Camper’s disappearance remains a mystery
Connie Smith missing since 1952; new theories evolve
LAKEVILLE — It’s been 66 years since Connie Smith disappeared.
Connie was only 10 and was attending summer camp in the Northwest Corner when she went missing.
The case remains unsolved, but a new, recent interpretation of the vexing case’s facts by a close family member — combined with the recent rediscovery of human remains thousands of miles away (in the Grand Canyon) — may bring resolution to the 66-year-old cold case.
“It’s fascinating how interest in this case never seems to die. It was all such a long time ago,” said Katherine Chilcoat, a former Salisbury town historian, who moved to the area in 1955.
Connie’s last day
The details of the child’s last known moments are culled from the police report by Detective Michael Downs of the Western District Major Crime Squad at the Western District Headquarters.
According to the report, at about 7:50 a.m. on July 16, 1952, while her fellow campers headed to breakfast, Connie said she was going to return an ice pack she had used for an injury to the dispensary. She ended up leaving the ice pack on her bed in the tent she shared with seven girls and heading in the opposite direction. That morning, she had had horseplay with a group of female campers and her nose was bloodied. Connie, the daughter of wealthy ranchers and the granddaughter of a former Wyoming governor, then trudged a half-mile of winding dirt road to the stone pillars that mark the camp entrance. She left Camp Sloane at 124 Indian Mountain Road and proceeded right onto Indian Mountain Road.
The police report reveals the camp’s gatekeeper, August Epp, whose house was nearby, later told police that about 8:15 a.m.: “I saw this girl come out of the gate and head north towards Lakeville. I think she stopped to pick some flowers, then continued.” He added, “I didn’t think it was one of the camp girls. She was so tall I thought it was a counselor. That’s why I did not pay much attention to her.”
On that day, the weather was warm, and the temperature had already risen to 79 degrees — the first day of a heat wave, according to the report. Connie’s shoulder-length brown hair was cut in bangs and tied with a red ribbon.
According to the archival weather site, Weather Underground, the skies were mostly cloudy and Connie may have felt the strong, 6 mph breeze
from the west and southwest upon her face. Despite the heat, she wore a longsleeved shirt and a bright red zippered windbreaker. Her shorts were blue with plaid cuffs. She was thought to carry a black zippered purse containing photos of her friends (children at the camp were not allowed to have cash). Wearing tan shoes, she may have seen on her left the whitewashed brick structure of Deep Lake Farm, which had cattle, and Aryemont, another farm on the right side of the road, police reported at the time.
Downs confirmed that in walking a quarter of a mile north of the camp’s entrance, the 5 feet tall , 100pound girl passed a Lakeville couple, Hubbs E. Horstman, of Millerton Road in Lakeville, and his wife, who were out for an early morning walk. They did not speak to the girl. Farther along Indian Mountain Road approaching a half-mile from Camp Sloane, Connie knocked on the front door of housewife Alice Walsh.
Connie asked the woman: “Could you tell me the way to Lakeville?”
“Continue on up the hill and turn right on Route 44,” Walsh responded.
“Do you mean straight up the hill?”
Walsh looked into the girl’s blue eyes and noted that the girl looked as if she had been crying, police reports said, but it wasn’t her business. She later said girls from the camp were always stopping at the house and asking directions to Lakeville.
“That’s right, straight up the hill,” Walsh reiterated, going inside. When the woman came out to her front porch a few minutes later, she glanced up the road, noting that the little girl in the red jacket and blue shorts had crossed Route 112 and was walking up the hill.
Perhaps double-checking her own progress in an unfamiliar region may have been understandable. Connie was quite nearsighted, according to her family, and was supposed to be wearing eyeglasses, but hers were broken the night before she disappeared. Family members said Connie’s uncertainty about her whereabouts was uncharacteristic for someone so at home in the country.
But regardless of the reason, before she reached Route 112, police report that Connie walked up the driveway of a nearby house farther along Indian Mountain Road. She asked two maids at the servants’ cottage adjoining the Frederick L. Cadman house for directions to Lakeville. They told her to turn right at the top of the hill. They then watched Connie, not knowing they would be amongthe last people to see her .
Where did she go?
Indian Mountain School, a private elementary school, sat around the corner if one turned onto Route 112. Nearby on Route 112, there were also three small houses. On the left side of the corner there was a Dutch brick house, built in the 1740s, which once belonged to Colonel Elisha Sheldon of the U.S. Revolutionary War. Route 112 was once an old Native American Indian trail and had been a route used to haul ore from the local mines to a Lime Rock furnace where it was smelted, according to Salisbury town historian Jean McMillen.
But Connie did not turn either way on Route 112; she followed the directions and proceeded farther up a hill, staying on Indian Mountain Road. A short while later, hitting Route 44 and turning right, five or six large Victorian houses stood on either side of the road, McMillen said. There were no businesses nearby, police reported.
