On Thursday night, February 15, 2001, Steven Kraft took his two dogs outside to play. Friends and family call the 12-year-old “Stevie.” He left his home in Benton Heights, Michigan, around 6:30 pm. His mother was cooking dinner at the time, and Stevie told her he would be back soon. He never came back.
Stevie didn’t show up for dinner, but his parents weren’t worried at first. His sister Jodi lived next door with her husband and young son. Stevie would often bring his dogs to play with his nephew and eat dinner with them. His mother, Chyrille, called Jodi at 9 p.m. to see if Stevie was still there. She was shocked to find out that Jodi hadn’t seen her brother all day.
Steven Stevie’s dad went out right away to find his son. A neighbour told him that they had seen Stevie and his two dogs around 6:45 pm, not long after he had left his home on Holly Drive. He was going towards a nearby field with his two dogs, a German shepherd/Chow mix and a German shepherd puppy. Stevie was often seen walking around the neighbourhood with his dogs, and that evening, the neighbour hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary.
Even though it was cold when Stevie went outside to play, it got even colder as the hours went by, and Steven was desperate to find his son. Steven and Chyrille knew things were bad, so they called the Benton Heights Police Department to say Stevie was missing.
Soon, a police officer showed up to help Steven look for the missing boy. They found paw prints and what they thought were tracks from Stevie’s boots. The tracks led them for a short distance, but they stopped near the Harbour Haven Ministries building at 2372 Irving Street, which is only two blocks from Stevie’s house.
Steven was afraid that his son might have taken his dogs into the woods behind Harbour Haven Ministries. Stevie knew the wooded area well, but there was snow and ice on the ground. Steve might have hurt himself when he fell, which would have made it impossible for him to walk the short distance home. However, Steven thought that Stevie would have let out at least one of the dogs so that it could find its way back home and let the family know something was wrong.
The search for Stevie went on all night, but no one found him. The police and Steven looked through the area with the help of volunteers, but they couldn’t find the boy or either of his dogs.
The father, Steven, was sure that his son would never run away from home, but the police weren’t so sure. Stevie, a sixth-grader at Hull Elementary School, had been kicked out of school for five days for fighting, they found out. He was supposed to go back to school the next day. At first, the police thought Stevie might have been hiding so he didn’t have to go back to school.
Stevie was still missing in the morning. Detectives were sent to Hull Elementary School to talk to Stevie’s classmates and teachers. After doing this, they came to the conclusion that Stevie probably wasn’t running away. Leo Cloman, the school’s principal, told the police that even though Stevie had been suspended the week before for fighting, it was actually another student who started it and Stevie was just trying to protect himself. The principal didn’t have much of a choice because school rules said that both people involved in a fight had to be suspended.
The teachers of Stevie agreed with the principal and told the police that Stevie was a smart, well-behaved kid who had never been in trouble before. He liked to draw and was pretty quiet. He never caused any trouble in class. He had never run away from home before, and they didn’t think that his small fight with a classmate had anything to do with him going missing.
The older sister of Stevie agreed. As a close friend, Jodi and Stevie often spent time together at her house. She was sure that he would have told her about any problems he was having. Neither of them said anything about wanting to leave home, and none of his things were missing from his bedroom. He didn’t even have a hat or gloves on when he took the dogs outside, which showed that he wasn’t planning to stay out for long.
Steven grew up in Benton Heights and knew all the places his son liked to hang out. He searched all day Friday through wooded areas, ditches, barns, and gullies. By the end of the day, he and a small group of volunteers had covered an area 8 miles around the Kraft home. They couldn’t figure out where Stevie was.
As detectives continued to look around the neighbourhood for anyone who might have seen the child, they came across a teen who said he thought he had seen Stevie on Thursday night. The kid was gathering empty soda and beer cans outside of the Red Arrow Tap on Red Arrow Highway, which is only two blocks from Stevie’s house on Holly Drive. The teen said the child got into a red Toyota with four-wheel drive, but he didn’t get a good look at the driver.
Steven wasn’t sure about the possible sighting when he heard about it. The teen hadn’t seen any dogs with the child, and Steven knew that his son would never leave his pets alone. He also didn’t think Stevie would have gotten into a car with someone he didn’t know, especially since he was only a few blocks from his house. He was right; detectives were able to confirm that Stevie wasn’t the child they saw getting into the red Toyota.
Someone else said they saw a boy who looked like Stevie climbing into a storm drain pipe. While some kids in the area were known to play in the drain pipes, Stevie wasn’t one of them. However, police followed up on the lead by sending a search team into the sewer system. They carefully went through more than a mile of pipes. They didn’t find any proof that Stevie had been down there before.
It was hard for Steven to believe that someone could have taken a 12-year-old boy and two dogs without anyone seeing. However, investigators were unable to find anyone who had seen anything strange happen the night Stevie disappeared. Steven was afraid that his hurt son was lying on the ground near home and couldn’t get up. They were running out of time to find him if that was true. On Friday, a bitter cold front moved into the area. Overnight temperatures dropped below zero, which made hypothermia a very real risk.
On Saturday, the search for the missing boy got tougher. The Michigan State Police used bloodhounds to try to find Stevie’s scent. At first, they thought they saw a trail, but at the end of Holly Drive, they lost it. The dogs were taken into a wooded area close to where they lost the scent trail. They tried to find it again but couldn’t. Detectives didn’t think the boy had gone into the woods because they couldn’t find Stevie or his dogs.
Stevie had been near Harbour Haven Ministries the night he disappeared, but no one had seen him go inside. That was the end of his trail. His footprints and the pawprints of his dogs were both going that way, but there were no clear footprints showing which way they had gone next.
