“JUNE O’BRIEN’S SATANIC TOASTER” and Other Strange True Stories – PLUS BLOOPERS! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: If you ever attended grade school in the United States, you no doubt are more than familiar with the Mayflower and why the ship is so famous. But what you were not told in that classroom is about the mystery that took place on that voyage… on that very ship… that went unsolved for over three hundred years. (The Mayflower Mystery) *** June O’Brien has a problem. She loved toast… and her toast did a really good job of toasting bread. So what was the problem? Well… it appears her toaster was possessed by the devil. (June O’Brien’s Satanic Toaster) *** It was June 1969, and less than a week from his seventh birthday; Dennis went camping with his dad, brother and grandpa for Father’s Day weekend. The next day they bumped into some other Father’s Day campers with kids and they all became quick friends. But while the kids were playing in the tall grass, Dennis disappeared… and was never seen again. (What Happened To Dennis Martin?) *** But first – how can you believe in extraterrestrials, but not be convinced of alien spacecraft? That’s the argument being made by one well-known astronomer. We begin there. (Astronomer Believes In Aliens But Not UFOs)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
VIDEO of 1988 “Today Show” episode with June O’Brien’s possessed toaster: https://youtu.be/lmxEFs12xn4
“The Mayflower Mystery” from Strange Company: https://tinyurl.com/y2ahxr39
“June O’Brien’s Satanic Toaster” by Rob Schwarz: https://tinyurl.com/yygok5u4
“What Happened to Dennis Martin” by Michael Mayes for Texas Cryptid Hunter: https://tinyurl.com/y64gqkcg
“Astronomer Believes In Aliens But Not UFOs” by Chris Ipey for The Conversation: https://tinyurl.com/y5q4ovwu
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OTHER PODCASTS I HOST…
Paranormality Magazine: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/paranormalitymag
Micro Terrors: Scary Stories for Kids: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/microterrors
Retro Radio – Old Time Radio In The Dark: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/retroradio
Church of the Undead: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/churchoftheundead
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Stories and content in Weird Darkness can be disturbing for some listeners and intended for mature audiences only. Parental discretion is strongly advised.
Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
If you ever attended grade school in the United States, you no doubt are more than familiar with the Mayflower and why the ship is so famous. But what you were not told in that classroom is about the mystery that took place on that voyage… on that very ship… that went unsolved for over three hundred years. (The Mayflower Mystery)
June O’Brien has a problem. She loved toast… and her toast did a really good job of toasting bread. So what was the problem? Well… it appears her toaster was possessed by the devil. (June O’Brien’s Satanic Toaster)
It was June 1969, and less than a week from his seventh birthday; Dennis went camping with his dad, brother and grandpa for Father’s Day weekend. The next day they bumped into some other Father’s Day campers with kids and they all became quick friends. But while the kids were playing in the tall grass, Dennis disappeared… and was never seen again. (What Happened To Dennis Martin?)
But first – how can you believe in extraterrestrials, but not be convinced of alien spacecraft? That’s the argument being made by one well-known astronomer. We begin there. (Astronomer Believes In Aliens But Not UFOs)
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, my newsletter, enter contests, to connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, to visit sponsors you hear about during the show, sign up for my newsletter, enter contests, connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: ASTRONOMER BELIEVES IN ALIENS BUT NOT UFOS==========
If intelligent aliens visit the Earth, it would be one of the most profound events in human history.
Surveys show that nearly half of Americans believe that aliens have visited the Earth, either in the ancient past or recently. That percentage has been increasing. Belief in alien visitation is greater than belief that Bigfoot is a real creature, but less than belief that places can be haunted by spirits.
Scientists dismiss these beliefs as not representing real physical phenomena. They don’t deny the existence of intelligent aliens. But they set a high bar for proof that we’ve been visited by creatures from another star system. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
UFO means unidentified flying object. Nothing more, nothing less.
