Monday, July 20, 2020

Catching Up: Previously Unpublished Black Panther Sightings

While it is true that I have not blogged much over the last year or two, reports of “black panthers” have continued to reach my inbox. I feel the need to catch you all up on a few of the more compelling sighting reports I have received during my “away time.” Following are some of the reports I found the most interesting. 

Before we get into the reports, however, I must – once again – post the disclaimer that I know there is no such thing as a “black panther” according to mainstream science. The panthers of the movies and television (think Jungle Book) are either melanistic leopards or jaguars. Neither of those species is known to inhabit Texas, the American South, or parts farther west or north. Still, the reports of black, large, long-tailed cats have continued. Documenting and charting the location of the most credible reports is part of my ongoing effort to answer one simple question. What are the black panthers of North America?

Reported 1/28/17

“As you can see, this pic was taken by my game camera. I thought you might enjoy seeing it. It was taken on my ranch near Palestine. It’s not a hog, dog, calf, or goat, so if not a black cat, what the heck is it? FYI, the winch on the tri-pod is 42” high.”

-       Ken Broom

TCH Comment: What the heck is it? Is a valid question in this case. Ken’s assertion that the animal is not a hog, dog, calf, or goat may be spot on, but the photo is so dark that a definitive identification simply is not possible. That being the case, I have not added this report to my black panther sightings distribution map. I decided to post here today as photos are always fun to examine and analyze. Let the debate begin…

Reported 2/23/17

Hello, my name is Taylor and I'm writing on behalf of my mother, Amanda. On Feb. 23 2017 at 1:00 a.m., my mother saw a very large black cat matching the description of many other sightings near Oak Leaf Road and Lakeview Drive in Conroe, Texas. This is a residential area with a lot of livestock. I was not in the car with her but she's asked me to tell the story as your website popped up when we were researching these sightings.

They have always been a sort of urban legend in this area for at least the last decade, if not more, and other family members have sworn up and down they've seen something. I didn't quite believe it until my mother called me in shock.

She was driving down Oak Leaf Road and was taking the last sharp curve before her turn when she saw a very large dog in her lane. She slowed down to less than ten miles per hour and drove around it into the left lane. This is a very narrow country road and she didn't have a lot of space because the dog would not move. That is when she realized that it was not a dog. She described it as a black panther (I believe she saw a melanistic black jaguar) that was standing on four paws with its head raised, very alert. She drives a Honda Civic, a small sedan, and said that he was so tall his head was level with her passenger window and they made eye contact. He did not flinch or move to avoid her car - he showed absolutely no fear. She said that he was very muscular and healthy and had long, shiny whiskers and chin whiskers. She described him as having a broad face, short ears, and thick tail.

I think it's an incredible story and I don't think she would have mistaken it for a mountain lion/cougar. We have had close encounters with cougars before and she is positive that she saw what is colloquially referred to as a black panther. Hopefully this account interests you.”

-       Taylor and Amanda

TCH Comment: This one is really very simple; if events unfolded the way they have been reported, there is practically no chance of mistaken identity. I find no reason to doubt the story as it has been related. Yes, most of the time an animal in the road will yield to an oncoming vehicle and move away, but not always. I have had to slowly drive around dogs, cats, and deer on occasion because they would not move. It happens. The area where the sighting took place, while residential, is not your typical suburban neighborhood. There remain a lot of heavily wooded acreage in the area and the east fork of Crystal Creek runs just to the south of the sighting location. The area is just south of the Sam Houston National Forest, an area from which many black panther reports have originated. I find the account plausible and have added it to my black panther distribution map.

Reported 9/10/17

In the early 1960s, two of my uncles worked security at the chemical plant
near Bloomington, TX (in those days it was owned by Dupont). This area
around the Guadalupe River as it reaches the Gulf is swampy and, in those
times, was sparsely inhabited. The plant itself is next to a barge canal on
a large tract of low, wooded land. Its abundant wildlife included deer and
razorbacks, which kept the local black panther that lived on the plant
land well fed.

