In June 1959, 4-year-old Danny Barter disappeared from Perdido Bay, Alabama, while on a camping trip with his family. He has never been seen again.
About the Barter Family
Paul Barter was raised in the Mobile, Alabama area and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He met Maxine Thompson at a local restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The two married and eventually had seven children — 5 boys and 2 girls. Maxine became a homemaker after she had the children.
Daniel “Danny” Barter was born on December 12, 1954, to Paul and Maxine Barter, the third youngest of the Barter children.
In 1959, Paul was a stockroom manager for Morrison’s Cafeteria in Mobile, and the Barters lived in a home on Thrush Drive in Mobile.
The Camping Trip
On June 16, 1959, Paul and Maxine and four of the Barter children — Steve, 11, Ronald, 10, Bobby, 8, and Danny, 4 — along with Paul’s brother, Jim Barter and his 11-year-old son Runeau, loaded up their station wagon and drove to Perdido Bay, AL for a camping trip at the beach. The Barter’s other children, Theresa and Michael, stayed in Mobile with Jim’s wife, Vera Barter. Their other daughter, Wanda, then almost 13, was spending summer vacation with Maxine’s mother, Rennie Thompson, in Toxey, Alabama.
That night, Paul and Jim slept in the tent, and Maxine and the children slept in the station wagon.
“It was a camping trip, but they actually went there to help clear the land for a beach house they wanted to build,” said Danny’s sister, Wanda, in 2008. “It was a little way back from the beach, and there was quite a bit of sand. The water there was shallow, and you could walk a long way out into the bay before it got past your knees.”
The area Wanda was referring to is along Boykin Boulevard in Lillian, Alabama, only an hour’s drive from their home in Mobile. Jim Barter owned the land they were camping on.
Where is Danny Barter?
On the morning of June 17, 1959, Maxine, Danny, and one of his brothers, drove to a store in Lillian to buy soft drinks, breakfast food, and a few snacks. (Early reports say it was Danny’s father who went to the store, but this is incorrect).
When they returned to the campsite, Maxine fixed breakfast, and Paul played with the children. Afterward, Danny grabbed a bottle of Nehi soda to drink. Paul and Maxine promised to take him fishing later in the shallow Perdido Bay waters.
Between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m., Maxine was untangling fishing poles' fishing lines and putting hooks on. Danny was standing next to her during this time. A short while later, she looked up, and Danny was gone.
She searched for Danny for about 10 minutes. When she could not find him, Maxine ran to a nearby house and called the police.
Search and Investigation
Police, hundreds of volunteers, and sailors from Naval Air Station Pensacola and other bases along the Alabama and Florida coast searched for missing Danny Barter day and night.
Alligators were gutted to check for human remains, but nothing turned up.
Dr. S.R. Monroe, a veterinarian from Gadsden, Alabama, saw the newspaper articles on Danny’s disappearance. He owned champion bloodhounds at the time. Monroe called Baldwin County Sheriff Taylor Wilkins and offered to use his dogs to help search for Danny. Wilkins eagerly accepted.
Monroe rushed to Perdido Bay, and he and his dogs spent several days searching the area for Danny Barter. The dogs kept going back to the pavement. Monroe concluded, “the child did not leave the scene walking.” He also said that if Danny had been attacked and eaten by an alligator, his dogs would have led him to the scene of the attack, and they didn’t. Wilkins agreed it was unlikely that an alligator killed Danny.
Danny was afraid of the water, so his family did not believe he went in independently.
Maxine told law enforcement officials she believed someone kidnapped her son, but they didn’t listen to her. According to Wanda, “You could see the bridge going into Florida from the site. Someone could have grabbed Danny, got on U.S. 98, and been long gone in a couple of hours.”
However, Wilkins soon believed the kidnapping theory. Before the boy disappeared, he was holding his Nehi soft drink. No trace of that bottle was ever found, despite the massive search for Danny. This also led police to discount the alligator theory.
