A Picnic In Yellowstone: Where Is Dennis Johnson?

missing child dennis eugene johnson yellowstone national park

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No official tally exists of the number of people who went - and remain - missing in the public lands and National Parks of the United States. An “educated guess” has estimated that number at roughly 1,600 people whose fates still remain a mystery today, and the National Park Service’s Investigative Services team continues to investigate new and cold cases on an ongoing basis.

Dennis Johnson

Dennis Eugene Johnson lived in Inyokern, California, with his parents, William and Betty, and three younger sisters, Mary, Dorene and Dianne. In April, 1966, 8 year old Dennis accompanied his family on a vacation to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Dennis had previously hunted with his father, a Navy Ordnance Depot employee, and was an avid budding woodsman so naturally the trip was something he was excited about.

Around 1:30pm on April 12th the family had stopped for a break near the Cascade Picnic Area, just a quarter-mile north of Canyon Junction, when they noticed that Dennis’ younger sister Mary was missing. Mary was seven at the time, and Dennis and his father immediate began searching the surrounding area for her. They decided to split up, both walking away from the picnic area in opposite directions. Dennis’ father found his sister a short while later, but when Dennis failed to return to the site a short while later the family became worried.

A Daily Search

Between 25 and 50 volunteers, including Dennis’ father William, searched the park daily for almost two weeks and found no trace of the blond haired, brown-eyed boy. Dennis’ family, including William’s father and two of his brothers, made the trek from California to take part in the search. Park rangers were baffled by the lack of evidence, as not even Dennis’ footprints were found during the thorough search of the area surrounding Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Bloodhounds from nearby Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge were called in to aide in the search but failed to pick up Dennis’ scent.

Yellowstone River Canyon

The Yellowstone River canyon was the only place rangers and volunteers had not been able to search as thoroughly as they would have liked to, the rugged terrain steeply dropping off several hundred feet down to the river and making the trek too difficult and dangerous for searchers. Helicopters equipped with loudspeakers scanned the area inside the canyon looking for any sign of Dennis and the rock walls were scoured with binoculars by volunteers in hopes that some sign of him would be seen. The search covered over 12 miles, stretching from Canyon Village to Mount Washburn to Dunraven Pass and encompassing both the north and east sides of Yellowstone Canyon; Yellowstone National Park encompassed around 750 square miles at the time.

A Month-Long Wait

Many were concerned that the boy may have succumbed to the elements if he was indeed still inside the park, even though temperatures were only falling to about 45 degrees at night. Dennis’ father however felt that his independent, 8-year-old son stood a fairly good chance, stating that the boy had general survival skill knowledge like knowing to follow a stream downhill should he become lost. The official cost of the search for Dennis, not including expenses incurred by volunteers or his family, totaled more than $14,000 including wages for official park and search personnel. His family stayed at Yellowstone Park searching for Dennis for almost a month before finally returning home to California without their young son.

At the time he went missing Dennis Eugene Johnson was approximately 3 foot 8 inches tall and weighed about 60 pounds. He also had a six inch scar than ran through his navel, sandy colored hair with a lighter colored patch of hair in a cowlick. When he left the picnic area Dennis was wearing a long-sleeved, magenta colored shirt and tan Levis pants. His parents recall him wearing size eight, lace-up leather moccasin-style boots and had crepe soles the last time he was seen, and police believe the type of shoe may have contributed to searchers not finding any of Dennis’ footprints at the scene.

Missing Person Agency Contacts

Those with additional public information or contacts related to this article please contact us. Persons with information regarding the whereabouts of Dennis Eugene Johnson or the circumstances surrounding his disappearance are are urged to contact the National Park Service's Investigative Services Team at (888) 653-0009 or your local law enforcement agency.

Charley Project - Dennis Eugene Johnson 

NAMUS - MP#23115 -Dennis Eugene Johnson 

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cold case missing person child dennis eugene johnson yellowstone national park

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