Camper’s dis­ap­pear­ance re­mains a mys­tery

Con­nie Smith miss­ing since 1952; new the­o­ries evolve

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By N.F. Am­bery

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.”

Ar­chive photo / CT State Po­lice

A copy for the miss­ing poster for 10-year-old Con­nie Smith, who dis­ap­peared July 16, 1952.

Ar­chive photo / CT State Po­lice

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.

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