Danny Barter was never found.
Maxine Barter believed that if someone had kidnapped her son, he or she would take good care of him because he was such a sweet and beautiful boy.
Bizarre Incidents Before Danny’s Disappearance
A few bizarre incidents occurred before Danny Barter’s disappearance, which further pointed to an abduction.
About a month before Danny vanished, Maxine was hanging clothes to dry on the clothesline in their backyard when she saw a strange man parked in a car on Thrush Drive in front of their home.
Maxine felt uneasy about the man because many young girls lived in the neighborhood. She started walking towards the mystery man, but he put a newspaper up to cover his face. As she got closer to the man’s car, he drove away.
One evening, a neighbor’s German Shepherd took off barking and ran around to the side of the Barter’s outhouse. When the dog’s owner went after the dog, she saw a man peering into the Barter boys’ bedroom window. The boys, including Danny, were asleep on bunk beds at the time.
The woman ran to get Maxine, but the man fled. There were several clearly defined footprints in the soil beneath the window. Mobile Police Department made casts of the prints, but it is unclear what happened with them.
Another incident took place when Maxine, Dannie, and one of his brothers went to the Lillian grocery store on June 17. Danny and his brother stayed in the car while Maxine went inside. An unknown man pulled up alongside the Barter station wagon and stared intently at the boys before driving off.
Danny’s brother felt really uncomfortable and told Maxine about it. She didn’t give it much thought until after Danny disappeared.
The Barters Relocate
Maxine had a hard time living in the Thrush Drive home without Danny. Every time she went to the grocery store, someone would mention Danny’s disappearance, and she couldn’t handle it.
Paul Barter was approved for a Veterans Affairs (VA) loan, so the family bought a house on Mobile’s Dog River. But they still struggled with Danny’s disappearance and, in 1962, relocated to Choctaw County, about 115 miles north of Mobile, and moved into a home owned by Maxine’s brother.
Paul got a job as a cook on a boat out of Louisiana and was gone a lot.
In 1963, one of Maxine’s sister, who resided in Corpus Christi, Texas, became seriously ill. After taking a trip to visit her, the Barter family decided to relocate to Texas.
Paul Barter died from a heart attack in 1965 at the age of 46.
Danny Barter’s case went cold for decades. Police had zero evidence of his fate.
In 2008, the FBI reopened Danny’s case after hearing about a conversation. Investigators received a tip that a person was sitting in a public place talking about what happened to Danny.
Family members submitted DNA samples to a national missing person database if any evidence turned up that could be tested to determine if it belonged to Danny.
Maxine Barter passed away in 1995. Unbeknownst to Maxine at the time of Danny’s disappearance, she was one month pregnant with her eighth child, a boy later named Anthony. He was born in February 1960 and passed away from Hodgkin’s Disease in 1997. Danny’s brother, Robert Barter, passed away in 2010. His surviving siblings still live in Texas and hope their brother’s fate will one day be known.
Danny’s smiling face is still seen on the FBI’s website.
- Campbell, Tommy. Title Unknown. Choctaw Sun Advocate. June 11, 2008. Retrieved from http://littleboylost-dannybarter.1colony.com/.
- December, Ryan. “After 50 Years, Family Not Giving Up Hope.” Pensacola News Journal. June 23, 2009.
- Falcon, Gabriel. “FBI Reopens 1959 Case of Missing 4-Year-Old.” CNN. June 23, 2009. http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/06/22/alabama.barter.mystery/index.html
- Harwell, Hoyt. “Missing Mobil Lad Believed Kidnap Victim.” The Birmingham News. June 21, 1959.
- “Search Continues for Barter Child.” The Troy Messenger. June 19, 1959.
- “Young Boy Missing in Perdido Swamps.” Pensacola News Journal. June 18, 1959.
Originally published at https://truecrimediva.com on November 12, 2019.