May 14, 2023 I Brent Swancer

The Bizarre and Mysterious Vanishing of Dennis Martin

Perhaps the most well-known, oft-discussed, and indeed stranger of vanishings there is involves the disappearance of 6-year old Dennis Martin. On June 14, 1969, Father’s Day weekend, the boy’s family was out on a camping and hiking trip they took every year in the Great Smoky Mountains, a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. On this day, the family had stopped off at a grassy mountain highland meadow and popular stop-off point along the Appalachian Trail known as Spence Field. As the adults sat out on the grass chatting, Dennis, his brother, and two other boys on the trip thought it would be amusing to play a prank on their parents. They decided that they would split up, go out into the woods, and then simultaneously jump out from different directions to startle the adults in what was meant to be just harmless fun. Little did they know this was only the beginning of a puzzling vanishing that has never been solved, and it is one of the more bizarre disappearances there is.  

On that day, three of the boys went one way and Dennis, who was the youngest, went the other. The reason he had been chosen to be on his own was that he was wearing a distinctive, highly visible bright red shirt. Just as planned, the three older boys jumped out and scared the adults, but then the men asked where Dennis was. Since the other boys had seen him just a few minutes earlier, they assumed that he had merely missed his cue and so they waited for him to jump out of the trees as well, but he never appeared. Dennis’ father, Bill Martin, went out to get his son, expecting that he would be there hiding in the bushes as he had been instructed, but an immediate search of the area showed no signs of the boy, and calls into the woods went unanswered. Increasingly worried, Bill and Dennis’ grandfather, Clyde Martin, hiked out in different directions farther and farther from the place where the boy had last been seen and still they found nothing. Park Rangers were notified and a search was launched that would last until nightfall, when heavy rain began to come down along with thunder, which hampered efforts to find the boy and the search was called off until the following day with still no trace of where Dennis had gone off to.

In a rather ominous twist, a mere hours after Dennis had gone missing a family named the Keys reported that they had been hiking around 6 miles from Spence Field when they had heard a boy’s scream. The son also claimed to have seen movement in a bush which he at first had thought to be a bear, but turned out to be a man walking in the woods with something apparently slung over his shoulder. As spooky as this may seem, authorities determined that the location was too far away from Spence Field to have possibly have anything to do with Dennis within the time frame of events. In the following days the search efforts would quickly grow in size to hundreds of people scouring the area, including park rangers, locals, volunteers, the FBI, National Guard, and even Green Berets and psychics, along with bloodhounds and helicopters, and meanwhile the news of the disappearance had started making major national headlines. Since Dennis was described as a robust, healthy boy with plenty of hiking experience it was thought that he was alive and would be found in short order, but continuing heavy rains flooding roads, as well as thick fogs, made efforts difficult. For their part, Dennis’s parents posted a hefty reward for any information leading to finding their son.

As the weeks went by, hope that the missing boy had survived dwindled. A few possible traces of the boy turned up in the form of small footprints and a pair of boy's underwear found in the woods near Spence field, but it was determined that the possibility that the footprints were linked to Dennis was remote, and Dennis' mother said the underwear did not belong to her son. The search would stretch on for months with no trace of the boy found, although the manpower behind efforts had withered away considerably, and it was largely assumed by frustrated authorities that he was likely dead. Rumors and theories swirled as to what could have become of Dennis Martin. One idea was that he had been kidnapped, but no one could figure out a motive for such a thing nor who could have orchestrated it with such perfect timing. He also may have gotten lost, but this seems odd considering he was meant to wait right near the field and pop out to surprise the adults. Why would he have wandered off, and why wouldn’t he leave any tracks or indeed any sign of where he had gone? Indeed, why wouldn’t he have called out for help? Yet another theory was that he might have been suddenly attacked and dragged off by some wild animal, but again why hadn’t he called out for help and where were the tracks?

In the end, Dennis Martin was never found, and absolutely no trace of him has ever turned up. His odd case remains open to this day. Over the years, some bizarre details of the case have turned up. Author and researcher David Paulides, most well-known for his investigations into mysterious disappearances and his series of books on the matter, The Missing 411, interviewed author Dwight McCarter, author of Lost!: A Ranger's Journal of Search and Rescue, who had a strange tale to tell about the Martin case. McCarter claimed that during the search for Dennis, the special forces units that had been called in had barely communicated at all with authorities, rangers, or civilian searchers, instead working on their own, as if they had their own agenda, and that they had been heavily armed as if expecting something big to happen. What could this mean? Another weird detail is that the lead FBI investigator on the case, an Agent Jim Rike, later committed suicide for unknown reasons.

There are a lot of weird details here. There is the fact that this boy completely vanished within minutes, right there practically in front of his friends and family, without leaving a single trace behind. Various intensive searches by trained professionals could not track him down, despite the fact that not only was this a young boy who would not have gotten far on his own, but also that he likely had a learning disability, as he was enrolled in a special education school. Even dogs sent out were said to be unable to pick up any scent, in some cases even suddenly refusing to continue or cowering and whining in fear. So how does a young boy with an intellectual handicap manage to so totally evaporate into thin air without any clue or evidence whatsoever to evade all attempts to find him? Nothing at all has ever been found of him, and no one can quite figure out why that should be. It all couldn’t get weirder if it tried.

