Details of Disappearance
Mitchel and his girlfriend of over a year, Bonita Bickwit
, planned to hitchhike to attend a concert festival featuring The Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead in Watkins Glen, New York when they disappeared on July 27, 1973. The concert is thought to be the largest in history, with over 800,000 people showing up. Mitchel took time off from his job as a photography assistant at Chelsea Photographers in Coney Island, New York, and met Bonita at her workplace, Camp Wel-Met, in Narrowsburg, New York.
Together they set off for the concert, which was 75 miles away. It is believed that Mitchel and Bonita had approximately $25 between them. They carried backpacks, sleeping bags, and a cardboard sign that read "Watkins Glen." Mitchel also carried a gray and olive-green plaid flannel shirt. They were last seen hitchhiking along State Route 97. The truck driver who gave them a ride is the last confirmed person to have seen them. It's unclear whether they actually arrived in Watkins Glen. They have never been heard from again.
Authorities initially believed that the couple simply ran off together. Bonita and Mitchel had secretly exchanged wedding rings earlier in the summer of 1973. Both were intelligent teenagers who attended John Dewey High School, a Brooklyn alternative school for gifted students, where Mitchel was a senior and due to graduate in January 1974. Bonita lived in Borough Park with her family when she was not working at Camp Wel-Met; Mitchel lived in Midwood. Mitchel was interested in photography and poetry at the time of their disappearances. Both Bonita and Mitchel are from stable, middle-class Jewish families.
Both Mitchel and Bonita's loved ones say the two seemed ill at ease before they left for the concert. Bonita sneaked away from Camp Wel-Met and went home one day the week before she vanished, and took $80 which she had been saving for a bicycle. Her family was not home at the time, but neighbors saw her.
Bonita was also having difficulties at work, and quit her job in anger on the day of her disappearance after her employers refused to give her the night off. Mitchel, meanwhile, was disappointed because his parents told him they couldn't afford the out-of-town college he wanted to attend; he would have to go to school close to home.
Despite this, however, their loved ones believe Bonita and Mitchel were just having normal adolescent problems and would have never run away from home. Bonita's best friend was in Europe the summer she vanished, but she exchanged letters with Bonita and says their communications were normal. Mitchel was looking forward to taking his drivers' test, which was scheduled for a few weeks after he disappeared.
Bonita and Mitchel's families and friends have never forgotten about the two. Mitchel's family has since moved to Arizona, but they keep a phone listing in the Brooklyn telephone directory since 1973 in case either of the teens decide to contact them. Years following their disappearances, Mitchel's father accepted a collect call from someone identifying herself as "Bonnie." By the time the operator was able to connect them, the caller had hung up. She did not call back and has never been identified.
In 2000, a witness, Allyn Smith, claimed he saw both Bonita and Mitchel drown while they were on their way back from Watkins Glen. Smith, then 24, said he was also going to the Watkins Glen rock festival and hitched a ride on a Volkswagen bus and two teenagers, whom he identified as Bonita and Mitchel, were also on the bus. He did not know their names but had heard them talking about the girl's summer camp and recalled their clothing.
They all stopped to cool off in a nearby river when Bonita got into trouble in the water. Mitchel jumped in to save her and they were both swept away, still alive. The bus driver told Smith he would call the police at the nearest gas station, but authorities have no record of such a call being made.
Police call Smith "credible" but wonder why, as an athletic Navy veteran, he did not try to rescue the drowning teenagers. They are investigating his account, which has not been confirmed. The driver of the bus has not been found and Smith cannot remember the location of the river the teens allegedly drowned in. As a result, his story cannot be fully investigated.
Bonita and Mitchel remain missing and their cases are unsolved. Their families have criticized the police for what they call a perfunctory investigation. The original case files have apparently been lost. Included in the files were the only existing copies of Bonita's and Mitchel's dental records, which could have been used to identify their bodies. Authorities now admit that they made many mistakes in the investigation.
A new investigator has been assigned to the cases. The state attorney general got involved in the investigation in 2000. Bonita and Mitchel's families hope the additional assistance will help solve the case.