Vanished: What became of Connie Smith?
Connie Smith vanished from her summer camp on the morning of Wednesday July 16, 1952, a warm day, 80 degrees. The East Coast was in the grip of a heat wave that delivered thick, humid air.
Established in 1928 by the YMCA, Camp Sloane is an 85 acre camp that sits along the shore of Lake Wononpakook (Long Pond) is in Lakeville Connecticut, a section of the town of Salisbury, in leafy and wealthy far northwestern portion of the state.
Connie had been at the camp for three weeks with another month to go. She was 10 years old. She was a slight girl, only 5'0" tall and 85 lbs. She had comically long arms and flat feet. And she was nearsighted, so nearsighted that even when she wore glasses she had to hold book close to her blue eyes to be able to see the words. She had developed early and as a result looked several years older than her age.
But all reports she was a pleasant, happy, and well- adjusted girl with a penchant for coloring books and comics. She was well traveled largely because she was born to wealth and privilege. She was the granddaughter of former Wyoming governor, Nels H. Smith. Aside from a summer home in Mexico, there was the family ranch in Sundance, Wyo. The Smith’s had also once owned the infamous Ranch A, in Crook County Wyoming, a 410 acre vacation retreat for publishing mogul Moses Annenberg.
The family had interests in ranching, trout production, meat packing, executive conference center operation, and mineral investments. As a result Connie was widely travelled, well-spoken and could converse on a variety of subjects other kids her age couldn’t. But what she liked to talk about most were horses. It was her favorite subject developed by a life on the ranch. She loved animals. She had been at the camp for three weeks with another month to go.
At approximately 7:50 AM, and for some unknown reason, as the other campers were headed toward breakfast, Connie walked up the half mile of winding dirt road to the stone pillars that mark the camp entrance and took a right on Indian Mountain Road.
She was wearing a bright red windbreaker, on a warm, muggy day. Under the jacket she wore dark navy blue shorts with plaid cuffs, tan leather shoes and a red-hair-ribbon which would have helped keep her hair/bangs from blowing into her face. Her shoes were tan. She was carrying her black-pocketbook.
August Epp, the camp's caretaker, told police that he and another man were driving near the camps entrance at about 8:15 in the morning when he saw Connie turn right on Indian Mountain Road picking daisies. He said he didn't stop her because he thought she was old enough to be a camp counselor. "I saw this girl come out of the gate and head north towards Lakeville. I think she stopped to pick some flowers, then continued. 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."
She had walked from the camp entrance on Indian Mountain Road to Route 44, called Millerton Road locally. She followed Indian Mountain Road past Deep Lake Farm toward the Lakeville section of Salisbury.
Mr. and Mrs. E Hobbs Horstman were out for an early morning walk when they passed Connie about a quarter of a mile north of the gate. "We didn't speak," they said.
A few minutes later Alice Walsh, who lived in the area, saw a girl she described as 5-foot and about a 100-pound girl, crying while she walked. She gave her directions to Lakeville.
Further along the road, Connie knocked on the door of Mrs. William Walsh and asked "Could you tell me the way to Lakeville?"
Mrs. Walsh told her "Continue on up the hill and turn right on route 44," To which Connie asked "Do you mean straight up the hill?"
"That's right, straight up the hill."
Mrs. Walsh later said the child looked as though she had been crying. At her last glance of the girl a couple of minutes later, Mrs. Walsh saw Connie walking up the hill. "To think I might have stopped her. If only I had said something, but then others saw her, and nobody did anything about it."
Why was she crying? Was it over something that happened in the camp? Had something happened to her between the time she left the camp and came across Alice Walsh?
Two maids were sitting in front of the servant’s cottage adjoining the Frederick L. Cadman house at 50 Indian Mountain Rd watched Connie walk up the driveway toward them and ask for directions to Lakeville. They told her and she walked away.
