It was Father’s Day weekend, 1969, when William Martin, his sons Dennis and Douglas, and his father left their homes in Knoxville, Tennessee and headed to the Great Smokey Mountains for a weekend camping trip. They hiked from Cades Cove to Russell Field, which is around 10 miles, and would normally take a bit over 4 hours to walk. I’d probably think it would have taken the Martin’s a little longer since they were hiking with 2 children.
Once they reached Russell Field that decided to camp for the night. The next morning they would hike to Spence Field, where they intended to spend another night. That trek was considerably shorter than the one from the previous day, so when they reached their destination the boys had time to play.
And play they did…
Dennis, Douglas, and some other children were busy romping around Spence Field when they decided to play hide and seek. Unfortunately, this would be the last time anyone would ever see him. At around 4:30 pm Dennis ran into some bushes and vanished into thin air.
Once his family came to the realization that Dennis wasn’t there, they immediately began searching the area for him. Soon after the Park Rangers were made aware of the missing 6-year-old and it didn’t take long for the families plight to reach multitudes. There were over 1400 people involved in the search for Dennis, and when I say search I mean this was the largest, most extensive search in the history of the park. However, as wonderful as it was to have so many willing volunteers, I hate thinking about how much evidence could have been obscured by their efforts. Later in the evening, heavy rains moved in, hampering the search efforts even more.
After the initial searches were finished without luck, several other searches were launched, one by the Special Forces and one by the National Guard. At one point footprints were found but they were dismissed as belonging to Dennis.
Personal and Government entities continued searching until June 29, 1969, but the search was officially called off on September 14, 1969.
His parents maintain hope that he made it out of the park, thinking that if he hadn’t there would have at least something of Dennis’s recovered by now. However, there hasn’t been any evidence found to suggest that he was abducted either…
In 1985 a ginseng hunter came forward saying that he had found what he thought were the skeletal remains of a small child in Tremont’s Big Hollow, TN.
It looks like a long way for a child as young as Dennis, but if you remember the day before he and his family had hiked around 10 miles. It isn’t impossible to think that over the course of a few days he could have made it over the hills and to the spot the ginseng hunter allegedly found skeletal remains.
That being said, the man had waited for YEARS before coming forward. He was afraid that if he went to the police that they would think he had something to do with the boys’ death. Sadly, from the time that the man found the remains several years had passed, giving animals and other events time to disperse whatever was there. Law enforcement went back to the place the hunter told them about and couldn’t find anything.
Law enforcement believes that Dennis wandered off and eventually passed in the woods. Unfortunately, there isn’t any evidence to really suggest anything else.
If you’re from the area or are going to be in the area and you think you may have seen something, please contact the TBI at 615-744-4000 or the Great Smokey Mountains Police at 865-436-1230.