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The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared

The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared
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The temperature dropped to 26 degrees. Jill thought, “How frightened Kurt is. How he must wonder, ‘Why doesn’t my mommy come get me? “Manchester. Maine, heard the news at 7:00 P.M. Ron Newton had grown up beside the firehouse, and neighbors could remember the tall, thin boy racing frantically after the fire truck at the first blast of the whistle, being pulled aboard with his shirttail flying. He had joined the volunteer fire department at seventeen. He was hometown, and had never left, becoming a supervisor for the highway department. Soon streams of cars from Manchester headed north.

Jill had grown up eighteen miles away in the small town of Wayne. She had been the only girl in her one-room schoolhouse, and she lived above her father’s general store. Everybody knew Jill Lovejoy. When word spread that her little boy was lost, the cars from Wayne joined those from Manchester on Route 27. When they poured into the campground late at night, an eerie sight awaited them: Ron and Jill calling into a loudspeaker at the edge of the woods by the dump, “hoping in the still of the night we’d hear his cry.” Wardens probed the darkness, their lantern beams flashing among the trees.

By first light on Labor Day a bloodhound team scented on Kurt’s pajamas. A year earlier the same bloodhounds had been instrumental in tracking a two-year-old girl lost in the New Sharon woods. As the search party, now swelled to nearly two hundred, waited, the hounds bolted from the dump, ran ten yards, then whirled in confusion, apparently overwhelmed by the conflicting scents from Sunday’s heavy search.

The weather steadily worsened, becoming, as one searcher said, “dark, dank, and miserable with the fog settling in and everybody soaking wet and chilled to the bone.” The searchers began to realize the enormity of their task. The woods were filled with holes, “some bigger than a man,” as Duane Lewis said, and piles of rocks and boulders covered with moss, and enormous root cavities. Years of windstorms had taken their toll. Briars scratched at the searchers’ faces as they crawled through the blow-down looking in vain for a small boy’s footprints, or bits of clothing torn as he stumbled past. Holes under boulders were tediously checked, then rechecked by other searchers, each check indicated by a marking slash, until the forest was pocked with their grim graffiti. The search grew into what officials described as “the most intensive woods search in the history of Maine.”

Probably nothing grips the hearts and minds of people as does the specter of a lost child wandering helplessly in a woods, waiting for rescue. Radio and television appeals touched Mainers from all walks of life. Buses brought workers from paper mills and factories from throughout northern and central Maine. College students, crusty woodsmen, and an elite six-man mountain rescue unit joined together at Natanis Pond. Cars lined Route 27 for more than a mile, the feet of bone-weary volunteers poking through half-opened windows. To feed the searchers, who one day numbered fifteen hundred, women from the Kingfield-Stratton area solicited food from their neighbors to stock their civil defense kitchens, until soon donations poured in from as far away as one hundred miles.

The Newtons were determined that nothing would be left to chance. When Jill learned from a searcher that a top-secret plane had been used in Vietnam to find guerrillas in dense jungle, she ran to the wardens. “I don’t care what it costs or how it works,” she said. “I just want it to tell me where my son is.” And late Monday night the $10-million C-130H gunship lifted off from Eglin Air Force Base in Pensacola, Florida, with her nine-man crew, the first time it would be used in a civilian search. The plane was equipped with infrared sensors and low-light television-sensor equipment for nighttime use, equipment so sensitive it could detect the heat differential between a white median strip and the blacktop road at ten thousand feet.

Jill was “wildly excited” when she heard the plane was on its way. But Ron, who was “very protective about letting me get my hopes up,” cautioned, “It’s just a machine, don’t put too much on it.”

Even veteran woodsmen were in awe of Ron Newton’s quiet endurance as days and nights passed with him refusing to rest. “The responsibility was ours,” he’d say quietly. “The burden is ours to get him back.” On Monday, returning wearily from the woods at dusk, Ron tripped and fell heavily in a deep gully. His ankle turned bright purple and swelled to twice its size. Though ordered off his feet by a doctor, he continued to end a day’s woods search at his familiar post in front of the loudspeaker, calling his son’s name into the forest. In desperation, friends laced his coffee with tranquilizers. Wednesday night, his fourth night without sleep, the drugs finally took effect. His speech slowed and he sat gripping the loudspeaker close to his mouth, unable to speak, until finally his head dropped as he gave in to his shattering fatigue. “He was the toughest man I’ve ever seen,” said Duane Lewis. “Just unbelievable stamina.”

The C-130H gunship flew a three-hour mission Tuesday morning, failing to detect a trace of Kurt. The plane was hampered by low-hanging clouds and heavy rains that grew so bad searchers could not see their way in the woods and had to be pulled out. Hovering over the search area in the helicopter, Jill would call, “This is Momma. I want you to go to where you can see the sky. Come and wave to Momma.” As the rain and fog continued into the fourth day, hopes dimmed that Kurt could be found alive, and the strain on Jill was growing unbearable.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Mel Allen

Author:

Mel Allen

Biography:

Mel is the fifth editor of Yankee Magazine since its beginning in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. Mel teaches magazine writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son. His column, “Here in New England,” is a 2012 National City and Regional Magazine Awards Finalist for the category Column.

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5 Responses to The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared

  1. Robin Bailey December 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm #

    I became interested in this case, last year, after reading, “The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared” in an old 1979 Yankee Magazine and did an internet search to see if this case had been solved.
    I had hoped that Kurt had been found safe and returned to his family.
    Having come across the old magazine again while cleaning, I once again did another search to see if anything new had come to light concerning this child’s case.
    I wonder if anyone might have done a computer aging on Kurt, updating his appearance to what would be his current adult age and distributing it or perhaps publishing it in the newspaper where he grew up. I suppose I like to believe in miracles, even at this late date. Perhaps he would see the picture, read the story, and be reunited with his family. Such stories have happened before.
    Kurt’s story still haunts my heart when I read it and see his photo. I hope that he is alive, mentally and emotionally well and that God guides him back to where he belongs.

  2. Barb April 23, 2015 at 7:42 am #

    This case fits all the criteria for Missing 411, many go missing in the forest without any trace. He was wearing red, dogs could not track him, no signs of a struggle ect. David Paulides wrote many books on tgis subjec, as an ex police officer David became interested in learning more after a Forest ranger told David about all the missing people from our National forests & remote campgrounds. So sad for all the families left to wonder what happened to their loved ones, leaving them heartbroken for the rest of their lives. Research David Paulides Missing 411 Eastern United States.

  3. Karen Bessey Pease April 23, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    This case still haunts my father, who was a Maine State Game Warden based in Kingfield in 1975. For many days, he was gone from sun-up til sun-down as the search for this little boy took place. Dad had a four year old daughter at that time (my little sister Peg) and 3 other children at home. I’d never seen him show such angst and emotion as he did during those days of searching. There can’t be much worse for a parent than not knowing…

  4. linda woodcock April 23, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

    I was at home in Salem and went up and spent 2 days fixing food for the searchers. Very very sad time!!!

  5. Penny Gray April 23, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    My father was a Maine guide who had a camp east of Kibby and he was haunted by this tragic event; we camped and fished at Natanis when I was young and I would look into the woods and shiver, thinking about that boy and wondering what happened to him. What an agonizing story.

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