Eric Smith left his Cedar Bluff, Virginia, home around 10:00 am Friday, November 8, 2013. The 41-year-old planned to spend the morning hunting on his rural property and told his wife that he would see her later that day. He had a deer stand located approximately a mile from their home, and his wife assumed that he was heading there. Shortly after Eric left, his wife and one of their two daughters traveled to his mother-in-law’s home in Buchanan County and spent the day there. When they returned to Cedar Bluff early that evening, Eric wasn’t at the house.
Eric hadn’t been feeling well in the days leading up to his hunting excursion — he had been exhibiting flulike symptoms — so his wife was concerned when he wasn’t home by sunset. Since he hadn’t planned on being gone for long, Eric hadn’t taken his cell phone with him when he left the house that morning, leaving his wife no way to get in contact with him.
As darkness fell, Eric’s wife grew more concerned. She knew that Eric’s mother, Dreama Smith, was attending Friday night church services nearby, so she drove there to see if anyone in Eric’s family had heard from him that day. As soon as she saw her daughter-in-law, Dreama knew that something was wrong. She and other family members immediately left church. “We went directly to [Eric’s] house…people from church followed us. They came up and people were in the woods looking for him.”
Although temperatures had been mild that afternoon, topping out in the fifties, as darkness settled over the area the temperature dropped dramatically and Eric’s wife decided to call the police and report her husband missing.
Authorities immediately launched a search for Eric. Police officers, firefighters, and local volunteers scoured the area surrounding his property on Friday night but failed to find any trace of the missing man. Cedar Bluffs Police Chief David Mills admitted that the ground search was complicated by the fact that Eric had been wearing camouflage hunting apparel. “He could be lying down and he would be impossible to see.” Worried that he could be concealed in the dense underbrush, a Virginia State Police helicopter equipped with FLIR thermal vision made several passes over the 40-acre area of land that constituted Eric’s property. Unfortunately, the air search failed to find anything.
The hunt for Eric intensified on Saturday, with members of the Virginia State Police and the Consolidation Coal Company’s mine rescue team joining the search party. Eric was a long-time employee of Consolidation and had been a member of the same mine rescue team that assisted in the search. They were determined to find their missing friend and coworker. David Queensberry, a member of the team, stated that they were trained in search and rescue and would search for any missing person, but admitted that the search for Eric was more personal. “Eric is one of us. He is one of our family.”
Cedar Bluff councilman and firefighter James Brown had nothing but praise for the mine rescue team, noting that they stayed in a shoulder-to-shoulder formation as they searched to make sure they didn’t miss anything in the rough terrain. “They’re fearless. If they can’t see the top of the person’s foot beside them, that means they’re too far apart.” Long after many of the volunteer searchers had to return to their jobs and families, the mine rescue team continued their exhaustive search for Eric. They were heartbroken when they were unable to find any clues as to what might have happened to him.
Six tracking dogs were brought in to assist the searchers, and though they were able to pick up several scent trails leading away from Eric’s home — and at least one returning to it — it was unclear which trail was the most recent. None of the trails led to Eric.
When Eric left the house that morning, he had been carrying only the 50-caliber muzzleloader he used for deer hunting. Officials assumed that the experienced hunter likely had one shot already loaded, so explosives detection dogs were brought in to see if they could hone in on the scent of gunpowder. The dogs spent hours combing through the woods but failed to find any trace of Eric or his muzzleloader.
The search continued for nearly a week and covered more than 800 acres, expanding throughout the area surrounding Cedar Bluff, Richlands, Claypool Hill, and Kent Ridge Road. Despite the massive effort, searchers found no clues leading to Eric’s whereabouts. On Thursday, November 14, authorities announced that they were suspending the search for the missing hunter, though they would continue to investigate any new leads they received.
Detectives with the Cedar Bluff Police Department interviewed Eric’s family members, friends, and co-workers, hoping to find some clue as to what might have happened to him. Cedar Bluff Police Chief David Mills noted that Eric wasn’t the type of person one would expect to voluntarily go missing; he was described as being a hardworking man who was dedicated to his family.
At the time of his disappearance, Eric was the general foreman at the Buchanan One coal mine. It was a position that carried a lot of responsibility; Eric was usually the first employee to arrive in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. Mining is an inherently dangerous profession and Eric was responsible for making sure all state and federal safety regulations were promptly implemented and meticulously followed. According to coworkers, Eric was well-suited for the job and had earned the respect of his fellow employees.
At just 41 years old, Eric was young to be in a foreman position but fully qualified for the job. According to coworker Robert Baugh, Eric “went up the ladder fast. He was as good a mine operator as I ever had.” It was a sentiment that was shared by many others who worked with the missing man. Virginia State Police Special Agent Jeff Stares told reporters that “not one person we talked to at the mines had an ill word to say about [Eric]. Everyone we talked to loved him to death.”
Eric had earned a reputation for being a fair supervisor, one who treated everyone he interacted with equally. He was always willing to sit down and talk with his employees about any concerns or issues they might have. His position required him to be on call 24 hours a day in case any major issues arose at the mine, and he was used to taking calls from people at all hours of the day. He took the responsibility in stride and never complained.
As detectives went through the process of interviewing everyone who knew Eric and his family, it became clear that he had no reason to want to leave voluntarily. Investigators found no evidence of any problems at home or at work; Eric was a hardworking man who was completely dedicated to his wife and two children.
