one member of the little ambush party had yet to make an appearance.

Irma Martin, Clyde Martin’s sister and great aunt to Dennis, later told Park Ranger Dwight McCarter that the family had been only a short distance from Dennis when he was last seen. “She recalls that the family was within 30 feet of the child and saw him heading for the Anthony Creek Trail towards the Tennessee side,” McCarter noted in a journal entry dated Friday, June 27, 1969.

The sign along the Appalachian Trail marking the distance to Spence Field, near the location where Dennis Martin was last seen (photo by the author).

According to an official National Park Service report, William Martin said, “that between 3-5 minutes after last seeing Dennis he became concerned and began calling for the boy.” Moments later the others were calling for him as well, and as the adults began to move up the hill in the direction Dennis was last seen, William Martin began to jog westbound along the Appalachian Trail, running approximately one mile before returning to the Spence Field Shelter, hoping Dennis had been found. There was still no sign of the boy, however, and William Martin left again, this time running the complete 2.9 miles to Russel Field Shelter, where they had camped the night before.

While William searched the Appalachian Trail, his father Clyde headed the short distance in the opposite direction along the Appalachian Trail down to where it intersected with the Bote  Mountain trail, which winds for 1.7 miles back down the mountain and eventually rejoins the Anthony Creek trail leading to Cades Cove. On arrival, Clyde notified park rangers at approximately 8:30 PM that Dennis was missing. Meanwhile, Terry Chilcoat, the Cades Cove seasonal naturalist, and his wife were concluding the short hike to Spence Field from a turnaround on the Bote Mountain trail where they had left their vehicle. When they arrived at 7:30 PM, they were concerned to hear of the missing child, as thunderstorms had already begun to roll in the distance.

“Cades Cove Sub-district Ranger Larry K. Nielson notified the Dispatcher at Park Headquarters at 8:28 p.m.,” National Park Service documents state. “The Dispatcher turned on the radio tape recorder and notified Chief Ranger Sneddon and North District Ranger Morris.”

By around 9 PM the lingering storm had begun to wash the Great Smoky Mountains, “and greatly hampered search activity.” An estimated rainfall of nearly 2.5 inches—possibly more—covered the Spence Field area in the hours that ensued, potentially disturbing any scent trails or footprints left by the missing boy. Water levels in nearby streams were also brought to turbulent levels that could have further endangered the child if he encountered or attempted to cross one of these.

Despite concerns about how the rain would hamper search efforts, Chief Ranger Sneddon assembled a plan for the following morning, which involved a crew of 30-men with 5 leaders and 10 additional crews of 2-4 men with 5 leaders. Rangers would assist in setting up camp at Spence Field, which would ultimately remain headquarters for the operation throughout the entirety of the search. The Park Service would also seek to enlist the aid of a helicopter, for use in transporting searchers and volunteers between Cades Cove and Spence Field.

Dwight McCarter is a backcountry legend and was just 24-years-old at the time the search began.

An experienced hiker and wilderness tracker, he was directly involved with the search effort and remembered the phone call from Chief Ranger Sneddon that came with the storm that rolled in on the night Dennis went missing. McCarter’s memories of the search were chronicled in a book years later, called Lost! A Ranger’s Journal of Search and Rescue, coauthored with Ronald Schmidt.

As McCarter recounts:

“I just finished reading the paper and was watching and listening to the storm for over an hour when the telephone rings. The call is from Chief Ranger Snedden who tells me about the Martin boy and asks me to report for duty tomorrow at 5:00 A.M. at the Bote Mountain Trail. I do not say so to him, but I know the rain storm is a major complication to the search, greatly diminishing the chances of finding Dennis. There a serious risk of exposure and hypothermia for the boy. The rain will wash out whatever tracking sign we might have been able to find, rendering the use of tracking dogs all but useless. I set my alarm for an early rise, but that turns out to be a joke. Sleep is first elusive and then fitful when it finally comes.”

McCarter wasn’t the only one who found it difficult to sleep that night. The Martin family, still at the camp at Spence Field, were huddled beneath the shelter as the thunderstorm raged on overhead. Grim thoughts of what the rain meant for the boy were shared by all, and little sleep was to be had by anyone with knowledge of the events of the last few hours.