They thought they could follow Stevie’s scent to a frozen pond behind Harbour Haven Ministries, but they lost it after only a few feet. The pond had a thick layer of ice on top of it. Investigators carefully looked at the ice and saw no signs of cracks or holes, so they decided Stevie could not have fallen into the water.
An infrared device was flown over the area by a helicopter crew on Saturday night in the hopes of picking up Stevie’s heat signature. The radar couldn’t find any sign of the boy or his dogs who went missing. The crew also flew over the Blue Creek area just in case Stevie got lost there, but there was no sign of him.
On Sunday, more than 100 people helped look for Stevie. There were also people from the Benton Township Fire Department, the Benton Township Police Department, and the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force there. The Berrien County Sheriff’s Posse brought horses to help with the search, and some of the civilian volunteers used ATVs to get to more places. Some stores in the area gave flashlights to the search teams, and the Benton Township Pizza Hut fed them.
No sign of Stevie or his dogs could be found, even though a huge search was done. But later that night, the German shepherd/Chow mix went home by herself. She appeared out of nowhere, and no one saw her coming from. However, it was clear that she had been outside for a long time. She was cold and hungry, but there were no injuries that could be seen. There were no cuts or bleeding on her paw pads, and she wasn’t limping.
According to Steven, the dog seemed to be physically fine, but she was showing signs of stress and fear. She knelt down, which was something she had never done before, when her surroundings were loud or moved quickly. They fed her and kept her warm so that she could help them find Stevie. They let her go outside to see if she would go in a certain direction. She kept going back to the area near Harbour Haven Ministries. Once more, searchers went through that area but couldn’t find any signs that Stevie was there.
On Monday, search teams had gone over an area that was bigger than six square miles. Through woods, fields, and streams, they had walked, and they had checked the ice on a few ponds. A lot of people had searched through all of Benton Heights more than once. Stevie was not to be found.
One of the search groups found a German shepherd puppy near Blue Creek that afternoon. Steven was called to the scene and quickly confirmed that Steven’s dog Chopper was the puppy. Chopper looked cold and hungry, just like the other dog, but he was very happy to see Steven. After getting to the Kraft house, the puppy was happy as ever, waggling his tail.
There were many search teams that looked in the area where Chopper was found, but they couldn’t find Stevie. Detectives were annoyed that there wasn’t any physical evidence. Both dogs had been saved, but they were still no closer to finding Stevie.
Detectives got a tip that Stevie had been seen in the Milwaukee area a week after he went missing. Stevie’s family was adamant that he wasn’t running away, but he did have family in the Milwaukee area. After following up on the possible lead, FBI agents found no proof that Stevie was in Milwaukee as claimed.
Over the next two weeks, investigators kept getting tips, but none of them helped them get closer to Stevie. Detectives said they couldn’t rule out any possibilities, but they did say that Stevie’s parents had been very helpful with the investigation and weren’t seen as suspects in their son’s disappearance.
By the end of the month, investigators and volunteers had searched over 10 square miles of land but had not found any signs that would lead them to Stevie. The police had to face the fact that Stevie probably hadn’t left the area by himself, and the FBI called the case a kidnapping.
Over the next month, tips stopped coming in, and by April, police were admitting they had no idea what had happened to Stevie. They were still upset that there wasn’t any physical evidence in the case, and they said they thought there were people in the community who knew more about the disappearance than they were letting on.
Stevie’s family offered a $1,000 reward for information that would help them find the missing boy. More tips were sent in, but they all led to nothing. Even though local and state police, the FBI, and volunteer searchers did their best, no one knew what happened before Stevie went missing.
There were cadaver dogs brought by the Michigan State Police in June to search some of the places they thought Stevie might be. There was nothing found. Officials said it was possible that Stevie’s body was hidden somewhere they hadn’t found yet, but they didn’t think it was likely. He might have had an accident deep in the woods, but they couldn’t say for sure. It seemed more likely that he had been taken from the area against his will.
At the end of July, “America’s Most Wanted” showed a short clip about Stevie’s case. Detectives thought that the story going around the country might give them some new leads, but none of the calls they got turned out to be useful.
Even though the police really wanted to find Stevie and bring him home to his family, it was clear that the case was breaking down. They kept searching the area here and there for the next few years, but they never found any proof of what had happened to Stevie.
As the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport grew, most of the buildings in Benton Heights were torn down by 2005. This included Stevie’s old house. When they were clearing land for a project to make the runway longer, construction workers called the Benton Township police because they thought they saw what looked like a shallow grave. Investigators only found a small cross that was made by hand. In the end, they decided that someone had probably buried a pet there years before.
It was 2014, and Benton Township Police Chief Vince Fetke said that one anonymous tip could be all it takes to solve the case. He and Stevie’s family begged the public for help in finding out what happened to Stevie. He also said that he thought there were still people in the area who knew something about the case but hadn’t come forward yet.
Even though there are no new clues in Stevie’s case, detectives are still following up on all leads. Every year on the anniversary of Stevie’s disappearance, his family holds a candlelight vigil. They also have a chocolate cake for him on his birthday. They’ve never given up hope that Stevie will come home one day to blow out the candles on his cake.
Stevie’s father passed away in February 2021 at the age of 58, and he never found out what happened to his son twenty years earlier.
In 2001, Steven Earl Kraft, Jr. was 12 years old when he was last seen. His hair is light brown and his eyes are green. He was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed about 100 pounds when he went missing. A striped white, tan, and brown shirt, a purple and aqua Charlotte Hornets jacket, and black Lugz boots were the last things that were seen on him. Please call the Benton Township Police Department at 616–926–8221 if you know anything about Steven.