Several miles later Mrs. Frank E. Barnett was driving from Millerton on Route 44 and just before turning into Belgo Road and said she saw the little girl walking east on the north side of Route 44. Barnet said the girl was looking for a ride.
Connie was last seen on Millerton and Belgo Road. She was less than a half mile from the village center. Reports to the police were that she was last by Mr. and Mrs. John Brun standing on the right side (South side) of the road. She had tried to hitchhike a ride from them at the Route 44-Belgo Road intersection.
If the reports are correct Connie had walked two and half miles from the camp in 45 minutes. When the couple left her she was walking along towards Lakeville.
At about 8:45, the time Connie was last seen, her seven tent mates returned from to their tent from breakfast.
The girls reported her absence to Carol Baker, their group leader. She, in turn, called Camp Director E. P. Roberts, who had the entire camp area searched. By 11:30 a.m. it was obvious Connie had left the camp.
When state police were finally called in, at about 11:30, about three hours after the little girl was last seen, investigators looked at the possibility that Connie had been molested by a camp counselor or someone who worked at the camp. At that point, Epp, the grounds keeper came under very close scrutiny.
The speculation was that the camps very experienced director, (He had been with the YMCA since 1918) Ernest Roberts held back because he didn’t want to bring bad publicity to the camp. Or perhaps he just panicked and for good cause.
On July 14, 1940, an 11 year old boy died at the camp after he contacted septicemia. The boy’s father, US Army Colonel and note author John T. Winterich of Ossing New York, sued Ernest Roberts for the death of his son. The case was eventually dismissed but an investigation by the state showed that the camp doctor wasn’t registered with to practice medicine and that camp director Ernest Roberts knew the facts and covered them up. The doctor, a man named Fry, and Roberts were both arrested and eventually found guilty and fined.
All indications are that the state police quickly reached the conclusion that Connie was not just another lost child. State police Barracks across the state were alerted to the case. Local jeep owners were recruited to cover the woods and rough terrain.
Bloodhounds were brought in and the Connecticut Wing of the Civil Air Patrol and Air Force planes from Westover Field, Mass. twenty planes in all, conducted sky to ground searches for 20 hours. A dozen troopers assigned to the Canaan barracks and a dozen more local volunteers combed the area around the camp.
One of the first thing State Police did was to look around a nearby gypsy encampment. Police were so convinced that the gypsies, who were known to kidnap children that they hid in the forest for several days to see if Connie was being held against her will inside the camp but it went nowhere.
Still a gypsy angle hung over the case. A report came from Cooperstown N.Y. that a child resembling Connie had passes through town with a band of gypsies and a gas station operator in Mabbetsville, New York saw her with another band of gypsies. But both tips turned up nothing. Hundreds of dead end leads that swamped the police over the next twelve months.
Decades after the disappearance Connie’s father met with a “Gypsy King” in California and asked him if they still kidnapped children. The response was, “Not anymore.”
Police tested scat in the forest, thinking maybe Connie had been eaten by wild animals. Acting on a tip that Connie had been killed and was buried in a shallow grave, Trooper dug around local cemeteries plunging rods through the ground.
Truck drivers were stopped and questioned. Carnival workers in Lakeville were questioned and so were men from Arkansas who camped along Route 22 and hired out as barn painters.
No one in the village center of Lakeville had seen her. She had not gone into one of the towns stores or seen on the streets. "We couldn't have missed her if she came into town," said one shopkeeper. "She just never reached her."
There were no buses from the area and no cabs had ordered in the general vicinity for months.
Police looked at every possible set of circumstances. The road where she was last seen was busy and people tended to speed on it. Perhaps she’d been stuck and killed by a car and the driver hid the body. That had happened before. But a checked of several miles of roadway showed no trace of blood or an accident.
It was also possible that she had wandered off the road to beautiful Wononskopomuc Lake, one of the deepest waters in the state. Perhaps she had drowned. But no one on the lake recalled seeing her, she was an above average swimmer and a body has never been found.
