March 06, 2019Editor's note: This is the final installment in Doug Hunter's 'Capac Unsolved Mystery' series, detailing the disappearance of beloved Capac merchant Hale Currier while on a hunting trip in the Upper Peninsula on October 17, 1948. The first installment appeared in the October 17, 2018 issue of Tri-City Times.
Since the Hale Currier series began on October 17, 2018, many readers have stopped me on the street, called, and emailed the Tri-City Times with their own personal theories and opinions of the late Mr. Currier. I decided to ask professional law enforcement officials about their take on the disappearance.
On February 28, I met with three detectives in a sit-down question and answer format. All three had been following the series and closely monitoring the actions of Michigan State Police Lieutenant Fred Chrispell, who headed up the investigation into Currier's disappearance 70 years ago.
The detectives' total law enforcement experience exceeds 70 years, and all have been involved in missing persons cases, murders, and every conceivable crime committed.
Seasoned and tempered in man's inhumanity toward others, crimes as callous and heinous that you and I cannot conceive of, these case-hardened detectives that protect and serve us expressed a keen interest in this disappearance. One official, St. Clair County Sheriff's Detective Chris Schwartzkopf, had even visited and hunted on the property that Hale Currier disappeared on. He was a guest of Carl Lang, mentioned in the story, whose father Elmer Lang was a partner in the CAPDET lodge in Newberry, and who was present at the beginning and ending of the search. Also, Det. Schwartzkopf is the grandson of Dr. Louis Dawe, DVM, who was a strong voice for the people of Capac during this period. Det. Schwartzkopf also had two uncles assist in the search, and has been aware of the Hale Currier disappearance his entire life.
Detective Kelsey Wade has been with the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department for 15 years. I met Detective Wade about ten years ago when she was on the Drug Task Force. She is meticulous in the way she gathers evidence and processes such. She has a dedication to detail that puts her in a class that many envy, and criminals abhor. Nothing elusive too complex to Detective Wade—it is only a challenge.
Detective Steve Rickert is the most senior detective in the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department. A 25 year employee of the department, Detective Rickert is quiet and appears to be a man who would be hard to read if you were being interrogated by him. A man who carefully processes his questions. In a detective, this is key, and I am sure this is a trait that is very important in his work.
After laying out my information, old newspaper clippings, maps, pictures and the like, I asked the question, "Did Lt. Chrispell handle the investigation correctly?"
The law enforcement trio responded immediately.
St. Clair County Sheriff Detectives Kelsey Wade, Steve Rickert and Chris Schwartzkopf pose for photo after reviewing information on the Hale Currier missing persons case.
The consensus was that with the technology of the time, Lt. Chrispell acted correctly. The only problem was the (tracking) dog that was brought in too late. The scene was contaminated, and the dog was not trained to the specifications of today's standards.
The problem the lieutenant faced was there were no dogs trained to search, because at that time, the state and/or counties had no K-9 teams.
Next question: "Do you think the ground search was adequate?"
Det. Schwartzkopf stated that being familiar with the property, and probing every square foot twice—along with the procedures used—was beyond reproach.
"I feel as Lt. Chrispell thought he (Hale Currier) was buried on one of the many trails," Det. Schwartzkopf said. His colleagues concurred.
Next, we discussed Lieutenant's Chrispell's orders to his detectives to mingle with all of the merchants and townspeople in the Newberry area.
"Yes, that's standard procedure still today," Detective Rickert said. "Start at the center and move out in calibrated steps, and take and keep notes on everything you hear.
"The most seemingly useless tip may solve the case," he continued. "I've seen it happen."
I then asked, "When the lieutenant told all the troopers and conservation officers that a killer
always returns, is that true?"
"Yes," they all replied. And they went so far to say that the killer or killers were there during the entire two week search.
"Really?" I asked.
"Absolutely, they knew," came the response. They had perfect cover. The locals thought they were from Capac and the people from Capac thought they were locals and they moved about freely.
"Abhorrent as it sounds, they had lunch at the same table every day with the people who cared for and loved Mr. Currier," said Detective Wade.
I then asked about the possibility of any evidence that was overlooked.
"The lieutenant, under the extreme circumstances with no body or physical evidence, did not miss anything," Detective Wade observed. "He turned over every rock, leaf, and parted the grass in six miles and did not miss anything. His search and techniques were admirable."
My next question brought us around to the present time. "How would this be handled today?"
Detective Schwartzkopf answered first.
"I would have a helicopter there within minutes," he said. "Today, Selfridge (Air Force Base) is at our disposal. Sometimes they are already airborne in our area. We also have several dogs trained to follow a scent. Also, Port Huron and State Police have dogs available."
"We also have drones now," Detective Rickert added. "The Department has deputies trained in rescue and evidence gathering using drones and other electronic devices that Lt. Chrispell could only dream of."
Detective Wade noted the following:
"Arriving on the scene, we would gather all evidence no matter the size or scope with the assistance of modern technology," she said. "We also can get assistance from other departments almost instantaneously."
"Cell phones and Facebook, for example, have solved crimes and helped us locate missing persons and people of interest," said Detective Rickert.
Detective Schwartzkopf agreed.
"We are so much more in touch with each other," he said. "Seventy years ago Lt. Chrispell was out of contact with all his troopers when he left his vehicle. Today, we have constant communication."
Detective Wade added, "At the scene, we are trained to locate and retrieve small fibers and minute DNA, not just fingerprints anymore. Technology has given us an edge in solving crime."
Detective Rickert agreed.
"If Mr. Currier would have disappeared today, I would say there is an 80 percent chance we would have solved the case and found the person or persons involved."
His colleagues concurred. An 80 percent success rate was accurate.
In conclusion, I don't know if this mystery will ever be solved. Probably not. But it did give us a look back to a different time when people actually cared about one another.
Hale Currier made the state, nation, and world take notice of what looking out for your brother truly means.
Lucy Currier eventually remarried. She died in 1977. Son Phil Currier died in 2016. Son Jim and his wife Ruth live in The Villages, Florida.
The Currier store was purchased by Dr. Norbert Conrad and his wife Alberta, and was used as his office. That space is now part of Capac Hardware on Main Street.
Waltz Meats is now the Capac American Legion Hall.
The Currier home is now owned by Larry Traub. It is located at 303 N. Main Street.
The CAPDET lodge and property is now owned by Jim and Jane Hoover of Capac. A big thank you to the Hoovers for their assistance with this story.
I would also like to thank the Capac Historical Society and John Gryzb, and the dozen or so senior citizens of Capac who helped make this story possible. Thank you all for showing us what Capac was like 70 years ago.
Email Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.