Lakeland, FL – Back on April 1, 2008, a handsome young man from an affluent family disappeared without a trace. Robert Wiles, 26, is described by his loved ones as an athletic, charismatic, adventurous person with a fierce love for life; the water and flying particularly.
Robert had been working at the National Flight Services location in Lakeland, Florida at the time of his disappearance. It was part of his family's multimillion dollar business. Robert was gradually being groomed to take over one day.
An astounding $750,000 ransom demand was sent from his cell phone, assuring Robert's safe return in exchange for the money, and signed by Group X. Because of the nature of the family business involving travel to some rather risky places, they have ransom insurance policies on the employees, including Robert. Ignoring the advice of the FBI, Robert's father, Tom Wiles, gathered the funds and traveled from Toledo, Ohio to Lakeland, Florida.
The ransom exchange came and went, without any attempt to retrieve the money on part of Group X.
48 Hours Mystery of CBS aired an episode titled "Ransom" outlining a thorough examination of the case. The report, by Peter Van Sant, illustrated a few potential theories surrounding the alleged kidnapping of the young man.
Tom, his ex-wife, and their two daughters fell under scrutiny, as it is common for loved ones to be considered and ruled out as suspects in these types of crimes. Other potential suspects emerged, one a disgruntled ex-employee fired over drug and alcohol addiction. The dismissed mechanic, Steve Lindsey, swore Tom would suffer, due to refusing to rehire or work with him. However, Lindsey denied any criminal involvement in the loss of Tom's son.
Robert's assumed killer, 44-year-old Stobert "Toby" Holt, Jr., had been a co-worker and the last reported person to see him alive. Holt was convicted and sentenced to a total of 30 years in prison. The jury deliberated for only four hours. Holt's future loomed on charges of kidnapping, extortion, intent to inflict bodily-harm, and murder.
A Polk County Circuit judge slapped Holt with two consecutive 15-year sentences of manslaughter after the jury returned with guilty verdict. Consecutive sentencing means that when a criminal defendant is convicted on multiple counts, the sentences for each must be served one after the other, not concurrently. However, Holt still asserts his innocence to this day.
The punishment would seem to fit the crime if not for the fact that the case was won with no body, no forensics, and no cause of death (if dead), no weapon, no witnesses, no surveillance, no ransom pick up, no financial trail, and no outright motive. The only tangible connection had to do with Wiles' cell phone. But Holt argued that he understood phones could be traced, and wouldn't have been so stupid to have kept or used it had he committed the alleged crimes. But he was ultimately convicted in the same state where Casey Anthony, who faced considerably more evidence and a body, walked away from the trial of her deceased toddler, Caylee, without so much as a neglect or child endangerment charge; waiting over 30 days before contacting authorities to report the missing girl.
The remainder of the case against Holt was purely circumstantial. Circumstantial evidence is evidence in which an interpretation is made of events and items and presented as a likely factually assessment of how the crime occurred. It is not like a fingerprint at the scene of a crime or a smoking gun in the criminal's hands.
You can't help but ache for the Wiles family. However, the trial came off as though the community wanted to hang someone, anyone close to the case for the crime. A manner of resolution needed to occur. You have a missing young man, his forlorn and very influentially wealthy family, a few coincidences, a couple of possible suspects, one of whom (Lindsey) dies of lung cancer during the lengthy investigation, and an implacable, unwavering refusal to assume Robert just chose to disappear.
Is it possible the family, shrouded in incredible grief and encumbered with unresolved questions, are simply too emotional to accept other possible alternatives to the case?
Although unlikely, it is not impossible to assume someone has disappeared and is still alive, whether of or against their own will. There have been several cases over the years that have proven this to be true.
The kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard in 1991 is one example. At 11, Dugard was abducted from the street while walking home from the school bus stop. She was discovered alive 18 years later in the company of a sex offender and his wife. While detained by her captors, Dugard was kept in a concealed area behind the home, overlooked by several visitors to the home, and mothered two children.
In 1985 a young bookkeeper named Denise Bolser vanished alongside a ransom demand. In this case no actual kidnapper existed. Bolser had orchestrated her own disappearance and was stumbled upon 17 years later, when private investigators connected her to her alias Denise James. Her vanishing act had been part of a supposed effort to flee her employers. Bolser feared for her life, claiming the people she worked for had been embezzling and she'd discovered it. She was later fingered for stealing the $12,000 from the firm.
Australian native Gabriel Nagy incurred a life altering head wound in 1987, one that left him with no memory of his previous life. In his fugue state, he roved about the country for nearly two decades, working odd jobs. Gradually his amnesia subsided and he was reunited with his family.
There are often extreme and rare cases of eccentrics or children from backgrounds of privilege who opt to fade from society in order to escape from the pressure and expectations of their everyday lives.
To this day Robert Wiles has not been found, dead or alive.
What do you think happened to Robert Wiles? Do you think it's possible he chose to leave his life and create another one elsewhere? Do you think it's possible if he had been killed that someone else may have been responsible? Do you think the jury failed to consider the circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt?