Christopher Temple was only two weeks away from his high school graduation. His days of walking the halls of Haslett Community Education were numbered, but he seemed ready to move on with his life. His 18th birthday was also around the corner, so the feeling of approaching two milestones filled him with excitement.
The high school senior was unusually soft-spoken for his age, and often walked between call periods with his head down, ignoring his classmates. Chris’s parents, John and Tonnie Temple, had transferred him to Haslett for a several reasons, but the most significant was its smaller classrooms. Public school had been too overwhelming for their son, so they thought he would benefit from a less crowded environment.
Their prediction rang true. Academically, Christopher excelled at Haslett. Not only did he have a near-perfect attendance record, his grades placed him in the running to be the school’s valedictorian. His social life also improved, and Chris had a tight-knit group of friends. The change of scene had led him to excellence, and his parents could not be prouder. However, their relationship had not been free of obstacles.
Shortly after Chris started high school, John and Tonnie discovered that he had begun smoking cannabis on a regular basis. The revelation brought a combination of shock and anger. Chris was not a huge partier, so the thought of him even drinking seemed alien to them. However, because of their strong relationship, they were able to work through it.
Outside of school, Chris loved swimming and helping with handy work around the house. His parents remembered their son’s generosity and soft-spoken nature. Unlike most teenagers, he had little issues with his parents. He had repeatedly proven his level of responsibility to John and Tonnie, so they had no reservations when it came to trust. While things weren’t perfect, one fateful day in 1990 exposed how close to perfection they were.
Chris woke up excited the morning of April 22, 1990. It was Earth Day and he and his friends planned to go a festival at Riverfront Park and spend the night camping at Rose Lake. Because of his interests, Earth Day was one of his favorite holidays, and the teenager had turned down invites to several parties so he could celebrate.
The lake was a three-and-a-half hour drive from his home in Lansing, Michigan, so his friends were due to pick him up that morning. Despite Chris’s success in other areas, he did not have his own driver’s license yet. When his friends pulled up outside, Chris exchanged a casual goodbye to his parents and walked out the front door. John and Tonnie were not worried. Chris was responsible, so they expected him to return home the following day.
The festival did not disappoint. Chris and his group of friends spent the afternoon swimming in the lake and mingling with other attendees. The Michigan weather, which was usually chilly in April, had blessed the festival-goers with unusual warmth. The message was clear. The day had been designated for those who loved the outdoors, and Chris could not be more appreciative. Unfortunately, the sun had to set at some point, which drew the festival to a close. The teens left the grounds and headed to their campsite.
Chris was last seen by his friends on the night of April 22.
It was dark, but the fire illuminated the campsite at Rose Lake enough to see the outline of everyone’s faces. Chris and friends had assembled around the campfire to chat. There was a lot on each of their minds, the biggest of which was their upcoming high school graduation. Each teenager talked about their plans. Some wanted to stay in Lansing, while others planned to leave for college. As for Chris, he was not sure yet. He had prioritized most of his excitement for his 18th birthday instead of graduation.
Around 9 p.m, Chris stood up as the crackling flames gave his friends a flickering view of his face. Even the most observant among them could not make out the look in his eyes. Without a word, he turned around, walked towards the woods, and disappeared in the silhouettes of trees. Chris’ friends didn’t think much of his abrupt departure and assumed he had gone to use the bathroom or get something from the car. The teens continued their conversation for the next few moments, until one of them pointed out something strange. Chris had still not returned.
The group was worried. Had Chris gotten lost? One of them offered a more innocent explanation. Perhaps Chris had met another group of campers and was spending time with them. The rest of the group clung to this optimism, but when Chris had not returned by 1 a.m., they knew something bad had happened. The teens rushed to the recreation area’s office, and asked to use the phone to call Chris’ parents. Given their relationship, it wouldn’t be a longshot for John and Tonnie to be aware of their son’s whereabouts.
Unfortunately, John and Tonnie’s answer cemented everyone’s feeling of dread. They had not heard from Chris. Once the call ended, his parents called the police to report their son missing. After making the report, John and Tonnie hopped in their car and raced to Rose Lake to join the search.