There’s a long history of UFO sightings. Air Force studies of UFOs have been going on since the 1940s. In the United States, “ground zero” for UFOs occurred in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico. The fact that the Roswell incident was soon explained as the crash landing of a military high-altitude balloon didn’t stem a tide of new sightings. The majority of UFOs appear to people in the United States. It’s curious that Asia and Africa have so few sightings despite their large populations, and even more surprising that the sightings stop at the Canadian and Mexican borders.
Most UFOs have mundane explanations. Over half can be attributed to meteors, fireballs and the planet Venus. Such bright objects are familiar to astronomers but are often not recognized by members of the public. Reports of visits from UFOs inexplicably peaked about six years ago.
Many people who say they have seen UFOs are either dog walkers or smokers. Why? Because they’re outside the most. Sightings concentrate in evening hours, particularly on Fridays, when many people are relaxing with one or more drinks.
A few people, like former NASA employee James Oberg, have the fortitude to track down and find conventional explanations for decades of UFO sightings. Most astronomers find the hypothesis of alien visits implausible, so they concentrate their energy on the exciting scientific search for life beyond the Earth.
While UFOs continue to swirl in the popular culture, scientists are trying to answer the big question that is raised by UFOs: Are we alone?
Astronomers have discovered over 4,000 exoplanets, or planets orbiting other stars, a number that doubles every two years. Some of these exoplanets are considered habitable, since they are close to the Earth’s mass and at the right distance from their stars to have water on their surfaces. The nearest of these habitable planets are less than 20 light years away, in our cosmic “back yard.” Extrapolating from these results leads to a projection of 300 million habitable worlds in our galaxy. Each of these Earth-like planets is a potential biological experiment, and there have been billions of years since they formed for life to develop and for intelligence and technology to emerge.
Astronomers are very confident there is life beyond the Earth. As astronomer and ace exoplanet-hunter Geoff Marcy, puts it, “The universe is apparently bulging at the seams with the ingredients of biology.” There are many steps in the progression from Earths with suitable conditions for life to intelligent aliens hopping from star to star. Astronomers use the Drake Equation to estimate the number of technological alien civilizations in our galaxy. There are many uncertainties in the Drake Equation, but interpreting it in the light of recent exoplanet discoveries makes it very unlikely that we are the only, or the first, advanced civilization.
This confidence has fueled an active search for intelligent life, which has been unsuccessful so far. So researchers have recast the question “Are we alone?” to “Where are they?”
The absence of evidence for intelligent aliens is called the Fermi Paradox. Even if intelligent aliens do exist, there are a number of reasons why we might not have found them and they might not have found us. Scientists do not discount the idea of aliens. But they aren’t convinced by the evidence to date because it is unreliable, or because there are so many other more mundane explanations.
UFOs are part of the landscape of conspiracy theories, including accounts of abduction by aliens and crop circles created by aliens. I remain skeptical that intelligent beings with vastly superior technology would travel trillion of miles just to press down our wheat.
It’s useful to consider UFOs as a cultural phenomenon. Diana Pasulka, a professor at the University of North Carolina, notes that myths and religions are both means for dealing with unimaginable experiences. To my mind, UFOs have become a kind of new American religion.
So no, I don’t think belief in UFOs is crazy, because some flying objects are unidentified, and the existence of intelligent aliens is scientifically plausible.
But a study of young adults did find that UFO belief is associated with schizotypal personality, a tendency toward social anxiety, paranoid ideas and transient psychosis. If you believe in UFOs, you might look at what other unconventional beliefs you have.
STORY: THE MAYFLOWER MYSTERY==========
Although everyone has heard of the “Mayflower,” what is largely unknown is that the famed voyage is connected to a poignant historical mystery—one that went unsolved for over three hundred years.
For many years, historians were puzzled by the fact that among the Mayflower passengers were four young brothers and sisters who were unrelated to anyone else on board. The ship’s log listed Ellen More (aged 8,) and her siblings Jasper (7,) Richard (6,) and Mary (4) as “servants” of four different Pilgrim leaders. It was first assumed that these children were penniless orphans, or offspring of parents too poor to keep them. Then, it was discovered that according to the parish register of Shipton, Shropshire, that the father of these children, Samuel More, was a rich landowner.
