December 26, 2018Editor's note: This is the sixth 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.
Resuming the search, the line moved about a quarter mile when the command from a man on the line screamed out.
"Trooper, there was a fire here," he said.
Immediately the line was stopped.
State Police Lieutenant Fred Chrispell and the Native American guide raced through the carnage of brush and tree tops, both dropping to their knees to investigate. Gently, they shifted the leaves to look at the remnants of a fire.
Kosequat spoke first.
"Lieutenant, this fire site is old, it predates the 48 hours that Hale has been missing," he said.
"How do you know that?" the lieutenant responded.
"The site has too many fresh leaves upon it," Kosequat replied. "In two days there should only be a couple inches, and we have about six inches on top. I believe the loggers made coffee or warmed up food here for lunch."
Immediately the line was ordered to resume.
Capac High School football coach Charles 'Chuck' Lincoln.
By mid-afternoon, the temperature had risen to 50 degrees. The slush was gone, taking with it any tracks or signs of any disturbance to the site. Reaching the designated half-mile point, the line turned around and headed back, painstakingly re-checking every square foot.
Lieutenant Chrispell, realizing he had not talked to the post, headed toward his car and the two-way radio to check in.
Sweating because of the wool clothes he was wearing, and with wet feet, he called dispatch.
The dispatcher quickly answered, "Been trying to reach you Lt. Chrispell... have a lot of messages for you."
"What do you have?" Lt. Chrispell asked.
"The 61 businessmen from Capac will be late, they missed the ferry at Mackinaw," the dispatcher said. "The helicopter will be ready to fly at daybreak, but needs to talk to you about a plan of action, and the dog will be here tomorrow, also."
"Good," Lt. Chrispell replied. "When the group from Capac arrives, tell them to bed down and be on site at daybreak. Are the motels and restaurant ready to accommodate?"
"Yes sir, they are," the dispatcher responded.
"Tell the helicopter crew I will see them tonight, and the dog and owner I want at first light. Traffic will be a problem, have them brought to the site in a marked cruiser. I want that dog to precede everything."
The rebuttal was quick.
"Yes sir," the dispatcher said.
Hanging up the radio, the lieutenant thought to himself, "would the dog be effective?" He hoped it could resolve the fate of Hale Currier, but he knew already the outcome. Mother Nature and the forest would prevail. The snow/slush and new wet ground, plus the smell and scents of 80-plus men, would mask any trace of the missing hunter.
Returning to the line, he asked above, "Just give me one clue."
In Capac, Superintendent Van Volkenburg heard of the problem with the ferry at the Straits and immediately called Congressman Wolcott, knowing that the ferry was subsidized by federal funds.
Going through the many switchboards to Washington, D.C. for what seemed like an eternity, the Superintendent was getting agitated. First, he got an aide who said the Congressman wasn't available. With patience now gone, he said "You have five minutes to put him on this line or I will call every newspaper in his district and tell them how uncaring and distant the congressman has been during this ordeal."
In very short order, Congressman Walcott was on the line.
"Jesse, this is Ralph," Supt. Van Volkenburg said. "I want the ferry at Mackinaw put back on summer hours. The shortened hours are a real hindrance to the search for Hale Currier. And you will be the cause of such. Do you understand?"
"Ralph, you're threatening me," said the Congressman.
"No, Congressman, it's called free speech, and I'm sure your constituents will see it that way," Van Volkenburg said.
"I will see what I can do," Congressman Wolcott said.
"Thank you," the Superintendent replied.
Hanging up the telephone, he noticed Chuck Lincoln—the football coach—outside his door.
"Cone on in, Chuck," Van Volkenburg said. "What's on your mind?"
"Ralph," Lincoln responded, "the football team wants to go up and look for Hale. They knew him and grew up with his sons Jim and Phil. They want to go up Friday night after the game at Memphis. Do you think it's possible?"
Falling back into his chair, the hard-nosed Superintendent thought about it. The search had taken on a new dimension now. The youth of this community wanted to take the task upon themselves to help. He was dumbstruck and in awe.
His friend Hale Currier had a following larger than even he realized. It was bigger than life itself.
With tears in his eyes, he said, "Yes, coach, as long as they have parental consent. They can tell their parents that you and I will chaperone and accept responsibility for all of them. Now close the door. I need time for myself to make the arrangements for a Friday night departure."
At the State Police post that night, Lt. Chrispell met with the Selfridge crew about the following day's search.
Addressing the pilot and leader in command, the lieutenant said, "Captain your mission tomorrow is going to be very difficult. First I want you to draw up a grid and at low altitude try to visibly look for a body, which is going to be impossible to say the least. Your subject was dressed to blend into the terrain and now we have more leaves that have fallen to further conceal your quarry.
"But your second mission, I believe, will be more fruitful," Lt. Chrispell continued. "That is to observe and document the events further away, at least five miles away. Captain, I want to know who else is in these woods. And also, take some photos with our Kodak camera above the lodge and immediate area. I want to understand the maze of trails made by the loggers. I have a theory about this disappearance but I need more information.
"Also, this needs to be kept quiet to maintain rescue rather than recovery," Lt. Chrispell concluded. "Any questions Captain?"
The reply from the Captain was quick and decisive.
"No sir," he said. "I fully understand and agree."
Part VII, 'The scope of the search doubles and intensifies,' 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.