Had one of her newly divorced parent taken her? Both parents were called in and would arrive in Lakeville within a days’ time. Considering the parents wealth, perhaps she had been kidnapped, (A nation both parents considered kidnapping a possible motive) but no ransom demands ever arrived.
One of the few possibility left was the strongest possibility, Connie got a ride on Route 44, perhaps with a child’s notion to make her way down to Greenwich or back home to Wyoming. Perhaps, a lunatic had picked her up by chance sometimes after 8:45 and probably killed her.
The next question was motive, what was Connie’s motive in leaving the camp? Why did she leave without telling anyone and why so early? Was she escaping or at least protesting the rough treatment from her tent-mates? Had she been assaulted by one of the camp employees and was headed into town to phone the police?
The days before her disappearance ranged between the mundane and plausibly traumatic. She has just celebrated her 10th birthday on July 11 and on Sunday, July 13, Connie's mother and grandmother visited her and deposited $5 to her camp account at the camp. (The children were not allowed to have cash but could charge purchases or small cash advances against their accounts.)
Her mother related afterwards that Connie was excited about a Square Dance at the Camp the next Friday, July 18, and a horse show scheduled for Saturday, July 19, and asked if she could stay at the camp longer than originally planned. However her mother had already arranged for them to return to Wyoming and said no, something that Connie, according to her mother took in stride.
Reportedly one of the counselors recalled “She seemed homesick after her mother left"
On the morning she disappeared, just before breakfast, Connie had some sort altercation with either one of her tent mates or a group of girls and her tent mate that resulted in Connie getting punched or kicked in the nose hard enough to draw blood. The camp said that the night before she left the camp that Connie had got a bloody nose when a tent mate climbing down from the bunk above her accidentally kicked her in the face, bloodied her nose and broke her glasses.
Aside from the bloody nose and broken eyeglasses, police learned that she had bruised her hip badly enough to require an overnight icepack. Camp personnel said that the little girl tripped and fallen off the elevated tent boards.
It was Connie's second injury within 24 hours.
On the morning she disappeared, Connie was said to have mentioned to someone, probably another girl at the camp, that instead of heading up to breakfast she was going to the medical tent to return the ice pack, but she never did, the pack was found on her bunk inside her tent.
In the meantime the hunt continued. State police searched the woods on horseback. Both of Connie’s parents scoffed at the notion that their daughter could become lost in the woods. They had taken time to teach her to walk downhill and find and follow a fence or a road.
A psychic horse from Virginia named Lady Wonder was brought in. Two years before, Lady Wonder had inexplicably helped find the body of a missing child with a crude typewriter she touched with her hooves to answer questions. However in Connie’s case Lady Wonder was a letdown and produced nothing.
They checked reservoirs and lakes and waded through swap land. Connie’s mother wrote to known hunters in the area and begged them to join the search and look in old wells and deserted buildings. The Connecticut Trail Riders Association gathered for a big weekend ride through wooded countryside. Connie’s body has never been found nor has a piece of cloth from her clothes ever been recovered. All of the known criminal suspects from miles around were hauled in for questioning. The Police had a long list of suspects that included the camp cook, deliverymen, August Epp the caretaker, two farm hands who had been out late the night before Connie disappeared.
Connie’s father, Peter Smith, arrived in Lakeville late Friday, two days after Connie disappeared. To the amazement of the locals he was dressed in a business suit, cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat. He could take out three doves with three shots, a craft he continued up until the year he died at age 97 and standing six foot seven inches tall he was a man who made an impression.
Peter Smith and Helen Jensen, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, were married at her parents’ home in Greenwich, Connecticut, on October 23, 1937. They had two children, Nels Jensen, born in 1939 and Constance (Connie) Christine born in 1942. The couple divorced in 1949.
