Photo Source: www.wbir.com/article/news/local/appalachian-unsolved-trenny-gibson-lost-in-the-smokies/51-494178428

Clingmans Dome Tower, a 45 foot tower atop 6643 foot ClingmansDome, this is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

View from Newfound Gap into North Carolina- Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Andrews Bald

Air view of the Clingman's Dome Parking Area

An autumn scene on Newfound Gap Highway through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Trenny accompanied approximately 38 other students on a horticulture field trip on October 8, 1976.  The bus left Bearden High in Knoxville Tennessee at about 9 am, the destination of the trip being the Great Smoky Mountains.  To add some excitement, the teacher accompanying the students that day,  had not told them of the destination until they had boarded the bus. 

 

The bus stopped and parked at the parking lot in the Clingman's Dome area.  The students were instructed to hike to Andrews Bald, and observe the trees and plants, but not to break any plants or collect anything.  They were to return to the bus by the same trail no later than 3:30 pm.   Wayne Dunlap, the supervising teacher told the students not to go any further than Andrews Bald or take any of the side trails.  After a show of hands that instructions were understood, the students departed the bus.

 

The weather was overcast and chilly, but the students seemed to enjoy themselves and broke up into small groups according to their hiking pace.  Trenny hiked to Andrews Bald with the same classmate that she had shared a seat with on the bus, Robert Simpson.  At about 1:30 pm, Trenny left Robert's company and began the hike back to the bus alone.  

 

Angela Beckner, Lisa Mikels and Bobbie Coghill were walking together when Trenny came up behind them.  She was walking faster than the group was, so Bobbie started walking with her.  They then caught up with Scott Troy and Anita Rounds.  After about five minutes of walking with them, the group sat down to rest, but Trenny said that she wanted to keep going.   At the time, the group was about half to three-quarters of a mile from the Clingman's Dome parking area and the bus.

 

After Trenny's departure from this group, the students were watching her, and she stopped, bent down and then turned right off the trail.  David Eastham came up from behind and when the kids looked back down the trail, Trenny was not there.  There were several groups both behind her group and in front of her group. There is no side trail at this point, the terrain is very rocky, ground is rough and overgrown with trees, thick underbrush and briars. A small stream makes the bank slick.   The students assumed that she would be at the bus and continued on.

 

Anita Rounds, one of the last person(s) to see Trenny before she vanished

Bobbie Coghill, one of the last person(s) to see Trenny before she disappeared

Scott Troy, one of the last person(s) to see Trenny before she disappeared

Lisa Mikels, one of the last person(s) to see Trenny before she disappeared

Angela Beckner, one of the last person(s) to see Trenny before she disappeared

David Eastham, was the first person to come up behind the spot where Trenny stepped off the trail

At 3:40 pm, Trenny was not at the bus.  Wayne Dunlap and another student hiked both to Andrews Bald and Double Springs, but there was no sign of Trenny.  At this point,  the NPS was contacted by CB radio.  Ranger Sammy Lail responded and arrived at the lot at 4:30pm, where he was briefed on the situation. 

 

Lail then began to search the Andrews Bald area, finding nothing, he made an official report that Trenny Lynn Gibson was missing in the Park. Park service then launched a search as soon as this report was received.  Park personnel in Tennessee and North Carolina were requested to help.  Wayne Dunlap, stayed behind to aid in the search, while the bus carrying the Bearden High students returned to Knoxville. The general consensus among the students was that Trenny had run off with someone.

 

Approximately 19 searchers arrived between 6:30 and 8 pm.  Hampered by wind, rain and fog, the groups combed the area where the students had hiked and where Trenny was last seen. 

 

Hope Gibson, Trenny's mother, was notified by telephone at 8pm that evening that Trenny was missing, 5 hours after she vanished.  After Robert Gibson Sr, Trenny's father, arrived at the airport from a business trip, the Gibson's headed to the Park with clothing that their daughter had recently worn,  to give scent to the tracking dogs.  The Gibson's arrived around midnight,  and the search for their daughter was called off for the night at 3am, due to inclement weather conditions.

 

Danny Johnson, helped Wayne Dunlap search for Trenny by hiking to Andrews Bald, while Dunlap searched the nearby trail to Double Springs

Trenny Gibson and her kidnapper may have used this section of the Appalachian trail. Source Haunted Hikes, Angela Lankford

Riverview Terrace Motel in Gatlinburg, and what it looked like in the 1970's.

The Gibson family stayed at this motel while searching the Park for Trenny in October, 1976.

The full scale search for Trenny began the following day, October 9, 1976, complete with teams of German Shepherds and  Bloodhounds. Ranger Jack Linahan was the coordinator, he closed the road between Clingman's Dome parking area and Newfound Gap to the public.. Groups searched the area from the Clingman's Dome parking area to Andrews Bald and all of the side trails.  Two of Trenny's uncles participated in this search as well,  with their own dogs. Several National Guard helicopters had been obtained for the search, but could not fly until late afternoon due to heavy fog.  Haze, thick evergreen foliage, and changing leaves made visibility nearly impossible.  Hoarfrost combined with fallen leaves made hiking slippery and dangerous. 

 

A few ferns were found broken on the trail close to where Trenny was last seen.  3 cigarette butts and a partial opened can of beer were found nearby.  Several of the dogs had tracked Trenny to a spot on the paved road about 1.6 miles from the Clingman's Dome parking area. On the following day, eight cigarette butts of the same brand were found.  

 

The search for Trenny continued until October 22, 1976, then a limited search was carried out until November 2, 1976.  A total of 756 people had searched for Trenny.  At this point, the search was called off because no physical evidence could be found to indicate that Trenny was still in the park. Park personnel stayed alert for any evidence in the case as part of their regular duties.  A second search, organized by Robert Gibson Sr. began on April 18, 1977, and lasted until May 5, 1977.  3 days were lost due to inclement weather.  Eventually,  all major and minor trails, drainages and ridges between Andrews Bald and Elkmont in Tennessee, a distance of 15 miles, and Fontana Lake in North Carolina a distance of 14 miles, were searched.  230 people participated in the second search.

 

The Tueshaus Family - USA Southeast 2008. Source: www.klaustueshaus.com

Wayne Dunlap, the teacher that was on the field trip. He taught Ornamental Horticulture at Bearden High.