Forty seven years ago, Mitchel “Mitch” Weiser and Bonita “Bonnie” Bickwit set out to a Summer Jam concert in upstate New York and were never seen again. Theirs is the oldest missing teen case in the United States. Here are the bizarre and few details.
Mitch and Bonnie, 16 and 15, respectively, were two Brooklyn teens who met at their high school for gifted students, John Dewey High School, and became inseparable. They were both from stable, loving, middle-class Jewish families residing in Brooklyn. Mitch was from Midwood and Bonnie lived in Borough Park. According to Mitch’s best friend, “Mitchel was a very ethical kid — almost honest to a fault. I don’t believe that they ran away or they did anything like that. I always figured foul play was involved.” They were typical, good kids, working average teenager summer jobs and living normal, happy lives.
In the summer of 1973, Mitch and his classmate, Larry Marion, bought tickets for the Summer Jam festival at what was then called the Grand Prix Raceway at Watkins Glen in upstate New York. This was one of the biggest summer camp-out festivals, headliners including The Allman Brothers, The Band and The Grateful Dead. An estimated 600,000 music lovers drove or hitchhiked to the venue. This one-day blowout had more people in attendance than Woodstock, but has been dubbed “the Forgotten Festival.”
According to NewYorkUpstate.com:
Watkins Glen had a population of roughly 2,700 people after the 1970 Census and it was overwhelmed by people that July day. (One estimate said one out of every three people between the ages of 17-24 from New York to Boston was in Watkins Glen that day.)
The Syracuse Post-Standard said the village was "paralyzed by the onslaught of cars, trailers, campers, microbuses, trucks and motorcycles."
Mitch’s mom did not want him to attend the concert. They had a big argument over his plans, but Mitch was determined. Instead of going with his friend Larry, Mitch decided to take Bonnie so he could spend some time with her. Bonnie had been working at a camp about 90 miles from the city for the summer and as young love goes, Mitch desperately missed her. Bonnie’s boss refused to give her the time off she requested to go to the weekend concert, so she angrily quit because she had been working 16-hour days at the camp. Mitch informed his mother and older sister of his new plan and they physically tried to stop him when he refused to take money for the bus ride so they wouldn’t hitchhike all the way upstate. On Thursday, July 26th, Mitch took a cab to Camp Wel-Met where Bonnie worked, spending the majority of his $25, and after telling his mom this once he arrived, she pleaded for him to just come home. Bonnie’s parents were on vacation and didn’t have the chance to discourage her from going to the concert.
The next day, Mitch and Bonnie ate breakfast together at Camp Wel-Met and headed off to the concert. They were carrying: their backpacks, their sleeping bags, and a sign that read ‘Watkins Glen’ to help them along their way up State Route 97. The town of Watkins Glen is about 170 miles from Camp Wel-Met and about 250 miles from Brooklyn. Luckily, one of the camp workers gave Mitch and Bonnie a ride to Narrowsburg, leaving them on State Route 97 about 75 miles away from the concert. The last time the camp worker saw either Mitch or Bonnie, they were standing on the side of Route 97, trying to hitch a ride the rest of the way. There are unconfirmed reports that they got a ride from a truck driver, but that has never been verified. The couple was supposed to return that Sunday but was never heard from or seen again.
The families of both teenagers worked tirelessly to try to find them and spread the word of their disappearance; thousands of fliers were made, psychics were consulted and private investigators were hired, all leading to dead ends and unanswered questions. It is unknown if they even made it to the festival, as it was the 70s and there was no way of logging their entrance to the concert grounds. About 400,000 people were able to enter through the concert gates without being checked for tickets. With over half a million people in attendance, it was impossible to know if they were ever there.
There are two working theories as to what happened to the young couple; one, is that they ran away together with evidence that they might, and the second is that foul play was involved and their bodies have just never been discovered. There are thousands of possibilities to go along with both of these theories and a long history of investigating mishaps and negligence. Mitch & Bonnie’s original case files had been lost, and with them the only copies of both teens’ dental records which would be imperative in identifying their bodies.
