Eric Smith left his home in Cedar Bluff, Virginia, around 10 a.m. on November 8, 2013. After telling his wife that he would see her later that day, the 41-year-old man left for the country to go hunting in the morning. The deer stand he owned was about a mile from their house, so his wife thought he was going there. Soon after Eric left, his wife and one of their two daughters went to Buchanan County to spend the day with his mother-in-law. Eric wasn’t at home when they got back to Cedar Bluff early that night.
During the days before his hunting trip, Eric wasn’t feeling well—he had flu-like symptoms—so when he wasn’t home by sunset, his wife was worried. Eric didn’t bring his cell phone with him when he left the house that morning because he didn’t plan to be gone for long. This meant that his wife couldn’t reach him.
His wife became more worried as night fell. Dreama Smith, Eric’s mother, was going to a nearby church service on Friday night, so she drove there to see if anyone in Eric’s family had heard from him that day. Drea knew something was wrong as soon as she saw her daughter-in-law. She and her family members left church right away. “People from church followed us straight to Eric’s house.” People were looking for him in the woods when they got there.
Afternoon temperatures had been mild, reaching highs in the fifties. But as night fell, temperatures dropped sharply, and Eric’s wife decided to call the police and say her husband was missing.
The police began looking for Eric right away. At night on Friday, police, firefighters, and community volunteers searched the area around his home but couldn’t find the missing man. David Mills, the chief of police in Cedar Bluffs, said that the fact that Eric was wearing camouflage hunting clothes made the ground search harder. “It would be impossible to see him if he was lying down.” A Virginia State Police helicopter with FLIR thermal vision flew over Eric’s 40-acre property several times because they were afraid he might be hiding in the thick bushes. The air search didn’t find anything, which was a shame.
On Saturday, the search for Eric got tougher when the Virginia State Police and the mine rescue team from the Consolidation Coal Company joined the group looking for him. Eric had worked for Consolidation for a long time and had been on the same mine rescue team that helped with the search. They worked hard to find their friend and coworker who had gone missing. One member of the team, David Queensberry, said that they were trained in search and rescue and would look for any missing person. But he also said that the search for Eric was more personal. Richard is one of us. He’s a member of our family.”
James Brown, a firefighter and councilman from Cedar Bluff, had nothing but good things to say about the mine rescue team. He pointed out that they stayed in a shoulder-to-shoulder formation while they searched to make sure they didn’t miss anything in the rough terrain. “They have no fear. That person is too far away if they can’t see the top of their foot next to them. The mine rescue team kept looking for Eric for a long time after many of the volunteer searchers had to go back to their families and jobs. It broke their hearts that they couldn’t find any signs of what might have happened to him.
Six tracking dogs were brought in to help with the search. The dogs were able to pick up several scent trails that led away from Eric’s house and at least one that led back to it, but it wasn’t clear which one was the most recent. Eric wasn’t found on any of the trails.
The only gun Eric had with him when he left the house that morning was the 50-caliber muzzleloader he used to hunt deer. The experienced hunter was thought to have at least one shot ready, so explosives detection dogs were brought in to try to pick up on the smell of gunpowder. Even though the dogs looked for Eric and his muzzleloader for hours, they couldn’t find them.
After searching for almost a week, they found nothing on more than 800 acres of land near Cedar Bluff, Richlands, Claypool Hill, and Kent Ridge Road. Even though a lot of work went into the search, no clues were found about where Eric was. The search for the missing hunter was put on hold by the authorities on November 14. However, they said they would keep looking into any new leads they got.
In order to figure out what might have happened to Eric, detectives from the Cedar Bluff Police Department talked to his family, friends, and coworkers. David Mills, the chief of police in Cedar Bluff, said that Eric wasn’t the kind of person who would go missing on their own. He was described as a dedicated family man who worked hard.
Erik was the general foreman at the Buchanan One coal mine when he went missing. The job came with a lot of responsibility, and Eric was usually the first worker to show up in the morning and the last worker to leave at night. Exploration and mining is a naturally dangerous job, and Eric was in charge of making sure that all state and federal safety rules were followed to the letter. People who worked with Eric said he was good at his job and had earned the respect of his peers.
Erik was too young to be a foreman at 41 years old, but he was fully qualified for the job. Coworker Robert Baugh said that Eric “moved up the ladder quickly.” He ran mines better than anyone I’ve ever had.” It was something that many people who worked with the missing man felt. Agent Jeff Stares of the Virginia State Police told reporters, “No one we talked to at the mines had a bad word to say about Eric.” We talked to many people who loved him very much.
The people who worked for Eric thought he was a fair boss who treated everyone the same. Everyone who worked for him was always willing to talk to him about any problems or concerns they had. As part of his job, he had to be on call 24 hours a day in case there were any major problems at the mine. He was used to getting calls at all times. He was willing to do what was asked of him and never complained.
While detectives were talking to everyone who knew Eric and his family, it became clear that he had no reason to leave on his own. An investigation found no signs of any issues at home or at work. Eric was a dedicated husband and father of two children who worked hard.
At first, the police thought Eric might have been hurt in an accident while hunting. But as the days went by and neither his body nor his gun were found, they had to think that he might have been killed. There were rumors going around his small town about what might have happened to him, and most of the people there thought it was probably murder. These people were sure Eric would never have quit his job and family on his own, and they didn’t think he got lost or hurt in the woods.
