The Unusual Disappearance Of Dennis Martin

On June 13, 1969, 6-year-old Dennis Martin and his brothers, along with their father William and grandfather Clyde, went on a camping trip at Spence Field located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a Father's Day tradition for the Martins to go hiking and camping every year. The first day of the camping trip passed without issues, and on the next, the Martins met with friends and extended family (via ATI).

On the second day of the trip, the children decided to pull a prank on the adults and hid behind bushes to surprise them. Three of the boys hid together, while Dennis went in another direction. It wasn't a long time before the boys emerged from their hiding spots to scare the adults, but they soon noticed that Dennis didn't come out from his hiding spot, as reported by The Smokies. His father immediately scoured the area looking for the little boy and called out his name, but there was no response. Others helped in the search, but there were no clues as to what happened to Dennis or where he could have gone; he was in hiding for only about five minutes before he disappeared.

The largest search effort in the history of the park

Shortly after Dennis Martin's disappearance, his grandfather Clyde decided to hike 9 miles to the ranger's station to report his grandson's disappearance and to get help in finding him. According to ATI, the situation became more complicated when a storm rolled in that same night. The rain had washed away the trails, and any evidence of footprints that could have been there was lost.

The search for Dennis continued early the next day, and the National Park Service tasked 30 of their people to aid in the search. News of a missing boy quickly spread, and hundreds of people volunteered in the search efforts. As the days passed, the number of volunteers ballooned to about 1,400, but the search didn't generate results. The search party covered hundreds of acres, campers in the area were questioned, and helicopters were also utilized, as reported by WATE-TV. The FBI was also brought in, and bloodhounds scoured the park, but they weren't able to find Dennis' whereabouts.

The search was halted two weeks after the disappearance

After a couple of weeks, the search party was no closer to finding the missing child. The search for Dennis Martin was closed on the 16th day, and his family met with agents and rangers about the next steps to take. Although there was no evidence that Dennis was abducted, the Martin family offered a reward of $5,000 to anyone who could provide information that would lead to the safe return of their son (via the National Park Service).

Footprints were found during the search, but the Martins said that they were too large to have belonged to Dennis. It was concluded that the footprints may have been from the Boy Scouts who volunteered during the search. Dennis turned 7-years-old in the span of the search, and the family was heartbroken that they couldn't find their missing boy. In hindsight, the large number of people searching may have been more detrimental than helpful to the case, per WATE-TV. The people present in the area may have unknowingly trampled upon potential clues, and the rain didn't help either.

The bear attack theory

Despite the official end of the search, Dennis Martin's family never gave up on finding him. His grandfather Clyde often went back to the location where he went missing to conduct more searches. One of the theories is that Dennis strayed from the grounds and was attacked by a bear, as reported by Knox News. Dwight McCarter, a former ranger who helped in the search for Dennis, said that bears don't typically attack humans, but it was possible.

Just weeks before the boy's disappearance, park rangers caught a bony bear that they were able to lure with corn, which isn't usually what bears eat. At that time, the bears' typical food sources were scarce, and they would have eaten what they could to survive. However, searchers found no clues of an attack, and Dennis was only missing for a few minutes before his family went searching for him. The Martin family doesn't believe this theory, and they think that Dennis was abducted.

Was he taken by cannibals?

There's another theory that Dennis Martin was taken by cannibals who lived in a colony in the deepest parts of the forest. Weeks after the boy's disappearance, a man named Harold Key came forward. Key spent the day with his family in the mountains on the day Dennis disappeared, and he said he heard a scream and saw someone running. According to The Smokies, Key's son initially thought the figure was a bear, but he soon realized that it was a man with a rumpled appearance.

There is no concrete evidence that feral men who eat people live in the mountains, and officials have since stated that what Key claimed he witnessed didn't have anything to do with Dennis' disappearance. They say the timeline doesn't fit, and Key was located quite a distance away from where the boy went missing. Still, that didn't stop conspiracy theorists from believing that cannibals were responsible for Dennis' disappearance.

Dennis Martin's case remains unsolved

Years passed and the Martin family still has no idea what happened to their little boy. A group of ginseng poachers was near the site where Dennis disappeared and saw what they thought were the skeletal remains of a child. However, they didn't report it, as they feared the consequences of their illegal activity, or worse, that they would be blamed for the death of the child (via the Charley Project). Years later, however, one of the ginseng poachers came forward and told authorities what he saw.

In 1985, a group of 30 people was tasked to go to the location where the poacher claimed he saw the skeleton. When they got there, they didn't find any skeletal remains, as reported by ATI. There's no evidence to support the claim, and if what the poacher said was true, wild animals may have scattered the bones throughout the forest. To this day, Dennis' disappearance remains one of the mysteries of The Smoky Mountains.