Company officials speculated that someone must have released an exotic pet
here. Sightings of this big cat were so common that Dupont employees
became nonchalant about having a potentially dangerous predator
on the property. Uncle Al said he once saw the cat with a whitetail in its
mouth, dragging the dead animal like it was no more than rag doll.

In 2005 I went to the plant to see if company newsletters from the 1960s
still exist, hoping to read about Dupont's pet cat. But Union Carbide
bought the plant long ago. Nothing from that era was saved.

In retrospect I concluded the Dupont animal was a melanistic jaguar that
had roamed up the coast from the Rio Grande valley. In colonial Texas,
jags lived all along the Gulf up to the Sabine. Locals called them Mexican
tigers. There is a daguerreotype photo from the 1840s of a saloon in Fort
Bend county that displayed the skin of a spotted jag on its wall.”

-       J.M.

TCH Comment: Bloomington sits in Victoria County and is now considered part of the greater Victoria metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, only 2,459 people lived in Bloomington. In the 1960s there would have been far fewer people in the area. The land is low in elevation and often marshy; typical Texas Coast geography. There would be plenty of game for a big cat to subsist on including hogs, deer, and nutria. I find the story J.M. relates very plausible and know other black cat sightings have come from the area; however, the story is second hand in nature. Therefore, I have to leave it off of my distribution map.

Reported 9/14/2017

“So, I was reading your posts about black panthers.  We got this from our game camera just a few days ago. Unfortunately, it's the back end of the animal, but you are welcome to make your own deductions.  Also sending you a photo of my 6-year-old for size comparison, he is 4 feet tall.  Photos taken in Bonham, TX; a culvert in a feeder creek.

Send us your thoughts.”

- Janene Thomas

TCH Comment: Bonham sits in Fannin County adjacent to the Red River in north Texas. The area has produced black panther reports before. The photo is interesting. The animal is undeniably black and – using Janene’s son as a reference – almost 2 feet high (I chose not to publish the photo of Janene’s young son. You’ll just have to take my word on the size comparison). The tail does not appear as long as what many witnesses report but is thick and has a rounded tip. The tails of most dogs are more pointed at the tip. While the photo is intriguing, ultimately it is inconclusive. The trigger speeds of most game cameras are slower than I would like and result in many photos of the back ends of animals walking by. The curse of the slow trigger speed seems to have struck again with this photo. That being the case, I have to leave it off my distribution map.

Reported 4/22/18

“Greetings Michael!!

This is Tom Riley, your classmate of NHS '85.  I got your book off Amazon for my Kindle Fire and I loved it!  It brought back memories and stories that I never gave much account to until I saw your research.  Fascinating. 

I wanted to relate to you a few anecdotes of my, and my family's, experiences with the famed "Shadow Cats."  As I was relating the content and context of your book to my wife, she reminded me of her father's account with a Shadow Cat.  Back in the early to mid 80's my father-in-law (Donald Richard, now deceased) was a partner in Eelee's restaurant located under the Rainbow Bridge on hwy 73 in Port Arthur.  Donnie was the man who developed the menu and all the recipes - as well as procuring the fresh seafood that was brought directly to the dock adjacent to the restaurant.  They processed their own seafood daily right on the riverfront.  He would tell us about the black cat that would show up around dusk or a little after looking for easy pickings.  I remember I commented that cats running around a seafood place is not a big deal, his response was that the cat was almost a big a me!  He related that the staff and boat owners all knew about the big cat and would drop deformed flounder, crabs and turtles in a pile for it to eat about 50 yards down river of the restaurant.  Many regulars would comment about sightings over the years.  It was just accepted.  No big deal. What was it?  Who knows.  It was big, black and stealthy.  It kept mainly to the marshy area south of the restaurant mostly.  Reading your book reminded us of the encounter.  A Mr. James Lester "JL" Lee was the other partner in the restaurant endeavor and unfortunately he passed away last year.

