Annie Spratt

THE LAST TIME ANYONE SAW KURT NEWTON he was riding his red tricycle down a dirt road of a campsite where his family was vacationing Labor Day weekend of 1975.

Four-year-old Kurt was not a child that could go easily unnoticed: with a shock of white-blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, cute chubby cheeks and a sweet little pout, he likely would have been tutted at by strangers who would remark something like:“I bet that little face can get him anything he wants.”

Maybe it did. Maybe it even got him that little red tricycle he was riding, which was later found on the side of that dirt road, carefully placed out of the way of traffic. Just the way a little boy who had been taught to take good care of the things he loved might.

Kurt’s parents had likely taught him that. Mr. and Mrs. Newton, Ron and Jill, were in their late twenties, young parents with two beautiful children (Kurt and his older sister Kimberly, who was six) and a perfect end-of-summer weekend to spend with them before school started.

The Newton’s hailed from Manchester, Maine but were spending their weekend closer to the Canadian border, in the deep woods of the Chain of Ponds township at the Natanis Point Campground. The expanse of woods around their campsite must have inspired awe, even to the native Mainers. They slept the night of August 31st, 1975 as loons called mournfully; perhaps an omen of the grief to come.

“Do your parents know where you are?”

Ron and Jill Newton didn’t know where their son was.

30 years later, they still don’t.

THE NEXT MORNING, the first day of September in 1975, Ron set out to get firewood. He hopped into his pickup truck and headed north on one of several dirt roads that forked the camp sites. Kurt, hating to see his father leave even for a moment, grabbed his tricycle and headed up the dirt road after him.

His little legs couldn’t keep up, of course, and he quickly lost sight of the truck. But he kept on peddling. A young woman from an adjacent campsite, 13-year-old Lou Ellen Hanson, saw the little fella furiously peddling up the road and called after him:

“Do your parents know where you are?”

Ron and Jill Newton didn’t know where their son was.

30 years later, they still don’t.

It wasn’t like Kurt to take off on his own. In fact, his mother would later remark it was very unlike him. Kim, in her older sisterly-ness, would always try to coax him into the woods behind their house to play. But Kurt would hesitate, staying just at the end of their backyard.

When his mother asked him why he didn’t want to go play in the woods with his sister and he uttered simply:

“Momma, there’s monsters in there.”

JACK HANSON WAS A CARETAKER FOR THE CAMPGROUND. It was his daughter, Lou Ellen, who was the last to see Kurt Newton alive. Not long after Kurt had taken off down the dirt road, Jack drove along it and saw the abandoned tricycle. It was fairly close to “the dump,” — an area of discarded trash that was piled at the end of the road. He studied the tricycle a moment and then, deciding it must have been left there on purpose, tossed it onto the trash heap.

Meanwhile, back at their campsite, Jill Newton had lost sight of her little boy while she was washing mud off the kid’s sneakers. Kurt was not the type of child to go running off and getting himself into trouble, though.

She would later recall to interviewers how, even if they were separated momentarily in the grocery store, Kurt would freeze and quietly cry until she found him. Whenever he would play outside in the yard, she never had to worry he would run off with neighborhood children: he always kept a close eye on her. He always knew where his mother was.

Which is why Jill didn’t automatically assume Kurt was in danger. She figured he must have caught up with his father and together, they were companionably chopping wood. After some time passed with no sign of either of them, she off-handedly asked a few of the neighboring campers if they’d happened to see Kurt on his bike earlier. As she was chatting with them, Ron came back.

Kurt wasn’t with him; he never had been.

Maine State Police file photo of Kurt Ronald Newton

When the couple ran into Jack Hanson and asked if he’d seen their little boy and his red tricycle, the groundskeeper’s reaction must have given them a horrible feeling in the pit of their stomachs: Jack had seen the tricycle, yes, but no sign of the boy. He took them to the trash heap where the abandoned tricycle lay, undisturbed.

Kurt was nowhere to be be seen. In fact, there was no sign he had ever been there at all.