This new information made the presence of these children on the Mayflower seem strange, even incomprehensible. Why would a man of wealth and standing ship all of his children to a foreign land, where they faced a dangerous and highly uncertain future? An English genealogist named Sir Anthony Wagner became so fascinated by the mystery that in 1959, he was able to persuade a descendant of Samuel More to scour the family archives for any clues as to what had caused More to virtually disown his offspring. Many clues were indeed found. And it all added up to a story that reads like something out of one of Thomas Hardy’s more depressing novels.
When Samuel More was only 17, he was married to his 25-year-old cousin, Catherine More. It was an arranged match, made in order to keep Catherine’s considerable inheritance in the More family.
Although Catherine quickly bore four children, the marriage was not a success. Catherine had been in love with another man whom she had planned to marry, and the teenage Samuel likely lacked any real affection for his much-older bride. The real trouble began when the children became older. It was “common fame” that Catherine was conducting an affair with her old love, Jacob Blakeway, “a fellow of mean parentage and condition.” As there had been a formal betrothal contract, she even referred to him as her husband “before God.” Samuel, studying the faces of his presumed progeny, became convinced that they all resembled, not little Mores, but little Blakeways.
There was, of course, no way for Samuel to confirm his suspicions about the children’s parentage–and whether or not he was right is something we will never know–but he was taking no chances. The four youngsters were packed off to London, and More paid the Pilgrim leaders to take them to Virginia. He would see to it that the children were given sufficient food, lodging, and other necessities, and at the end of seven years he would arrange for each of them to have 50 acres of land in Virginia, but other than that, he washed his hands of them. Catherine made numerous legal appeals protesting this action, but they were all dismissed.
Samuel, believing that his marriage to Catherine was invalid, wed one Elizabeth Worsley. Seven children were the product of this remarriage, and the second Mrs. More must have prayed that each of them would be the spitting image of her husband. As for Catherine, she subsequently disappeared from the historical record. Although we know nothing of her subsequent life, it’s a safe bet that she went to her grave cursing Samuel More.
The harsh New World did not treat the More children kindly. Ellen–probably greatly weakened by the long and arduous voyage–died right after the Mayflower landed in Plymouth. Jasper soon followed her to the grave, a victim of “the common infection” (probably pneumonia or typhoid.) That same winter, Mary died of the same cause. That left only Richard, a small boy left utterly alone in the world.
Richard lived with the family of his guardian, William Brewster, until mid-1627, when he was 14. He then entered the employ of a trans-Atlantic trader named Isaac Allerton. During his apprenticeship, he became captain of numerous ships that provided supplies to the colonies. In 1636, he married a young woman named Christian Hunter. Soon after their marriage, they moved to Salem, where they eventually had seven children.
Richard seems to have inherited his mother’s taste for extra-marital intrigue. In 1645, Richard, who was then in London, bigamously married one Elizabeth Woolnough. The following year, Elizabeth appeared in court to answer a charge against More–who had apparently skipped the country–for being drunk in the company of a prostitute. As far as is known, Elizabeth never came to America, and her subsequent history is unknown. The couple had one daughter, another Elizabeth, who eventually settled in Long Island. After Christian died in 1676, Richard married a widow named Jane Hollingsworth Crumpton.
After such an unpromising beginning, Richard did quite well for himself in the New World. By the time he was 24, he was Captain of his own ship, doing a successful trading business between the colonies, the West Indies, and England. He also became a prominent landowner.
In 1654, More participated in naval battles against the French, and served in a successful expedition against the enemy country at Port Royal, where this French fort was “reduced to English obedience.” The following year, he headed the rescue of colonists at Cape Fear, who were reduced to starvation after a ship that was meant to bring them supplies never arrived. In his many years as a mariner, More never lost a ship, or had any sailor under his command bring charges against him.
