Guy Heckle was very excited to go on his first overnight camping trip with his Boy Scout troop on Saturday, February 3, 1973. The 11-year-old, who was a fifth grade student at Eisenhower Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was a proud member of Boy Scout Troop 101 and had been talking about going camping for weeks. Sadly, his dream trip turned into a nightmare for his family, as Guy never returned home to his parents. At some point that night, he vanished without a trace.
Guy and his Boy Scout troop were camping at the Kiwanis Cabins near the Cedar River in Linn County, Iowa. It was a chilly night, with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees, but the scouts were undaunted by the weather and decided to play a game of “Capture the Flag” in the woods surrounding the cabins. Around 8:00 pm, the scout leader told the boys it was time to come inside and start getting ready for bed; it was at this point that they realized Guy was missing.
Many of the young boy scouts said that Guy had been having fun playing “Capture the Flag” and that they didn’t remember the exact date or time that they had last seen him. The scouts and their adult leaders searched the area for the missing boy for another hour and a half. At 9:30 pm, the scout leader realized they needed more help and called the Linn County Sheriff’s Office.
They spent the rest of the night searching the Kiwanis reserve for any clues about where Guy was. They were joined by deputies from Linn County, the Marion Police Department, and Civil Defense volunteers. At first, authorities were hopeful that they would quickly find the missing Boy Scout. But as the hours went by with no sign of him, they became more worried about his safety.
The search for Guy was put on hold around 2:30 am by officials. It began again at 7:30 am Sunday. People from all over came to help with the search as word got out about the missing child. They searched every cabin, outbuilding, and wooded area within a mile of the last place Guy was seen. There was no sign that he was in the area that they could find.
Chief Deputy George Griffin of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office told reporters that by Sunday afternoon, about 500 people were looking for Guy. He said that they “searched an area about two and a half miles long along the river” but couldn’t find any signs of the missing boy.
From above, a Civil Air Patrol plane and a Civil Defense helicopter looked over the area. Police and volunteers carefully made their way over the rough and muddy ground. During most of the search, the temperature stayed in the 50s. But as the sun went down that night, the weather began to change, and the temperature dropped by a lot.
As Sunday came to a close, Chief Deputy Griffin said that he didn’t think Guy’s disappearance was caused by foul play, but he wouldn’t say for sure because he didn’t have enough evidence. A reporter asked him if he thought “the boy may have gotten into one of the backwaters or may have run away.”
Someone said that Guy had been killed as part of some kind of initiation, and Chief Deputy Griffin agreed with them. However, the police did not believe this to be true. They also heard that his body might have been dumped in a well. People searched several wells in the area, but nothing was found.
On Monday, the search area was made bigger, and now 250 people are looking in an area three miles around the camp. They couldn’t figure out where Guy was, and it was hard for his parents to stay positive. His father, Howard Heckle, told reporters, “Our faith is the only thing that keeps us going. If the Lord has taken his soul, I want his body.” On Monday, many of Howard’s coworkers from Iowa Electric Light & Power Company joined the search for Guy. He was moved by how willing they were to help.
Mrs. Robert Claypool was one of the many people helping to look for the missing boy. She had been Guy’s den mother when he first joined Cub Scouts. Guy was “a good boy who follows the rules; he’s not the type to break the rules,” she said. This wouldn’t happen to the Heckles if you had to pick a boy or a family.
Tuesday, there were fewer people in the search group. Bloodhound teams searched the whole camp area. One seemed to find Guy’s trail and was able to follow it to Edgewood Road, which led to Cedar Rapids. After a while, the dog lost the scent, and police started to think that Guy might not be in the area anymore. They also paid attention to the Cedar River because they thought Guy might have fallen into the cold water and not been able to get to safety. Some people in search and rescue boats dragged the river while the Hawkeye Scuba Club carefully looked through the water.
Guy’s parents got a call early Wednesday morning that made them wonder if their son had run away or was being held against his will. A man who they didn’t know called their house and said he knew exactly where Guy was. When Nancy Heckle asked him to tell her where her son was, he said, “That is for me to know and you to find out.” The call was tracked to a house in northeast Cedar Rapids, but when police arrived, they didn’t find anything connected to Guy. It’s possible that the call was just a mean joke.
A man also called the Heckles and said he had seen a child he thought was Guy hitchhiking on a highway near the Kiwanis campground for kids. The caller hung up before giving any more details, and police were able to track it to a payphone in Cedar Rapids. No one ever found out who called, and it’s not clear if he really thought he had useful information or if it was just a joke.
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office also got a number of possible leads about where Guy was. One was from a traveling salesman who was sure he had seen the boy on Monday morning at a gas station in Illinois. He said the boy told him he hadn’t eaten or slept in more than 24 hours. The salesman thought the boy was just another runaway at the time, but when he learned about Guy’s disappearance, he became worried. When the police looked into the tip, they couldn’t be sure if the boy was really Guy.
Psychics called the police and asked to help find the missing boy, but a lot of the information they gave was too general to be useful. One woman called because she had dreamed that Guy had hurt himself after falling out of a tree. Other women said he was a runaway, and still others said he had been taken away. One person who said they were psychic was sure Guy was hiding in a cave. Detectives added these tips to a case file that was getting bigger all the time, but they couldn’t do much with them.