Anguished, Jill immediately thought the worst: a kidnapping. But everyone at the campsite rallied around her and said, “No, no, he’s probably just wandered into the woods on foot, looking for his Dad. He couldn’t have gone far.”

That would seem to be true: the dense wood before them was not the kind of place a child could navigate with ease. As they set off on foot through the pucker brush, Jill kept thinking that she’d see him around the next corner, sitting by a tree. Perhaps in tears, realizing he’d become lost.

It wasn’t long before the other campers joined the Newtons, forming the beginnings of what would turn into the largest organized search the state of Maine had ever seen.

THE LOCAL GAME WARDEN PATROLLED the wooded area in a helicopter, using a loudspeaker to call out to Kurt, hoping to coax him out of the woods. Jill had told them that her son was fascinated with the National Guard helicopters that would occasionally pass over their neighborhood. She was certain he would respond to one, particularly if it were calling his name.

The warden’s voice boomed from the sky as it grew dark, the air turning to a chill as it does in the early autumn in Maine. He told Kurt not to be afraid.

No one knows if his pleas were heard.

The local media had picked up on the little boy’s disappearance and soon news stations statewide played the story as part of the evening’s programs. Before the Newtons knew it, a parade of cars from their hometown miles and miles away were headed toward Chain of Ponds to help with the search.

Volunteers continued to search, even into the next morning when the weather turned gloomy and cold. Damp and chilled, people pushed forward, including the Newtons, who had not slept all night. As friends and family arrived, urging them to rest, their fervor only increased. They remained convinced that in the next minute, the next hour, they would find Kurt.

As the dreary day worn on, volunteers from all across the state ventured north to help look for the lost boy. Even as the search team grew, Jill and Ron were right there alongside them, perhaps searching the hardest of all: the fear of losing a child having lit a brightly burning fire within them.

After days without food, water or sleep, his friends became desperate: they laced his coffee with tranquilizers. Finally, he slept.

It was because of this intensity that Jill, overhearing volunteers talking about special planes that the Air Force was using to hunt for guerrillas in Vietnam, requested the state acquire these top secret prototypes for their search. These planes could detect even the slightest differentials in heat from great heights, making it almost impossible for Kurt to be overlooked if he was still in the woods.

The state agreed, and by that evening a plane was on its way from Florida.

While Jill was reassured and confident it would bring Kurt home, Ron was far more reserved. He didn’t want her to get her hopes up, no matter how majestic and promising the plane’s technology seemed. Still, he took to the woods and called Kurt’s name until he could barely speak.

He refused to stop to rest or eat, and friends began to worry for him. During one leg of the search, weary and dehydrated, he fell and injured his ankle. Refusing any medical help, he limped back into the woods once again. When he could not carry on any longer due to the injury, he sat at the edge of the trees with a bullhorn, shouting Kurt’s name into the woods.

After days without food, water or sleep, his friends became desperate: they laced his coffee with tranquilizers. Finally, he slept.

Unsplash

OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS, the helicopter continued to circle overhead. In the company of a few friends, Jill took off into the woods, veering off the course the rest of the searchers were on. Going, it seemed, on mother’s instinct. There had been a rather large hole in the ground where Kurt had last been seen, just the kind of natural anomaly a child might like to hide in.

When it came into view, she and felt a gnawing ache at the sight of it and began to dig. Soon, men gathered around and helped her , crawling inside its dark cavern. Jill held her breath.

When the men emerged they only shook their heads with downcast eyes.

Kurt wasn’t there.

He wasn’t anywhere.

THERE WERE NO TRACKS. No signs of a struggle. Nothing to imply that he had been taken by someone who happened to be driving by. No discarded clothes or shoes that might have been ripped off during an animal attack. There was no blood. The hounds that were on his trail, using the scent from his pajamas, dizzily ran around the woods, confused, failing to pick up the boy’s smell in any direction.

It was almost as though Kurt had been lifted straight up, cleanly, into the sky.

By the fifth day of the search, the governor of Maine had offered his commitment to the Newtons. He brought the helicopter in for another flight, he organized more searchers — anything he could do for them, he did. But even with all the resources and the historic search efforts, it was becoming increasingly obvious that Kurt simply wasn’t in the woods.

