Editor’s note: This is the eighth installment in an ongoing series entitled ‘Capac’s Unsolved Mystery’ detailing the events surrounding the disappearance of popular Capac merchant Hale Currier on October 17, 1948 while on a hunting trip with friends in the Upper Peninsula. The first installment appeared in the October 17, 2018 issue of Tri-City Times. Installments appear every two weeks.
Falling into his chair at the post, Lt. Fred Chrispell was overwhelmed by the lack of progress in the case. After four sleepless nights and 18-20 hour days, he felt defeated and knew no more now than he did when Lucy Currier, the missing man’s wife, and the others asked for help in what appeared to be a simple case of a lost hunter.
“What did I miss?” he kept asking himself. There was always some type of clue to every case he had ever investigated.
“There is something, but I’m not seeing it,” he said to himself again. Leaning back into his chair, the lieutenant drifted off. Exhaustion and complete bafflement was taking over, and he felt he was losing control of the situation. The pressure was unbearable from all directions.
Just as he fell asleep, the dispatcher at the front desk woke him.
“Lieutenant, the tracking dog’s owner is here and said you wanted to talk to him. Can I send him in?”
Shaking his head, Lt. Chrispell frantically tried to regain his thoughts and professionalism.
“Send him in,” he replied.
Getting up to greet and shake the dog handler’s hand, the lieutenant looked at a man in his 50s who was completely exhausted.
“Have a seat,” he said. “You look tired. Can I get you anything?”
“No, Lieutenant,” the dog handler said. “I’m just bushed. I worked the dog all day and we never had a hit on the missing man’s scent anywhere.
“It was too late for the dog,” the handler continued. “There was too much foreign scent from all the searchers, and too much commotion from all the people.”
“Did the helicopter confuse the dog?” Lt. Chrispell asked.
“No, not at all,” the handler responded. “He just could not find a scent. Too much contamination from others.”
“Would it help if I cleared the woods for a day?” Lt. Chrispell asked.
“No, Lieutenant. The scent of the missing man is, I hate to say, lost forever,” the handler replied. “I regret that the dog was not here Monday morning. I’m sure he would have found Mr. Currier then, even in the snow.”
The Lieutenant sighed, and stood up.
“Thank you for your help,” he said, as he walked the dog handler to the door.
The outer office was full of people with cameras and writing tablets. Then, Lt. Chrispell recognized the captain from Selfridge.
“Captain, do you want to speak to me?” he asked, trying not to alarm the reporters.
Entering the office, Lt. Chrispell quickly closed the door.
“Tell me, Captain, any luck or anything noteworthy?” he asked.
“We did a grid search on five miles in every direction at approximately 150 feet in altitude, and each sweep was 300 feet from the former sweep,” the captain said.
“We saw hundreds of searchers in the first two miles, then hundreds of deer fleeing the searchers at about two-and-a-half to three miles. Even saw some bears,” he continued.
“At four miles we saw loggers, trucks and dozens at work. Around noon, we saw fires when they stopped for lunch. The smoke was visible from up to two miles. We checked every fire,” the captain said. “Every fire had a group of men and equipment around it. We confirmed each one and noted the location on our reports. Our visibility was good and other than some leaves on a few trees, I feel our mission was a success, even though we did not locate the missing hunter.”
The lieutenant took it all in.
“Did you take pictures?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, we did,” the captain replied. “As soon as they are developed, you will have them.”
“Tell me what it looks like from the air, Captain,” Lt. Chrispell said. “How many trails, roads or paths are there?”
Lieutenant, there are literally hundreds of trails made by dozers. They crisscross, twist, intersect with one another. No rhyme or reason to them,” the captain responded. “Almost like a spider’s web made by a spider on shore leave.”
“Could you tell if any were recent or new?” Lt. Chrispell asked.
“No. The recent snow and meltdown disguises the soil,” the captain replied. “It all looks the same, and then the traffic covers all.”
“Did you see any individuals alone or apart from the logging crews?” Lt. Chrispell asked.
“No, Lieutenant, we did not,” the captain responded.
“Could someone on the ground conceal themselves so you could not see them?” the lieutenant asked.
The captain paused, and then replied, “If they were careful and waited us out, yes, it is quite possible.”
“Captain,” Lt. Chrispell began, “tell me, how would you assess the search?”
“I would have to conclude it is no longer a rescue, but a recovery, and in my estimation from what my crew and I observed, the hunter is presumed dead and that is what my final report to the general at Selfridge will state,” the captain concluded.
“Thank you and your crew for everything, especially your professionalism,” the lieutenant said, standing to salute the captain.
The captain followed suit and asked, “Is there a rear exit so I won’t be mobbed by the press?”
“Absolutely,” Lt. Chrispell said, showing him the way.
Waiting ten minutes, Lt. Chrispell called dispatch by telephone.
“Have the conservation officer call me,” he said.
“Will do, sir,” the dispatcher responded.
Within 30 minutes, the telephone rang. On the other end was Conservation Officer Vernon Hanes.
After greeting each other, Lt. Chrispell got right to the point.
“Vern, what is your take on the missing hunter?”
“Lieutenant,” Hanes replied. “He cannot be alive. I fear the worst has happened.”
“Yes, Vernon, I feel the same,” Lt. Chrispell said. “My gut tells me he was murdered to conceal a crime in the woods. That conclusion is based on numerous offal piles of deer we constantly find each day. Tell me, Vern, what you think.”
“Lieutenant, I am also thinking that is what happened,” Hanes said.
“Vern,” the lieutenant began, “how wide spread is poaching?”
“Fred, during the war when rationing started, red meat was scarce,” the Conservation Officer replied. “Then it got worse as we started feeding all the people we liberated. Opportunists saw the profit potential and started mixing venison with beef. The black market thrived. People wanted beef at any cost. They weren’t just using venison, they began butchering cattle on pastures at night. We had a big problem around the Soo.”
Taking the information in, Lt. Chrispell had another question.
“Was anything done to stop the poaching and cattle rustling?” he asked.
“Fred, we had no manpower,” Officer Hanes replied. “Everyone had gone off to the war. We had retirees, and no gas for the vehicles. We were helpless.
“Fred,” the conservation officer continued. “It was just like prohibition, only now it’s red meat, and beef is still high.”
Hanging up the telephone, Lt. Chrispell now thought he had a motive.
“But still no clues,” he said to himself.
The next installment ‘600 volunteers for the weekend’ will appear in two weeks.
Doug Hunter is a lifelong Capac resident, a farmer, historian and writer. His great-great grandfather, Noble Hunter, founded the Capac Journal in the late 1800s.