Helen Smith, who lived in a separate home on the massive Smith ranch, had custody of Connie and she brought her east to spend the summer with her Mother in Greenwich, Connecticut. It was Helen who decided to send Connie to Camp Sloane.
Peter Smith began to coordinate his own search for his daughter. He rented horses and led riders through the thick woods, he rented planes, rode in them and circled the search areas for hours and handed out missing person flyers. When a misguided tip came in that Connie's might be headed for the home of relatives in Chicago, he booked a private plane and went to the Windy City searched there for her.
He appeared on the nationwide The Art Linkletter Show asking for help in finding his daughter and then spent several days passing out poster to all the schools in the LA area. He said “In this case all roads lead to California” but never explained the statement. Years later it was revealed that a group of itinerant orchard workers who had spent the summer in New England were trailed to Los Angeles and that Smith had taken several trips to try an interview someone who had worked at the camp.
The search for Connie developed into the most extensive missing person search of the decade for Connecticut. More than 11,000 circulars were printed and posted in gas stations, post offices, restaurants and schools throughout the country. Connie's dental was printed in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
However the search waned during the late summer that year and resumed when the foliage was gone, still led by Connie’s father. The case was kept somewhat alive by Georges Joseph Christian Simenon (February 1903 – September 4 1989) a prolific Belgian writer who published nearly 500 novels and numerous short works most that revolved around the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret.
Simenon lived in a massive farmhouse at Shadow Rock Farm (Below) at 27 Cleaveland Road which is about three miles north of the spot Connie was last seen. He penned a quick novel called La Mort de Belle ("The Death of Belle") based vaguely on Connie’s disappearance (if only because the novel takes place in Lakeville. The premise is that while attending a university near Geneva, a young American, Belle, stays at the home of Professor Stephane Blanchon and his frigid wife.
Stephane becomes the principal suspect when Belle is found murdered in the Blanchon home. At the inquest it is revealed that although Belle dated often and was quite promiscuous, she had secretly been in love with Stephane. The news shocks Stephane into the realization that because of the brittle relationship with his wife, he has permitted his life to become aimless and listless. As circumstantial evidence against him mounts, he shakes off his former passiveness and has a brief affair. Obsessed by the death of Belle and all he has missed in life, he kills the woman--ironically, he commits this murder at the very moment the police get a confession from Belle's killer.
The French turned the novel into a 1962 film called The Passion of Slow Fire.
A reward of $3,000 was offered for any tips and $1,000 for her body. The tips poured in, all of them were followed up and all of them went nowhere. A woman upstate New York said she saw Connie riding a horse in front of her house; a New York construction worker said he shared his lunch with Connie and a lady from Great Barrington, Mass, swore she spotted Connie at the annual Fall fair. A runaway Indian girl in Texas was mistakenly identified as Connie. Another reported seeing her in Cooperstown New York.
Tips came in that said Connie was living in Canada and at a hotel in Cincinnati. She was also reported to be living in Alabama. Witnesses said they saw her on a bus in Albany, N.Y., and Randolph, Vt.
Then an itinerant Ohio jewelry salesman named Frederick W. Pope claimed he and a companion picked Connie up in Connecticut, drove her across country and once in Arizona his companion strangled Connie during an argument about directions.
Pope said that several hours later he killed the companion with an iron bar while the two were changing a tire. Pope it turned out made up the story as a means to get back into a psychiatric hospital.
In August of 1954 a newspaper photo taken at a Bronx New York Beach showed a little girl that looked very much like Connie. Police tracked down the lead and found the girl in photo. It wasn’t Connie.
In 1955 western Connecticut was shattered by a massive flood. Ten days after the flood hit, while the state was trying to recover from massive damages in its wake, at 1:00 Am a state trooper took a collect call from a man who identified himself as William Dugan who said he was calling from Canada. He told the trooper that he had worked for a circus in Hartford 13 years before and that he wanted to confess to a crime.