TCH Comment: I heard some of these same stories as my friend Tom back in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s regarding big black cats roaming the marshes around the Neches and Sabine Rivers. The restaurant my old classmate mentions was well-known and popular back in the day. It sat at the foot of the famed Rainbow Bridge that spans the Neches River between Port Arthur and Bridge City. This is the point where the Neches and Sabine Rivers empty into the brackish waters of Sabine Lake which ultimately pours into the Gulf of Mexico near Sabine Pass. The entire area is one huge marsh and supports much wildlife. The Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area sits on the Bridge City side of the famed bridge that sports a vertical clearance of 177 feet (tall enough to allow the tallest ship in the U.S. Navy at the time it was built to pass under it). Despite Tom’s report being second hand in nature, I am going to make an exception to my rule and add it to my black panther sightings distribution map. I do this for two reasons: I heard some of the same accounts he did as a high schooler and Tom is a man of impeccable character with whom I have enjoyed a long personal relationship. He would not steer me wrong.

Reported 5/26/19

“Hello. My name is Barb. I live in the Texas panhandle, the forgotten part of Texas. I am sending 2 articles from 2000 or 2001 regarding a big black cat seen in the Howardwick/Clarendon area.

My longtime boyfriend, Dennis, says he saw a large black cat about a week after the Brass Lantern restaurant sightings, in a locust grove, near his home on the Britten Ranch, which is 3 miles north of Howardwick.

He and I both know the difference between a mountain lion and bobcat.  We grew up in the country, study wildlife, and have taken the Texas Master Naturalist classes. We used to spend a lot of time on area ranches, arrowhead hunting, and have seen bobcats and a couple of brownish-tan mountain lions. He saw a melanistic bobcat years ago when he was a young man. So, given his background, I assure you his big cat sighting was not a bobcat or an overgrown feral cat. According to him, there were many more sightings than what the newspapers covered.

I have bugged Dennis for a long time to find these old newspaper articles. The author David Stevens contributed regularly to the Amarillo Globe News newspaper. The other article came from the Clarendon Enterprise newspaper.


I have listened to you on a podcast and am reading Shadow Cats. Great book.”

-       Barb Thompson

TCH Comment: Clarendon and Howardwick sit in Donley County in the east-central portion of the Texas Panhandle. The area is sparsely populated and dominated by the oil/natural gas and cattle ranching industries. There is plenty of room for a big cat to roam and plenty of prey species in this wide-open area of Texas. The Salt Fork of the Red River and Carrol Creek run through the area and are dammed to form the Greenbelt Reservoir. These water features, along with Kelly Creek a bit farther south would provide ample water and travel corridors for a predator.The sightings referenced by the newspaper accounts and that of Barb’s boyfriend Dennis would be far from the first to come from this lonesome part of Texas. While Barb’s account is of a second hand nature, I found - after doing a bit of research - the spate of “black panther” sightings in the area was well documented. I have decided to include one “pin” on my black panther sightings distribution map to represent this flap of sightings from the early 2000s.

I have a few other intriguing sighting reports that I need to post but this gets me started on the road to catching up. Please continue to send in your sighting accounts of “black panthers” to In addition, I am seriously considering starting a new camera-trapping project. If you have seen these cats on your property and would be willing to allow me to place cameras, please let me know.

If you would like to learn more about the black panther phenomenon and my thoughts on it, contact me for a copy of my book, Shadow Cats: The Black Panthers of North America. I would appreciate it.

To peruse my freshly updated black panther sightings distribution map, click here.

More soon.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

What Happened to Dennis Martin?