McCarter arrived well in advance of 5 AM, and before daylight began to pour into Cades Cove many searchers were already piling into the nine jeeps that were available, with an additional three trucks that could handle the terrain also in use. From the Anthony Creek trailhead, the searchers were driven up the Bote Mountain Trail and along the narrow paths that eventually led to Spence Field, slipping and sliding occasionally in the wet mud that coated parts of the rugged forest road.

“The trail-road up Bote Mountain is in bad shape with running water, mud and washouts everywhere,” McCarter writes in his journal. “It takes a long time to get to Spence.”

A still dawn broke over Cades Cove.

Sunlight cut through mist rising off the treetops and began to burn away some of the wetness of the previous night, as more searchers began arriving in the park. In the distance, some might have heard the Sunday morning ringing of church bells off in the valley, where prayers were no doubt offered by those who had already heard about the missing child in the Smokies.

“Good neighbors” from nearby locales like Pigeon Forge and Knoxville gather by the dozen to aid in the search for Dennis Martin (Credit: National Park Service/Public Domain).

Along with all available Park Rangers and maintenance personnel, also joining the search were the Blount County Rescue Squad, as well as the neighboring Sevier County Rescue Squad. Members of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club also participated, and a number of experienced hikers, trackers, and backwoods experts that were called in by the Park Service to aid the search effort.

The effort that morning entailed searches of the drainages down the west prong of Little River, Anthony Creek, Little Bald, and Spence Field drainages. Several of the searchers were sent west in the direction of Mount Squires, and then down the Anthony Creek drainage, where they carefully observed the recently flooded stream beds that could have easily carried a child further down the mountain during the storm of the night before. Shortly after noon, many of the searchers returned from the first leg of the day’s operations, where sandwiches and fruit were provided at Spence Field Shelter.

It was also around noon that Violet Martin, Dennis’s mother, arrived in the park after learning about her son’s disappearance the night before.

William Martin calls to Dennis with a megaphone provided by the National Park Service; he remained actively involved throughout the duration of the search (Credit: National Park Service/Public Domain).

Searchers were also traversing the mountains on horseback, and a group of around thirty Boy Scouts camping at nearby Derrick Knob headed west along the Appalachian Trail to lend further aid. By Sunday afternoon, there were two helicopters that were being used to shuttle searchers down the mountain from Spence Field. The search effort only grew from there: an additional two Huey helicopters arrived from Dobbins Air Force Base in Atlanta, Georgia, and permission was obtained from the Third Army Headquarters at Fort Benning to enlist the aid of 40 Special Forces who arrived later that day.

Despite the massive effort during the initial day of the search, totaling more than 150 participants on the ground, there was no sign of Dennis Martin, nor any indication of what might have happened to him.

In the following days, grid searches were conducted by experienced trackers, which combed the areas immediately adjacent to Spence Field. Backpacks, binoculars, and other assorted evidence of past hikes and wilderness adventures were found, but nothing that even vaguely resembled any of Dennis’s belongings. Footprints were found on a few occasions that some suspected could have belonged to a child, and castings were made of these and shown to the Martin family, who said they were too large to have belonged to Dennis.

Despite the search effort that continued on for days, and then weeks, nothing was ever found; Dennis Martin had simply vanished.

William Martin coordinates with Park Rangers as the search for his son continues (Credit: National Park Service/Public Domain).

So what really happened to Dennis?

With a case so baffling as the Dennis Martin disappearance, a variety of theories about what might have happened to the missing child have been raised over the years. Many of these ideas are not supported by any evidence or eyewitness testimony; for instance, there were a number of psychic predictions made in the days and weeks following the disappearance, many of which were logged in an appendix section at the conclusion of the official chronological narrative released by the National Park Service.

Arguably, the most popular theory about the disappearance, and one endorsed by a number of individuals who have looked at the case over the ensuing decades, holds that Dennis was lost much closer to the Point Last Seen (PLS) near Spence Field Shelter, and might have become disoriented and wandered further away from the location where his family had been. Park Service reports quote William Martin as saying that his son was quiet, and “would not call out, but would answer to strangers.” Further, due to complications from the heavy rain that followed in the hours after the disappearance, it is not inconceivable that Dennis might have suffered hypothermia if he was alone somewhere on the mountain, and exposed to the elements. Scavenging by wildlife thereafter could have further reduced the possibility that his remains would be found.

