December 12, 2018Editor's note: This is the fifth 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.
Overseeing the search from Capac, Schools' Superintendent VanVolkinburg realized the overwhelming task the three women at CAPDET faced. The food was arriving with each caravan of volunteers, but they needed assistance.
Soon he had the director of the St. Clair County Red Cross on the telephone, and he asked for the mobile canteen to be sent to Newberry with accompanying staff.
The answer was not what he expected. Under their charter and law, they were limited to St. Clair or any contiguous county that suffered from a natural disaster. The director was sympathetic to the superintendent's plight, but he could not go against the statute.
Pressing hard, the superintendent said "This is a rescue mission and the army of friends are also the same people that made the donations that allowed the Red Cross to survive. Do something, or the next call is to the newspapers to extol your lack of empathy."
Under duress, the director said "Perhaps Luce County where the search is underway could assist under the Emergency Rescue Clause, but under no circumstances could the resources of St. Clair County be used."
The next day, Luce County's mobile canteen was on site and would stay there for ten days.
Driving to the campsite, Michigan State Police Lt. Chrispell strained under pressure from forces he never faced in his long career. He needed a strategy that would be successful. In his heart he knew Currier was dead, but what happened to his body? These silent woods must give up the truth of Hale Currier. There has to be a clue, he thought, and his duty was to find it.
Arriving at the lodge, the fog had lifted and the ground was covered in slush about an inch deep. Calling the 50 or so volunteers, troopers and conservation officers together, Lt. Chrispell noticed the tracks in the slush. Combat boots. The tracks were all over the place. What was so elusive was now prevalent. Then it hit him. During the war, shoes and boots were rationed and were still at a premium. This was an avenue that demanded more investigating.
Search volunteers take a lunch break at the CAPDET hunting cabin in the Upper Peninsula.
Standing on a small knoll, he introduced himself and told those gathered how they would perform the search.
First, he instructed two troopers to cut with machetes 50 saplings about 3-4 feet long and to give each man one of them. After this was done, they would line up in a straight line ten feet apart, two troopers with the machetes would be on each end slashing a mark on the trees. This would allow subsequent searchers to know what area had already been searched. Then the line 500 feet long would step one foot forward and probe the ground with the sapling, one foot at a time, to his right up to his neighbor ten feet away. Then when the line reached that point, they would return to their original position, step forward another foot, and do the same task.
The terrain was almost unbearable with tree tops, uprooted trees and thorn bushes. But the line would not move until each foot of ground was checked. The process would be slow, but methodical. If any ground was loose or unstable, searchers were instructed to stop and call out for assistance. They were told not to move, for it could be a crime scene, and to move about could destroy evidence.
These instructions sent a chill down the spines of the volunteers. Their friend, Hale Currier, could have been murdered. Spirits sank along the line. Reality had set in. What most had thought but no one talked about was Hale being dead.
The lieutenant from his perch saw the eyes well up and become bloodshot, and tears stream down the faces of some searchers. He could not lie to these people. He admired their loyalty to Hale Currier, a man he thought must have been very special as his own eyes welled up. He felt cheated for never knowing a man that created such concern and respect.
"We are going to go in about a half-mile, then turn around and come back doing the same procedure to our right again, checking our neighbor's work," he said. "Any questions?"
A young man spoke up.
"Lieutenant, I did this at Iwo Jima, looking for brother Marines," he said. "I know the procedure all too well, sir. Still dream about it," he added, tears streaming down his face.
From the back, a voice choking back tears stated, "It's alright, Marine. I did the same thing at Somme 30 years ago," he said.
Deep in the woods it was a somber moment as men opened up their hearts to the secrets they carried. The lieutenant thought, "What an honor to lead such men in their resolution to find a friend and comrade."
"Take up your position," he stated, thinking to himself "I must find this man."
Solemnly, the men lined up in formation. There was little talking as they moved. Even the chirping of birds and scurrying of squirrels through the woods went silent, seeming in reverence to the circumstances.
In a cadence-like exercise, the line moved forward. Lieutenant Chrispell, in the rear, prayed for a quick resolution. "Let him be found alive," he prayed, although he knew from years of experience that was an unlikely outcome. Fifty other men were also praying for the same. The lieutenant kept Kosequat, the Indian guide, close to him knowing full well the guide's knowledge of
the woods exceeded all others.
About one hundred yards into the wilderness a call came out.
"There is something dead here. I can smell it."
"Don't move," said a trooper as the lieutenant and Indian guide moved to the location. Arriving, the Indian dropped to his knees in the slush, taking deep breaths, taking in the odor like a dog hunting its quarry. Stopping, he took his fingers and pulled
away the leaves ever so tenderly.
He knew what it was. The smell of rotting flesh is something you never forget.
Carefully, he dissected the remains in front of him like a pathologist then said, "Lieutenant, these are the remains of a poached deer, probably four to six weeks old," he said.
"How do you know it was poached?" asked the lieutenant.
"Because only the innards are here," Kosequat said. "The meat is missing!"
Part VI, 'The search widens and grows more intense,' will appear in the December 26, 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.