The loss of a child might be the most devastating of all tragedies. It is every parent’s greatest fear, and the burden of protection – perhaps the most important of parental duties - weighs heavy on those of us blessed enough to have children. The loss of a child leaves the bereaved parents not only reeling from grief but from guilt, the guilt that they have failed in their most sacred of duties: protecting their offspring. In most cases, the parent has nothing to feel guilty about. Accidents do happen, no matter how careful we try to be. Children sometimes simply do not listen to or follow the directions of the adult figure in their lives which sometimes leads to their demise. Certainly, no parent should ever blame themselves should their child develop cancer or some other insidious disease. Still, the parents of lost children often feel they have done something wrong or that they could have done something differently. If they had, they reason, their child would still be alive. The pain of loss dulls over time to some degree, but the guilt seems to be there always, just beneath the surface waiting to bubble to the top if given even half a chance. These are the thoughts that passed through my mind as I revisited one of the most puzzling missing persons cases in U.S. history: the disappearance of Dennis Martin.

It was the summer of 1969 when Bill Martin decided to take a Father’s Day weekend camping trip. It would be a trip for the men of the Martin family and a time to get back to nature. Bill loaded up his father, Clyde, his oldest son, Doug (9 yrs.), and Dennis, who was less than a week away from his seventh birthday, and headed for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Martin men spent the first night of their trip at the Russell Field shelter. Early on the morning of June 14th, the group hiked west for two miles until they reached their destination: Spence Field. Spence Field was a grassy area running east to west on the main Great Smoky ridge. The Appalachian Trail and the Tennessee/North Carolina border run along the apex (4,800 ft. above sea level) of the field. Streams and creeks on the north side of the ridge drain into the Volunteer State while water courses on the south side of the ridge descend into North Carolina. The area features steep slopes, deep ravines, fast moving creeks, and scores of laurel and rhododendron vines, but the grassy and flat Spence Field seemed benign enough on this sunny and cloudless day. That being the case, the group settled into a shelter cabin on the western end of the campground.
After putting their gear away, Bill and his father sat contentedly and watched the boys, who had found two play mates from another family camping nearby (coincidentally, this other family also had the last name of Martin). The men watched as the group of young boys came together in the tall grass and whispered to each other. Then, almost like a football team breaking a huddle, they sprinted off in two different directions: Doug and his two new friends ran to the wood line to the south, Dennis, alone, ran into the woods to the northwest. The boys had planned a prank on their father and grandfather. They decided to run into the woods, sneak up behind the men, and then jump out and startle them. Why one of the three other boys did not go with Dennis has never been clear. What is clear is that after Dennis ran into the woods that afternoon, he would never be seen again. 

Doug and his two friends carried out their plan and sprang from the woods to “scare” Bill and Clyde. Dennis did not. The men and the boys waited between three and five minutes – thinking Dennis might have misunderstood the timing of the prank – before becoming concerned. Bill, Clyde, and the other boys set off to look for Dennis but found no sign of the young boy. Calls went unanswered, the only noise was the wind whistling through the forest canopy as a storm approached. After searching on their own for over an hour, Bill Martin managed to report his missing son to park authorities. The reaction was swift with several park Rangers responding but their efforts were stopped short when a ferocious thunderstorm rolled into the area. Spence Field received between 2.5” and 3” of rain over the next several hours. Hail fell from the heavens in some spots. The streams and creeks in the area rose quickly and were described as “high and turbulent” in the official incident report. No sign of young Dennis was found. Bill, Clyde, and Doug had to sit and wait out the storm knowing Dennis was out there somewhere alone.

The initial search the following day consisted of upwards of 50 people ranging from Park Rangers to maintenance personnel. Also joining the effort were members of the Sevier County Rescue Squad, the Blount County Rescue Squat, and the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club. The searchers began combing drainages in the area. Rain continued to fall intermittently, washing away potential tracks and sign, winds kicked up and the temperature dropped into the 50s, increasing the chance of the boy becoming hypothermic. The searchers beat the bushes until well past dark. There was no sign of Dennis. 

