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Robert Kyle, a 15-year-old African-American male, has not been seen or heard from since he disappeared on May 29, 1972, while backpacking on Isle Royale, Michigan in northwestern Lake Superior.

Welcome to Robert Kyle's
missing-person Web site.

   Case information
   Media archive


This case has been solved.

After two years of investigative effort, MiBSAR was able to determine that whatever happened to Robert Kyle on Isle Royale during the spring of 1972—after he escaped from a Minnesota Department of Corrections' 3-day juvenile offender field trip—he did not perish in a wild and remote corner of this national park, as had been feared.

MiBSAR was able to prove this by establishing he was alive and well in Minnesota in 1974, two years after his disappearance.

While we may never know exactly what happened on Isle Royale that spring, Robert apparently managed to elude corrections counselors, searchers, and National Park Service Rangers long enough to quietly slip off the island, by one means or another, and escape to the mainland.





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On May 29, 1972, a 15-year-old African American boy disembarked from a Grand Portage, Minnesota-based ferry at Malone Bay along the southern shore of Isle Royale, Michigan in the northwest corner of Lake Superior.

Isle Royale was, and still is, administered by the U.S. National Park Service as Isle Royale National Park.


A satellite view of Isle Royale, Michigan in the northwestern corner of Lake Superior. (Imagery courtesy of Bing, Microsoft Corporation, and Earthstar Geographics LLC.)

At the time Robert visited the island, he was incarcerated at the St. Croix Camp, in Sandstone, Minnesota. St. Croix was a privately-owned youth corrections facility under contract with the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Along with counselors and nine to 15 other youths (accounts vary), Robert was scheduled to hike from Malone Bay to Windigo at Washington Bay—a distance of 35 miles—over two days.


A 1:500,000-scale topographic map of Isle Royale, Michigan in the northwestern corner of Lake Superior. (USGS imagery via National Geographic)

After shouldering his rucksack at Malone Bay about 2:30 p.m. on Monday, May 29, the 5-foot, 5-inch tall youth reportedly struck off ahead of his group. They quickly lost sight of him in the wilds of the island.

When his group arrived at the campground on Lake Desor, their day's objective for the two-day hike, Robert was nowhere to be found.

Counselors leading the group backtracked their route but were unable to find him.

Robert was never seen or heard from again.

A 1:100,000-scale topographic map of Isle Royale, Michigan in the northwestern corner of Lake Superior showing Malone Bay, where Robert Kyle disembarked on the island, and the Lake Desor Campground, his destination later in the day. (USGS imagery via National Geographic)

Tuesday morning, the group finished their hike to Windigo deep in Washingtion Harbor.

On Wednesday morning, the group boarded the Voyager ferry for their return trip to Minnesota, with one counselor remaining behind at Windigo, checking groups for Robert as they emerged from the interior of the island.

At the time he went missing, Robert was reportedly wearing a black hat and a blue work jacket. He was also thought to have had two days worth of provisions in his pack.

For his age, he was considered to be very self-reliant, able to fend for himself.

In the days and weeks after his disappearance, some felt Robert had become lost and suffered a debilitating injury that prevented him from seeking help.

Rumors also persisted he was still at large on the island, eluding Rangers and living off the land.

Still others felt strongly that Robert had quietly slipped off the island, unbeknownst to officials, and was hiding out on the mainland.

National Park Service search-and-rescue efforts included aerial flights, trail patrols, surveillance of isolated emergency caches, etc.

For weeks after his disappearance, backcountry visitors to the island underwent briefings upon arrival, and debriefings prior to departure, in an attempt to locate Robert or any evidence of his whereabouts.

39 years later...

MiBSAR first learned about this mysterious case on November 18, 2008, when Michael Neiger was contacted by an Isle Royale Ranger inquiring about joining Team MiBSAR.

MiBSAR subsquently spent two years investigating Kyle's case—including running down leads, contacting current and retired park officials and wildlife biologists, combing through old reels of microfilm for newspaper accounts, writing letters, making phone calls, searching the Internet, etc. Along the way, it hit dead ends, found files missing, and learned witnesses had aged out.

However, despite the pasage of 39 and 1/2 years since he went missing, MiBSAR was able to prove that Robert Kyle did not perish on the island, as many had feared.

MiBSAR accomplished this by establishing Robert was alive and well in Minnesota in 1974, two years after he was reported missing on Isle Royale.

While we will likely never know what transpired on Isle Royale in May of 1972, Robert apparently eluded island rangers and corrections counselors long enough to quietly slip off the island, unbeknownst to anyone, and escape to the mainland.

With Robert Kyle alive, two years after his disappearance on the island, one of the great, modern-day mysteries of Isle Royale is no longer a mystery.

