November 28, 2018Editor's note: This is the fourth installment 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.
Lieutenant Fred Chrispell moved slowly down the highway toward the state police post he commanded. A warm front had moved in from the south, and the snow and slush on the ground had created a low hanging fog. Visibility was zero. "More complication for the search parties," he pondered.
Just then the two-way radio crackled out for the lieutenant's location from dispatch.
"I'm about two miles away. Visibility is zero," Lt. Chrispell responded.
"Acknowledged, sir," the dispatcher said. "I have 20 men here from Capac and they need guidance to the hunting lodge. Also, Lieutenant, there are another 61 businessmen and professionals in transit to arrive this afternoon."
The lieutenant blurted out, "I thought the hundred men wouldn't be here until Wednesday."
"Sir, they will be here tomorrow," replied the dispatcher.
"Alright, have one of the troopers escort them to the camp, and I'll meet them there," Lt. Chrispell said. "Copy?"
The fork in the road near the CAPDET hunting lodge where Hale Currier was last seen. He went off to the right.
"Affirmative, sir, but you need to come in here first," the dispatcher said. "The Colonel called and also the governor's office again."
"Alright," the lieutenant replied. "The tentative budget isn't even due until December...what's the big yank about?" he thought as he stared into the total blindness.
Back in Capac, Superintendent Ralph Van Volkinburg took his leadership role very seriously. Hale Currier was instrumental in him getting his job, and it weighed heavily upon him. Having dealt with politicians constantly, he knew how to make government work.
With the election only days away, he first contacted Representative Jesse Wolcott and reminded him of such, and requested the National Guard be sent in. Then he contacted Governor Sigler's office and demanded the same. Although he wasn't on the ballot, the people of the Thumb would not let him forget his support because he needed their vote.
After the ladies of the village loaded the soup, sandwiches, chili and bags of coffee into the trunks of the caravan, the 61 businessmen and professionals left the village. Most of the businesses closed, or were on limited service. Hurriedly, the women prepared for tomorrow's exodus of workers and farmers.
School was scaled back as many of the teachers were off and headed to the Upper Peninsula. The local farmers suspended fall plowing, sugar beet harvesting, and picking corn, and left their wives and children to milk the cows and feed the livestock. Hale Currier was not just a man, he was an institution to the souls of the greater Thumb.
Grain elevators—the heart of the local economies—closed in Brown City and Yale as their owners and workers headed north.
Entering the State Police Post parking lot, the lieutenant watched as the police cruiser crawled onto the highway with the single red light on its top flashing, and six automobiles huddled closely together in the blinding fog.
"Lieutenant, good morning," the dispatcher said. "Command central in Lansing is on the line. I told them you weren't here yet but they said they would wait."
"Thank you," he replied. "State Police Lt. Chrispell here."
"Fred, this is the Colonel. I understand you have two missing up there and we're going to send additional troops and conservation officers. Scale back on the missing trapper and concentrate your resources on this Hale Currier character. I don't know who he is, but the governor and all elected officials are demanding action. I've never seen Governor Sigler so upset.
"There will be 12 troopers with vouchers for meals and lodging," the colonel continued. "Have someone in the dispatch position make the reservations. The added conservation officers will all be local throughout the Upper. They will have other arrangements. If you have any questions, call me direct. This man must be found."
"Colonel," the Lieutenant replied, "I am afraid he might be deceased. It's been 48 hours."
"I know, Fred," the colonel said. "This must remain a rescue, not a recovery. Oh, Fred, call the governor's office. They have some other ideas. Go along with them and be cautious around the press. Reuters and UPI have already called. Stay on the line, the operator will connect you to the governor's office. And good luck..."
Soon, Lieutenant Chrispell heard another voice.
"Operator, Governor Sigler's office. How may I direct your call?"
"This is Lt. Fred Chris..." before he could even finish saying his name, the lead advisor to the governor was on the line.
"Lieutenant, we have a profound situation upon us," he said. "Legislators at the federal and state level are demanding Governor Sigler call up the National Guard and send them to Newberry. Lieutenant, the law does not allow that, only allowed for natural disasters...Some of our closest allies in Lansing have turned on the governor. There is a clause in the law that says we can assist in searches to save lives and assist law enforcement, but it is limited to rescue only, not recovery. Did the colonel make that clear, Lieutenant?"
"Yes sir, he did," Lt. Chrispell replied. Then he realized the man never gave him his name, only a murky title. This was by design, he figured.
"Lieutenant, we have a new weapon at our disposal at Selfridge Air Base," the man said. "It's called a helicopter. The only thing I know is that it can hover at low altitudes and land almost anywhere. This new technology is in transit to you with crew, mechanics, and fuel tanker, and will be in Newberry by morning.
"All correspondence will be through the colonel," the man continued. "This equipment is rescue only. I cannot stress that enough. Thank you, Lieutenant. The governor is counting on you."
Falling back into his chair, the lieutenant felt the pressure upon him was almost unbearable, but he knew he had a tradition to uphold, and sworn to duty for the public, he would deliver.
"Dispatch," he bellowed, "I need you to make arrangements for 12 more troopers with a local motel and restaurant. And how is the Chamber of Commerce making out with rooms for the hundreds expected?"
"Sir, all motels and restaurants are to reopen early, and The Soo will take any overflow," the dispatcher replied.
"I'm going to the camp to assist in the search," the Lieutenant said. "I'll be available on the two-way radio. Also, put two detectives on the loggers and truckers in a five mile radius of camp CAPDET. I want to know everything about them and what they have seen...and where is that dog? We have a life to save!"
Part V, 'The search intensifies' will appear in the December 12, 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.