The first officers arrived at the recreation area around 3 a.m., four hours after Chris walked into the woods. His parents arrived shortly thereafter. Armed with flashlights, police, Chris’ parents, and Chris’ friends combed the surrounding area for any sign of him. His parents screamed his name, and the desperation in their voices echoed off the trees and into the sunrise. Dawn made the search easier, but it also exposed the vastness of the forest. It seemed very easy to get lost, and there were countless areas that were hidden by the expansive brush. By morning, the group had covered two square miles of surrounding wilderness. Yet, no one found Chris, or any signs of him.
Police called in more resources. A helicopter performed an aerial search, and officers on horseback traversed the woods searching for him. During these efforts, police began to question Chris’ family and friends. John and Tonnie told police that it would be extremely out of character for Chris to be a runaway. There was no tension at home, he was almost done with school, and he hadn’t said or done anything that suggested he had plans to leave or run away. His friends echoed these sentiments, and said that during their conversation around the campfire, Chris said nothing out of the ordinary. Not only that, he had a great time at the festival and was in good-spirits. Police considered the possibility that his friends were lying and were behind his disappearance, but every friend’s account was consistent to the very last detail.
However, there was one thing they said that concerned police. Not only did Chris regularly smoke marijuana, he sold it too. He had a bad reputation of ripping off his customers, by giving them much less cannabis than they paid for. A disturbing theory emerged. Was Chris lured away from the campsite and confronted by an angry customer? People from his school knew where he was that night because he had turned down several party invitations in favor of the festival.
After four days, police called the search off. Despite Tonnie accounts of Chris’ parents and friends, they classified him as a runaway. John and Tonnie were shocked at the decision, especially since it was possible that Chris had people who wanted to hurt him. His friends were upset too, especially as the days went on. On the day of graduation, a somber mood filled the auditorium once the principal called Chris’ name. He was still missing, but the school wanted to honor his academic achievements.
Chris was also absent for his 18th birthday. What John and Tonnie expected to be a day of celebration turned out to be one of the worst days of their lives. Their son, who had never let them down, was not there to celebrate his special day.
On the one-year anniversary of Chris’ disappearance, his family and friends started to accept the fact that they may never find any trace of what happened to him. However, six months later, there was a discovery that changed the course of the investigation.
A year and a half after Chris’ disappearance, a group of hunters spent the day at Rose Lake. When they approached a boggy area, they noticed something strange: an old and weathered shoe lay in the mud. The hunters, who were aware of Chris’ disappearance, informed the police. When the shoe was recovered, police realized it was found only 300 yards away from where Chris had disappeared. The shoe was presented to John and Tonnie, who quickly confirmed it belonged to Chris.
Police reopened Chris’ case and searched the surrounding sites for further evidence. The searchers noticed the considerable amount of marshland in the area. There was no shortage of hiding places. Some of the soil was so deep and viscous that it was practically quicksand. One detective even said, “If you step through this stuff you can go right down to your armpits in a heartbeat. It’s nothing to fool around with. It’s life-threatening”. Another theory emerged, had Chris stumbled across the marsh in the dark and died in a terrible accident? All investigators could do was continue their search.
Two weeks after Chris’ first shoe was found, the other was found in the same area. However, this time, detectives noticed something suspicious. Just 100 yards away from the shoe were several clumps of strawberry blonde hair. Chris’ hair was dark brown, so it did not belong to him. Investigators collected the hair, but to this day, they have been unable to identify who it belonged to. Because both of Chris’ shoes were exposed to the elements for over a year, there was no forensic evidence on them. These new findings led police to confirm they strongly suspected that Chris fell victim to foul play.
As the years passed, the case grew cold. John and Tonnie watched Chris’ friends live an adult life. Their son should have been among them. Chris housed so much potential and his parents knew they were missing out on so much without him.
In 2015, 25 years after Chris’ disappearance, John and Tonnie wrote a letter to a local paper to update them on the situation. While they have accepted the fact that Chris may never come home, it doesn’t make the agony of not knowing his fate any less debilitating. Their biggest priority is making sure their son is not forgotten and that time does not erase the tragedy of his disappearance. They closed the letter with a simple request — keep Chris’ name alive so no one will ever forget the boy who was robbed of a promising future.
If you have any information regarding Christopher Temple’s disappearance, please contact the Bath Township Police Department at 517–641–4050.