Unfortunately for him, More fell on hard times in his final years. He began suffering financial losses, and in July 1688, he got into major trouble with the Salem church elders. The church records thundered, “Old Captain More having been for many years under suspicion and common fame of lasciviousness, and some degree at least of inconstancy…but for want of proof we could go no further. He was at last left to himself so far as that he was convicted before justices of peace by three witnesses of gross unchastity with another man’s wife.” More was excommunicated, but after making public repentance for his sin, he was restored to the church in 1691. (The pastor who punished More was Nicholas Noyes, who earned his own historical infamy by leading the persecution of the Salem witches.)
Richard More died in Salem, probably in 1696. He is believed to have been the last male survivor of the Mayflower voyage. And if it wasn’t for the four waifs who mysteriously arrived on the Mayflower, we would never have learned about him when the mystery was finally solved in 1959.
When Weird Darkness returns…
It was June 1969, and less than a week from his seventh birthday; Dennis went camping with his dad, brother and grandpa for Father’s Day weekend. The next day they bumped into some Father’s Day campers with kids and they all became quick friends. But while the kids were playing in the tall grass, Dennis disappeared… and was never seen again. That story is up next.
STORY: WHAT HAPPENED TO DENNIS MARTIN?==========
The loss of a child might be the most devastating of all tragedies. It is every parent’s greatest fear, and the burden of protection – perhaps the most important of parental duties – weighs heavy on those of us blessed enough to have children. The loss of a child leaves the bereaved parents not only reeling from grief but from guilt, the guilt that they have failed in their most sacred of duties: protecting their offspring. In most cases, the parent has nothing to feel guilty about. Accidents do happen, no matter how careful we try to be. Children sometimes simply do not listen to or follow the directions of the adult figure in their lives which sometimes leads to their demise. Certainly, no parent should ever blame themselves should their child develop cancer or some other insidious disease. Still, the parents of lost children often feel they have done something wrong or that they could have done something differently. If they had, they reason, their child would still be alive. The pain of loss dulls over time to some degree, but the guilt seems to be there always, just beneath the surface waiting to bubble to the top if given even half a chance. These are the thoughts that passed through my mind as I revisited one of the most puzzling missing persons cases in U.S. history: the disappearance of Dennis Martin.
It was the summer of 1969 when Bill Martin decided to take a Father’s Day weekend camping trip. It would be a trip for the men of the Martin family and a time to get back to nature. Bill loaded up his father, Clyde, his oldest son, Doug (9 yrs.), and Dennis, who was less than a week away from his seventh birthday, and headed for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Martin men spent the first night of their trip at the Russell Field shelter. Early on the morning of June 14th, the group hiked west for two miles until they reached their destination: Spence Field. Spence Field was a grassy area running east to west on the main Great Smoky ridge. The Appalachian Trail and the Tennessee/North Carolina border run along the apex (4,800 ft. above sea level) of the field. Streams and creeks on the north side of the ridge drain into the Volunteer State while water courses on the south side of the ridge descend into North Carolina. The area features steep slopes, deep ravines, fast moving creeks, and scores of laurel and rhododendron vines, but the grassy and flat Spence Field seemed benign enough on this sunny and cloudless day. That being the case, the group settled into a shelter cabin on the western end of the campground.
After putting their gear away, Bill and his father sat contentedly and watched the boys, who had found two play mates from another family camping nearby (coincidentally, this other family also had the last name of Martin). The men watched as the group of young boys came together in the tall grass and whispered to each other. Then, almost like a football team breaking a huddle, they sprinted off in two different directions: Doug and his two new friends ran to the wood line to the south, Dennis, alone, ran into the woods to the northwest. The boys had planned a prank on their father and grandfather. They decided to run into the woods, sneak up behind the men, and then jump out and startle them. Why one of the three other boys did not go with Dennis has never been clear. What is clear is that after Dennis ran into the woods that afternoon, he would never be seen again.
