Nearly a year after a young Florida businessman was apparently kidnapped, the FBI has gone to the public appealing for leads that agents believe will finally crack the case.
“If there was any case that the public should call and get involved in, it's this case, because we are so close to getting the situation resolved,” David Couvertier of the FBI said in a Tampa press conference Tuesday.
The missing man has been identified as Robert Wiles. He was 26 years old last April 1, when he disappeared from his business at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, Fla., some 35 miles east of Tampa.
Within days of the disappearance, his family received a ransom note and attempted to follow its demands. But they received no further communications and the trail went cold.
Now, the FBI feels it is close to solving the case and has finally asked the public for help.
NBC News consultant and former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Wednesday in New York that investigators probably know where to look for Wiles and need one more piece of information to move in.
“In this particular case, somebody knows this family. They know that the business this young man was involved in made $8.5 million last year. They know the intricacies of the victim, of his family, of the business,” Van Zandt said. “This looks like an inside job, where somebody who works or worked for the company or had some contact with the family was responsible. So that really narrows down the pool of suspects that the FBI has to look at.”
Lauer asked Van Zandt why, if agents have a good idea who may be responsible, the FBI doesn’t simply arrest that person or persons.
“I’ve worked cases and kidnappings where you know that you know that you know who did it, but you need that one more piece of evidence,” Van Zandt explained. “That’s what I believe the FBI is trying to do right now. They believe somebody out there knows something. They think somebody talked, somebody has some inside information. One more piece of information, I think, will allow them to flip this case.”
It’s all about getting one person to talk, the former profiler added. “Once they go after one person and make an arrest, then if anybody else is involved in it, the first man in gets a deal [and] everybody else goes to prison for life.”
Rare ransom case
Wiles worked for his father’s company, National Flight Services, an aircraft servicing, storage, maintenance and repair business based at Toledo [Ohio] Express Airport and operating branches in Lakeland, San Antonio and Toronto. The business reported 105 employees last year. Wiles was described as an avid sportsman and fully certified pilot.
“If anyone knows where he is, we need to speak with Robert,” Mrs. Thomas Wiles, the young man’s mother, told reporters. “We'll do anything we can to get our son back and bring him home safe.” She and her husband have offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to getting their son back.
Van Zandt said the case is not one the FBI sees often in this country.
“It’s unusual to have a kidnap for ransom in the United States,” he told Lauer. “The FBI’s good at this and they usually solve them.”
Complicating the case is the fact that someone sent a ransom note, but then cut off communications.
‘When that communication is broken off, it’s usually for one of three reasons,” Van Zandt explained. “Either the kidnappers had lost control of the victim; they were afraid that if they were in contact, that would lead to their arrest; or, in a worst-case scenario like in the JonBenet Ramsey case, where a note had been left, something had already happened to the victim.”
Lauer asked what the chances were that Wiles is still alive.
“If you’re the family, you leave that emotional porch light always turned on,” Van Zandt said. “You always keep the same phone number, because you think your child’s coming home. The reality is, the longer this goes on, the lesser the chances are you’re going to get the victim back.”
Still, there have been cases where kidnap victims have turned up alive even a year after going missing, he added, pointing to the case of Elizabeth Smart, the Utah girl who was missing for about the same length of time as Wiles before she was found and returned to her family.
“That’s the hope that parents have to hold on to while the police and FBI are trying to pursue the leads,” he said.