Traffic on that Wednesday morning along Route 44 leading into town was not noted in the police report, according to Detective Downs. But according to a July 11, 1954, Charleston Gazette article, car traffic was heavy. Shopkeepers were hurrying to their businesses. Near Belgo Road, Connie stood on the right side of the road, the south side, with her thumb out, trying to hitch a ride from John Brun, and his wife, who were heading to Lakeville to work. Through their rear view mirror the Bruns could see her walking along toward town.
McMillen noted that two American Revolutionary War-era gravestones for a soldier and his daughter were at the time (and still) located on the hill at Belgo Road and Route 44. At the time there were also chicken coops at the place where Connie was last seen.
At 8:45 Mrs. Frank E. Barnett, a housewife, was drove along Route 44 from Millerton. Just before turning onto Belgo Road, she later said she saw the little girl walking east on the north side of Route 44.
Connie’s entire walk in the morning heat from the Camp Sloane entrance to this spot, 1.4 miles, would have taken about a half hour on foot. At that point, despite the area being heavily trafficked, Connie vanished.
A national search
Smith’s disappearance prompted a national search, and the largest search party in Connecticut history.
The case was 66 years old July 16, and investigators are still no closer to solving the mystery. Even as the case drew its armchair detectives, true detectives, astute blog writers, as well as innumerable inquiring journalists down its rabbit hole, a family member has provided a perspective that could solve the case.
Working in recent years with the Smith family, Sandy Bausch is an independent researcher in Connecticut who has been fascinated with the case since she was a little girl. Her research has often put her in contact with forensic medical examiners and cold case detectives in Connecticut and Arizona. Bausch’s father, Charles Hyatt, had been a State Trooper at the Troop B Barracks in North Canaan in the 1960s, and the name Connie Smith spoken about during her childhood sparked interest because it was also the name of Bausch’s cousin.
“There are so many twists and turns to Connie’s case,” Bausch said.
Bausch added that an ironic part of the disappearance was that at the time, there were significantly less trees locally than today that could have provided hiding spaces.
“Charcoal burners deforested the region in the 18th century in the iron ore smelting operations,” she said about parts of Lakeville. “The area was wide open with fields that State Troopers later walked and drove World War II jeeps through in search of Connie.”
“My whole interest was why she walked away from the camp,” Bausch speculated. “I felt it was due to an altercation that continued into the next morning. I think there was a cultural divide between the daughter of a rancher and girls who were from the city.”
The Smith family
The events that followed were also noted in the police report. Later that morning on July 16, after the camp discovered Connie was missing and the police were alerted, her parents were contacted. The Smiths, who were divorced and living apart (though amicably), were questioned. Kidnapping was quickly ruled out by inside and outside the family.
Neither of her parents saw or heard from Connie after her disappearance. No ransom note was received. According to Detective Downs, Connie’s mother, Helen Smith, had visited Connie at Camp Sloane July 13 for Connie’s birthday before she went missing. The mother reported that Connie had been in good spirits and asked for permission to stay at the camp longer. Her mother refused.
By mid-afternoon on July 16, the police decided this was more than a typical lost child case. Police barracks across the state were alerted; drivers in their jeeps explored forest terrain; bloodhounds bounded up various local trails. Planes from the Connecticut Wing of the Civil Air Patrol and Air Force planes from Westover Field, Massachusetts, flew over the small town. The Connecticut Trail Riders Association took a big weekend ride through the woods. No body or traces of the child’s belongings were found.
The family canvassed with missing child posters: $3,000 if found alive ($27,908.38 in 2018 value) and $1,000 for recovery of the body ($9,302.79 in 2018 value), both before January 1, 1954. One such poster hung in the local town hall in Salisbury, until the building burned down in 1985.
Connie’s father, Peter Smith and his ex-wife, Helen, arrived in Lakeville to help in the search. Mr. Smith wore cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat, prompting people to recall him as a “Marlboro Man.” Smith returned to the area several times throughout the years. He appeared on “The Art Linkletter Show,” soliciting help in the search for his daughter. In a 1984 interview, Smith said he imagined his daughter in the face of every woman he passed who would be about her age, hoping always that “something would turn up.”
During the searches, Smith noted Connie’s affection for animals and flowers, and how she enjoyed reading comics.
Helen Smith expressed her despair during the 1954 interview with the Charleston Gazette: “Whether she is alive or dead I want her back. I’ve got to know what happened to her. Christmas was always such a big event in our house. But this year I feel I can’t stand it. Each day is a little harder to face.”
Later, Helen Smith would tell her son: “Not knowing is worse than a death.”
A copy for the missing poster for 10-year-old Connie Smith, who disappeared July 16, 1952.
The Connecticut Trail Riders Association conducted one of many search parties for 10-year-old Connie Smith, who disappeared July 16, 1952, and had not seen since. The child’s disappearance prompted a national search and the largest manhunt in Connecticut history.
A detail of a ‘missing’ poster with dental records for 10-year-old Connie Smith, who disappeared July 16, 1952. Smith was a summer camper at Camp Sloane at 124 Indian Mountain Road in Lakeville.