On Saturday, February 3, 1973, Guy Heckle was ecstatic to embark on his first overnight camping trip with his Boy Scout troop. The eleven-year-old, a proud member of Boy Scout Troop 101 and a fifth grader at Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s Eisenhower Elementary School, had been talking about going camping for weeks. Guy never made it back to his parents’ house, so tragically, his ideal vacation became a nightmare for his family. That night, at some point, he was gone from sight.
Guy was camping in Linn County, Iowa, at the Kiwanis Cabins next to the Cedar River with his Boy Scout troop. Even though it was a cold night—the thermometer was only around 50 degrees—the scouts chose to play a game of “Capture the Flag” in the woods around the cabins. The boys discovered Guy was missing when the scout leader called for them to come inside and begin getting ready for bed at around 8:00 p.m.
Many of the young boy scouts reported that Guy had been having fun playing “Capture the Flag” while he ran around, but none of them could say with certainty when they had last seen him. After searching the area for the missing boy for the next hour and a half with the assistance of their adult chaperones, the scout leader realized they needed more assistance at 9:30 p.m. and called the Linn County Sheriff’s Office.
For the remainder of the evening, every Linn County deputy that was available, along with Marion Police Department officers and volunteers from Civil Defense, combed through the Kiwanis reserve in an attempt to find any information regarding Guy’s whereabouts. When hours passed and there was still no sign of the missing Boy Scout, officials began to fear for his safety. At first, they were hopeful that they could find him quickly.
Around 2:30 am, authorities decided to stop looking for Guy; the search was restarted at 7:30 am on Sunday. As news of the missing child spread, hundreds of volunteers turned out to help with the search. Within a mile of Guy’s last sighting, they searched every cabin, outbuilding, and wooded area. There was nothing they could find to suggest he was nearby.
Reporters were informed by Chief Deputy George Griffin of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office that by Sunday afternoon, about 500 people were actively looking for Guy. He said that despite “searching an area along the river about two and a half miles long,” they were unable to locate any information regarding the whereabouts of the missing boy.
While volunteers and law enforcement cautiously made their way across the uneven and muddy terrain, a Civil Air Patrol aircraft and a Civil Defense helicopter conducted aerial reconnaissance over the area. Even though the majority of the search had been conducted in the 50s, as dusk approached that evening, the weather began to turn and the temperature began to fall sharply.
As Sunday came to an end, Chief Deputy Griffin said he didn’t think foul play had anything to do with Guy’s disappearance, but he wasn’t ready to rule anything out either in the absence of strong evidence. “The boy may have gotten into one of the backwaters or may have run away,” he told a reporter.
Although police didn’t believe there was any truth to the rumor that Guy had been killed as part of some sort of initiation, Chief Deputy Griffin acknowledged that it had been floating around. Additionally, they had heard that his body might have been dumped in a well; despite searching several wells in the vicinity, nothing was discovered.
On Monday, the search was extended to a three-mile radius around the camp, with 250 searchers going through it. Without any leads to Guy’s location, they were unable to maintain hope for him and his parents. “It’s just faith that’s keeping us going…if the Lord has taken his soul, I want his body,” his father, Howard Heckle, said to reporters. Howard was moved by the Iowa Electric Light & Power Company coworkers who volunteered to assist in the Guy search on Monday.
Mrs. Robert Claypool, a volunteer who had raised Guy in his den during his initial Cub Scout years, was among the numerous people looking for the missing boy. Guy is “an obedient, cooperative boy…he isn’t the type who would go off against the rules,” according to her observation. The Heckles wouldn’t be the boy or family you would choose to have something similar happen to.
On Tuesday, there was a smaller search group. Teams of bloodhounds searched the whole camp; one appeared to find Guy’s trail and followed it to Edgewood Road, which led to Cedar Rapids. Eventually, the dog lost its scent, and authorities started to wonder if Guy had left the immediate area. They also focused on the Cedar River, considering the possibility that Guy had fallen into the freezing waters and was unable to rescue himself. The Hawkeye Scuba Club methodically searched the water while search and rescue personnel used boats to drag the river.
After receiving a call on Wednesday morning, Guy’s parents began to worry that their son might have run away or been imprisoned against his will. When Nancy Heckle asked him to tell her where her son was, the unidentified male called and said he knew exactly where Guy was. He then said, “That is for me to know and you to find out.” Officers responded to a house in northeast Cedar Rapids where the call was traced, but they discovered nothing connected to Guy there. It could have been no more than a cruel practical joke.
A man who said he had seen a child who he thought was Guy hitchhiking on a highway close to the Kiwanis campground also called the Heckles. Before giving any more details, he hung up, and the call was traced to a pay phone in Cedar Rapids by the investigators. The caller was never identified, so it’s impossible to know if he was acting prankishly or genuinely believed he had important information.
There were also multiple possible tips regarding Guy’s location that were given to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. One was from a traveling salesman who said he was positive he had seen the missing boy early on Monday morning at a gas station in Illinois. The salesman said the boy told him he hadn’t eaten or slept for more than twenty-four hours. At the time, he thought the boy was just another runaway, but when he found out later that Guy had vanished, he started to worry. When police investigated the tip, they were unable to determine whether the boy in question had actually been Guy.
Psychics called the investigators offering to assist in the search for the missing boy, but most of the information they gave was too general to be of any use. A woman phoned, claiming to have dreamed that Guy had hurt himself after falling from a tree, while others asserted that he was kidnapped. Guy, according to one self-described psychic, was definitely hiding in a cave. Though they could not do much more than file these tips into an ever-expanding casefile, detectives did file them.