Adding to all of this is the presence of armed special operations forces troops prowling about in the wake of the vanishing. What were they doing there for a civilian disappearance and why wouldn’t they keep law enforcement informed of what they were up to? It is a case that has baffled everyone who has looked at it for a long time. Yet there is frequent information that trickles in that just goes to continue to make it all spiral to get into weirder and weirder territory, and one such piece of information was directly e-mailed to me recently by a Mysterious Universe reader and UFO blogger named James Dowell, who came forth with further useful information in a personal mail to me, in which he directed me to a comment by an individual on a thread at a forum claiming to be an ex-special forces officer, which offers plenty to think about. The comment originally appeared on the site Tales of the Weird, in 2014 by a user called Harold Cleveland, in which he sheds some possible insight to this military aspect of the Dennis Martin case. I am including the full comment here:

I've read some incredibly uninformed and ignorant comments here and I feel it's my responsibility to help out when appropriate. My name is Max and I am a retired Army SOCOM Commander. Spent 26 years in service with most of them attached to 10th mountain division in Colorado. Our Special Forces are NEVER called to assist in civilian operations. That falls to the local National Guard and approved by the state governer . The fact that they were armed as well is another huge no no. During my command and every other mission I was aware of we were NOT allowed by Federal protocol to do either. Something is very wrong with this missing kid scenario.

I've done some research on this case both while on active duty and after my retirement. The inside facts of this case depict a frightening investigation. Bottom line is that searching started within a few minutes of the boy's disappearance and lasted three months with every resource imaginable being deployed. Don't even start with "the terrain was difficult, holes and caves and cliffs and creeks", etc. Our special troops can find almost anything, anytime and in ANY terrain. We have the highest technology available worldwide and easily the best training and real world wartime and mission specific experience that the normal civilian populace can scarcely imagine. After studying this case, the fact that NO TRACE of the boy was ever found is mind boggling.

The Green Berets that were tasked in this search were there for a specific reason. They were armed for a specific reason. I can't and won't say why because my oath documents won't allow it. But I will remind you of these facts. Nationwide there have only been four occasions where the special forces were brought in on a civilian missing persons case. Two of these involved a possible armed perpetrator. The other two were this case and another similar to it about three years later and regionally nearby. This is out of thousands of missing cases since the early sixties when our special troops were born. There is no such thing as "well, they were training nearby anyway and....", nope, we as Commanders were NEVER allowed to divert orders unless the division general officer (at least a one star) within SOCOM approved it. For that to happen, it MUST be for reasons that have a DIRECT effect on our national security. No missing persons case has ever been on that level ever based on it's own merit. My research proved that to my own eyes.

In conclusion, this case goes way beyond a simple missing boy. Let me put it this way to you skeptics out there. In 1969 (same year as this case) in the southern jungles of Cambodia we lost a man on team maneuvers one night. This was in some of the worst weather and impossible terrain known in this world. His tracks were instantly washed away and nighttime operations were notoriously difficult as a rule. After a weeks time, it was our dogs that finally tracked him down. They live for these missions and they love it. In the Martin case, the dogs just laid down whining and refused to search. Several sets of dogs of different breeds. The FBI second in command told me this in person. That fact alone promotes the high strangeness factor. These cases are far from normal and must be reinvestigated to ensure that the horror that this family went through never happens to anyone again.

When it's YOUR child that slips off for just a minute and the panic sets in and assets are immediately deployed in great mass, you would expect to find the child pretty quick. But when they just flat disappear like smoke as in this case, it baffles even the most experienced of us and breaks our hearts as well. I hope this hideous event never happens to any of you for I have seen it many times firsthand and you just cannot imagine anything worse, God bless and thanks for reading.

Was this potential revelatory information on the case or just somebody shaking things up and making up creepy stories? Now, I will be the first person to say that Internet commenters aren’t always the most trustworthy of sorts, and that in this age of Creepypasta and blatant exaggerations or downright hoaxes many such comments should be rightfully taken with a grain of salt or two, dismissed altogether even. Yet this particular comment struck me as rather tantalizing in the sense that it fully takes a rare, in-depth look into the murky reports of armed special operations forces on the scene of the Dennis Martin disappearance, something usually lurking in the shadows of the case without much detail or elaboration, and it seems to be from someone who at least seems to appear to somewhat know what they are talking about. The person who mailed me with this, James Dowell, concurred, giving his own thoughts on the matter:

Now several things kind of stand out here- the first and foremost is probably whoever this person is they are definitely articulate and intelligent.  The second is it really sounds like he knows what he is talking about… but it also sounds like he may know a little bit more than he says.  He does of course say he knows more… but the statement doesn’t mean he does.  I wonder what you think about his comment... Nationwide there have only been four occasions where the special forces were brought in on a civilian missing persons case. I thought I could easily check this… nope.  What an interesting statement… I thought I would share this with you- though I suspect you may have come across it- but it’s not often you come across someone making a comment that sounds like they really have extra information.