Police Chief David Mills of Cedar Bluff warned people not to spread rumors about the case and told reporters that investigators had not ruled out any possible outcome, even the idea that Eric had left on his own. As long as detectives couldn’t find any proof, they were open to all possibilities, even the ones that seemed least likely to people who knew Eric best. Detectives said they were aware of all the rumors about possible foul play but wouldn’t say anything about them.
It looked like everyone in the area was paying close attention to Eric’s case. Some people didn’t think it was enough that Chief David Mills kept them up to date on how the search was going all the time. So many people called 911 in the first 10 days of the investigation to ask about the case that the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office had to put out a statement begging people to only use the emergency number in real emergencies.
Even though Eric’s family kept praying for his safe return, they knew he would never miss Thanksgiving with his family, and there was a noticeable gloom when the holiday passed and no progress was made on the case. Eric’s 42nd birthday, December 3, also went by with no news about the missing man.
Eric’s family said they would pay $5,000 for any information that led to his recovery or location a month after he was last seen. Investigators got a few leads, but none of them led them to Eric. After three weeks, the Smith family raised the reward to $8,000.
With 2013 coming to an end, Eric’s family was left wondering what had happened to him. Chief Mills told the press, “Christmas was a sad and hard time for the Smith family because they are still worried about their loved one.” The fact that he won’t be home for the holidays makes his family even more worried about his safety and whereabouts.
Soon, Eric’s boss said that they would match the $8,000 reward that Eric’s family was offering, making the total reward $16,000. Cathy St. Clair, who is in charge of public relations for the company, said, “We hope that the higher reward will help the police solve this case.” People in the community also gave money, and by the end of the month, the reward had grown to almost $18,000.
A tip line set up by the Virginia State Police got a call in April 2014 from someone who said Eric’s body would be found near Daw Road, which is near the border between Tazewell and Russell counties. The area was searched, but nothing was found that was connected to Eric’s disappearance.
In September 2014, Eric had not been seen for ten months. His family kept up the public interest in his case in every way possible. Dreama told reporters that Eric’s wife and kids were having a hard time with the search, but that their faith was helping them get through it. “Every day we pray that something will come up.” Dreama tried to stay positive, but it was clear that she was hurting. “Your heart and stomach hurt all the time, and you feel sick all the time.” It’s impossible. This shouldn’t have to happen to anyone. “No one.”
Eric’s case was still being looked into, but Chief Mills said that they didn’t have much to go on. “This is worked on every day by either my department or the Virginia State Police.” We also have one or two FBI agents coming to help us. We haven’t forgotten about Eric or his family.
As Eric’s first anniversary of going missing got closer, police got a call from a woman who thought she had seen the missing man in Buchanan County. Detectives followed up on the lead right away, but there was no sign that Eric was in that area.
His family and friends held a prayer vigil on November 8, 2014, to mark the sad anniversary of the last time they saw him. Patrick Clifton, a friend of the family, said that the vigil was a way “to remind people that we are still trying to find answers.” The family wants to say goodbye. More than 200 people showed their support for Eric’s family and friends.
It had been a terrible year for Eric’s family, and they were devastated by the uncertainty. “Everything is in my mind…”someone shot him while he was out hunting, which would have hurt him, but I think they would have found him. Dreama promised herself she would always look for her oldest son. “It’s not getting easier. Some say that time heals all wounds…I can’t see a way.”
Chief Mills thought of Eric with the family. In spite of all these months, I still think about Eric every single day. He asked people for help and said that detectives still didn’t have all the information they needed to solve the case, even after following up on every lead they got. “The public must really help us get him home.”
Unfortunately, no new information came in, and Eric’s case stopped being in the news as quickly. He went missing in November and his family held vigils every year to pray for his safe return, but it was clear that his case had reached a dead end. Detectives said they had no idea what happened to the man who went missing.
In April 2016, police searched a mine in the Red Ash area of Tazewell County because they had been told that Eric’s body would be found there. It had been more than 30 years since the mine had been used, but bodies were brought in for the dogs to search. Even though a lot of people looked, nothing was found.
Over the years, Dreama stayed in touch with the police all the time. Even though they couldn’t figure out what happened to her son, she had nothing but good things to say about the detectives who were working on the case. “Everything was checked.” They have asked everyone some questions. They didn’t find anything.
Nine years after Eric was last seen, in November 2022, police said the case was no longer being treated as a disappearance. They thought Eric had been killed, and Virginia State Police Special Agent Russell Edwards told reporters that the case was being looked into as a murder. No more information has been made public, and Eric’s family and friends are still praying that they will one day find peace.
The last time anyone saw Eric Grady Smith was in Cedar Bluff, Virginia, in 2013. He was 41 years old. As a big fan of hunting, he left his house to go hunting on his land and never came back. He left behind his cell phone, cigarettes, wallet, and other personal items. Eric left behind brown hair and brown eyes. He was 6 feet 1 inch tall and 210 pounds when he went missing. He was last seen with a 50-caliber muzzleloader on his person and wearing camouflage hunting clothes and a Timex watch. Please call the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office at 276–988–0645 if you know anything about Eric.