Unsolved Mysteries and Scary Stuff: Donald Kemp’s Strange Death

It seems appropriate to some degree that the very first case profiled on NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries was never properly settled. 27 years after the strange death of Donald Kemp was covered, there remains questions that beg for a resolution. If you are a believer in Occam’s Razor (the most sensible hypothesis is probably the right one) then Kemp’s story is an open and shut case. However if you take into account information revealed by his sister in recent years, the death turns from obvious to ominous.


Donald Kemp was forging out a career on Madison Avenue when a traffic accident debilitated him. After recovering, Kemp decided to leave his old job behind and instead he focused his efforts on writing a book about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. In an effort to find solace and focus on the writing process, Kemp made the decision to pack up most of his belongings and travel to Wyoming. He never made it.

Kemp’s SUV was located on an on ramp by the police. The area was remote, about 40 miles from any town. The engine was still running and his belongings were strewn around the vehicle and the accompanied area. The police found one set of footprints in the snow leaving the expanse. A search was done by plane but they found no evidence of a body or of a possible trail as to where Kemp wandered off.

A duffel bag was eventually found nearby containing some of Kemp’s personal belongings and 6 miles away three of Don’s socks turned up in a barn next to a pile of wood for a campfire. After 3 days a blizzard ended the search. The police had refused to use further air searches despite an offer being made by a neighboring county to aid them. The family asked the sheriff investigating if search dogs could be used – the sheriff told them no. The family quickly learned that search dogs were available one police district over. With a lack of a body, Don’s mother became convinced Kemp had been abducted.

5 months after his disappearance, two separate witnesses claimed to see Don in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Casper, Wyoming. More chilling was the fact that one of Don’s friends back in New York received a call that she believed was from him on her answering machine. The police were able to trace the call to a trailer in Wyoming, where the occupant, Mark Dennis, claimed to have no knowledge of Kemp or his whereabouts. The police and Kemp’s mother both independently questioned the occupant and 3 weeks later the person of interest packed up and moved away. The police told Kemp’s family they didn’t have enough evidence to search the man’s homestead.

Don’s mother remained convinced that Mark Dennis had kidnapped Don and held him in that trailer. Don’s sister disagreed with that as she feels that the man came across Kemp’s personal papers somewhere along the way and basically made a crank call. When digging into this man’s past, the family was disturbed to find that he and Don were near doppelgangers in their high school years based on photo evidence.

Three years after he went missing, Kemp’s body was found near where his SUV had first been discovered. The Smithsonian Institute offered to examine Kemp’s remains to try and determine a proper cause of death. The head of anthropology looked over the corpse and estimated that Kemp was probably dead no longer than 1-2 years. The body showed no evidence of animals disrupting it and was in near perfect condition.

The autopsy did find a small hole drilled in Don’s skull and the doctors on hand couldn’t conclude what created it. Attempts to duplicate the puncture couldn’t accomplish that goal. The family was curious how the Institute had heard of Kemp’s case, as it hadn’t been widely spread.

Things were not done getting strange in this case quite yet though. In the years after Kemp’s death, his belongings were stolen on several occasions. Firstly, as his SUV was being driven back home, the SUV was broken into. Then while the vehicle was parked at an airport another break-in occurred, this time papers relating to his Lincoln research were stolen. Later his mother’s storage unit was broken into and more of Donald’s things were taken.

The family took the remainder of his Civil War and Lincoln probing paperwork and gave them to a historian – the man died shortly after in a motorcycle accident. Another package of Lincoln research was sent to man named Frank Carrington – he, too, perished in a house fire only weeks after receiving Kemp’s information. Once all of Don’s papers were stolen or destroyed, the break-ins stopped.

Don’s sister remains convinced that her brother uncovered something huge during the endless hours he had spent studying archived information on Lincoln’s death. He had indicated as much, without diving into details into what he actually uncovered. She found out that the family of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor infamous for helping John Wilkes Booth after he broke his leg leaping from the President’s theater balcony, had contacted Don and received paperwork that they had hoped would help exonerate their long dead relative.


To close out this tale, I will touch on two paranormal connections that surround this case: Kemp’s sister openly spoke of going to Mary Surratt’s (the owner of the boarding house where the Lincoln conspirators gathered) home with Don and others to meet a psychic for a seance. Her account of that night includes claims of electrical malfunctions, the air turning cold, a voice coming from the psychic that was not her own, red marks appearing out of nowhere on the psychic’s flesh and an appearance by an apparition of a woman. The incident spooked the group so badly that the séance was halted and they all prayed together until things returned to normal. Don went back for several more seances – his sister never had the nerve to again.

The other paranormal connection revolves around the fact that a group of UFO researchers were in the same area as where Kemp went missing. They had been inquiring into local incidents of cattle mutilations. Some in that community feel that the missing time that the autopsy noted, as well as the strange hole in his head could be indications that Don was a victim of a UFO abduction. Now this theory holds little water, but since we’ve already touched on a government cover-up and ghosts in this case, the UFO theory should at least be thrown out there as well.


So what became of Donald Kemp? Do you feel this case has an obvious solution? Was Kemp silenced for his research? Are all of the deaths mentioned just a coincidence? Did the man in the trailer have any connection to Kemp’s death? Who could still be covering up an incident from the 1860’s? Over 30 years have passed since Kemp’s death, so I think the only answer is we’ll never have answers.

If interested in further research, I suggest you look into the Unsolved Mysteries message boards located at www.sitcomsonline.com – the single best spot on the internet to gather more information on this and any other case that aired on that program.


Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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