THE LAST TIME ANYONE SAW KURT NEWTON he was riding his red tricycle down a dirt road of a campsite where his family was vacationing Labor Day weekend of 1975. He was four years old.
With white blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, Kurt was the kind of child that didn’t go unnoticed. He had cute chubby cheeks and a sweet little pout that probably got him anything he could have ever wanted. Maybe even that little red tricycle, which would later be found on the side of that dirt road, carefully placed out of the way of traffic; the way a little boy who did what he was told might do. Kurt was four years old and he had an older sister, Kimberly who was six. Mr. and Mrs. Newton, Ron and Jill, were in their late twenties, young parents with two beautiful children and a perfect end-of-summer weekend to spend with them before school started.
The Newton’s hailed from Manchester, Maine but were spending their weekend closer to the Canadian border, in the deep woods of the Chain of Ponds township at the Natanis Point Campground. The expanse of woods around their campsite must have inspired awe, even to the native Mainers. They slept the night of August 31st, 1975 as loons called mournfully; perhaps an omen of the grief to come.
THE NEXT MORNING, SEPTEMBER 1ST 1975 Ron Newton set out to get firewood. He hopped into his pickup truck and headed north on one of several dirt roads that forked around the camp sites. Kurt, hating to see his father leave even for a moment, grabbed his tricycle and headed up the dirt road after him. Soon, he lost sight of the truck, but he kept peddling. A young woman from an adjacent campsite, 13-year-old Lou Ellen Hanson, saw the little fella furiously peddling up the road and called after him:
“Do your parents know where you are?”
Ron and Jill Newton didn’t know where there boy was — thirty years later, they still don’t.
It wasn’t like Kurt to take off on his own; in fact, it was very unlike him. His older sister Kim would always try to coax him into the woods behind their house to play, but Kurt would hesitate, staying just at the end of their backyard. When his mother asked him why he didn’t want to go play in the woods with Kimberly and he simply said:
“Momma, there’s monsters in there.”
JACK HANSON WAS A CARETAKER FOR THE CAMPGROUND. It was his daughter, Lou Ellen, who had been the last to see Kurt Newton alive. Not long after Kurt had taken off down the dirt road, Jack drove along it and saw the abandoned tricycle. It was fairly close to the dump, an area of discarded trash that was piled at the end of the road. He studied the tricycle a moment and then, deciding it must have been discarded, tossed it onto the trash heap.
Meanwhile, back at their campsite, Jill Newton had lost sight of her little boy while she was washing mud off the kid’s sneakers. Kurt was not the type of child to go running off; she would later recall to interviewers how even if they were separated momentarily in the grocery store, Kurt would freeze and quietly cry until she found him. Whenever he would play outside in the yard, she never had to worry he would run off with neighborhood children: he always kept a close eye on her; he always knew where his mother was.
Which is why Jill didn’t automatically assume Kurt had run off; she figured he must have caught up with his father and was happily chopping wood. So she didn’t worry. She asked a few of the neighboring campers if they’d seen Kurt on his bike and as she was chatting with them, Ron came back. Kurt wasn’t with him; he never had been.
When the couple ran into Jack Hanson and asked if he’d seen their little boy and his red tricycle, the groundskeeper’s reaction must have given them a horrible feeling in the pit of their stomachs: Jack had seen the tricycle, yes, but no sign of the boy. He took them to the trash heap and there was the discarded tricycle. Kurt was no where to be be seen; there was no sign he had ever been there at all.
Anguished, Jill thought the worst: someone must have kidnapped him. But everyone at the campsite rallied around her and said, “No, no, he’s probably just wandered into the woods on foot, looking for his Dad. He couldn’t have gone far.”
That would seem to be true: the dense wood before them was not the kind of place a child could navigate with ease. As they set off on foot into the woods, Jill kept thinking that she’d see him around the next corner, sitting by a tree, maybe crying as he realized he was lost. It wasn’t long before the other campers joined in, forming the beginnings of what would turn into the largest organized search the state of Maine had ever seen.
THE LOCAL GAME WARDEN PATROLLED the wooded area in a helicopter, using a loudspeaker to call out to Kurt, hoping to coax him out of the woods. Jill had told them that her son was fascinated with the National Guard helicopters that would occasionally pass over their neighborhood; she was certain he would respond to one, particularly if it were calling his name.
The warden’s voice boomed from the sky as it grew dark, the air turning to a chill as it does in the early autumn in Maine. He told Kurt not to be afraid. No one knows if his pleas were heard.
The local news had picked up on the little boy’s disappearance and soon news stations statewide played the story as part of the evening’s programs. Before the Newtons knew it, a parade of cars from their hometown miles and miles away were headed toward Chain of Ponds to help with the search.
Volunteers continued to search the woods, but by the next morning the weather had turned gloomy and cold. Damp and chilled, people pushed forward, including the Newtons, who had not slept all night. As friends and family arrived, urging them to rest, their fervor only increased. They remained convinced that in the next minute, the next hour, they would find Kurt. As the dreary day worn on, even more volunteers from all across the state came north to help search. Jill and Ron were right there alongside them, perhaps searching the hardest of all: the fear of losing a child having lit a brightly burning fire within them.