As word of the missing boy got out, more and more people made the trek to Spence Field to help. The number of searchers would swell to 1,500 before the operation was called off. It would become the largest search in National Parks history with the volunteers investigating at least 50 square miles. No one found any sign of the boy. Some believe the search party became too large and unwieldy. Clay Jordan, Deputy Park Superintendent, in a 2019 interview with USA Today said, “Today, we would not have anywhere near that number (searching).” The hearts of the people who showed up to help were in the right place but looking back, far too many well-meaning but inexperienced volunteers were allowed to participate. It is quite possible that some sign left by the boy was trampled by people who did not know what to look for. In addition to the mistake of allowing too many novice searchers to participate, officials decided, due to the prolific rainfall, not to call in dogs to search for Dennis’s scent. The officials were likely correct in that Dennis’s scent near Spence Field was likely washed out, but he was still out there somewhere and should have been creating new scent trails search dogs might have been able to lock on to (These and other miscues have been used as teaching tools ever since for search and rescue teams in training). Even so, the fact that absolutely no sign of the boy was found was shocking. “Something should have been found,” said Dwight McCarter, a veteran tracker and retired Smokies Ranger struck by the complete lack of sign.

By the second day of searching, Bill’s wife and Dennis’s mother, Violet Martin, had arrived on the scene. She was devastated by the developments but hopeful. “I have a feeling we’re going to find him,” she said. “Maybe God sent this ordeal to us so we could appreciate things more.” Others, however, were beginning to lose hope. Some searchers were told surreptitiously to start closely examining any bear, coyote, or bobcat scat. Others were dispatched to areas where vultures were spotted circling. The hours and the days dragged on, still no Dennis.

The first of several self-proclaimed psychics chimed in on Wednesday, June 18th. The Martins, and to some degree Park authorities, did not dismiss the visions of these seers outright. The areas recommended by the clairvoyants were all dutifully searched. “I believe some people have the ability to see or predict things,” said Bill Martin at the time. Whether the Knoxville-based architect had given any thought to such matters prior to the disappearance of his son remains unknown but desperation had set in and all involved wanted to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for Dennis. One such example came from a Mrs. Schwaller of Linden, Michigan who contacted authorities to say Dennis would be found in a spot “near a stream by a small waterfall with white pine trees in the area.” Unfortunately, like other visions reported by the various psychics who contacted authorities, this description was so vague that it could have been applied to hundreds of spots in the region. Still, the parents grabbed on to each of these visions as if they were life rings and the searchers did their best to check them all out. 

Excitement was briefly aroused on the fourth day of searching when volunteers located a set of faint child-sized tracks about a mile from Spence Field. After examination, authorities dismissed them as having been made by members of a Boy Scouts troop that was searching the area. Potentially, this was yet another missed lead. Tracker Dwight McCarter, still aggravated about the way the tracks were dismissed, would tell USA Today 50 years later, “They didn’t find tracks from a bunch of kids. They found tracks from one kid.” It will never be known with any certainty who made those faint impressions or what they might have led searchers to discover. Later, Dennis’s seventh birthday would come and go (June 20th) without any trace of him having been found.

On June 23rd, the Spartanburg, South Carolina Police Department provided a “police dog” to help in the search. According to the official report, “The search met with negative results.” The description of the canine as a “police” dog and not a "search" dog could be simply a semantic error or it could be significant as not all police dogs are trained for search and rescue. Other dogs were called in – far later than they should have been - but they fared no better. Rumors began circulating from the beginning that the dogs were not attempting to find Dennis’s scent and failing; rather, they were refusing to track at all. The canines, so the story goes, simply sat down and whined, refusing to work. This is one of the big factors that has set off the “high strangeness” radar of so many, however, I simply cannot say whether it is true or not. I found references to dogs not being successful, but never found any source that stated the dogs refused to track.

