What happened to Summer Wells? Hunt for missing five year old who parents claim vanished five months ago

Summer Wells vanished without a trace back on June 15 and investigators appear to be no closer to getting answers in the case

Graig Graziosi,Rachel Sharp
Monday 15 November 2021 18:30
<p>Summer Wells, a 5-year-old who has been missing since June, disappeared from her home in Hawkins County, Tennessee</p>

Summer Wells, a 5-year-old who has been missing since June, disappeared from her home in Hawkins County, Tennessee

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Five months have passed since the mysterious disappearance of Summer Wells from Hawkins County, Tennessee, and investigators appear to be no closer to finding out what happened to the five-year-old girl.

Despite hundreds of tips pouring in from the public, a $40,000 reward for information and attempts to locate the driver of a red pickup truck spotted in the area at the time, the search seemed like it hit a wall.

Then, the case came back into the spotlight on Saturday when Summer’s father was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence.

Donald Wells was spotted by an officer driving a white GMC and attempting to turn left on a road close to the Hawkins County and Greene County line in Tennessee on Saturday night, according to the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office.

The car veered onto the grass shoulder and the officer pulled the car over, said the sheriff’s office.

Mr Wells failed a sobriety test and told the officer he had drunk a couple of shots, the police report said.

He was arrested on multiple charges including driving under the influence, having an open container and violation of financial responsibility before being released on bond the following morning.

During his arraignment Monday, Mr Wells was then arrested for violating his probation and taken back to jail, reported WJHL. He was then released from jail again later that morning.

The Wells family released a statement on their “Find Summer Wells” website on Sunday, describing Mr Wells’ actions as “stupid” but explaining that the “pain” of their daughter’s disappearance “won’t go away” and that they “needed cigarettes”.

“Thank you everyone for kind messages. There are no words to what each day and night is like. We needed cigarettes,” the statement read.

“IT was a stupid decision. Please keep us in prayer. Keep Don. This pain wont go away. thank you”.

In July, Mr Wells said his three sons had been removed from the family home by child protective services because false theories about what had happened to his daughter had driven him to drink.

“They come at me and said – either posing – said they had the inside scoop with TBI [Tennessee Bureau of Investigation] and that they knew I sold my daughter for drugs, and I flipped out. I flipped out,” he told a podcast.

“I believed that stuff. Like an idiot, I believed it and I flipped out, started drinking and everything else. And that’s why they took our kids.”

The arrest came days after the Wells family appeared in pre-recorded video on Dr Phil McGraw’s show to discuss the ongoing search for Summer. During the interview, Mr Wells reaffirmed his belief that Summer was abducted.

Mr McGraw watched the videos with a pair of deception and “body language experts” who studied the couple’s answers and determined they did not believe the parents were involved with Summer’s disappearance. Neither of the experts were law enforcement officials.

Despite this, Mr McGraw said he believed the girl’s mother may know more about her disappearance than she is letting on, though there was no solid evidence to back his speculation.

During another episode, the experts ask Ms Bly about the “Cornbread Mafia”, a supposed organised crime group operating in the US south. Ms Bly broke down, took off her mic and left the stage at the mention of the group. However, when she was later asked why she had such a strong reaction to the mention of the alleged group, she said they sounded “horrible” but she was unaware of the group’s existence.

The “Cornbread Mafia”, according to experts, is not so much an organised crime group like the Italian Mafia or Mexican drug cartels as it a general code of silence among criminals involved in marijuana trafficking, particularly in the 1980’s. There has as of yet been no evidence to suggest a crime organisation of any type was involved in Summer’s disappearance.

The latest developments in the case come more than four months after Summer vanished without a trace back on 15 June.

The five-year-old’s family said she had been planting flowers with her mother Candus Bly and grandmother just 20 feet away from the family home on Ben Hill Road in Beech Creek.

Summer was then said to have gone inside from gardening and told her three older brothers she was going downstairs to play with her toys in the basement.