It was because of this intensity that Jill, overhearing volunteers talking about special planes that the Air Force was using to hunt for guerrillas in Vietnam, requested the state acquire these top secret prototypes for their search. These planes could detect even the slightest differentials in heat from great heights, making it almost impossible for Kurt to be overlooked — if he were still in the woods.
The state complied and by that evening a plane was on its way from Florida.
While Jill was reassured by its arrival and confident that this was the answer to bringing Kurt home, Ron was far more reserved. He didn’t want her to get her hopes up, no matter how majestic and promising the plane’s technology seemed. Still, he took to the woods and called Kurt’s name until he could barely speak. He refused to stop to rest or eat, and friends began to worry for him. During one leg of the search, weary and dehydrated, he fell and injured his ankle. Refusing any medical help, he limped back into the woods. When he couldn’t carry on any longer due to the injury, he sat at the edge of the woods with a bull horn, shouting Kurt’s name into the woods.
After days without food, water or sleep, his friends became desperate; they laced his coffee with tranquilizers and finally, he slept.
Over the next several days, the helicopter circled overhead and Jill Newton took off into the woods in the company of a few friends. She went off the course that the rest of the searchers were on, going on mother’s instinct. There had been a rather large hole in the ground where Kurt had last been seen, just the kind of natural anomaly a child might like to hide in. Seeing it, and feeling a gnawing ache at the sight of it, she began to dig. Soon, men gathered around and helped her — they crawled inside its dark cavern and Jill held her breath.
When the men emerged they just shook their heads with downcast eyes.
Kurt wasn’t there.
He wasn’t anywhere.
There were no tracks. No signs of a struggle. Nothing to imply that he had been taken by someone who happened to be driving by, no discarded clothes or shoes that might have come off during an animal attack. There was no blood. The hounds that were on his trail, using the scent from his pajamas, dizzily ran around the woods, confused and not picking up the boy’s smell in any direction. It was almost as though Kurt had been lifted straight up into the sky; plucked from obscurity.
By the fifth day of the search, the governor of Maine had offered his commitment to the Newtons; he brought the helicopter in for another flight, he organized more searchers — anything he could do for them, he did. But even with all the resources and the historical search efforts, it was becoming increasingly obvious that Kurt simply wasn’t in the woods. He probably never had been.
Still, his family sat with the reality that they couldn’t be certain; what if he was? What if he was hurt? By now, the child would be starving and sick with dehydration, if he hadn’t already succumbed to the elements. What could a four-year-old do to protect himself? It was these thoughts that kept the Newtons up at night; that kept them searching even when it had become futile.
On Friday, September 12th, the search ended. Over three thousand volunteers had scoured the woods to look for Kurt in more than ten days since he rode off on his tricycle. Three thousand people, most of whom had never met Kurt — and never would — had spent days walking through the woods, eyes ahead, calling the name of a little boy that they didn’t know. Though the efforts were masterful, the greatest the state had ever seen, they turned up nothing.
Not a single clue.
THE NEWTONS NEVER DISCOUNTED the idea that Kurt could have simply been abducted, though it would have seemed random as far as investigators were concerned. He was on a dead end dirt road that was deep in the woods, part of a campsite, and it was not the kind of place where someone would sit and wait to prey on children. No one had followed him into the woods, and there was nothing for miles and miles around them.
Perhaps, as Kurt told his mother in their backyard one day, there were monsters out there.
The Newtons returned home with their daughter Kim, who at six, was still trying to comprehend what it meant that Kurt was “gone.” They spent thousands of dollars sending Kurt’s picture to every school in the United States, since he would be the age to start school in the coming year. If someone had taken him, maybe they would put him in school wherever they were and someone would see him and recognize him. Maybe as the class shared their names and got to know each other, he’d confide in someone that he used to live in Maine.
The months passed. They received many letters of condolence and a few pictures of children that did look like Kurt, but never turned out to be. They continued on with their lives the best they could, still half-expecting that Kurt would come home tomorrow. Kim had not forgotten about her brother and talked about him often; though, her young friends who hadn’t met him wondered if he was real. The family, as deep as their grief was, could have chosen to stop talking about him, but they didn’t. They kept Kurt’s memory alive. Many things they did together as a family were reflected on with the thought, wouldn’t it be great if Kurt was here?
OVER THE YEARS, THE NEWTONS DID TRY SOME nontraditional methods of searching for their son. Jill visited many psychics who had offered their services in locating him. They told her he was alive. She wanted to believe them, but decades went by and they were no longer waiting for a little boy to come home: now, Kurt would be a man.
It’s been 40 years since Kurt Newton disappeared. There haven’t been any new leads in the last twenty. Though it’s been so long since the boy vanished in the Maine woods, his case file is fairly small, having acquired very little evidence. The search for him, even with its advanced techniques, turned up nothing. Over the years, several boys were thought to possibly be Kurt, but none of those leads ever panned out.
In the state police storage, all that remains of Kurt Newton’s story is DNA from his family, in case a body was ever found or someone turned up claiming to be the lost boy — that, and a barely used, red tricycle.
Kurt Ronald Newton was four years old when he disappeared over Labor Day weekend in Chain of Ponds, Maine in 1975. Today, he would be 45 years old.
Ron and Jill Newton still live in their home in Manchester, Maine.
If you have any information about Kurt’s disappearance, contact the Maine State Police at 207–289–2155.