On the subject of animal activity in Cades Cove, a similar theory holds that Dennis had been the likely victim of an animal attack. Dwight McCarter and others noted at the time that a period of drought that occurred during the previous year had contributed to fewer natural food sources for much of the wildlife in the park. Hence, animals such as black bears had been uncharacteristically aggressive during the spring and summer months of 1969; the Martin family indicated that there had been several bears observed around the Spence Field area during their time in the park, whose behavior had appeared “bolder than usual.” In addition to black bears, there are also wild boar that range throughout the park (which I have personally encountered on the trail leading up to the Russell Field Shelter, where the Martin family camped the night before Dennis went missing). Although coyotes are commonly seen in the park today, they were not believed to have migrated into the region as far back as 1969. Nonetheless, there certainly were plenty of other animals in the park that, under the conditions of this “lean period,” might have acted more aggressively toward a child.

There are also some more controversial theories about the disappearance that do have at least some supporting data, albeit too little to make any firm conclusions. One of these involves compelling testimony provided to Dwight McCarter in 1985 by a pair of illegal ginseng hunters, which McCarter and Ronald Schmidt included in their book Lost! A Ranger’s Journal of Search and Rescue. The account given is as follows:

“In July of 1985, I was contacted by a long time ginsenger whom I know well. He related a story of one of his trips in search of ginseng in the park several years earlier. He said that he and one other person were looking for ‘seng up the Big Hollow in the Tremont Area. They were proceeding up the right side of the stream and were 200 feet away from the creek. As they neared a little waterfall he noticed some bones lying near where a tree had uprooted and left a level place. He said the bones were that of a child which included the skull. He said it looked like animals had scattered the bones. He thought that this might be Dennis Martin. Not long after this report I contacted my very good friends at the Swain County rescue squad in Bryson City, North Carolina. They brought 30 men the following weekend and we did a thorough search of the hollow but found nothing.”

Another theory about the disappearance involves an incident that occurred several miles away on the same day that Dennis vanished. Harold Key of Carthage, Tennessee, was visiting Cades Cove with his wife and children, and were hiking near Rowan’s Creek in the Sea Branch area when they observed a suspicious-acting individual, shortly after hearing what appeared to have been a “terrible scream.”

A number of Associated Press articles at the time reported on Harold Key’s story; the following account was given in the Monday, July 21, 1969 edition of The Tennessean on page four, under the title “Report Links Dennis With Park ‘Incident’.” Harold Key is quoted with giving the following account of the events that transpired:

“My sons and I were walking up a creek bed, looking for bears, when we heard a terrible scream, Key recalled. My wife, who had stayed behind, near the car, heard it and thought it was one of our children.

After we heard the scream, we walked about 200 yards and then my sons said they could see a bear, Key said.

“But it wasn’t a bear. It was a man hiding in some bushes. He was definitely avoiding us,” Key said.”

A similar report, appearing in the same publication several days later, made reference to Key and his family seeing a man “dodging through bushes.” However, it was the opinion of Chief Ranger Lee Sneddon that the incident at Rowan’s Creek was unrelated to the disappearance of Dennis Martin. “Sneddon said park officials think it is unlikely that the scream Key said he heard could have been from the missing boy,” it was reported, noting that the place where Key and his family were on Sea Branch “is four to five air miles from Spence Field” and that the distance “is approximately seven miles by the route a person probably would travel, park officials said.”

Comparing these figures with modern Google mapping software indicates that the walking distance between the Spence Field Shelter and the Sea Branch area is exactly 7.1 miles, would take approximately 2 hours and 46 minutes to travel on foot (see map below):

Image Credit: Google Maps/Fair Use.

It should also be noted that the distance “as the crow flies” (that is, directly between the two locations) is 3.95 miles, according to Google Maps. Conceivably, an individual with knowledge of the backcountry might be able to traverse this distance in a shorter amount of time by following such a direct path (Dwight McCarter once reported that he was able to do this, in fact, albeit with some difficulty). 

On July 27, 2016, Michael Bouchard, a researcher with more than three decades in law enforcement who has independently investigated the case, spoke to Harold Key, who was 90-years-old at the time of the interview. Key’s daughter, Wanda Granstaff, also spoke with Bouchard (Wanda, who had been in the park with the rest of the Key family at the time of the incident in 1969, would have been seventeen when it occurred).

