Dr. James P. Smith

Somewhere beneath the wide waters of Michigan’s Higgins Lake, rests the body of Dr. James P. Smith. Dr. Smith was only 34 years old when he disappeared, along with his boat, in 1961. He went fishing with his brother in-law, John C. Newman, whose body was later recovered.

Excerpts from an article in The Roscommon Herald-News, dated November 30, 1961, describe what transpired:

The two men and their families came up to the Smith’s cottage, located at Pine Bluffs, for the weekend. The men went spearing about 7:00pm Saturday night, using a new model 14 ft aluminum boat, 10 H.P. motor and a portable generator to operate their spearing lights. They told their wives they expected to fish until about 1:00am and when they failed to return by 2:00 o’clock Mrs. Smith notified Sheriff Oliver Britton.

Sheriff Britton and Deputy Raymond Kingdale, of Higgins Lake, searched the shoreline and roads near the lake until 4:30am when they notified the State Police at the Houghton Lake Post. Chief Deputy Lloyd Petty, of Houghton Lake, also joined the search Sunday morning.

An intensive search was started on the lake at daybreak by the authorities, using five skin divers, and Army “Duck”, State Police plane and several smaller craft.

State Police skin divers are pictured above preparing to search the lake bottom from an army “Duck” used in rescue work by the Houghton Lake Post. The worked in pairs and were able to stay down in the cold water only 30 minutes at a time. High winds and lake turn-over hampered their vision and made diving difficulty

The body of John C. Newman, 42, a Dow Chemical Co. lab supervisor, and brother-in-law and fishing companion of Dr. Smith was recovered Sunday morning in about 21 feet of water near the Forestry Camp Ground on the north side of the lake after being spotted by a State Police plane.

Dr. Charles Oppy, Roscommon County coroner, who remained on the scene nearly all day Sunday, said Mr. Newman’s death was caused by drowning and apparently in deep water.

Dr. Smith’s body was never recovered. He left behind a wife, and two daughters, Valerie and Laurie. Laurie Smith Tudor was two days away from her ninth birthday on that Fall day when her father was lost. After 30 years of living in Cincinnati, Laurie moved to Higgins Lake permanently in 2002. Remarkably she took up scuba diving and joined the sheriff’s dive team, doing evidence and body recovery. Her father was never far from her mind. In 2008, Laurie began a project to raise funds for the sheriff’s department to purchase a side scan sonar unit. She was successful and in her spare time searches for her father and with that side scan unit and that experience has made her one of the most skilled side scan operators in the region.

Laurie Smith passed away October 14, 2012

Dr. James P. Smith
Map of Higgins Lake