CHAIN OF PONDS, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Friday marks National Missing Children's Day, a time when law enforcement reminds parents to educate their children about child abduction, and tries to raise awareness about missing children's cases.
Maine still has a handful of cases of children who have never been found. Most recently, Ayla Reynolds went missing from her father's Waterville home. She was 20 months old when she disappeared in December.
According to Public Safety Spokesperson Steve McCausland, the search for Ayla is the second largest for a missing child in the state's history. The largest search happened almost 37 years ago in Chain of Ponds, a township in western Maine, just 6 miles south of the Canadian border, about 14 miles northwest of Eustis.
4-year old Kurt Newton of Manchester, Maine had spent Labor Day weekend in 1975 camping with his parents, his older sister, and some family friends. Kurt's mother, Jill, told the Morning Sentinel a couple days later that at around 10 a-m on Sunday, August 31st, she left Kurt to ride his tricycle at their campsite while she washed some mud off the kids' sneakers.
When she came back 10 minutes later... Kurt was gone.
A 13 year old girl was the last person to see Kurt. She told police he wheeled by her on his tricycle, and she was wondering where his parents were. State Police still have that tricycle, the only piece of physical evidence found in this case. It was found, pulled over near the campsite dump, just up the dirt road from where Kurt was last seen.
Using maps and compasses, the Maine Warden Service led a grid search of the woods for 13 days. It rained and rained, and the terrain was full of thick brush and moss covered holes.
Ron and Jill Newton were there every day, calling for their son.
Retired Forest Ranger Tom LeMont was there, and remembers hearing Jill Newton call from a helicopter. "Very tough people. I think I cried as much as she did when she'd get up overhead in that helicopter begging him to get up and wave. There ain't no person alive, if they care, or if they're a parent. You can't take it. You're not tough. I don't care who you are. You're not tough. I hate to even talk on it."
After a few days, Retired State Police Captain Ray Lamontagne, then a patrol supervisor in Skowhegan, called in an Air Force C-130 H cargo plane with state of the art infrared technology to find any sign of body heat. He said, "It had gatling guns sticking out of the side of it, and the wind blew through it as we flew. And it had recently returned from the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam."
All it found were animals in the woods.
After 13 days, the Warden Service announced the search was being scaled back. But the search wasn't over.
In the weeks and months after that initial search, Kurt's parents sent posters with his picture on it to every school district in the country -- hoping he was being raised by another family.
Lamontagne says detectives worked constantly, following leads and tracking down everyone who had been at the campground that weekend.
And LeMont, who live just a few miles from Chain of Ponds, continued to search the campground area many more times over the years, along with other local wardens and police officers.
Lamontagne says over time, the tips slowed to a trickle. But one day in the mid-1980's, he thought he had his big break.
Police from out of state sent a picture of a boy that looked a lot like Kurt. "I was convinced to the extent that I started making flight arrangements. But the minute the detective went, the mother took a look and said, 'That's not him.'"
State Police Lieutenant Brian McDonough, who heads the Major Crimes Unit for southern Maine now, says there hasn't been a lead on this case in about 20 years. He says there are some things police do in old cases like these, like taking DNA from parents in case the missing person's body is found, or someone turns up claiming to be that person.
Investigators also get together from time to time to go over cold cases, to see if there's anything they missed.
McDonough says police never give up hope, but if Kurt was killed, it becomes less likely every year that his body will be found. "I can't imagine that there's hardly any remains," McDonough said. "Their bodies are so frail and their bone structure isn't fully formed."
Some people think Kurt was taken by a bear, others that he was abducted. McDonough says he feels it's pretty clear that this is a case of foul play and he thinks it's unlikely that Kurt was killed by an animal because there was no blood found at the campground.
More than 36 years later, the searchers are long gone at Natanis Point.
And there are no answers.