A search and rescue team from Sierra Madre, California, received assistance on Thursday from more than 200 workers of Iowa Electric Light & Power Company in conducting a thorough grid search of the area where Guy was last seen. By the time they were through, they were positive Guy was not in the vicinity.
Nearly a week after Guy was last seen, the coordinated search for him was canceled on Friday. While deputies and dive teams had spent many hours searching the Cedar River and its backwaters, search teams had scoured the entire area around the campground. They searched for Guy nonstop, but they were unable to locate him. Despite the fact that Guy’s friends and family didn’t think he was the kind of kid who would run away from home, Linn County Sheriff Walter Grant stated that “the runaway possibility makes the most hopeful chance of finding him alive.”
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office informed Guy’s family that they would still investigate every tip they received, even though the actual search had been canceled. Detectives in Carlock, Illinois were contacted by a waitress who claimed to have seen the missing boy at her place of employment. The boy informed her that he had fled his Iowan home and had no intention of returning. The boy’s clothes fit the one Guy had been seen in, so the waitress thought at first that the boy had been Guy. However, after detectives showed her multiple pictures of the missing Boy Scout, she was unable to place him. “We’re right back where we started from,” Sheriff Grant said.
Guy’s parents decided to send several articles of his clothing to psychics at the Physical Research and Training Center in Richmond Heights, Missouri, out of desperation to find him. They were hoping that the extrasensory perception of the group’s clairvoyants would enable them to find their missing son. They made no progress at all.
A man who was fishing on the banks of the Cedar River on February 25, 1973, came across a jacket that looked just like the one Guy had been wearing the night he vanished. It lay on a log on the east bank of the river, about a mile from Guy’s last known location, directly across from the Duane Arnold Energy Center. The search was redoubled after the discovery.
It’s unlikely that the jacket had lain there the entire time because the area had been thoroughly searched during the initial search. Since the jacket had not been completely unzipped when it was discovered, investigators surmised that Guy may have had it torn off after he fell into the river. In an attempt to locate Guy’s body, search teams were sent back into the river, but they turned up nothing that would have suggested he was in the water.
Though the jacket’s discovery had raised hopes for Guy’s body to be found, search teams turned up no proof the boy was in the area. Guy was assured by the head of the Sierra Madre search and rescue team that he was not “within the 12 square miles of our search area.” It was acknowledged by the investigators that they were unaware of the missing boy’s whereabouts.
Three days after Guy disappeared, on February 28, 1973, the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation announced that they were going to get involved in the search for Guy after they discovered that an unidentified individual had been skulking around the residence of another Boy Scout. In the days that followed Guy’s disappearance, the boy “experienced a series of frightening incidents of someone shining a flashlight in his bedroom window,” according to his mother. The report increased suspicions that Guy had been kidnapped by a group that preyed on young boys.
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office kept looking for Guy for the next three months. They searched the river every week, knowing that his body would eventually come to light. The water had dropped to its lowest point since Guy vanished by May. On May 24, 1973, search parties made their final dive into the water, believing they would locate Guy if he was there. They came up empty once more.
Howard and Nancy Heckle kept searching for Guy even after the official search for their son had ended. With hopes that they would be able to return Guy home, they strolled alongside the banks of the Cedar River and looked over the backwaters. Howard wrote, “We feel there are two possible answers to Guy’s disappearance,” in a letter to The Gazette’s editor. He could have been anywhere, de*ad or alive, or he could have met with foul play. Alternatively, he could have gotten lost and drowned in the river. We’re still hoping for a healing.
A $5,000 reward was offered in May 1974 by Guy’s family, the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and the Linn County Sheriff’s Office for any information that would lead to Guy’s recovery or identify the person responsible for his disappearance. Though a few tips came in, none of them resulted in significant advancements in the case.
Guy’s whereabouts remained a mystery for years to come. “No one has ever figured out what happened to him,” Linn County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant James Neagle acknowledged in a 1979 interview. According to Lt. Neagle, “extensive dragging operations in the area never found any trace of young Heckle,” casting doubt on the initial theory that he drowned. “We checked out every lead, including possible abduction, and used every resource in the county — aircraft, horses, scuba divers, boats, foot searches — but turned up nothing,” he stated.
Though they didn’t blame law enforcement, Howard and Nancy were understandably upset that Guy had never been found. “We are pleased with the investigation; we are unsure of what further we could reasonably request.” It was difficult for Howard to deal with the uncertainty surrounding the future of their only son. “We haven’t heard anything about Guy’s situation—it’s like blowing out a candle.” However, we are still hopeful that he is still alive.
Howard attempted to recall the happy moments he had shared with his son and attributed the family’s success to their faith in God. “I don’t think I would want it any other way, and I can’t recall a day when he hasn’t made me feel something.” We can discuss him and chuckle over some of his amusing antics.
In February 1973, Guy Howard Heckle disappeared during a camping trip when he was only 11 years old. He was a popular child among his peers, intelligent, and full of adventure. He also loved being a Boy Scout. Guy was 4 feet 5 inches tall and sixty pounds at the time of his disappearance. He had dark brown hair and hazel eyes. His last known outfit included a Boy Scout shirt, light blue quilted parka, Chukka boots, and striped multicolored jeans with a maroon hue. Please call 319-892-6100 to reach the Linn County Sheriff’s Office if you know anything about Guy.