He probably never had been.

Unsplash

STILL, HIS FAMILY SAT WITH THE REALITY that they couldn’t be certain their son wasn’t still in the woods. And what if he was? What if he was hurt? By now, the child would be starving and gravely dehydrated. That is, if he hadn’t already succumbed to the elements. What could a boy that little possibly do to protect himself? It was these thoughts that kept the Newtons up at night and fueled their futile search.

On Friday, September 12th, the search ended. Over 3,000 volunteers had scoured the woods to look for Kurt since the day nearly two weeks before when he’d ridden off on his tricycle. 3,000 people, most of whom had never met Kurt and never would, had spent days walking through the woods, eyes ahead, calling his name. Their selflessness and determination were to be commended. The state could boast the largest, most well-organized search effort it had ever launched. Everyone could say that they tried, but of course, they had nothing to show for it other than that effort.

They’d not turned up a single clue.

THE NEWTONS NEVER DISCOUNTED the idea that Kurt could have simply been abducted by someone who happened to be in the woods that day, though it would have seemed random as far as investigators were concerned. He was on a dead end dirt road that was deep in the woods. It was not the kind of place where someone would sit and wait to prey on children. As far as anyone at the nearby campsites could reckon, no one had followed him into the woods that day.

Besides that, there was simply nothing for miles and miles around them.

Unless, as Kurt had once told his mother, there were monsters out there.

JILL AND RON HAD ARRIVED in Chain of Ponds with two children and returned home with one. At only six, Kim was still trying to comprehend what it meant that Kurt was “gone.” In the years that followed, the Newtons spent thousands of dollars sending Kurt’s picture to every school in the United States, as he had been just about to start kindergarten when he disappeared.

If someone had taken him, maybe they would put him in school wherever they were. And if someone happened to see his face on a missing poster, maybe they’d recognize him. Maybe, as the class shared their names and got to know each other, he’d confide in someone that he remembered Maine.

“Wouldn’t it be great if Kurt was here?”

Over the years, the Newtons received many letters of condolence and a few pictures of children that did look like Kurt, but never turned out to be. They continued on with their lives the best they could, still half-expecting that Kurt would come home the next day, or the next.

Kim never forgot about her brother. In fact, she talked about him often — though her young friends who had never met him often wondered if he was real. The family, as deep as their grief was, could have chosen to stop talking about him altogether. But they didn’t. They kept Kurt’s memory alive. Many things they did together as a family were reflected on with the somber pause: wouldn’t it be great if Kurt was here?

Unsplash

THE NEWTONS DID TRY SOME nontraditional methods of searching for their son. Jill visited many psychics who had offered their services in locating him. They told her he was alive. She wanted to believe them, but decades had gone by. They’d long ago stopped expecting a little boy to come home. Now, he would be a grown man.

It’s been 40-some years since Kurt Newton disappeared. There haven’t been any new leads in the last two decades. His case file is fairly small, having acquired very little evidence. The search for him, even with its advanced techniques, never turned up any evidence or leads.

Today, just two things remain that can tell Kurt Newton’s story. Both are locked up in a Maine state police storage unit: DNA samples taken from his family, in the event someone should turn up claiming to be the lost boy, or a body were to be found.

And a barely used red tricycle.

Kurt Ronald Newton

Kurt Ronald Newton was four years old when he disappeared over Labor Day weekend in Chain of Ponds, Maine in 1975. Today, he would be 47 years old. His parents, Ron and Jill, still live in Maine.

If you have any information about Kurt’s disappearance, contact the Maine State Police at 207–289–2155.

Abby Norman is a science writer & the author of ASK ME ABOUT MY UTERUS: A QUEST TO MAKE DOCTORS BELIEVE IN WOMEN’S PAIN. She’s also the host of Let Me Google That, a daily podcast on Anchor.fm. She lives in New England with her dog, Whimsy.

𝑎 𝑐𝑙𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟 ℎ𝑎𝑔 ം abbynormanwriter.com

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