There were over 200 workers from Iowa Electric Light & Power Company helping a search and rescue team from Sierra Madre, California, do a full grid search of the area where Guy was last seen on Thursday. They were sure that Guy wasn’t in the area by the time they were done.
As of Friday, almost a week after he was last seen, the search for Guy was over. Deputies and dive teams had spent countless hours searching the Cedar River and its backwaters, and search teams had gone over every inch of land around the campground. Even though they worked very hard, they couldn’t find Guy. Guy’s family and friends didn’t think he would ever run away from home, but Linn County Sheriff Walter Grant said, “The failure to find him in the massive searches makes the runaway possibility the most hopeful chance of finding him alive.”
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office told Guy’s family that they would continue to follow up on every tip they got, even though the physical search was called off. People in Carlock, Illinois, told police that they thought they saw the missing boy at the restaurant where she worked. The boy told her he had left his home in Iowa and had no plans to return. At first, the waitress was sure the boy was Guy because he was wearing the same clothes Guy had been seen in last. But when detectives showed her several pictures of the missing Boy Scout, she couldn’t tell who he was. “We’re right back where we started,” Sheriff Grant said.
To find Guy as soon as possible, his parents decided to send some of his clothes to psychics at the Physical Research and Training Center in Richmond Heights, Missouri. They were hoping that the clairvoyants in the group would be able to use extrasensory perception to find their son. Their work didn’t lead to anything.
On February 25, 1973, a man was fishing along the Cedar River when he saw a jacket that looked just like the one Guy wore the night he went missing. It was on a log on the east shore of the river, across from the Duane Arnold Energy Center and about a mile from the last place Guy was seen. The discovery sparked a new search effort.
The area where the jacket was found had already been searched a lot during the first search, so it’s not likely that it had been there the whole time. When the jacket was found, it wasn’t fully unzipped, which made police think it may have been taken off of Guy after he fell into the river. Though search teams were sent back into the river to look for Guy’s body, they didn’t find any signs that he was there.
When the jacket was found, it gave people hope that Guy’s body would be found, but search teams found no signs that the boy was in the area. Press said that the leader of the Sierra Madre search and rescue team was sure that Guy was not “within the 12 square miles of our search area.” Investigators said they had no idea what happened to the boy who went missing.
When the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation learned that someone had been looking through the home of another Boy Scout just three days after Guy went missing, on February 28, 1973, they said they would help the search for Guy. In the days after Guy went missing, his son “had a series of scary experiences with someone shining a flashlight in his bedroom window,” according to the boy’s mother. The report made people even more worried that Guy could have been taken by someone who liked kidnapping boys.
This search for Guy went on for three more months by the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. They searched the river every week, sure that his body would eventually come to the surface. By May, the water level had dropped the most since Guy went missing. On May 24, 1973, search teams went into the water one last time, sure that they could find Guy if he was there. They came up empty again.
Long after the official search for their son was over, Howard and Nancy Heckle continued to scour the area for any sign of Guy. They walked along the banks of the Cedar River and scanned the backwaters, praying they would be able to bring Guy home. In a letter to the editor of The Gazette, Howard stated, “We feel there are two possible answers to Guy’s disappearance. Either he did get lost and drowned in the river, or there is the remote possibility he met with foul play, and he could be anywhere, d*ead or alive. We are still praying for a miracle.”
Along with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Guy’s family announced in May 1974 that there would be a $5,000 reward for any information that led to Guy’s recovery or to the person who took him. A few tips came in, but none of them made the case go in any major new directions.
Years went by, and no one knew what happened to Guy. Linn County Sheriff’s Office Lt. James Neagle said in an interview in 1979, “No one has ever figured out what happened to him.” Lt. Neagle says that the initial thought that he drowned was later called into question because “extensive dragging operations in the area never found any trace of young Heckle.” He said, “We used every tool in the county—planes, horses, scuba divers, boats, and foot searches—and followed up on every lead, even one that suggested the child might have been abducted, but we found nothing.”
Howard and Nancy were upset that Guy had not been found, which was understandable, but they did not blame the police. “The investigation was enough for us; we don’t know what else we could ask for.” Howard said it was hard to deal with not knowing what would happen to their only son. “No one has told us what happened to Guy. It’s like blowing out a candle.” We still think he’s alive, though.
Howard thought that the family’s faith in God had helped them get through it, and he tried to remember the good times he had spent with his son. “I really enjoy having him pull at my heart every day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” We can laugh about the silly things he did and talk about him.
Guy Howard Heckle was just 11 years old when he vanished while on a camping trip in February 1973. He was an intelligent and adventurous child who was popular with his peers and loved being a Boy Scout. Guy has dark brown hair and hazel eyes, and at the time of his disappearance, he was 4 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 60 pounds. He was last seen wearing a Boy Scout shirt, striped multi-colored jeans that were primarily maroon, a light blue quilted parka, and Chukka boots. If you have any information about Guy, please contact the Linn County Sheriff’s Office at 319–892–6100.