In fact, I had not actually seen this particular piece of enticing information, despite my deep research into the case, and I was immediately enthralled by it. It is an astute observation that the commenter throws out little offhand "facts" like the number of times special forces have been called out on missing persons reports. Is this just a red herring, some made up piece of fluff to make him sound like he knows what he is talking about and further stir up debate? It is hard to say, as it is difficult to find any documentation to corroborate this claim. It is hard to even know what the commenter's real name is, as his username is "Harold Cleveland," yet he immediately introduces himself as "Max." It all adds up to paint a possible picture of one of the most curious and nonsensical clues in the Dennis Martin case; that of those damn special forces troops at the scene. If any of “Harold Cleveland”’s comment are true, then what does this all mean? What could be the significance of their presence, and if it is, as he says, indicative of some threat to national security, then what sort of threat was it and if it really did happen, then did it have anything directly to do with Martin’s vanishing or was it just a freaky coincidence? After all, what could the disappearance of a 6-year-old boy possibly have to do with national security?

Of course this could just be the ranting of some random commenter out there trying to stir things up. There is really no way to look into the veracity of these "facts" he throws out or other information he gives. I simply cannot find documentation on how many times armed special forces have been called out to civilian missing person's cases, and this is probably fairly classified information anyway, making it an ultimately unverifiable detail. The meeting with the "FBI second in command," what does that mean? Would this make him a high ranking special forces operative? How can that be confirmed? What did they talk about exactly? Some of the claims in the comment also do seem a bit dramatic, such as the part about him meeting with the FBI second in command, and some of it is slightly inaccurate, such as the timeframe of the establishment of the special forces, which dates since before the early 1960s. There is also the fact that this Harold Cleveland chose to divulge this on a forum for a blog, which seems odd considering their apparent contacts. It seems that a special forces officer of this caliber would have told someone else and would probably have refrained from gushing off about sensitive information on websites. Why divulge this at all? Nevertheless, it is certainly all very curious, and some others who have seen the comment feel that it is indicative of some knowledge. One researcher and associate of Dowell told him his own ideas on the matter by mail thus:

No missing persons case has ever been on that level ever based on it's own merit. My research proved that to my own eyes. In conclusion, this case goes way beyond a simple missing boy. So what else other than a 'simple missing boy' was it... and then he takes another tangent and tells us how the tracking animals can track no matter what... but in Martin's case the scent seemed not to even exist ...really his comment is quite thought provoking not only in what he says but what he doesnt say and how he doesnt say it... what is he trying to say about the scent... beyond how strange that really was... anything??

What about it could have transcended a missing person's case... something about the area..? The suspects..? The family..? The no scent thing...? Dennis..? How could there be no scent.. that is kind of interesting too... of course it doesnt mean there is literally no scent but not the kind of scent they would respond to... I can only think of lets say maybe a machine... but really that idea doesnt seem to be taking me anywhere definite... I mean lets face it from Paulides and everything we get this was just a missing person's case... what else could it possibly have been... but he is saying no. It wasn't just that... something else was involved... and he is saying further if it was just that the animals wouldnt have reacted like that. He seems to be using that as proof of his assertion... see!?! Its not that simple... if it was they would have found him just like we found that guy in Cambodia... see there is a little more in this comment of his than even I thought... what was he trying hard not to say... because I suspect he knew some little thing... that would make us look at this in a different way...

There are also some ominous overtones to the comment, such as the statement that the commenter has seen this "many times." Just what in the world does that mean? It just enhances the whole spooky vibe permeating the comment in general. Whatever any of this all means, one gets the feeling that the bizarre case of Dennis Martin possibly goes even deeper than we know. It is a case that has transcended that of a mere missing person case to become almost legendary, dripping with hints of all sorts of strangeness. It is all just so confounding, and Dowell commented at the end of his mail to me on this matter as follows:

Dennis Martin again is one of those cases that really seems nonsensical.  He literally disappeared right from under his family’s nose(s)…  It couldn’t have seemed any more weird if he just disappeared while they were looking at him… it is that weird isn’t it? Of course you could implicate the family in his disappearance...  but eliminating that what do you have...When you think really hard about this you realize someone or something else must have been involved.  Again I think it is slipping through our commonplace notions of what we think we know… I would hesitate at the word paranormal- that depends on what you think that word covers- but I think something knows much more about hiding than we do.

So does the mysterious Harold Cleveland, Max, whoever he is, really know something in connection to the case of Dennis Martin, and if so what? Is this a comment that holds within it some profound insight into the ominous mystery that lies behind it all, or is this meaningless chatter? While there are bogus comments all over the Internet, there are also on occasion revelations that remain buried out there in the forums of cyberspace and brushed over. Is this one of those and what can we glean from it? If any of it is true at all, what else does this commenter know? This information does little to really explain the utterly mystifying case of Dennis Martin, but, if anything, it serves to add another layer to it all, adds some commentary to one of the wierder clues orbiting the case, lays a potential road through the wilderness of uncertainty, and provides further fuel to stoke the flames of what is already a much discussed and debated vanishing that has very strong roots in the world of the weird. In the end we are left with the question, what happened to Dennis Martin? We may never know for sure. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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