Updated: May 8
Every now and then in the true crime community, you’ll hear stories of people who disappeared in national parks. These disappearances are often very strange and involve the person vanishing without a trace. This case didn’t happen at a national park, but it does involve a young boy who disappeared while camping and has been missing for almost 46 years. This is the case of Kurt Newton.
Kurt grew up in Manchester, Maine, close-ish to the southern part of the state. As a young child , he was described by a neighbor as "the loveliest, sweetest towhead kid you ever saw.” Mother Jill said he had a “sweet face,” but worried he was a bit too attached to her. Kurt was shy and never liked to be too far from his mom’s side for very long. He also didn’t like going into the woods. One day when he wouldn’t go in with his sister, he told his mom that it was because there were “monsters in there.”
Over Labor Day weekend of 1975, the Newtons decided to take a family camping trip. They travelled to Natanis Point Campground, a remote area in Chain of Ponds Township, just a few miles from the Maine-Quebec border. No doubt 4-year-old Kurt and 6-year-old Kimberly should have had a great time on this trip. But that Sunday morning, things took a turn.
I found a few different time frames for when Kurt might have last been seen, but most of them fell between 10 and 11 Sunday morning. Kurt’s mom was washing a pair of muddy shoes; it had rained a lot that weekend, and there was plenty of mud in the area. His sister was playing and his dad was leaving to get firewood. A neighboring camper said Kurt called out for his dad as he pedaled away on his tricycle.
Most sources said the last person to see Kurt was 11-year-old Lou Ellen Hanson. She called out to him, asking if he knew where his parents were, but he didn't answer her and kept pedaling.
Less than an hour later, Kurt’s tricycle was found, undamaged, on a steep rise by a dump site just under a mile from the campground. The tricycle was found by John Hanson, a volunteer caretaker at the campground and Lou Ellen Hanson’s father. At the time, he didn’t think much of it. Nobody realized Kurt was missing yet, so he figured a kid had just left it there. He brought it back to the campsite, and that’s when Kurt’s mother started to get concerned. She asked campers if they’d seen Kurt, but none of them had. When she learned his tricycle had been found at a dump, she said “My God, someone’s taken him!” Kurt was reported missing by the campground owner at 12:22 pm.
From here, investigators embarked on what would come to be known as the biggest search in Maine’s history. All the roads and trails within a five miles radius of the camp, the dump and its surrounding area and the campground and buildings on or near it were all searched multiple times. Military helicopters and bloodhounds were brought in. But they didn’t find much.
No traces of Kurt were found in the area where his tricycle had been located. If he'd been walking around in the area, his shoes should have made easily visible prints in the wet sand, but none were found. The road beyond the dump wasn't really conducive to walking; it was overgrown with bushes and trees, including tress that had fallen across the road. So it’s not likely he could have gone this way. No tricycle tracks were found on the road either, but that’s presumably because the wheels of his tricycle were smooth.
Just before dark on the night of the 31st, Jill Newton thought she heard a child’s voice in the woods near the dump. She called out to Kurt for about 15 minutes but never got a response. Other searchers couldn’t find anything either. Ronald Newton told investigators that he and a friend would be calling out for Kurt every hour from different areas for the rest of the night.
That night, temperatures were below freezing; Kurt couldn’t have survived very long if he was outside with no shelter. The next day, dogs caught a scent of Kurt’s pajamas, but nothing else. Early on, Ronald Newton hurt his ankle and was limited in what he could do, but continued to call out for his son every night.
The search was officially called off on September 12. Altogether, more than 3,000 searchers travelled 20,000 miles and spent over 2,000 hours looking for Kurt. But they’d found very little.
In addition to the searches, everyone at the campground was interviewed. One camper claimed she saw a white station wagon at the campground just after Kurt was last seen. According to her, the station wagon drove away so fast it left a cloud of dust behind. No white station wagons were registered at the campground, and nobody else had seen this car.