Doug and his two friends carried out their plan and sprang from the woods to “scare” Bill and Clyde. Dennis did not. The men and the boys waited between three and five minutes – thinking Dennis might have misunderstood the timing of the prank – before becoming concerned. Bill, Clyde, and the other boys set off to look for Dennis but found no sign of the young boy. Calls went unanswered, the only noise was the wind whistling through the forest canopy as a storm approached. After searching on their own for over an hour, Bill Martin managed to report his missing son to park authorities. The reaction was swift with several park Rangers responding but their efforts were stopped short when a ferocious thunderstorm rolled into the area. Spence Field received between 2.5” and 3” of rain over the next several hours. Hail fell from the heavens in some spots. The streams and creeks in the area rose quickly and were described as “high and turbulent” in the official incident report. No sign of young Dennis was found. Bill, Clyde, and Doug had to sit and wait out the storm knowing Dennis was out there somewhere alone.
The initial search the following day consisted of upwards of 50 people ranging from Park Rangers to maintenance personnel. Also joining the effort were members of the Sevier County Rescue Squad, the Blount County Rescue Squat, and the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club. The searchers began combing drainages in the area. Rain continued to fall intermittently, washing away potential tracks and sign, winds kicked up and the temperature dropped into the 50s, increasing the chance of the boy becoming hypothermic. The searchers beat the bushes until well past dark. There was no sign of Dennis.
As word of the missing boy got out, more and more people made the trek to Spence Field to help. The number of searchers would swell to 1,500 before the operation was called off. It would become the largest search in National Parks history with the volunteers investigating at least 50 square miles. No one found any sign of the boy. Some believe the search party became too large and unwieldy. Clay Jordan, Deputy Park Superintendent, in a 2019 interview with USA Today said, “Today, we would not have anywhere near that number (searching).” The hearts of the people who showed up to help were in the right place but looking back, far too many well-meaning but inexperienced volunteers were allowed to participate. It is quite possible that some sign left by the boy was trampled by people who did not know what to look for. In addition to the mistake of allowing too many novice searchers to participate, officials decided, due to the prolific rainfall, not to call in dogs to search for Dennis’s scent. The officials were likely correct in that Dennis’s scent near Spence Field was likely washed out, but he was still out there somewhere and should have been creating new scent trails search dogs might have been able to lock on to (These and other miscues have been used as teaching tools ever since for search and rescue teams in training). Even so, the fact that absolutely no sign of the boy was found was shocking. “Something should have been found,” said Dwight McCarter, a veteran tracker and retired Smokies Ranger struck by the complete lack of sign.
By the second day of searching, Bill’s wife and Dennis’s mother, Violet Martin, had arrived on the scene. She was devastated by the developments but hopeful. “I have a feeling we’re going to find him,” she said. “Maybe God sent this ordeal to us so we could appreciate things more.” Others, however, were beginning to lose hope. Some searchers were told surreptitiously to start closely examining any bear, coyote, or bobcat scat. Others were dispatched to areas where vultures were spotted circling. The hours and the days dragged on, still no Dennis.
The first of several self-proclaimed psychics chimed in on Wednesday, June 18th. The Martins, and to some degree Park authorities, did not dismiss the visions of these seers outright. The areas recommended by the clairvoyants were all dutifully searched. “I believe some people have the ability to see or predict things,” said Bill Martin at the time. Whether the Knoxville-based architect had given any thought to such matters prior to the disappearance of his son remains unknown but desperation had set in and all involved wanted to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for Dennis.
One such example came from a Mrs. Schwaller of Linden, Michigan who contacted authorities to say Dennis would be found in a spot “near a stream by a small waterfall with white pine trees in the area.” Unfortunately, like other visions reported by the various psychics who contacted authorities, this description was so vague that it could have been applied to hundreds of spots in the region. Still, the parents grabbed on to each of these visions as if they were life rings and the searchers did their best to check them all out.
