Smoky Mountain native recalls some of the biggest unsolved mountain mysteries over the years
As someone who has lived in the foothills of the Smokies for a number of years, I’ll be the first to tell you that the mountains are as vast as they are beautiful. But they can also be deep and unforgiving. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of old-growth forest in the deep woods of North Carolina and Tennessee. In that kind of wilderness, it doesn’t take more than a moment for a life to be forever changed.
Many of these stories are similar. Often, a reward is offered for any information. Park rangers, park officials and even special forces come to look for those missing. These stories are haunting. It’s maddening to think back on those critical moments and wonder what might have happened, or how it could have been different.
Editor’s Note: Anyone with information about any of the following individuals or cold cases is asked to call Investigative Services with the National Park Service at (888) 653-0009.
Subscribe to our newsletter for area news, coupons and discounts
1. Dennis Martin
Perhaps the most well-known missing persons case in the Smokies is the mystery of Dennis Martin who at the age of only 6 (just a few days before his 7th birthday), disappeared in the mountains without a trace in 1969. He was never seen again. Boy scouts, National Guard members, multiple rescue squads and even a group of 71 Green Berets came and searched for the boy. Helicopters arrived as well. It was one of the longest and most extensive searches for a lost person in the park, yet turned up nothing.
The Martin family was on a camping trip on Father’s Day weekend in June of 1969. Dennis, along with his brother (Douglas), father (William) and grandfather (Clyde), started at Cades Cove and hiked to Russell Field where they camped overnight. Afterward, they made their way to Spence Field. They had met with another group visiting the area, ironically also named Martin. Dennis and his brother and new friends played a prank in the form of a sneaky surprise on the adults. But Dennis never emerged from his hiding spot. Only minutes had passed. They quickly searched for him, but he was never found. Clyde hiked out to the Park Rangers Station, but a massive storm had arrived. Weather is believed to have hampered the search.
2. Trenny Lynn Gibson
Trenny Lynn Gibson disappeared while on a field trip in 1976 when she was 16-years old. The group planned to hike to Andrews Bald, near the observation tower. Trenny reportedly walked ahead on the trail alone and was never seen again.
3. Thelma Gibson Melton
Thelma Melton, commonly referred to as Polly, walked ahead of some of her friends along Deep Creek Campground and disappeared in 1981. She was 58. There are rumors about what might have happened. But they are only rumors. No clear evidence has been discovered. Thelma, if still alive, would be over 100 years old today.
4. Derek Lueking
Derek Lueking disappeared in March 2012 at the age of 23. Multiple sources collaborate that he was staying at a hotel near Cherokee, North Carolina near the national park. His car was found near Newfound Gap. Inside, it had survival gear that included items like a pocket knife and sleeping bag. Mysteriously, it also had a note instructing others to not look for him. It is unclear who wrote it. Some believe he at least had a backpack and/or granola bars on him when he disappeared. Investigations were launched, but the case is still a mystery.
5. William Bradford Bishop, Jr.
There are also a few cases of people who likely don’t want to be found. The more than half million acres of thick growths of trees and fog give fugitives on the run a good place to hide. If, that is, they know how to survive in the wilderness. Such is the case with William Bradford Bishop, Jr. Bishop was an avid outdoorsman and hiker with extensive camping experience. He was accused of unmentionable brutalities against his wife, mother and three sons in 1976. He was in his 40s when he went on the run. If still alive today, he would be in his 80s. Bishop is still wanted by the FBI.
Hiking safely in the Smoky Mountains
The National Park Service recommends hikers come to the mountains prepared. Bring at least basic gear, plenty of water and a map. It’s also wise to hike with a companion. There is safety in numbers. But if you must hike alone, let someone know your route and your expected return time. Also, tell them to contact the park if you do not return as expected at (865) 436-1230.
What strange disappearances have you heard about in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Let us know in the comments below.