Sad anniversary: 40 years ago, 5-year-old Robert Fritz vanished

The boy vanished not far from his house
Published: May. 14, 2023 at 6:33 PM CDT|Updated: May. 15, 2023 at 10:25 AM CDT
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CAMPBELLSPORT, Wis. (WBAY) - For four decades, law enforcement and family members have been wondering what happened to the boy also known as “Bobby Joe”. He vanished from his neighborhood on May 14, 1983.

“He was everyone’s favorite, he was, he was the baby,” remembered Lora Engel.

She has lived most of her life asking how her hot wheel riding, stuffed animal loving little brother disappeared.

“He had a monkey he carried around, they called him BJ and the bear, I think that was a show at that time when we were kids,” said Lora Engel.

Lora was ten years old when Bobby Joe went missing in their Campbellsport neighborhood.

“We were playing like a block and a half away from home, kickball in a friend’s back yard, he was wanting to go home, he was hungry, my sister walked him down the road, saw a straight shot to the house, she came back to play and he just never made it home,” explained Lora Engel.

She says she didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until she got home herself - and asked her mom where Bobby Joe was.

“She was like what do you mean, he was with you guys, and that is when we realized we couldn’t find him,” said Lora Engel.

“Bobby Joe’s mother had noticed her son was missing. She actually had to go to the neighbor’s house because they did not have a phone at their home,” said Lt. Chris Randall, Fond du Lac Sheriff’s Office.

A search quickly ensued, even the dive team responded to the Mill Pond area.

40 years ago, 5-year-old Robert Fritz vanished. Also known as “Bobby Joe," he vanished from his neighborhood on May 14, 1983.

“That first night working into the early morning hours and then the following day, upstream downstream from from the dam and as well as the leaf it was the sludge pits for the sewer treatment facility in the village,” said Chris Randall.

Bobby Joe was nowhere to be found. His whereabouts are still unknown 40 years later.

“I think our gut feeling is it is an abduction case, a non-family,” Chris Randall surmised.

Old newspaper clippings document the years of heartache for Lora’s family. She even remembered celebrating his sixth birthday without him and his face on a milk carton, as well as her mom’s plea for answers.

“She kept the hot wheels in front of the house,” Lora Engel said.

In the 1980s, investigators did look into a person of interest - someone convicted of child sex crimes and charged with arson and murder for the deaths of his two stepchildren.

A search warrant conducted at his home raised suspicion.

“Investigators noted that on a calendar the date of May 14 was highlighted. Which is a very, very odd thing to see. And with no specific notation as to why the 14th was highlighted,” Chris Randall pointed out.

Investigators also found photographs of little boys in the residence, and an article about Bobby Joe’s disappearance.

“In our line of work, you know, coincidences happen, but when you start seeing all those things kind of lined up, it’s hard to ignore that,” Chris Randall noted.

But there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him. That person of interest died in prison in 2008.

“He’s somewhere and it’s just, it’s frustrating not to know where to look is the most frustrating part, or what could we do next,” explained Detective Eric Muellenbach from the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office.

He is the investigator assigned to the case and said that the case lacks evidence: “Unfortunately, that’s just the hand that we were dealt all those years ago.”

But it doesn’t mean the case is cold - physical items have been sent to a lab in Texas.

Lora Engel and her brother recently did “23 and me” and ancestry DNA: “We were like maybe we can try that,” she said.

“You try to stay hopeful and optimistic. And who knows, maybe another 5 to 10 years from now, something else will come out that will give us some guidance on how to move forward with this case,” Chris Randall hoped.

Some days, it’s hard for Lora to hold on to hope - that Bobby Joe is still with us.

“There are some days I really wonder, but I try to be hopeful that he has a good life. Maybe someone just couldn’t have their own kids and wanted a little boy,” she pondered.

Every time a new age progression is made, she gets a copy, and she keeps them in the back of her mind. Just in case she might see him one day.

“We travel more now, you never know, he could be anywhere. I like to hope he is still out there, and maybe he does have a good life, married, kids, maybe he is a grandpa, who knows anything is possible,” she noted.

With Lora’s parents now gone - they never had closure - but she remained hopeful she will get it one day. She believes someone out there knows something about her baby brother - Bobby Joe.

Anyone with information about that disappearance 40 years ago is asked to contact the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office.

A somber anniversary