Michael Bouchard gives the following account of his interview with Harold Key and Wanda Granstaff in his book, Forever Searching: Lost in the Smoky Mountains 1969 Cold Case File Dennis Lloyd Martin:

Mr. Key reported before walking into the woods with his family, he observed an unoccupied white vehicle parked along the road in the Sea Branch area of the park near Rowan’s Creek. Mr. Key said at first, he did not pay any attention to the vehicle. Mr. Key said he walked about 300 – 500 yards into the woods and observed a middle-aged white male walking quickly through the woods in the direction of the road. Mr. Key said the man was by himself; the man walked quickly to the road and entered the white vehicle and drove off at a high rate speed throwing gravel in the air, the vehicle was heading in the direction of Cades Cove. Mr. Key later recalled when the man saw him and his family the man began walking faster, Mr. Key said the man appeared to be perspiring heavily and was acting nervous. Mr. Key recalled he said to his wife “That man, he is thinking strange thoughts.”

Key could not recall the exact time the incident occurred but noted that it had likely been between 2 PM and 7 PM.

Regarding the scream that the family heard, as reported in newspaper articles from July 1969, Key and Granstaff provided Bouchard with further details, noting that in addition to the “terrible scream” reported by The Tennessean, Harold Key also believed he heard a child scream “help.”  Bouchard gives the following account, as related during his personal interview with Key:

Mr. Key said as he approached Rowan’s Creek, he heard a child scream “help” and then another “agonizing” scream of pain. Mr. Key said after hearing the scream he walked approximately two hundred yards up the footpath bordering Rowan’s Creek, but he did not see a child or anything out of the ordinary.

Mr. Key recalled the scream had come from a great distance, north of Rowan’s Creek or up along the mountains, but he could not pinpoint an exact location. Mrs. Granstaff said her father was in the US Navy during WWII and was “Rough and tumbled” and he would have gone after someone that had been hurting a child. Mrs. Granstaff recalled her younger brother Anthony heard the scream, but he was unable to tell if it had come from a child or an animal.

Harold Key passed away on Monday, April 22, 2019 at the age of 94.

While there are minor differences in the way the story was reported in 1969, and how it was conveyed by Harold Key in 2014, the fact that this interview exists is of great significance, since the only other record of the incident provided by Key at the time, apart from what appeared in newspapers, was an interview conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

After the search had been underway for several days, the FBI became involved on or around the date of June 24, 1969, which was a standard protocol with regard to an incident in the National Park involving any possibility that an abduction might have occurred. “We hear that the FBI has been called in to investigate the possibility of a kidnapping,” Dwight McCarter wrote in his journal on the aforementioned date. “They have been questioning some people and following leads provided by the psychics. There is no information about any results.”

To this day, the FBI file on the Dennis Martin disappearance has not been made available to the public, despite numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) attempts and subsequent appeals. 

“The FBI was investigating a possible kidnapping,” Michael Bouchard notes. “The evidentiary information was confidential and was recorded in the FBI report, not in the civilian documentation published by the Department of the Interior. [I attempted to] FOIA the FBI report which was approximately one hundred and forty-seven pages, of which one hundred and forty-six pages were redacted.”

I recently spoke with Michael Bouchard about the case, and in addition to above testimony, two colleagues of mine, John Greenwald and Lt. Timothy McMillan (retired), have similarly attempted to obtain FOIA releases of the FBI’s material on the case, with at least one additional appeal for the records. No files have been released by the Bureau at the present time.

Additionally, I have personally sent FOIA requests to the Special Forces Unit at Fort Bragg, NC, with requests for any records kept about Green Beret involvement with the search, as well as FOIA requests to the National Park Service seeking any audio recordings or other materials pertinent to the case; in both instances, I have been advised that no such records exist. Additional requests and appeals for information are ongoing (I also welcome information or any additional leads from the public, and I can be reached via email here).

With relevance to the FBI investigation of a possible kidnapping at that time, Michael Bouchard has also told me during our conversations that Harold Key, during interviews he gave to FBI agents James H. Rike and Wallace F. Estill, was specifically asked not to discuss the case. Additionally, on two separate occasions thereafter he received anonymous telephone calls advising him to “forget about what he saw at Rowan’s Creek.” Although such admissions add an element of intrigue to the case (especially with relevance to the FBI’s involvement), it is the opinion of this author that the FBI had likely desired to dissuade Key from public discussion of what he observed while their investigation was underway, as a means of preserving the integrity of their investigation, and without arousing unwanted attention or speculations from the public.


