It’s been more than fifty-five years since Connie Smith walked away from Camp Sloane near Salisbury, Connecticut. When camp officials discovered she was gone, police began a massive search. Connie wasn’t just any child—she was the granddaughter of Nels Smith, the former governor of Wyoming. With power and money, the Smith family pulled out all the stops to find their missing loved one.
Investigators learned that Connie, who had been at the camp for two weeks, had seen her mother the night before. It was her tenth birthday and Helen Smith and her parents had made the two-hour drive from Greenwich to celebrate.
After they left, it is thought that Connie was involved in a tussle with a camp-mate. She ended up with a bloody nose. The night before, she’d fallen on the tent platform and hurt her hip. She obtained an ice pack from the infirmary, then went to bed. On that morning of July 16, Connie told her tent-mates that she planned to forego eating breakfast because she wanted to return the ice pack. She almost certainly left the camp as the others went to breakfast. At some point that morning, counselors found the discarded ice pack and determined the girl was missing.
The Connecticut State Police took charge of the investigation. Almost immediately, they checked a nearby gypsy encampment. In fact, investigators hid in the forest for several days to see if Connie was being held against her will. Nothing came of that lead. As the days passed, cops drove through forests and fields in an open jeep, hoping to locate the odor of a dead body. They tested scat in the forest, thinking maybe Connie had been eaten by wild animals. After receiving a lead that she had been buried in the earth of a fresh grave, state troopers visited cemeteries and plunged rods through the dirt until they hit caskets. The area is littered with Revolutionary War-era water-filled “ore pits,” and police searched these, again to no avail.
Connie’s father flew in from Wyoming to coordinate the search. Locals still talk of the “Marlboro Man,” a real-live cowboy in New England. In fact, Peter Smith rode horses through the forests, flew in planes that circled the area, and handed out missing person flyers. He was divorced from his former wife, Helen, who lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, but they worked together in the now-desperate search for their daughter.
Investigators determined that Connie had walked down the drive leading away from the camp. She crossed an intersection and continued north before stopping at a farmhouse to ask directions to Salisbury. She then began walking down Highway 44 holding out her thumb. She was less than a half mile from town when she vanished. It is thought that she was abducted while trying to hitch a ride.
Two questions remain. Why did Connie leave camp and what happened to her?
She may have decided to leave because she was homesick. Connie was raised on a large farm in Wyoming. It is said that out west she even camped out at night alone. She rode horses and was used to farm-life. Connie was known as a tom-boy while most of the girls at camp were from New York City-there may have been a cultural divide that drove her to leave. Since camp officials discouraged the use of the phone there, she may have simply decided to go into town where she could use a telephone to call one of her parents.
Could she have been molested by a camp counselor or someone who worked at the camp? Police looked closely at a groundskeeper who stated that he had seen Connie walking down the driveway toward the road as he was driving into camp. He later complained about his health and moved to California. Investigators were suspicious of his move but they found nothing to connect him to the crime.
Over the years, several weird occurrences brought the case back into the media. A few months after Connie vanished, a mysterious “white Indian” appeared in Fort Worth, Texas. She claimed to be an albino Iroquois who had lived on an island somewhere between America and Canada. Nels Smith thought she might be his missing daughter and sent an investigator to check her out. It turned out she was a runaway from Massachusetts.
A few years later, Nels met with a “Gypsy King” in California and asked him if they still kidnapped children. The response was, “Not anymore.”
On another occasion, a convict contacted police and stated that he had murdered Connie. He was taken from his cell in the state penitentiary so that he could show cops where he buried her. He told skeptical cops to dig alongside a certain river. When police began digging, they were astounded to find a human leg bone. It later turned out that the bone was from a victim who had drowned during a hurricane. Just before his execution, the convict told police that he had not murdered the girl but did enjoy the sunshine and the sandwiches he got during his time out of his cell.
In 1958, a young girl’s remains were found near Williams, Arizona. Police, who were never able to identify her, called her “Little Miss X.” Four years later, a letter received by the Connecticut State Police claimed that Little Miss X was Connie Smith. The remains were taken to the Smith ranch in Wyoming and then to Connie’s dentist in South Dakota. A comparison of the Arizona child’s teeth with Connie’s dental records was inconclusive. From there, the remains were taken to Denver where a team of forensics experts attempted to match them to Connie. Again, they were unable to definitively link the two. In 2004, the Connecticut State Police collected DNA from the Smith family, hoping to match the Smith DNA with that from Little Miss X. But, lo and behold, no one could locate the grave of the Arizona girl.
That’s where the case stands. Helen Smith died in 1961, some said of a broken heart. Nels continued a relentless search for Connie until his death. As of this writing, Peter is still alive. After more than half a decade, the mystery remains.