Disappearance of Dennis Martin

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Dennis Martin
Dennis Lloyd Martin

(1962-06-20)June 20, 1962
DisappearedJune 14, 1969 (aged 6)
Spence Field, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, U.S.
StatusMissing for 50 years, 2 months and 3 days
Known forExtensive search
Home townKnoxville, Tennessee, United States
Height4 ft (122 cm)
Weight55 lb (25 kg)
  • William C. Martin (father)
RelativesClyde E. Martin (great-grandfather)
FamilyDouglas Martin (brother)

Dennis Lloyd Martin (born June 20, 1962) is an American child who disappeared on June 14, 1969 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee at the age of six. The search effort was the most extensive in the park's history, involving approximately 1,400 searchers and a 56-square-mile (150 km2) area.


Dennis Martin, a six-year-old resident of Knoxville, was visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with his father, grandfather and older brother on Father's Day weekend in 1969. The camping trip was a family tradition for the Martins.[1] The family hiked from Cades Cove to Russell Field and camped overnight. The next day, they hiked to Spence Field near the Appalachian Trail, where they planned to spend the night.

Martin disappeared on June 14 at 16:30 while playing hide-and-seek with his brother and other children from a separate family they came across; he was last seen by his father going behind a bush to hide, intending on surprising the other children when they walked past. After not seeing him for about five minutes and when all of the other children had returned to the camp site, his father became concerned and began searching for him. His father ran down the trail for nearly two miles, until he was sure he couldn't have gotten any farther. After several hours, they sought help from National Park Service rangers.[2][3]

The area where Martin disappeared is marked by steep slopes and ravines. Wild animals such as copperhead snakes, bears, feral hogs, and bobcats inhabit the area. A downpour broke out shortly after Martin's disappearance, dropping 3 inches (7.6 cm) of rain in a matter of hours. The rain washed out trails and caused streams to flood. Temperatures on the night of June 14 dropped to nearly 50 °F (10 °C).[1] It's possible Martin died after succumbing to the cold of the torrential rain or from other threats in the area.


Search efforts, including a separate search by the National Guard and Special Forces[4][5] found no trace. Heavy rains during the first day's search hampered efforts,[6] and heavy mist the next day.[7] Up to 1,400 people were involved in the search effort, potentially obscuring possible clues.[8] Footprints were found in the area, but dismissed as being Martin's and determined by park officials to have been left by a Boy Scout participating in the search.[1][9] The child-sized footprints led to a stream, where they disappeared. The tracks indicated that one foot was barefoot, while the other was in an Oxford (the type of shoe Martin was wearing) or a tennis shoe. Retired park ranger and author Dwight McCarter believes that the prints likely belonged to Martin, as the tracks were not part of a group and none of the Boy Scouts were searching while barefoot.[1]

A shoe and sock were also found.[10] By June 22, 56 square miles (150 km2) of ground had been covered.[1] More than a thousand searchers continued to look until June 26, when the search was cut back.[11] The search was abandoned on June 29, after a last search.[12] The search was officially closed down on September 14, 1969.[13] As of 2019, it is still the largest search in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.[1]


Dennis's father offered a US$5,000 (equivalent to $34,161 in 2018) reward for information.[14] Psychics, including Jeane Dixon, offered clues, but nothing was found.[15] A few years after, a ginseng-hunter discovered the scattered skeletal remains of a small child in Big Hollow, Tremont. He kept the find to himself until 1985 for fear of prosecution. A subsequent search turned up nothing.[16]

The unsuccessful search for Martin led the National Park Service to review and amend its policies on searches for missing people.[5]


Three main theories exist about what happened to Martin.[16]

  • The first is that he became lost and perished from exposure or some other cause, likely during the first night. This is the most probable theory according to park officials.[1]
  • The second is that he was attacked by a hungry bear (or, less likely, a feral pig) and carried off.[5]
  • The third is that he was abducted and taken out of the park by something or someone. His father was a proponent of the third theory.[17] On the afternoon that Martin disappeared, tourist Harold Key and his family, heard an "enormous, sickening scream" and shortly thereafter witnessed a man covered in hair seemingly hiding and carrying something on his shoulder. Park Rangers and the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that there was insufficient evidence to link the sighting to Martin's disappearance, particularly given that Key's sighting was approximately five miles away from where Martin disappeared. The sighting occurred a little while after Dennis went missing. The family also said the person of the woods had something slumped over its shoulder, and the highly visible red color matching the shirt of Martin the day he went missing.[16][5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Matt Lakin (6 June 2019). "Missing in the Smokies: Dennis Martin's disappearance still haunts park, 50 years later". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  2. ^ "7-Year-Old Boy [sic] Missing In Smokies". Kingsport Times. 16 June 1969. p. 1. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  3. ^ Charles R. Farabee (2005). Death, Daring, and Disaster: Search and Rescue in the National Parks. Taylor Trade Publications. p. 276. ISBN 978-1-58979-182-4.
  4. ^ "Green Berets Join Search For Boy". The Index-Journal. Greenwood, South Carolina. 17 June 1969. p. 8. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  5. ^ a b c d Michael Bradley (2016). Death in the Great Smoky Mountains: Stories of Accidents and Foolhardiness in the Most Popular Park. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4930-2563-3.
  6. ^ "Rain Hampers Efforts To Find Child, 7 [sic], in Park". Albuquerque Journal. 16 June 1969. p. 6. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  7. ^ "Mountain 'Smoke' Defeats Searchers". Kingsport Times. 17 June 1969. p. 1. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  8. ^ Dinata Misovec (2017). Big Creek: A Closer Look at a National Park. Hugo House Publishers, Ltd. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-936449-89-7.
  9. ^ "Hopes Fading For Boy Lost In Mountains". The Marion Star. 18 June 1969. p. 16. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  10. ^ "Shoeless Footprint Found". Kingsport Times. 18 June 1969. p. 1. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  11. ^ "Slim Hope Left For Lost Boy". The Daily Times-News. Burlington, North Carolina. 26 June 1969. p. 2. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  12. ^ "A Last Sad Search For Dennis". The Gastonia Gazette. 29 June 1969. p. 24. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  13. ^ Escar Thompson (15 June 1970). "Great Smokies Keep Mum On Secret Of Lost Child". The Robesonian. Lumberton, North Carolina. p. 6. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  14. ^ "Reward Offered For Boy Missing In Great Smokies". The Bee. Danville, Virginia. 9 August 1969. p. 8. Retrieved 16 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
  15. ^ Kurt Repanshek (14 June 2009). "Unresolved Search-and-Rescue Cases Are Scattered Throughout the National Parks". National Parks Traveler. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  16. ^ a b c Jim Balloch (28 June 2009). "Search in Smokies for lost boy, Dennis Martin, produces lessons for future searches". Knoxville News-Sentinel. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  17. ^ "Dennis Martin Case Study" (PDF). Kentucky Emergency Management. Inland SAR Planning. Retrieved 16 June 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dwight McCarter; Ronald Schmidt (1998). Lost!: A Ranger's Journal of Search and Rescue. Graphicom Press. ISBN 978-0-9641734-1-5.

External links[edit]