Home » Editorial

5 Mysterious Smoky Mountain Disappearances That Remain Unsolved Today

Blurry shadow in the mountains and fog

There are multiple cases of missing persons in the Smoky Mountains that remain a mystery decades later (photo by Celiafoto/shutterstock.com)

Please note, that TheSmokies.com may receive commissions for links in this article that lead to purchases from third-party vendors.

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.

Fog over the Great Smoky Mountains
Fog and smoke frequently cover the mountains. In some cases, weather conditions may hamper searches (photo by Robert Gubbins/shutterstock.com)

Subscribe to our newsletter for area news, coupons and discounts

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Please wait...

Thank you for sign up!

A missing poster for Dennis Martin
A missing poster for Dennis Martin (GSMNP)

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.

Trenny's missing persons poste
Trenny’s missing persons poster (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

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.

Thelma's missing poster (GSMNP)
Thelma’s missing poster (GSMNP)

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.

Derek's missing poster
Derek’s missing poster (GSMNP)

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.

William's Wanted by the FBI poster (FBI)
William’s wanted poster (FBI)

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.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at editor@thesmokies.com (preferred) or call 865-505-0648.

3 thoughts on “5 Mysterious Smoky Mountain Disappearances That Remain Unsolved Today”

  1. I had a very strange happening in the Smokey Mountains. This happening occurred near the Tennessee North Carolina Boarder. A weather front and terrible Blizzard had quickly come upon us while very close to the peak Pass of Clingmans dome area. The worst part of it was were traveling via Chevy corvette. Although we had more than enough supplies and luckily new tires. Many better suited vehicles were unable to pass in that storm and were stuck road side on the way up the pass. The car at one point during our trip through the mountains suffered a major electrical problem, but the car continue running. Some how we were able to pass though all of it. It should also be noted that it was April during the spring equinox.

    I believe that at some part of our journey I was given physic information regarding the future of world and timeline. And so was set forth on a mission to make a difference.

  2. I have had several close calls in the remotest of areas of the smokies. this includes multiple close calls with dangerous mammals, but those encounters were far from the most dangerous or most common threats. For me, my most frequent and threatening danger was falling, next would be the dangers presented by other humans, third would be insect stings, fourth would be hypothermia, fifth was venomous snakes. Bears, lightning, wild hogs, falling trees, and exhaustion round out the list of hazards that threatened my life on multiple occasions during my 17 years that I lived within the GSMNP.


Leave a Comment