Fate can be cruel and she turned especially so on June 24th. Searchers came across a young man wearing a red t-shirt and green shorts (the same color of shirt and shorts Dennis had been wearing when he vanished) walking the perimeter road of the Cades Cove campground. It turned out the boy’s name was Michael Devlin and he was camping in the area with his parents. The parents agreed to change the boy’s shirt so as to avoid any future confusion. On the 26th, a man called in to Carson Brewer of the Knoxville News-Sentinel and told him to inform the searchers to “Look in the trees and treetops. Stop looking on the ground.” Did this caller have some kind of inside knowledge of the case? Was he another alleged psychic? We will likely never know. This cryptic phone call is another of the strange details surrounding the case that just does not sit right with many.

The official search would end on June 29th. Unofficial efforts would continue into September. The Martin family, refusing to believe their son was dead – in their defense, no body, blood, or any other spoor that might lead to that conclusion was ever found – put up a $5,000 reward for information leading to the return of their son. Authorities never bought in to the Martin’s kidnapping theory, but could not dismiss it outright either. In any case, the reward remained unclaimed.

The scope of the search for Dennis Martin has given pause to some. Never before had such a large force of government resources been used in a missing persons case. Between the National Parks Service employees, various county rescue squads, and military personnel involved, nearly 30,000 man-hours were invested in the search. This total does not include private citizens who volunteered their time. It is the involvement of those military personnel that has raised suspicion among many that something unusual, something other than the disappearance of a small boy, had occurred at Spence Field that June day in 1969. While it is not unusual for the National Guard to help in such matters, I have been told it is highly unusual for a regular military outfit to do so, much less a Special Forces unit like the Green Berets. The story was they were in the area on a training exercise and were instructed to come help in the search. As a non-military person, this did not seem like anything unusual to me but I have since been told by friends in the military that this simply does not happen. A bit of research revealed that the Green Berets are considered a Special Operations Force of the U.S. Army and exist to deploy and execute “nine doctrinal missions,” none of which include search and rescue operations. Digging a bit deeper, secondary missions sometimes taken on by U.S. Special Forces include, among others, combat search and rescue, hostage rescue, and manhunts. This being the case, perhaps the involvement of the Green Berets is not as strange as it at first seems. Other details, however, do lend an air of mystery to their presence. Many witnesses claim the “special ops guys” were standoff-ish, unfriendly, and “did their own thing,” which intimates a lack of communication and coordination with the other searchers. In addition, multiple reports state that these military units were armed with rifles while conducting their searches. This does sound unusual to me but I have been unable to absolutely confirm this assertion. I have seen photos of military personnel arriving at Spence Field but have not seen any weapons.

One thing that cannot be denied is that the government and the military were heavily involved in the search for Dennis Martin, much more so than any other missing persons case I can recall. A fixed wing plane, multiple helicopters, a dozen jeeps, multiple National Guard Units, and Special Forces were called in. Several military command posts were established that seemed to be working independently of the National Parks Service and FBI. In the official case report on the incident it states that President Nixon was monitoring the situation and wanted to be kept up to speed. The sheer scope of the government and military involvement regarding this event was unprecedented. The question many ask is why? It is true that Tennessee Congressman James "Jimmy" Quillen requested assistance from the government but the sheer scale of the effort would have required much more than a call for help from a Representative. In any case, the military commitment was extraordinary. You can look up all the numbers here but here are some statistics from the case report to chew on: 

-       The Army flew 938 sorties into Spence Field 
-       The Air Force flew 78 sorties into Spence Field
-       The military moved between 1,800 and 2,000 personnel in and out of the area via jeep over the course of the search
-       Involved branches/military resources included:
o   Tennessee Air National Guard
o   Tennessee Army National Guard
o   United States Special Forces
o   The U.S. Marine Reserve, Knoxville, TN.
o   U.S. Army troops from Fort Benning, GA.
o   Air Force personnel from McGhee-Tyson AFB, TN.
o   Air Force personnel from Robbins AFB, FL.
o   Personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, TN.
o   Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation
o   Two Huey helicopters
o   Two HH-53 (Jolly Green Giant) helicopters
o   One U-10 fixed wing airplane
o   Two CH-53 helicopters
o   Two Air Force communications trucks
o   Two Chinook helicopters