Although authorities initially seemed to lean towards the theory that Eric might have been injured in some kind of accident while out hunting, as days went by without any sign of his body or gun, they had to consider that his disappearance was possibly the result of foul play. Rumors about what might have happened to him made the rounds throughout his small town, with most of the locals agreeing that foul play seemed likely. They were certain that Eric never would have voluntarily left his family and job, and they didn’t believe that he had gotten lost or injured in the woods.
Cedar Bluff Police Chief David Mills cautioned people about spreading rumors about the case and told reporters that investigators had been unable to rule out any possible scenario, including that Eric had voluntarily left. Until some shred of evidence could be found, detectives were keeping all options on the table, however unlikely they seemed to those who knew Eric best. Detectives admitted that they were aware of all the rumors surrounding the potential for foul play but refused to comment on them.
It seemed like everyone in the area was closely following Eric’s case. Although Chief David Mills made it a point to give frequent updates about the status of the search, it wasn’t enough for some people. In the first 10 days of the investigation, so many people called 911 to ask for information about the case that the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office had to issue a statement pleading with the public to only utilize the emergency number for actual emergencies.
Although Eric’s family continued to pray for his safe return, they knew he would never willingly miss celebrating Thanksgiving with his family and there was a noticeable pall when the holiday came and went without any progress on the case. December 3rd — Eric’s 42nd birthday — also passed without any word about the missing man.
A month after Eric was last seen, his family announced that they were offering a $5,000 reward for any information leading to his location or recovery. Although a few tips trickled in to investigators, none of them led to Eric. Three weeks later, the Smith family increased the reward to $8,000.
As 2013 came to a close, the Smith family was left in limbo, wondering what had happened to Eric. Chief Mills told reporters that “Christmas was a sad and difficult time for the Smith family as they continue to worry about their loved one. His absence during the holidays only heightens the family’s concern about Eric’s safety and whereabouts.”
Eric’s employer soon announced that they were going to match the $8,000 being offered by Eric’s family, bringing the total reward to $16,000. Cathy St. Clair, the Public Affairs Director for the company, stated, “We hope that the increase in the reward will help law enforcement in its efforts to solve this case.” Members of the public also offered donations, and by the end of the month, the reward was up to nearly $18,000.
In April 2014, a tip line established by the Virginia State Police received a call from a person who claimed that Eric’s body would be found near Daw Road, located close to the border between Tazewell and Russell counties. Investigators searched the area but failed to find anything related to Eric’s disappearance.
By September 2014, Eric had been missing for ten months, and his family continued to do everything possible to keep his case in the public eye. Dreama told reporters that Eric’s wife and children were having a hard time dealing with the disappearance, but they were all relying on their faith to carry them through. “We pray every day that something will open up.” Although Dreama tried to remain optimistic, it was evident she was in pain. “There is a constant ache, constant sickness in your heart and stomach 24/7. It’s unimaginable. Nobody should have to go through this. Nobody.”
Investigators continued to actively work on Eric’s case, but Chief Mills admitted that they had little to go on. “Every day somebody is working this, either my department or the Virginia State Police. We also have an FBI agent or two assisting us. We haven’t forgotten Eric or his family.”
As the first anniversary of Eric’s disappearance approached, investigators received a call from a woman who believed she had seen the missing man in Buchanan County. Detectives immediately followed up on the lead but found nothing to suggest that Eric was in that area.
Eric’s friends and family held a prayer vigil on November 8, 2014, to mark the grim anniversary of the last time they had seen him. Family friend Patsy Clifton noted that the vigil was a way “to remind people that we are still trying to come up with some answers. The family needs closure. More than 200 people attended to show their support for Eric’s loved ones.
For Eric’s family, it had been a heartbreaking year and the uncertainty was devastating. “I’ve imagined everything…that he got hurt, that somebody shot him during hunting season…but if that had been the case I think they would have found him.” Dreama vowed that she would never stop looking for her oldest son. “It hasn’t gotten any easier. People say time heals all wounds…I just don’t see a way.”
Chief Mills joined the family in remembering Eric. “Even 12 months later not a day goes by that I don’t think of Eric.” He appealed to the public for help, noting that despite running down every lead they received, detectives still lacked the information needed to solve the case. “We truly need the public’s help to bring him home.”
Unfortunately, no new information came in and Eric’s case gradually faded from the headlines. His family continued to pray daily for his return and hold vigils each November on the anniversary of his disappearance, but it was clear his case had stalled. Detectives admitted that they had no idea what had happened to the missing man.
In April 2016, investigators conducted a search of a mine located in the Red Ash area of Tazewell County after receiving a tip that Eric’s body would be found there. Cadaver dogs were brought in to comb through the mine, which hadn’t been active for more than three decades. Despite an intensive search, nothing was found.
Dreama remained in constant contact with law enforcement over the years. Although they had been unable to determine what had happened to her son, she had nothing but praise for the detectives working on the case. “They have checked everything. They have questioned everybody. They found nothing.”
In November 2022, nine years after Eric was last seen, investigators announced that the case was no longer being considered a disappearance; detectives believed Eric had been mur*dered and Virginia State Police Special Agent Russell Edwards told reporters the case was being investigated as a homicide. No further details have been released, and Eric’s loved ones continue to pray that they will one day get closure.
Eric Grady Smith was 41 years old when he went missing from Cedar Bluff, Virginia, in 2013. An avid hunter, he left his home to do some hunting on his property and never returned; his cell phone, cigarettes, wallet, and other personal belongings were left behind. Eric has brown hair and brown eyes, and at the time of his disappearance, he was 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 210 pounds. He was last seen wearing camouflage hunting clothing and a Timex watch; he was carrying a 50-caliber muzzleloader. If you have any information about Eric, please contact the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office at 276–988–0645.