Perhaps the most likely conclusion is that Dennis became lost and disoriented someplace close to the Spence Field area, where he was last seen. Upon personal review of the area and surrounding terrain, if Dennis had been injured, attacked by a wild animal, or had fallen into an inaccessible area nearby, locating the child could have been made exceedingly difficult. Thick foliage that covers the Great Smoky Mountains from June through September (the period the search was underway) would only further hamper search efforts, making it more likely that a six-year-old child could have remained hidden; especially if he were injured or deceased following the storm that occurred on the night he disappeared. 

The scenario above seems very likely, in terms of general probability. However, it is also my feeling based on a complete review of the information outlined here that there is a good case—perhaps not rock solid, but one worthy of further inquiry—to be made that the kidnapping scenario was at least possible.

With regard to that possibility, there are a few minor issues that appear in terms of reconciling the timelines; although it is widely agreed that Dennis Martin disappeared at approximately 4:30 PM on June 14, 1969, the Key family could only guess that what they observed on the same day at Sea Branch occurred between 2 PM and 7 PM. If the experience had indeed occurred in the later part of the day, it is not inconceivable that an individual attempting a child abduction might have been involved in some way, or further, might have been able to cover the distance between these locations (moving primarily downhill) within a short two-hour window of time.

Speaking from experience, the 2.9-mile distance between Russell Field Shelter and Spence Field Shelter makes for a good comparison, as it can be traversed in under an hour. The author, joined by colleague Jason Pentrail, was easily able to accomplish during our time in the park, as we traced the path the Martin family took in 1969. This helps with estimating what distances can be covered, and how long that may take, given that the terrain conditions in question are favorable. 

The author with colleague Jason Pentrail at the location where Dennis Martin was last seen, between the Spence Field Shelter and the Appalachian Trail.

I will further note that in the most recent testimony Harold Key gave to Michael Bouchard, the two screams that the Key family heard appeared to have come “from a great distance, north of Rowan’s Creek or up along the mountains,” but that Mr. Key “could not pinpoint an exact location.” Here again, we must take into consideration a few possibilities:

  1. That the screams, if sounding “distant,” might not have originated from within the immediate vicinity of where the sighting of the middle-aged white male was observed
  2. That if the screams did indeed come from the north, as Key suggested, it would have come from a direction directly opposite to that of Spence Field, which was to the south
  3. If the last point had been merely speculation, and the location or direction of the screams was undeterminable, it may nonetheless indicate that they came from someplace further away–possibly even to the south–which could have placed the screams closer to the area where Dennis went missing, and finally
  4. If either of the last two points were correct, it might further indicate that there was no connection between the middle-aged man seen by the Key family at Sea Branch and the distant screams they heard.

The aforementioned points give us much to consider. However, it is also my opinion that the kidnapping theory, by virtue of being the most sensational potential reason for Dennis Martin’s disappearance, is also one that many (including the Martin family) may have gravitated toward over the years. There are many possible reasons for this, which may include psychological factors involving the victim’s families and the grieving process that follows such disappearances. It is not uncommon for family members of the victim to hold onto beliefs that conform to a narrative where the child or missing person was taken from the vicinity, rather than having suffered a fatal accident or injury nearby, as this facilitates the possibility that the missing might have somehow survived. 

A kidnapping–if such a thing had occurred–would certainly add an element of thrill and mystique to the case. However, with respect to the Martin family and their loss, I feel it is important that those of us looking seriously at the case not allow ourselves to become swept up in the sensational appeal of certain theories about this long-standing “mystery,” and thus potentially compromise our judgment on the matter. We must attempt to look at the facts soberly and without the addition of any unnecessary “sensational” elements or speculations. (It is evident upon review of several articles and other media online which discuss this case that many have leaped to such sensational conclusions, after what appears to have been only a cursory review of the available facts.) 

In light of all this, I feel it is equally important to reiterate, based on data and additional testimony that has only emerged within the last decade (namely Michael Bouchard’s interview with the late Harold Key), that a kidnapping should not be ruled out. Careful consideration of this, along with other possibilities discussed here (such as the testimony of the ginseng hunters given to Dwight McCarter, which has been overlooked in some written accounts of the Martin disappearance), should be undertaken with interest in bringing a resolution to this long-standing cold case. 

