The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared
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.
Four years after Kurt’s disappearance, a visitor to the Newtons would be struck by how normally they are living with this most abnormal of burdens. Jill has opened a beauty shop downstairs in their home, and has a growing number of customers. Ron works fourteen-hour days for the highway department, and on weekends putters around in his shop, planning improvements to their home. Kimberly is a bright, winsome girl of ten, who swings from the weeping willow in the yard, loves baseball, and complains that her mother doesn’t allow her to ride her bicycle in the street like her friends do. “Ron’s constantly telling me I’ve got to let her do more,” Jill said.
There are changes, of course. They have sold their tent trailer and no longer go camping. There is laughter in the house, and there was a trip to Disneyland, but Kurt is always on the edge of things. “Kurt’s name is always around our household,” Jill says. “We say things like, ‘Kurt had a pair of pants like that,’ or ‘Wouldn’t Kurt have liked that.’ A boy moved next door after Kurt was lost, and he kept asking Kimberly, ‘Well, who is this Kurt? And where is he?
“People who don’t know me say how many children do I have, and I say two, a ten year old and an eight year old, and I don’t think about it because I will go on expecting that someday he’ll walk through that door, even at fifty years old — until somebody proves to me that I’m wrong.
‘ I think your mind has to rest. Now we can take a big gulp and say, ‘Okay, now we’re going to forget about it for a while and have a good time.’ It’s never ever forgotten, really. I know it’s there, and I know I’ll come back to it, but I’ve learned to glide around it. To keep on going.”
On Sundays there are picnics outside, or at the lakeside cabin two miles from their home. “We were extremely close before,” Jill says, “and we’re closer now. Ron was quiet before, and he’s quieter now. It’s still hard for the two of us to talk about it a lot. It’s like we’re careful not to rile too much up. We’ve accepted and are coping with the way things are. But isn’t it incredible that after all that’s happened during these four years we don’t know any more than we did when we first missed him?”
They speak about plans to convince the President to establish an agency to help parents whose children are missing. They think their experiences in distributing Kurt’s picture would be invaluable to anyone in a similar dilemma. And they still seek ideas. “If anyone can come up with anything and give me an address of how I can do it, that’s what I want.”
After spending a weekend with Ron and Jill and Kimberly, two images remain, as bright as Kurt’s blue eyes that seem to bum from his pictures. It is a Saturday night, and Kimberly is sitting cross-legged on the old brown sofa in their lakeside camp. She is dressed in a pink bunny suit, and her lovely brown hair is brushed down her back. It is late and the light in the cabin is dim and she is sleepy, but she wants to finish reading her book. The name of the book is Donn Fendler, Lost on a Mountain in Maine, the dramatic true story of the twelve-year-old scout from Rye, New York, who, against great odds, survived a nine-day trek to safety from mist-shrouded Baxter Peak. “I wonder if that’s how it was for Kurt,” she says softly, and when she is finished, the happy ending tucked in her mind, she is ready to sleep.
On Sunday the table is set outside the Newtons’ home for a traditional Sunday dinner of roast pork and potatoes. It is sunny and a wind is blowing; there is debate whether to eat indoors or out. Their garden is planted and staked out, and Jill sits in the warm grass of late spring. “I really enjoy watching things grow,” she says. “But I’m so impatient waiting for the produce.” Across the yard Kimberly is laughing as she sails on her rope swing. Ron, who is camera shy, is finding things to do to keep from being photographed.