Excitement was briefly aroused on the fourth day of searching when volunteers located a set of faint child-sized tracks about a mile from Spence Field. After examination, authorities dismissed them as having been made by members of a Boy Scouts troop that was searching the area. Potentially, this was yet another missed lead. Tracker Dwight McCarter, still aggravated about the way the tracks were dismissed, would tell USA Today 50 years later, “They didn’t find tracks from a bunch of kids. They found tracks from one kid.” It will never be known with any certainty who made those faint impressions or what they might have led searchers to discover. Later, Dennis’s seventh birthday would come and go (June 20th) without any trace of him having been found.
On June 23rd, the Spartanburg, South Carolina Police Department provided a “police dog” to help in the search. According to the official report, “The search met with negative results.” The description of the canine as a “police” dog and not a “search” dog could be simply a semantic error or it could be significant as not all police dogs are trained for search and rescue. Other dogs were called in – far later than they should have been – but they fared no better. Rumors began circulating from the beginning that the dogs were not attempting to find Dennis’s scent and failing; rather, they were refusing to track at all. The canines, so the story goes, simply sat down and whined, refusing to work. This is one of the big factors that has set off the “high strangeness” radar of so many, however, I simply cannot say whether it is true or not. I found references to dogs not being successful, but never found any source that stated the dogs refused to track.
Fate can be cruel and she turned especially so on June 24th. Searchers came across a young man wearing a red t-shirt and green shorts (the same color of shirt and shorts Dennis had been wearing when he vanished) walking the perimeter road of the Cades Cove campground. It turned out the boy’s name was Michael Devlin and he was camping in the area with his parents. The parents agreed to change the boy’s shirt so as to avoid any future confusion. On the 26th, a man called in to Carson Brewer of the Knoxville News-Sentinel and told him to inform the searchers to “Look in the trees and treetops. Stop looking on the ground.” Did this caller have some kind of inside knowledge of the case? Was he another alleged psychic? We will likely never know. This cryptic phone call is another of the strange details surrounding the case that just does not sit right with many.
The official search would end on June 29th. Unofficial efforts would continue into September. The Martin family, refusing to believe their son was dead – in their defense, no body, blood, or any other spoor that might lead to that conclusion was ever found – put up a $5,000 reward for information leading to the return of their son. Authorities never bought in to the Martin’s kidnapping theory, but could not dismiss it outright either. In any case, the reward remained unclaimed.
The scope of the search for Dennis Martin has given pause to some. Never before had such a large force of government resources been used in a missing persons case. Between the National Parks Service employees, various county rescue squads, and military personnel involved, nearly 30,000 man-hours were invested in the search. This total does not include private citizens who volunteered their time. It is the involvement of those military personnel that has raised suspicion among many that something unusual, something other than the disappearance of a small boy, had occurred at Spence Field that June day in 1969. While it is not unusual for the National Guard to help in such matters, I have been told it is highly unusual for a regular military outfit to do so, much less a Special Forces unit like the Green Berets. The story was they were in the area on a training exercise and were instructed to come help in the search. As a non-military person, this did not seem like anything unusual to me but I have since been told by friends in the military that this simply does not happen. A bit of research revealed that the Green Berets are considered a Special Operations Force of the U.S. Army and exist to deploy and execute “nine doctrinal missions,” none of which include search and rescue operations. Digging a bit deeper, secondary missions sometimes taken on by U.S. Special Forces include, among others, combat search and rescue, hostage rescue, and manhunts. This being the case, perhaps the involvement of the Green Berets is not as strange as it at first seems. Other details, however, do lend an air of mystery to their presence. Many witnesses claim the “special ops guys” were standoff-ish, unfriendly, and “did their own thing,” which intimates a lack of communication and coordination with the other searchers. In addition, multiple reports state that these military units were armed with rifles while conducting their searches. This does sound unusual to me but I have been unable to absolutely confirm this assertion. I have seen photos of military personnel arriving at Spence Field but have not seen any weapons.
