October 31, 2018Editor's note: This is the second in an ongoing series entitled 'Capac's Unsolved Mystery,' detailing the events surrounding the disappearance of popular 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.
After making his calls for assistance, State Police Post Commander Lt. Fred Chrispell sat Hale's wife, Lucy Currier, down and asked for a detailed description of her husband on that last day she saw him.
She described her husband as 6 feet tall, weighing 165 pounds, with brown eyes, gray hair and wearing a green wool shirt with Army dungarees and jacket, and with an overseas tan cap and combat boots. He had a .22 caliber rifle, a compass, plenty of matches and a special watch on him from the Army Air Force his son Jim had given him. Also, he had his small game license on his back—No. 1033.
Trying not to alarm her, the lieutenant asked about his clothing—had he been in the war? Mrs. Currier proudly replied, "These were my son's clothes, and he and Hale are the same size. Hale felt a personal pride in wearing them."
After the interview, Reddy Waltz and Elmer Lang asked if they could use the telephone to call down to Capac. Taking them to the switchboard to make their calls, Lt. Chrispell returned to his office and hurriedly placed a call to Conservation Officer Vernon Hanes at Sault St. Marie.
Waiting for the switchboard in The Soo to answer, bad thoughts went through the lieutenant's mind. He recalled earlier in his career—in 1927—when Burton Howard of Port Huron was found dead of a gunshot wound after weeks of searching. Then another hunter named Brownlee who went missing in 1920 and his remains were found around 1930, identified by personal effects found at the scene. Both unsolved. Was it a stray bullet or murder? Now two missing at the same time.
After what seemed like an eternity, Vernon Hanes was on the line.
"Vernon, this is Fred in Newberry," the lieutenant said. "Last July, the bear that took Carol Ann Pomrankey from her backyard and killed her in the woods, are you sure that the bear you shot was the right bear?"
Vern replied, "Fred, that's the bear the dog tracked down. I'm confident of that, but I can't be 100 percent positive...but there was dried blood on his face."
"Vern, I have two hunters missing," Lt. Chrispell said. "Could a bear travel from the Soo to Newberry in three months?"
"Absolutely," Vern answered.
Lt. Chrispell had another question: "Is that Labrador Retriever still available?"
"Yes, he is," Vern said. "I'll get him to you ASAP."
Ending the call, the Commander called the post dispatcher and ordered him to get every trooper on duty or off duty to report to the CAPDET Lodge. Time was not on their side if this was a medical emergency, or as he feared, a crime scene.
It was a pleasant day in Capac some 400 miles south of Newberry. In 1948 the economy was picking up. Nestled between the Grand Trunk Railroad and State Highway M-21, Capac had a perfect location to promote its rich soils. Dairy products, sugar beets and corn were its staple and many citizens not engaged in the local commerce worked at Pontiac Motors. The village had many organizations, churches and businesses. The fall chores were coming to a close. The beets were nearly done, along with the corn crop. Only fall plowing remained.
Business was brisk as farmers came to town to purchase the needed supplies. All of that would stop, and Capac would become a household word around the state and nation.
Reddy Waltz and Elmer Lang were impatient as the phone call went through multiple switchboards. Finally a familiar voice came across.
"This is the operator in Capac. How may I direct your call?"
The voice was of Veva Reynolds, the local telephone operator.
"Veva, this is Reddy. I want you to stay on the line as there are multiple people that I, Mrs. Currier and Elmer Lang need to talk with. First, let me talk to my store."
Over at Waltz's Meats on Main Street, Harry Bussell answered. Harry was Reddy's preferred employee, who was also on the Village Council. Reddy informed him of the situation and told him he needed him and as many others he could muster to assist in the search for Hale.
"Contact the council, chamber of commerce, churches, Lions Club, Legion Post," Reddy said. "We need many bodies to do this search. Call Ralph Van Volkinburg. Ralph can coordinate with all the groups. He is a natural leader.
Ralph Van Volkinburg was the Superintendent of Capac Schools.
"And Harry," Reddy continued, "have someone pick up Hale's two sons and bring them up. Phil is in Port Huron and Jim is at Central Michigan University."
Concluding the call to his store, Reddy had another request for the switchboard operator.
"Veva, connect me to Currier's store," he said. "Lucy needs to talk...and Veva, stay on the line."
Quickly she moved about the switchboard, fully understanding the magnitude of this tragedy. She thought if there ever was such a thing as a 'favorite son' or citizen, it was Hale Currier.
"No matter who you were, he made time for you," she thought to herself.
Lucy told her employees she needed their help, and to ask the ladies of the village to send food with all volunteers.
Elmer Lang followed with the same for his employees, and asked Veva to spread the word.
Taking off his butcher's apron, Harry Bussell headed to the school. Along the way, he met Lawrence Bade and told him of the tragedy. Lawrence immediately drove to Almont to ask Frank Trott of Trott Aviation to assist with his airplane.
Shortly thereafter, they were airborne. Lawrence Bade would be the first to arrive in Newberry. Ironically, 14 years later, he himself would become another mystery disappearance.
Note: The third installment— 'The hunt is on'—will appear in the November 14, 2018 issue.
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.