I must admit to being quite taken aback regarding the investment of time, money, and resources the federal government committed to the search for a civilian missing person. I do not think it a stretch to state that it was highly unusual. George W. Fry, at the time Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, echoed a similar opinion in a letter to Tennessee Representative James H. Quillen sent on June 26, 1969 – three days before the official search for Dennis Martin concluded. He wrote, “In my entire experience with the National Park Service I have never heard of or participated in a search the extent of which this has built up to.” It may be the cynic in me but I simply do not believe that the government was acting out of the goodness of its heart in this matter. Neither do I believe a personal relationship with someone in Congress could yield such a deep level of involvement. Military personnel were flown in from as far away as Florida. It is very strange.

The final piece of weirdness is quite likely the most well-known piece of the entire strange puzzle that is the Dennis Martin case. It seems a family (Keys was their last name) hiking between 3-6 miles (I’ve found documentation supporting both these numbers) from the spot where Dennis vanished reported hearing a young boy scream in the woods. One of the family members spotted movement in a brushy area and thought it must be a bear. Instead, it turned out to be a man walking in the woods with something red slung over his shoulder (remember, Dennis was wearing a red t-shirt when he disappeared). The details of this report have morphed together and now you will find that the Keys saw a “bear man” walking upright through the woods. This birthed the theory that young Dennis had been snatched by a wood ape or sasquatch. Other reports describe the figure as an “unkempt man.” Largely ignored, another version of the Keys visual is that they saw only a “suspicious” man in dark gray work clothes that drove away after being seen. Either way, the FBI gave the Key report no credence and failed to share the information with Bill Martin, something that angered him greatly as he believed in his heart his son had been kidnapped.

It has been 51 years since little Dennis Martin disappeared. Bill Martin died in 2014, never knowing what had become of his youngest boy. The rest of the Martin family has been silent and has not discussed the case publicly since the search was called off all those years ago. There have been a few “false alarms” over the years when it seemed the remains of Dennis Martin might have been discovered. The most recent occurred in 1985 when a ginseng hunter reached out to tracker and retired Smokies Ranger, Dwight McCarter and told him he had come across a child-sized skeleton below Spence Field near an uprooted tree. A search of the area, however, yielded nothing. Most have come to the same conclusion as Clay Jordan, Deputy Park Superintendent, who said, “I think it is virtually impossible that we will ever know what happened to Dennis Martin…It’s become one of the enduring mysteries of the Smokies.” 

Spence Field looks quite different than it did a half-century ago. Trees now cover what was once open ground. Leaf litter and other forest debris cover the earth where meadow grasses once grew. “For every year, nature layers up about an inch,” Dwight McCarter said. “And it’s been a lot of years.”

As a parent, most of us sympathize greatly with the torment Bill Martin must have endured after his son disappeared practically before his very eyes. Such pain is something to which we believe we can relate, but can we? Can we really?

I, for one, pray I never find out. 


Lakin, Matt. “Missing in the Smokies.” USA Today, 12 June 2019, pp. 1A–3A.

Lakin, Matt. “'An Enduring Mystery': Why Dennis Martin's Disappearance Fascinates Us, 50 Years Later.” KNOX News, 6 June 2019,

Balloch, Jim. “From the Archives: Search in Smokies for Lost Boy, Dennis Martin, Produces Lessons for Future Searches.” Knoxville News Sentinel, 2 Oct. 2018,

Striepe, Becky. “10 Mysterious Disappearances in National Parks.” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 10 July 2015,

StrangeOutdoors. “Dennis Martin - Strange Disappearances from US National Parks.”,, 27 Oct. 2017,

Swancer, Brent, and Paul Seaburn. “Some Very Strange Information on the Bizarre Vanishing of Dennis Martin.” Mysterious Universe, 9 June 2017,

“United States Army Special Forces.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 June 2020,