CHAIN OF PONDS — Thirty-five years ago Tuesday, Ron and Jill Newton of Manchester lost their 4-year-old son Kurt while camping at the remote Natanis Point Campground in this wilderness township six miles below the Canadian Border at Coburn Gore.

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the day the cute blond toddler was officially declared missing on Sept. 1, 1975.

He simply vanished without a trace between 10 and 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31, 1975, while riding his Big Wheel tricycle down the campground road toward the site’s dump. He was trying to catch up to his dad, who went to get firewood.

In what officials then termed the most massive search in Maine history, more than 3,000 people closely scrutinized 8 square miles of heavily wooded, rugged terrain in and around the campground until it ended at dusk on Sept. 12, 1975.

Pilots and crews in search planes — including a $10 million C-130H Air Force gunship used in Vietnam to find guerrillas in dense jungle with its infrared technology — and a Maine Warden Service helicopter, also helped.

Other than his tricycle, no trace of Kurt has ever been found. Not even the clothes he was wearing on that damp, chilly morning: a navy blue jacket decorated with baseball emblems, navy blue sweatshirt, speckled red and black corduroys, mismatched white socks, and dark brown shoes.

Advertisement

It’s an enigma that retired Warden John Shaw of Wilton still carries.

“Every year I think about the poor parents having to go through life without knowing,” Shaw said at home on Tuesday. “And I’m sure most everybody else involved in that search does, too. It was difficult to accept that we couldn’t come through with that one.”

At the time, Shaw, then a warden supervisor, called in every warden under his command and more. Thirty or so participated.

“It was a huge search,” Shaw said.

He added that state police were very involved in the search and investigation. A state police detective in Lt. Brian McDonough’s Criminal Investigation Division is still assigned to the case, but could not be reached on Tuesday, and neither could Ron and Jill Newton.

“After running into a lot of dead-ends on the ground, we did some very extensive interviews with people,” Shaw said.

Advertisement

Even though Kurt Ronald Newton’s disappearance has been classified as a non-family abduction on missing children websites, at the time, Shaw said foul play wasn’t suspected.

“There was no indication to us that he had been abducted,” he said.

“On the opposite side, we found no evidence of him on the ground. He rode his little tricycle away from the campground up into an area where the campground owner was using for a dump. And we found no clothing and no tracks.”

Shaw said wardens started doing groundwork a few hours after the toddler vanished.

“Being a 4-year-old, it got into an intensive search fast,” he said.

Knowing that toddlers usually don’t go very far, but are completely unpredictable, the search was initially confined to the immediate vicinity of where Kurt’s tricycle was found.

Advertisement

“In my experience with children of that age, I would have not expected him to be very far, but our search area extended much farther than I would have thought, and it was thoroughly searched. It was gone over and over and over within a mile.

“We were running those searches hand to hand within the area where we felt he could be, checking off every hole in the ground and there were a lot of them. It’s been my experience that it’s very difficult to hide anything in the woods for an extensive period of time.”

Hunters, recreationists and animals eventually discover something hidden or lost in the woods, but not this time.

“In my experience — and I’ve had a lot of experience with searches — it seemed like we just about always found some evidence, like, you know, a track, a shoe or stuff,” Shaw said. “This never happened in this case. It was a frustrating search.”

Factors that didn’t help were the terrain and below-freezing temperatures at night, fog and rain.

Although the campsite is on the shore of Natanis Pond, Shaw said they didn’t believe Kurt ever entered the water. There was no evidence.

Advertisement

Still, the pond was searched by a skin diver volunteer and planes overhead.

Psychics were even used to no avail, because Shaw said they’ve had luck in the past using them.

“Governor (James) Longley even made a special trip up there. It was that involved.”

Longley ordered 50 National Guardsmen from the Rumford-Norway area to help with the search. After the mission was over, many returned on their own time to continue helping.

Wardens also investigated the possibility of a wild animal attacking the child, because there was evidence that black bears were feeding at the campground’s open dump site. Shaw said he checked with officials in other states to learn what he could about confirmed black bear attacks on children.

“But we had nothing on the ground to support such a thing,” so it was discarded, Shaw said.

Advertisement

Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said “an incredible amount of state resources had gone to the area as well to search and there was not a trace of him.”

Many newspapers covered the incident and search. At the time Kurt vanished, McCausland said he was the news director of the radio station in Bath.

“It was a huge story,” he said. “I was working in radio at the time and I remember the news stories on it, and it was the first time that most people in the state had ever heard of Chain of Ponds; that is not the best known area in the state.

“Unfortunately, every time I hear that name, I always think of the little boy.”

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.