The trooper agreed to meet Dugan in Canada the next day. But hundreds of emergencies created by the flood forced the trooper to turn the meeting over to Canadian police. The Canadian police never called back and Dugan and his phone call fell by the wayside. However the trooper did phone Dugan's ex-wife and she said Dugan was actually was with the US Army stationed in Japan, not Canada.
Some 33 years later, in 1988, the trooper who took the call read a news story about the state of Pennsylvania charging a former carnival worker, William Henry Redmond, then 66, with the 1954 murder of a 10-year-old girl. Redman was a former Ferris wheel operator with the Penn-Premier Show carnival.
The trooper recalled the call from the man calling himself Dugan who said he had worked in the circus and phoned the Pennsylvania state police to urge them to press Redmond to find out if he was the man who pretended to be Dugan.
It was plausible since the Pennsylvania police had evidence that Redmond had lived in Canada at some point but police were never able to determine whether Redmond was in Connecticut in the 1950s or if there was a carnival in the Lakeville area around the time of Connie's disappearance.
While in a prison hospital awaiting charges, Redmond allegedly told a fellow inmate that while police had him for one murder but that three others remained undiscovered. Redmond was later questioned about Connie and submitted to a lie detector test, which he passed.
On May 14, 1957, eight-year-old Brenda Doucette was found dead, stabbed 22 times with a screwdriver and strangled with a man's sweater. Police arrested 38-year-old George Davies, a paroled sex offender who confessed to the crime. And to the murder of 16-year-old Gaetane Boivin on May 9 of that year.
At first Davies denied any role in Connie’s disappearance but while on death row for the Doucette and Boivin murders, he changed his story, said he killed Connie and took police on a pointless, expensive and time consuming excavation of two places he said he buried her body. The searches turned up nothing and on September 20, 1959, murderer George Davies, a half hour before being executed, said that he had lied about killing Connie.
Also in 1959 police were led to a local deliveryman who had told his wife that even if the Connie’s body was found that there would be nothing left it and that Connie had tried calling her father the night before she vanished. (Actually Connie’s father had never received a call from his daughter that night)
When police interviewed the man he admitted that his newspaper delivery route took him by Camp Sloane around the time Connie was last seen and that he finished his route around 8 a.m. Connie disappeared sometime after 8:45. He was given a lie detector test and passed.
However, in 1958, a young girl’s remains were found near Williams, Arizona and Police were never able to identify her.
In 1962, a letter received by the Connecticut State Police claimed that the dead girl was Connie Smith. A comparison of the Arizona child’s teeth with Connie’s dental records was inconclusive and forensic tests were unable to definitively link the two. In 2004, the Connecticut State Police collected DNA from the Smith family, hoping to match it to the dead girls DNA but by then the girl’s grave couldn’t be located.
As late as 1988, DNA tests were given to women who came forward and said they were Connie Smith but there was never a match.
In July of 2010, 58 years after Connie disappeared, some children found human bones in a river in Great Barrington Mass. The police checked the DNA to Connie’s family member but there was no match.
Eventually the investigation died off although it still remains an open case for the Connecticut State Police.
Connie's mother, Helen, died of a heart attack in 1962. She was 47 years old. She never fully believed her daughter was dead, only missing. Helen and Pete Smith always believed that Connie was suffering from Amnesia and that one day she would eventually turn up unharmed.
Connie father Pete was almost completely absorbed by his daughter’s disappearance. He returned to Lakeville until deep into the 1980s hoping against all hope to find a fresh clue in the case.
In a 1984 interview, Smith said he imagined his daughter in the face of every woman he passed who would be about her age. He never gave up the hope that "something would turn up"
He eventually remarried and died peacefully at his winter home at Kino Nuevo, Sonora, Mexico with his son Nels at his side on February 22, 2012 at age 97. His obituary began “Pete Smith left for his next hunt at 4:35 p.m. Feb. 22, 2012.”
Connie Smith has not been seen or heard of since, nor have any of her possessions been found.