Cold case solved.


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Search Continues for Lost Boy on Isle Royale
June 2, 1972
Mining Journal (Marquette, Michigan)
Page 2, columns 3 & 4

Isle Royale (AP)—National Park Service searchers continued their quest today for a lost 15-year-old Minnesota boy in the wilds of Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

Authorities said Robert Kyle, whose hometown in Minnesota was unknown but who had been attending the St. Croix Camp, a correctional facility at Cass Lake, has been lost since Monday night.

Young Kyle was one of about 15 boys from the camp who arrived at Malone Bay, on the northeast side of Isle Royale, from Grand Portage, Minn., Monday morning. The party was scheduled to hike to Windigo Harbor—35 miles away—in two days.

Officials said that Kyle, however, took off ahead of the group and did not appear at the overnight site Monday night. After a fruitless search, the group continued o to Windigo Harbor on schedule.

Kyle was reported to have had provisions for two days.

One counselor stayed on the island while the rest of the group left the island Wednesday morning.


Three Regional Unsolved Cases Still Persist
July 5, 1972
Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton, Michigan)
Page 6, column 5

Houghton—Nothing is new about three different cases affecting the state and area police departments.

In Keweenaw County's Isle Royale area nothing has been unearthed which will currently lead to solving the disappearance of Robert Kyle, 15, of Sandstone, Minnesota. He disappeared while on an early exploratory boys trip to the island out St. Croix, Minnesota....


Isle Royale Search for Youth Ends
June 6, 1972
Mining Journal (Marquette, Michigan)
Page 2, column 4

Isle Royale (AP)—The National Park Service has called off its search for a 15-year-old Minnesota youth missing on Isle Royale since May 29.

Bob Rodgers, chief of the Park Service detail on the national park island in Lake Superior, said the youth, Robert Kyle, apparently "wanted to get lost."

He was on the island with a group of youths from the St. Croix Corrections School in St. Croix, Minn.

Rodgers said rangers would continue to look for Kyle on routine patrols, but no more special searches will be conducted. He said the youth would be able to sustain himself by foraging and fishing for food.


St. Croix Boy Still Missing
June 15, 1972
Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton, Michigan)
Page 7, column 3

Isle Royale—Robert Kyle, 15, still is missing on Isle Royale, according to information from the Isle Royale Park Office in Houghton.

The boy who disappeared while in the advance unit of an island visitation party has not been heard from since the time he left his unit some three weeks back.

From the San Croix School in Sandstone, Minn., Robert was known to be self reliant and one who easily could take care of himself. Some there are, however, who are of the belief that he met with an accident. Others believe he has gotten off the island and is now on the mainland getting about by himself.


To Continue Island Search for Kyle Boy
June 16, 1972
Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton, Michigan)
Page 2, column 6

Houghton—Isle Royale National Park summarizings concerning the Kyle case on Isle Royale are as follows:

The search for Robert Kyle, 15, of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, St. Croix Camp, Sandstone, Minn., missing on Isle Royale since May 30 continues. Park officials state that no significant leads have been developed concerning the particulars of Kyle's disappearance or his present whereabouts.

It is believed that Kyle may have intentionally walked away from his St. Croix Camp group during the field trip to Isle Royale over the Memorial Day holiday period and that he may still be at large on the island. However, it is also believed possible that Kyle might have found a means of leaving the national park and returning to the mainland.

In the event that Kyle has purposely disappeared into the bush, it is considered doubtful that the equipment and supplies at his disposal would sustain him much longer. Consequently, authorities are hopeful that he may turn up in the near future.

Officials concede that it is possible that an accident or other ill fortune could have befallen Kyle during any intentional or unintentional absence from his group. If such an accident were very severe it is doubtful that Kyle could survive long in the remote reaches of the park.

Future plans are to continue the search on a more limited or low keyed basis. This will involve periodic aerial flights, trail patrols, surveillance of isolated emergency caches, and the continuation of briefings and debriefings of backcountry visitors to the park.


Ranger purser says isle unit still looks for boy
June 26, 1972
Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton, Michigan)
Page 3, column 6

Houghton—In discussions concerning the still "lost" Sandstone, Minn., youth who disappeared from his unit of nine other Camp St. Croix boys from Isle Royale shortly after Memorial Day, Purser Ben Holman, Calumet, high school instructor and, during the summer, an employee of the national park said that all are on the lookout for him.

"We inform all visitors to the island of the situation and stress that they might well inform the park employes if anything is discovered which might lead to learning something about the 15-year old youth...."


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Copyright © 2010 by Michael A. Neiger

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Last modified on November 21, 2010 19:38
Michigan Backcountry Search and Rescue (MiBSAR)