As a final note, the date which I am writing this—June 14, 2019—marks the 50th anniversary of the disappearance of Dennis Lloyd Martin. Like so many others, I have looked very deeply at this case, and would like to express my appreciation to those who, either through meetings and personal correspondence or simply through their written contributions, have expanded my personal knowledge of the Dennis Martin case. Special thanks to Michael C. Bouchard, with whom I am actively in communication, as well as Lauran Ellis of Mossy Oak Entertainment, who has supplied remarkable research assistance with this case. Also thanks to David Paulides, who spoke with me in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2013. I would also like to express thanks to Matt Lakin of the Knoxville News, who has very conscientiously chronicled the case over the years for his newspaper, and of course, to Dwight McCarter, who to this day when talking about his involvement with the Dennis Martin search “speaks slowly… chooses his words carefully, and there’s a ghost in his eyes.”

Lastly, my heart goes out to the Martin family and their loss; no amount of time can ever heal the hurt and sorrow of an event like this. It is therefore with respect to the family, the hope for a resolution, and a sense of closure to these good people that I continue to pursue answers about the fate of Dennis Lloyd Martin.

It is a story that is now a half-century in the making… and a search that is still very much underway.


  1. McCarter, Dwight and Schmidt, Ronald. Lost! A Ranger’s Journal of Search and Rescue.
  2. Bouchard, Michael. Forever Searching: Lost in the Smoky Mountains 1969 Cold Case File Dennis Lloyd Martin.
  3. “The Dennis Martin Search: Chronological Narrative.” National Park Service Document, 1969.
  4. Wallace, Daniel. “Dwight McCarter: The Tracker.” Garden & Gun Magazine. https://gardenandgun.com/feature/dwight-mccarter-the-tracker/
  5. “Report Links Dennis With Park ‘Incident’.” The Tennessean. Monday, July 21, 1969.


  1. Hello!
    Great article. Do you know by chance what the psychics said about where Dennis was? I am very curious to know.

  2. This is by far one of the best articles I’ve read on the disappearance of Dennis Martin. I’ve been haunted by this story since the day he went missing. My family and I were camping at The Chimney Tops Campground (yes! It was a campground many years ago). I was 10 years old. Word had spread quickly throughout the campground about a missing child. My parents were so saddened by the whole ordeal, we actually decided to leave early and return home to Mississippi. We stopped in Maryville on our way out for gas and the local owner of the gas station told my dad, “They will never find that child, a bear will eat anything, even the sole of his shoes.”
    I still recall the feelings of distraught and sadness by everyone around the area. The park rangers would have campfire chats every evening around dusk. The next night he spoke to the children about the importance of staying on the trails, always keeping in close contact with your parents and staying within eyesight of them. As we sat around the campfire I remember looking around, the sun was setting and as darkness fell upon the woods, I tried to think what it would be like to be lost, all alone in the deep dark forrest. Every year we returned and we would always ask if there was any news about the missing boy. It was only recently that I found all the articles and videos on the Internet. Much has been written, various opinions as to what actually happened, but I honestly doubt we will ever know for sure. For me, 51 years later, the mention of his name immediately brings back all the sadness and those haunting feelings of the unknown. God bless his family. I can’t image what life has been for them all these years with no closure. Thanks for writing such an informative article.

  3. This is a great article on Dennis. I was 5 when Dennis went missing and was visiting the area with my family on vacation when the search was going on. I remember seeing helicopters and my Mom holding my hand tightly and telling me about the little boy that was just a bit older than me that had gone missing. It made a huge impression on me. Years later I worked as a Park Ranger in the Smokies and became friends with Dwight McCarter, J.R. Buchannan and others that had participated in the search. Dwight told me once that not finding Dennis still haunted him at the time. He learned a lot during the search for Dennis that helped him in later searches. My ex-father in law was also a Ranger on the North Carolina side stationed near Fontana at 20 Mile, and remembers vividly searching for Dennis along Eagle Creek and other drainages into Fontana. He remembers watching Bill Martin call desperately with a bull horn for his missing boy. On the day you published this, the 50th anniversary, I hiked up to Spence Field from the Anthony Creek Trailhead. It was so quiet. Not many people were on the trail that day and I sat near the pile of rocks that Dwight had said marked the spot where Dennis was last seen. It was surreal to think of the activity and chaos that had happened 50 years prior. Though I never knew any of Dennis’ family, my heart went out to them. I hope they have all found rest.

  4. Guess adding a Bigfoot snatch or alien abduction is too “woowoo”. There are so many of these type of disappearances in the wilderness we need to look at ALL the possibilities.

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