And investigators didn’t suspect foul play. They thought Kurt had probably left the campsite and gotten lost coming back. Said State Police Lieutenant G. Paul Falconer:
“From the beginning we never discounted the possibility that Kurt was abducted, but there are no facts to indicate he’s not in the woods."
According to State Police Detective Richard Cook, head of the investigation at the time:
“With so many children available in the cities, why would a kidnapper come to one of the most remote campgrounds in the state, hoping to find a child riding a tricycle alone down a deserted road?"
But Kurt’s parents still thought he had been abducted, possibly taken to Canada. They stayed in the area for two more weeks before returning to Manchester.
About two years later, when Kurt would have been starting school, they mailed his missing persons posters to every school district in the country. This process took about six months and cost over $5,000. Some schools replied with pictures of students who looked like Kurt. Police investigated these leads, but none of them lead anywhere.
There have been several reported sightings of Kurt over the years, but none have been confirmed to be him. One man said he saw a boy matching Kurt’s description while camping in the Canadian Rockies. That same week, two waitresses claimed to spot a boy matching his description in their restaurant in Vermont. That boy was eventually found and it wasn't Kurt. About four months after he disappeared, there had been another reported sighting in New Orleans. This boy was very shy, just like Kurt, and only answered to names that had a ‘k’ sound. The boy was later identified and he was not Kurt. After an article about Kurt’s disappearance was published in an issue of Yankee Magazine in 1979, even more people came forward claiming they’d seen Kurt. But none of these leads panned out either.
This case briefly got some social media attention back in 2017, when a woman claimed to be Jennifer Klein. Jennifer Klein was 3 years old when she disappeared from Moab, Utah on May 25, 1974. Like Kurt, she was camping with her family, and there’s speculation that she fell into the Colorado River and drowned.
This woman who claimed to be Jennifer Klein said she was abducted by members of a Satanic cult who had also kidnapped Kurt Newton as well as Etan Patz. Etan Patz was 6 years old when he disappeared in New York City on May 26, 1979. In 2017, Pedro Hernandez was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Etan, but his body has never been found.
I remember hearing about this woman who claimed to be Jennifer Klein just after it happened. I couldn’t find much solid information on it, other than some social media speculation, but I think her claim was debunked pretty quickly.
But what happened to Kurt Newton? There are a few theories: That he wandered too far and deep into the woods to be found, fell into a body of water or was, in fact, abducted. The most talked about theory I’ve seen is that he was killed by a wild animal. There was a report that a captive bear had been released in the area just before Kurt was last seen, and some people have suggested a mountain lion was responsible. However, based on what I’ve read, it doesn’t seem likely that this would have happened without leaving evidence behind, such as substantial amounts of blood.
I’ve also seen speculation that the police had tunnel vision in this case. Remember, at the start they were convinced he was simply lost in the woods and didn’t seem to consider other possibilities very much. Did Kurt really get so far into the woods it was impossible for him to be found, even with the meticulous search that was performed? Or did someone really take him and leave no trace behind?
Kurt Ronald Newton was last seen on August 31, 1975 at Natanis Point Campground in Chain of Ponds Township, Maine. His case is classified as a non family abduction.
At the time of his disappearance, Kurt was 4 years old, 3 feet 1 inch tall and 35 pounds. He’s a white male with strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing a navy blue jacket with baseballs on it, a navy blue sweatshirt with the word ‘Manchester’ across the front, a red jersey, red and black corduroy pants, mismatched white socks and brown shoes. If alive today, he would be 49 years old.
This case reminds me a little of Steven Damman, whose case I covered a few months ago. They’re both young boys who disappeared decades ago and seemingly without a trace. I’ve also seen it compared to the case of Deorr Kunz Jr., who disappeared from a campground in Idaho in 2015. It seems like investigators did everything they could to find Kurt (at least in the woods), and the fact that virtually nothing was found on him makes this one of the strangest missing persons cases I’ve covered so far.
If you have any information about the disappearance of Kurt Newton, you can contact the Maine State Police at 207-289-2155 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE LOST (843-5678).