Ms Wells said she later found her daughter missing.

Donald Wells in mugshot following his DUI arrest

Both Mr Wells and Ms Bly have said they believe their daughter was kidnapped from the family home.

Mr Wells said he believed that a kidnapper came down a nearby hill by their home, threw Summer into a car, and drove away.

Police dogs picked up Summer’s scent and followed it into the woods behind her house, but eventually lost the trail, he previously said.

“They came up a dog trail from the woods,” he said. “The dog that they used, that’s where the scent took them - down through the woods, not the driveway.”

The father said that he had seen people sneaking around in their woods in the past.

Then, less than one month after her disappearance, Mr Wells then said he was no longer optimistic he would see his daughter alive again.

“Statistically speaking, there’s a good chance she’s already dead,” Mr Wells told the Kingsport Times-News in early July. “I hate to think that. I love her with all my heart.”

He said he took some small comfort in his belief he would see her in the afterlife.

“If nothing else,” he continued, “I’ll see her in the resurrection. As long as I keep the commandments and do what I’m supposed to do, I’ll see her.”

Mr Wells said he had become discouraged with the search effort, saying that neither the police nor the public could “come up with anything”.

“The police can’t come up with anything,” he said. “All these people on Facebook all over the world can’t come up with anything. Nobody can. Only God can.”

Ms Bly also said she believed her daughter was abducted and issued a plea to the alleged kidnappers to let her daughter go.

She previously told WJHL that she, her mother, her daughter Summer and her sons were planting flowers on the day the little girl disappeared.

“I feel in my heart that somebody has came up here and took her ... has lured her away from here,” Ms Bly said.

“Whoever has my daughter, I pray they haven't harmed her and they bring her back to us safe and sound.”

She added: “I’m just scared that somebody’s hurting her and there’s nothing I can do about it. And it – it smothers me.”

Neither Ms Bly nor Mr Wells have provided any evidence as to why they believe Summer was abducted.

The TBI has said there is no evidence to support this.

However, investigators are still looking for the driver of a red pickup truck spotted by a witness in the area around the time that Summer was last seen.

Police said the driver could be a witness and asked them to come forward.

To date, the driver has still not been found.

Authorities insisted last month that the case is not cold but appear to be no closer to getting answers.

The case has been hampered by both the mountainous terrain around the area and an influx of tips , most of which investigators said were not credible.

Over a thousand tips poured in from the public in the weeks after Summer disappeared but many appeared to be dead ends or idle speculation.

The investigatory agency ended up issuing a request asking that people only submit credible information to the tips lines to help authorities avoid wasting time sifting through rumours.

“Sharing speculation or rumours only makes the process more difficult for law enforcement by increasing the number of non-credible tips,” the agency said in a tweet.

TBI has asked for the public's help in locating the child. The agency does not appear to be treating the parents as suspects at this time.

Both Mr Wells and Ms Bly have criminal history outside of Tennessee.

Mr Wells was arrested last October after Ms Bly accused him of domestic assault. Deputies found him drunk in his vehicle attempting to drive up his own driveway when he was arrested.

She dropped those charges less than a week later.

Ms Bly has a record in the state of Wisconsin, most recently a guilty plea on misdemeanour domestic abuse charges from 2003.

Evidence of a criminal record is not sufficient evidence to suggest any sort of guilt or complicity on the part of Summer's parents, however.

This is not Ms Bly's first time dealing with the mysterious disappearance of a loved one; in 2009, her sister, Rose Marie Bly, disappeared from her home in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.

Summer’s disappearance has brought renewed attention to that case.

“I don’t know all of what happened or what did happen, but I hope that they find [Rose Mary Bly], too,” Ms Bly said.

“It makes no sense at all, how can people just vanish and not be heard from or seen without a trace? It’s very devastating.”

Summer’s parents set up a YouTube channel last month dedicated to the search for their daughter.

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