By Mike Anderson

It was a hot summer day on August 3, 1968, when Robert “Robbie” Brown, 12, from Wilfrid, Ontario went missing.

After swimming at Holmes Point Beach with his mother and sister, he waved goodbye to them at the church campgrounds across from the Cedardale Church of the Nazarene on Pefferlaw Rd and began walking home to get an early start on his paper route.

But Robbie never showed up to collect his newspaper bundle.

Police believe that Robbie, who was wearing a red and black plaid shirt, blue jeans and black work boots, didn’t walk home that fateful day, as several witnesses saw him return to the beach.

But, while OPP conducted an extensive search of the beach and adjacent waterways, deducing that Robbie may have drowned, his body or clothing was never found.

Flash forward 55 years, and police are no longer any closer to solving the boy’s mysterious disappearance.

York Regional Police, which took over the case files from the OPP in 2008, has a web page devoted to Robbie’s case. It’s one of the oldest of over 50 YRP cold cases still unresolved.

But it’s unclear if any investigators are currently assigned to the case. It’s also been reported that much of the information collected initially by OPP and Georgina Police, including detailed interview notes, has gone missing.

However, with the support of Robbie’s family, private investigators from Please Bring Me Home, a non-profit organization devoted to solving cold cases, are trying to re-start the investigation by resuming area searches in Pefferlaw.

They hope to find physical evidence, including human remains, that would help solve the case and bring closure to the family.

Robbie Brown
Ken Bilboe leads search for physical evidence

The latest search, led by Ken Bilboe from Highlands Tracking Search and Rescue, occurred on August 1.

It began at the Riverbank Dr. road-end and followed the trail system across from the CN rail line.

Close to 30 volunteers participated, including friends and relatives of the Brown family, who now reside in Hamilton.

Bilboe is a YRP search and rescue technician with a reputation as one of Canada’s leading human trackers.

However, he quickly points out that he is not affiliated with YRP’s Homicide Unit, and his work on cold cases is strictly as a civilian volunteer, conducted while he is off-duty.

Still, according to Brett Robinson, a licensed private investigator and director of case analysis with Please Bring Me Home, Bilboe is a key resource who has helped plan searches for several missing persons, including Cory Lanteigne who disappeared in Little Britain in 2016, and Jordan Holling who went missing in Campbell River in 2017.

While Bilboe, who relies on aerial maps from the 1970s and modern tracking methods, realizes that finding Robbie’s remains after more than 50 years is a tall order, he believes that some articles of clothing, particularly his black work boots, may have survived the natural elements.

Bilboe identified 15 areas in Pefferlaw that should be searched, but he’s since whittled them down to 12, which he estimates will take two years to complete.

“What I like to do is take unsuccessful police searches, analyze them and inject modern search methods into those cases to try to come up with an alternate method, put a new lens, maybe some new insights into a case,” he told volunteers.

Bilboe also says it’s essential to remove any personal bias or ego when conducting searches.

Still, while he hasn’t eliminated stranger and non-stranger abduction or death by misadventure as possible reasons for Robbie’s disappearance, Bilboe is convinced that Robbie was not a runaway, which the initial police investigation considered.

Bilboe also questions the original OPP search in 1968, which relied primarily on eyewitnesses, something that modern police investigations now discount.

But he acknowledges that the beach area was thoroughly searched and can be crossed off the list of areas to search.

Robert Porter, a volunteer from Angus, Ontario, whose wife is Robbie’s cousin, is optimistic the searches might find something belonging to Robbie.

“I’m very hopeful, especially now that I’m seeing on TV a lot of different cases are being solved. It just takes one little thing. That’s all it takes,” he said.

“I just hope that something can be found from Robert.”

Randy Stahl, a former neighbour of the Browns in Hamilton, drove eight hours from his home in Lewiston, Pennsylvania, to take part in the search.

“You can never have too much information,” he said. “Somebody might just remember something.”

“It would be nice if, after 55 years, there was some closure for the family.”

Robbie’s brother Ross Brown, who was nine years-old when his brother went missing, says Robbie’s disappearance still haunts him.

He wants closure, especially for his 87 year-old mother, Shirley, but he doesn’t want to get everyone’s hopes up.

“We have said right from the very beginning we’re going be very cautiously guarded in how we approach this. If there’s anything to find, we want to find it. If there’s nothing to find, we’ve eliminated that area,” Brown said.

“It’s been 55 years. Nothing has been done like this. There’s an energy that’s been created by this. And so I feel this is the beginning of something very special.”

Brown, who believes his brother was abducted, hopes the searches will prompt someone to come forward with information to help crack the case.

“If the abductor was a 30-year-old at the time, he could be 85 now and still alive. Or somebody who knows what that guy did could still be alive and at the end of their life thinking I want to clean things up in my own life; I know what happened that day,” he said.

Robinson, who has partnered with Bilboe to help solve the case, also believes a breakthrough may not come from the discovery of physical evidence but from a tip from someone who knows what happened to Robbie.

Ross Brown and his wife Noreen near the search area

“Robbie Brown’s cold case is about as cold as it gets,” he said.

“If we don’t find any human remains, then a foul play investigation would come from a tip.”

“It’s tough to investigate something this far in the past without somebody being willing to talk.”

“So far, we haven’t received anything like that, and if we did, then we would turn it over to police.”

But, while Robinson is happy to assist police, it’s not always a two-way street.

He says private investigators in Canada, unlike those in the U.S., are rarely granted access to case files.

“In the U.S., if the family wants to hire a private investigator, those investigators have access to all the case files. Here, we have to work closely with police to gain their trust,” he said.

Still, he says the relationship is evolving, as several Ontario police departments, like Hamilton, Durham and Halton Hills, have cooperated with his organization to help solve cold cases.

Robinson says he recently contacted YRP and hopes it will cooperate on the Robbie Brown case.

“I have been meeting with other police departments. They will never give us the file, but they share pertinent information, and we work together,” Robinson said.

“That is the best way to conduct an investigation, especially on a 1960s case, as there are mostly no privacy issues because of the age of the case.”

To volunteer for future searches in Pefferlaw, please email Upcoming searches are also listed on the Please Bring Me Home Facebook page. You can also leave a tip on the organization’s Anonymous Tip Hot Line at 1-226-702-2728.