One thing that cannot be denied is that the government and the military were heavily involved in the search for Dennis Martin, much more so than any other missing persons case I can recall. A fixed wing plane, multiple helicopters, a dozen jeeps, multiple National Guard Units, and Special Forces were called in. Several military command posts were established that seemed to be working independently of the National Parks Service and FBI. In the official case report on the incident it states that President Nixon was monitoring the situation and wanted to be kept up to speed. The sheer scope of the government and military involvement regarding this event was unprecedented. The question many ask is why? It is true that Tennessee Congressman James “Jimmy” Quillen requested assistance from the government but the sheer scale of the effort would have required much more than a call for help from a Representative. In any case, the military commitment was extraordinary. Here are some statistics from the case report to chew on:
o The Army flew 938 sorties into Spence Field
o The Air Force flew 78 sorties into Spence Field
o The military moved between 1,800 and 2,000 personnel in and out of the area via jeep over the course of the search
o Involved branches/military resources included:
o Tennessee Air National Guard
o Tennessee Army National Guard
o United States Special Forces
o The U.S. Marine Reserve, Knoxville, TN.
o U.S. Army troops from Fort Benning, GA.
o Air Force personnel from McGhee-Tyson AFB, TN.
o Air Force personnel from Robbins AFB, FL.
o Personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, TN.
o Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation
o Two Huey helicopters
o Two HH-53 (Jolly Green Giant) helicopters
o One U-10 fixed wing airplane
o Two CH-53 helicopters
o Two Air Force communications trucks
o Two Chinook helicopters
I must admit to being quite taken aback regarding the investment of time, money, and resources the federal government committed to the search for a civilian missing person. I do not think it a stretch to state that it was highly unusual. George W. Fry, at the time Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, echoed a similar opinion in a letter to Tennessee Representative James H. Quillen sent on June 26, 1969 – three days before the official search for Dennis Martin concluded. He wrote, “In my entire experience with the National Park Service I have never heard of or participated in a search the extent of which this has built up to.” It may be the cynic in me but I simply do not believe that the government was acting out of the goodness of its heart in this matter. Neither do I believe a personal relationship with someone in Congress could yield such a deep level of involvement. Military personnel were flown in from as far away as Florida. It is very strange.
The final piece of weirdness is quite likely the most well-known piece of the entire strange puzzle that is the Dennis Martin case. It seems a family (Keys was their last name) hiking between 3-6 miles (I’ve found documentation supporting both these numbers) from the spot where Dennis vanished reported hearing a young boy scream in the woods. One of the family members spotted movement in a brushy area and thought it must be a bear. Instead, it turned out to be a man walking in the woods with something red slung over his shoulder (remember, Dennis was wearing a red t-shirt when he disappeared). The details of this report have morphed together and now you will find that the Keys saw a “bear man” walking upright through the woods. This birthed the theory that young Dennis had been snatched by a wood ape or sasquatch. Other reports describe the figure as an “unkempt man.” Largely ignored, another version of the Keys visual is that they saw only a “suspicious” man in dark gray work clothes that drove away after being seen. Either way, the FBI gave the Key report no credence and failed to share the information with Bill Martin, something that angered him greatly as he believed in his heart his son had been kidnapped.
It has been over 50 years since little Dennis Martin disappeared. Bill Martin died in 2014, never knowing what had become of his youngest boy. The rest of the Martin family has been silent and has not discussed the case publicly since the search was called off all those years ago. There have been a few “false alarms” over the years when it seemed the remains of Dennis Martin might have been discovered. The most recent occurred in 1985 when a ginseng hunter reached out to tracker and retired Smokies Ranger, Dwight McCarter and told him he had come across a child-sized skeleton below Spence Field near an uprooted tree. A search of the area, however, yielded nothing. Most have come to the same conclusion as Clay Jordan, Deputy Park Superintendent, who said, “I think it is virtually impossible that we will ever know what happened to Dennis Martin…It’s become one of the enduring mysteries of the Smokies.”
