Vanished Without a Trace
There was a grim report that a captive bear, often teased by local children, might have been released a few miles from the campground shortly before Kurt disappeared. A bear could have carried Kurt swiftly outside the area, experts conceded, but it was highly improbable that there would be a complete absence of signs.
The police sent teletype descriptions of Kurt throughout the United States and Canada. Soon Kurt Newton stared hauntingly from post-office walls in hundreds of cities. A call came from a man in Connecticut. He had returned from camping in the Canadian Rockies. There he had noticed a small blond-haired boy staring at him with a quizzical expression. He said he was struck by how nervous the boy and the man with him seemed with each other. He saw the same boy, he said fervently, on a Kurt Newton “Missing” poster. That same week a call came from Vermont. Two waitresses were sure they had seen Kurt in their restaurant. Detective Cook drove to Vermont and found that boy. It wasn’t Kurt.
There was an electrifying day four months after Kurt was lost. A call came from New Orleans that a small blond-haired boy of perhaps three or four had been found wandering in the French Quarter. He was very shy. He responded only to names with a k sound, like Kenny or Kurt. The Newtons raced to Boston to view a videotape of the child. But even as they watched it, certain he wasn’t their Kurt, the boy was identified as the abandoned son of an itinerant Missouri woman who was hitchhiking out west, and his name was Clifford.
Jill would wake up and admonish herself, “You’re being ridiculous. You’ve got to make up your mind. Either he’s in the woods or he’s with someone.” She went to Laconia, New Hampshire, for an interview with famed psychic Jeane Dixon. Dixon told Jill she knew about Kurt’s disappearance and had been meditating on it.
Jill said, “I told her the police felt very strongly he was in the woods. I was trying very hard for her not to tell me what I wanted to hear. She said, ‘No, I feel your son is alive.’ I said it was unbelievable to me that in ten minutes on a deserted road anyone would have had the time or the inclination to take him. She asked me if I had other children. I said, ‘Yes, a six-year-old daughter.’ She paused, then said, ‘No, I’m picking up your son’s vibrations. But he’s going to have to be missing you a great deal for me to pick up a direction. And it’s very easy to appease a four year old.’ ”
It became Jill’s singular determination to “get Kurt’s picture to everyone in the United States and Canada.” At first the Newtons went “door-to-door, like traveling salesmen,” driving to Quebec City and stopping at every gas station and store to pass out posters. That experience exhausted them, and they returned convinced they must mount an unprecedented mailing campaign of mind-boggling proportions.
With help from friends in the printing trades, their basement soon overflowed with more than seventy-five thousand posters stacked into every conceivable space. They sent for telephone books from major metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada. Every night friends gathered, twenty and thirty strong, in the firehouse to confront a mountain of Yellow Pages. Ron bought stamped envelopes by the thousands. “Our home resembled a paper factory,” Jill said. Pictures of Kurt left the tiny Manchester post office for department stores and restaurants thousands of miles away.
Jill was troubled by the memory of her own response to such posters when she was a girl. “I’d see the pictures ofwanted criminals and I’d say to myself, ‘Today I’ll see him for sure,’ and then I’d forget what they looked like. No matter how much you stick a child’s picture in front of people,” she fretted, “they can’t remember.”
Eventually, the Newtons considered the fact that soon Kurt would be school age and somewhere he had to go to school. After six months of nightly correspondence, they had compiled a list of every superintendent in every school district in the United States. “I couldn’t believe how many schools there are,” Ron said. Tables were set up in the firehouse, and again friends pitched in. They worked state by state, sending a letter asking that the picture be posted for two years, and including five posters to the superintendents. It took six months of nightly gatherings to finish, and then they began anew with Canada. Two years after Kurt pedaled away, their incredible campaign was over. They had spent well over $5,000 on mailing costs alone; by the end only a stack of one thousand posters remained in their basement. “When the last envelope went, we had the feeling we’d done everything we could,” Ron said. “Then all we could do was wait.”
Letters came back from everywhere, filled with sympathy and prayers, and many enclosed photographs of children in local schools. “We got some awful close resemblances back,” Ron said, and police in far distant places checked them out. Time passed. and the Newtons realized that soon a picture of Kurt at four would mean little to a teacher meeting him at six or seven. “Sometimes I think, if Kurt walked by me, would I know him?’ admitted Jill. “It’s a weird, panicky feeling.” They were left with the hope that Kurt would tell a teacher that he used to live in Maine and he used to have a sister named Kimberly and that one day he was taken away.