CC’s Wild Speculations:
I will dive deep into the only two working theories on what happened to Mitch & Bonnie: they ran away or they were murdered. I’ll take on as many possibilities within each theory and then weigh in on which I think is the most plausible:
They Ran Away
Clues that point to them running away:
1. Bonnie and Mitch secretly exchanged wedding/promise rings during that summer.
2. The week before they went to the concert, Bonnie snuck out of Camp Wel-Met and traveled home to retrieve the $80 she had been saving for a bicycle. Though her parents were out of town, neighbors claimed to have seen her do this.
3. Both of the couple’s family and friends stated they were uneasy before their disappearance.
4. Mitch was disappointed that his parents told him he could not attend his dream college because they couldn’t afford it and that he’d have to go to school close to home, probably Brooklyn College.
5. Three days before they disappeared, Bonnie had mailed a letter to her parents that detailed how she was happy with the freedom she had working at Camp Wel-Met and encouraged her parents to give her more freedom.
6. The Fall after they disappeared, Bonnie’s mother received a letter from a Native American Reservation in South Dakota asking for a donation. It may be a stretch, but Bonnie’s mother noted that both Mitch & Bonnie were very interested in Native American culture so it was thought that maybe they ran off to live on the reservation and this was their hint that they were there and okay. I could not find any statements that verified if anyone checked in with the reservation to confirm if they were there or not.
7. Years after their disappearance, Mitch’s family moved to Arizona but payed to keep their phone number listed in the Brooklyn phone directory just in case either of them wanted to call/were still alive. Thirteen years after they disappeared, Mitch’s father received a call on that Brooklyn number from a woman identifying herself as Bonnie, but abruptly hung up after Mitch’s father greeted her. There was no way to trace the call or find out if it was really Bonnie or a mean-spirited farce.
Let’s Dive Deeper:
While there are a lot of signs pointing to the possibility that they ran off together to get married and live on their own terms, there are still possibilities of foul play even if they did run off.
Perhaps they did run away and were murdered while they were camping or living somewhere, which leads to endless possibilities as to where they ended up and where their bodies are.
I am not sure how easy it was in the 70s to assume new identities, as neither Mitch or Bonnie ever used their social security numbers. I’m assuming it was easier in the 70s to forge documents and start their lives, and there were certainly plenty of job opportunities that could have paid cash and didn’t require identification.
Seeing as this was the 1970s, there’s a chance they could have joined a commune or mistakenly joined a cult and lived off the grid somewhere. Maybe they did make it to the festival, met someone or a group of people who promised them the freedom they craved and took them off to a commune.
If they did run away, and were alive all these years, why wouldn’t they make contact with their families? Maybe if they joined a cult, they couldn’t get away and were forced to leave their life behind entirely, or maybe they felt too much time had passed and their family would never forgive them.
Details that suggest they did not run off:
- Mitch was excited to take his drivers license test in the coming weeks.
- Mitch said “see you Monday” to his best friend Larry as he left for the festival.
- disclaimer on this point: perhaps he didn’t want Larry to know he was leaving and just said it to not give any hints at their intentions of running off, but on the opposite end of that argument, why wouldn’t he confide in his best friend?
- Both teens left behind pay checks at their respective jobs and never used their social security numbers.
- Bonnie was concerned about her father’s health as he suffered from a crippling degenerative neurological disorder and it seemed unlikely that she would never check in and see how he was doing.
- Both teens came from loving, stable households which is a low risk for runaway behavior. They did not suffer abuse or live in oppressive households. They were smart and did well in school, attending a high school for gifted, high achievers. They did not get into trouble at school, with their parents or the law. Maybe young, teenage love took over, but none of the facts of their lives point to a high risk for running away.
They Were Murdered
If they were murdered, where, when and by whom?
1. Was it the person who they hitched a ride with the rest of the way? It’s unknown if they ever hitched a ride the rest of the way or by how many people they hitched a ride from; 75 miles is a long stretch, maybe they were dropped off several times along the route. It’s impossible to know who along that route and who out of the possible many rides they hitched could have harmed them. Perhaps they couldn’t hitch a ride and kept walking and come nightfall were attacked along the route or kidnapped and murdered elsewhere.
