November 14, 2018Editor's note: This is the third 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.
Driving to the lodge to meet the team of first responders tasked with trying to locate Hale Currier, who'd gone missing in the woods, State Police Post Commander Lt. Fred Chrispell thought of the many searches he had been on and how the wilderness keeps its dark secrets.
Arriving at the site, he was met by conservation officers, and the Indian guide and woodsman Lawrence Kosequat. Calling him to the side, Lt. Chrispell asked of the results in the perimeter search.
"None," replied the guide, who paused and then added "I am worried that he is lost forever.
"The birds of the sky who I count on to help me have left for the winter," Kosequat said.
"What are you talking about?" the lieutenant asked.
"The buzzards have left—they always tell you where injured or dead men are. And the crows are always noisy when something is amiss in the woods," Kosequat said.
"The buzzards left about a week ago, always before the first snow," he continued. "The crows stay but whatever happened here must have been during the dark, and then the snow covered up everything.
"Snow is good for tracking, but with the temperature rising, the snow becomes our enemy," Kosequat said as he kicked at the slush now firming up on the ground.
Gathering the rest of the responders, Lt. Chrispell instructed each member to take out their compasses and picture them as a clock. He asked each man to take a number so the dozen men would each go out in 12 different directions. Each would then go out one mile, and then go to the half hour mark and return.
"The victim was wearing combat boots," the lieutenant said. "If you find such tracks, report immediately and we will concentrate on that area. Also, pay close attention to the sky and the crows, because they will not keep a secret."
Returning to his cruiser, the two-way radio was calling for him. When he answered, the dispatcher replied, "Lieutenant, we have an airplane coming from Almont, Michigan to aid in the search. They want to know what you want them to do. Expected arrival is 3 o'clock."
"Corporal," Lt. Chrispell responded. "give them the coordinates and set up a grid to look for smoke and any activity on the ground such as bears, and if by chance crows are congregating, I want the location immediately. And I want to debrief them tonight at the Post. Also, Corporal, any word on the dog?"
"No sir. Call again," the dispatcher replied.
Back in Capac, Bill Clarkson of Clarkson Dairy and Cecil Young, the Ford dealer, were preparing to leave for the Upper Peninsula, but their task was not easy. They had been chosen to pick up Hale Currier's son, Jim, at Central Michigan University, where he was a student. Others would pick up his brother, Phil.
Seven cars were preparing to leave at nightfall to arrive in the morning. It would be a long night. I-75 and the Mackinac Bridge were but dreams. Two-way roads and an erratic ferry were the only means available to cross the Straits.
Late in the afternoon, the airplane arrived and flew low in a grid—so low that the searchers on the ground could see the faces of the pilots.
The snow on the trees was melting and the searchers were soaking wet. The ground was now covered in two inches of slush. Any tracks or evidence was sealed into the slop.
As darkness ensued, all the conservation officers and state troopers returned to the lodge, wet and exhausted. Lt. Chrispell interviewed each man, none reported anything out of the ordinary. Thanking them for their perseverance, he turned to Mrs. Currier and said, "We will be back in the morning to search again."
With tears streaming, Lucie Currier thanked the lieutenant and his men for their efforts.
Meanwhile, the missing man's good friends asked for the lieutenant's attention.
"Can Elmer (Lang) and I speak with you?" Reddy Waltz asked.
"Yes, absolutely," Lt. Chrispell answered.
"There will be 30 men from Capac here at first light, and we don't know how many from Almont are coming," Waltz said.
"Why Almont?" the lieutenant asked.
"Hale grew up and graduated from Almont and came to Capac after the War in 1918 or early 1919 to run his father's store," Lang said.
Driving back to the post to interview the pilots, Lt. Chrispell wondered, "Who is this Hale Currier? Never have I seen such a response for a missing hunter."
As he entered the State Police post, the dispatcher delivered a message.
"Lt. Chrispell, the pilots are in the interrogation room and you have had a lot of calls on the missing hunter from Capac.
"The first call was from a man named Bob Emmons, who said he was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and he wanted to secure housing for a hundred men who would arrive on Wednesday and stay until Saturday, when another hundred men would relieve them and stay until Monday night," the dispatcher said.
"Also, the colonel in Lansing called and also Governor Sigler's office called. They want you to call their offices first thing in the morning."
"Okay," the lieutenant said. "What did you do about the hundred men coming?"
"I gave them the telephone numbers of the Soo's Chamber of Commerce, and ours," the dispatcher replied.
As Lt. Chrispell walked toward the interrogation room, he wondered what the colonel and the governor wanted. "I've got enough going on and I don't need to worry about budgets or new hires right now," he thought to himself.
Entering the interrogation room, Lt. Chrispell shook the hand of each man there.
"Anything out of the ordinary, smoke or behavior problems with the animals or birds?" he asked.
"No," each man replied.
"What do you want us to do tomorrow?" Capac resident Lawrence Bade asked.
"Extend your grid to five miles. Did you see anyone besides the search team?" Lt. Chrispell asked.
"We saw some loggers and a man on a bulldozer cutting trails to the lumbering areas," Bade responded.
"How many trails are there?" the lieutenant asked.
"There are miles and miles of trails," Bade said. "I couldn't even guess how many."
Thanking the men as they left, Lt. Chrispell went into deep thought.
"With the weather the way it is, a man could not survive a serious medical issue after 24 hours," he said to himself. "This rescue mission is now a recovery mission..."
The lieutenant had another thought...how could he tell Mrs. Currier his feelings?
Part IV, 'The Search Intensifies,' will appear in the November 28, 2018 issue of Tri-City Times.
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.