Spence Field looks quite different than it did a half-century ago. Trees now cover what was once open ground. Leaf litter and other forest debris cover the earth where meadow grasses once grew. “For every year, nature layers up about an inch,” Dwight McCarter said. “And it’s been a lot of years.”
As a parent, most of us sympathize greatly with the torment Bill Martin must have endured after his son disappeared practically before his very eyes. Such pain is something to which we believe we can relate, but can we? Can we really?
I, for one, pray I never find out.
Coming up… June O’Brien has a problem. She loved toast… and her toast did a really good job of toasting bread. So what was the problem? Well… it appears her toaster was possessed by the devil. That story is up next on Weird Darkness.
Plus, we’ll step into the Chamber of Comments.
STORY: JUNE O’BRIEN’S SATANIC TOASTER==========
If you had in your possession a demonic toaster, but it made pretty good toast, would you keep it?
That was the conundrum June O’Brien faced back in the late 1980s. You see, she had a toaster. A perfectly ordinary two-slice toaster. But, as she explained during an interview on The Today Show back in 1988, the toaster had a dark side.
It not only served toast; it served Satan.
“Now this one,” O’Brien said as she held up a demonic piece of toast to Sun reporter Richard Dominick, “Can you see that, Richard? Satan Lives. Just terrible.”
She said the first indication the toaster was possessed came when a deep voice emitted from the part that read “Put One Slice.” The voice said, “I Am The Devil.” From then on, it was a special kind of kitchen nightmare.
Asked if the toaster was still possessed at the time of the interview, O’Brien admitted they continued to have trouble with it. At which point, to demonstrate, she tried to insert another slice of bread. It wouldn’t go in. “It seems to be aware,” she said, shaking her head. When the toaster finally relented, she pushed it away, perhaps knowing what was about to happen.
A pillar of flame erupted toward the ceiling.
Dominick asked her: “Why have you kept this toaster?”
June O’Brien’s unusual story was featured on The Today Show on May 4, 1988, as part of a short featurette exploring tabloids and how seriously people should take them. The whole thing’s worth a look — it covers a few other odd stories, like the one about the Japanese woman who had her body cryogenically frozen, and thawed out 25 years later.
As the Today Show report pointed out, she suspiciously gained weight during the process.
Richard Dominick covered that story, as well, and gave his analysis of the situation: “I don’t know,” he said, “I think that what happened was they dehydrated her body, deep fried it, deep freezed her body, and I guess when they added water, I guess like you would instant coffee, she got a little heavier.”
Dominick also covered the story about a Howdy Doody doll that came to life and saved a drowning man in Skokie, Illinois. “Just as I was about to black out,” the man recalled, “I felt small hands lift me out of the water, onto the ice, and when I came to, there was just my dummy Howdy, all wet next to me, and nobody else was around.”
Dominick would later go on to become executive producer of The Jerry Springer Show.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, a living Howdy Doody doll? A demonic toaster that prints Satan Lives merchandise? Ha ha! These people are just having a laugh!
But in the immortal words of an old English rock band, is it really so strange?
Thanks for listening (and be sure to stick around for the bloopers at the end)! If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at email@example.com. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find information on any of the sponsors you heard about during the show, find all of my social media, listen to audiobooks I’ve narrated, sign up for the email newsletter, find other podcasts that I host including “Church of the Undead”, visit the store for Weird Darkness merchandise, and more. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Also on the website, if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
All stories on Weird Darkness are purported to be true unless stated otherwise, and you can find links to the stories or the authors in the show notes.
“The Mayflower Mystery” from Strange Company
“June O’Brien’s Satanic Toaster” by Rob Schwarz
“What Happened to Dennis Martin” by Michael Mayes for Texas Cryptid Hunter
“Astronomer Believes In Aliens But Not UFOs” by Chris Ipey for The Conversation
WeirdDarkness® is a registered trademark. Copyright, Weird Darkness.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:31
And a final thought… “A life spent making mistakes is more honorable than a life spent doing nothing.” – George Bernard Shaw
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.