2. They made it to the festival and then they were murdered. There were 600,000 people in attendance, it could have been anyone; within those 600,000 people, statistically there were bound to be predators there.
3. They made it to the festival and were kidnapped and murdered at a later time. This leaves an endless field of options for where they could have been buried. People from several neighboring states and even further away traveled to upstate New York for this concert, it could have been anyone from any of the many states.
4. Going off one of my ‘they ran away’ theories, perhaps they met someone or a group of people who promised them freedom/a community and the teens trusted them and were led to their death instead.
5. Maybe they ran away and one of them was killed or died accidentally, and the other could not face coming back to their family after that, feeling guilt and that they would be blamed.
6. In 2000, 27 years after Mitch & Bonnie’s disappearance, a supposed witness came forward to state that he had seen the teens drown in a river. I have a serious problem with this witness testimony. Let me give you the absurd details first.
Allyn Smith, a Navy veteran, came forward in 2000, claiming he was on the same Volkswagen Bus as the teens, hitching a ride back from the festival they all went to. According to his statement, he did not know the teens’ names, but later on connected who they were based on the clothes they were wearing (their missing posters listed these details) and Bonnie speaking about the camp she worked at. Allegedly, the bus stopped at a nearby river so everyone could dip and cool off. Bonnie started to drown and Mitch jumped in after her, both of them ended up being swept down river while still alive. The bus driver said he would call the police at the nearby gas station, but the police claim they have no record of a call coming in. Smith’s story could never be fully investigated as he could not tell authorities which river they stopped at, who the bus driver was (he was never located) or if any of this story is true.
Here are my problems with this claim:
- Why did it take him nearly three DECADES to come forward with this story? The disappearance of Bonnie & Mitch was heavily publicized and it doesn’t make sense that he would wait that long. He can’t use the ‘I didn’t know until now’ excuse because there’s no way he found their missing case 27 years later when it wasn’t plastered everywhere as it was in 1973. How did he remember what their clothes looked liked 27 years later?
- Why didn’t an athletic Navy veteran jump into the river to save the two teens? He was more than capable of saving two children with his training, and his training should have kicked in immediately as instinct when seeing two civilians in distress.
- When police took him back to the area, he could not identify anything or where the river was. As a trained Navy veteran, shouldn’t sense of direction/orientation be at the top of his skill set? He remembered Bonnie talking about camp and the exact outfits both teens were wearing, but couldn’t remember where the river was located despite his military background? Seems unlikely and absurdly convenient.
- How did a bus full of people let two teens drown and get swept away down the river? No one jumped in to save them? No one else remembers this or came forward? No one checked that the driver called the police to report it or stayed at the scene until police arrived?
- Did the bus driver actually call the police station? Why wasn’t the call logged? Why weren’t police sent for a search and rescue or to at least look for bodies?
- How did two bodies that drowned not resurface further along the river, ever? Seems unlikely that they wouldn’t.
I believe Allyn Smith is either: A. lying about all of this for some unknown, mentally unstable reason; B. he had something to do with their disappearance/murder and wanted to insert himself into the investigation when it was taken over in 2000; C. maybe he helped Bonnie and Mitch disappear/run away and start their new lives and wanted to throw police off the scent when the case was reopened in 2000.
Conclusion: this case is a rabbit hole of endless possibilities in every direction, leaving us with more questions than answers. I believe both theories could be plausible; either they ran away or they were murdered. I also believe that even if they did run away or went in search of their freedom, they were definitely murdered at some point. Unless they ended up in a cult and adopted a hippie “leave it all behind” mentality, there is no reason that they would never resurface or contact their family. My wild speculation is that they met someone or a group of people at the festival and left with them after promises of freedom and ultimately met their tragic demise.
If you know anything surrounding the disappearance of Mitchel and Bonnie, please contact the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office at 845-807-0732.