Age at Report: 53
DOB: October 26, 1937
Weight: 265 lbs.
Height: 5′ 10″
Incident Type: Endangered / physical
Missing From: Dubuque, IA Dubuque County
NCIC Number: M-460734448
Missing Since: November 26, 1990
Paul Joseph Knockel, 53, was last seen in Dubuque, Iowa on November 26, 1990. He has never been heard from again.
DUBUQUE, IA — It’s a cold case that brings us all the way to the woods of Wisconsin. An Iowa man disappeared; even his car vanished along Highway 151.
Police still have no clues about what happened to Paul Knockel or where he went.
They say someone just can’t vanish. But Tim Westemeyer of Des Moines disagrees.
“People do vanish,” Westemeyer said in an interview with Channel 13′s Aaron Brilbeck for a story that aired Oct. 8, 2010. “I’m not sure how they do vanish. But I know for a fact that they just up and vanish.” And Westemeyer should know. Twenty years ago, his uncle did just that.
It was November of 1990, and Paul Knockel of Dubuque didn’t show up for Thanksgiving dinner with his family. That wasn’t like him. Knockel, who never married and never had children, lived for spending time with family.
“The fun times we had with him as kids,” nephew Dennis Noel remembers. “Growing up and everything. Some of the fun things that we did together, I guess as an uncle and nephew.”
WHO-TV’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on Paul Knockel’s unsolved disappearance. Air Date: Oct. 8, 2010
Concerned, family members went to Knockel’s house. They found his wallet and watch, even his shoes. But Knockel and his car were gone. The next day, the family spotted what they thought was his car — a 1981 red Mercury Zephyr, parked along Route 151 just over the Wisconsin border. A few hours later the car was gone. It, and Knockel, haven’t been seen since.
Family members believe he may have been abducted at his home and murdered.
“I think he was murdered, yes,” Noel said. “I would have to say that was what happened. There was no accident involved.”
Family members say that would explain why Knockel’s shoes and wallet — things he had with him every day — were left behind. “Yeah. He definitely knew something was happening,” Noel said. “His wallet was on the kitchen table and his good shoes were left there and everything. We didn’t even know what he had on for shoes when he left but apparently he knew something bad was coming down.”
The question is, why.
Knockel was a simple man. He went to work every day and didn’t go out much. Family members say he had a learning disability, but he would never just take off. Police say he didn’t appear to have any enemies or be involved in anything he shouldn’t have been.
“Doesn’t seem to be,” said Dubuque Police Lt. Scott Baxter. “Everybody we talked to, our investigation, just the totality of the investigation, there’s nothing to indicate this individual led a seedy lifestyle. He didn’t have any drug or alcohol problems. Didn’t drink much at all.”
After the disappearance, police scoured the wooded area where family members saw the car. No clues turned up. Since then, police have followed up on dozens of leads. Again, nothing. Investigators believe Knockel may have wound up in the Mississippi River either by accident, or as a suicide or homicide. But that’s just a theory.
“The river does create a different kind of spin on our community,” Lt. Baxter said. “Strong currents. And generally speaking we usually recover bodies that are disposed of in the river. Not all the time. And depending on the circumstances, if the body is contained in a vehicle, that creates another challenge to us as well.”
In other words, a body in a car won’t always come to the surface. Police plan to follow up on any leads, but admit they’re no closer to solving this case today than they were 20 years ago. The family wants answers, and they want to give Knockel a proper burial if he is dead. They say a simple man, a good man who never hurt anyone, deserves that.
“Yes. It would give him peace,” Westemeyer said. “It would give us all peace, too.”
If you have any information on the disappearance of Paul Knockel, please call Dubuque police at (563) 589-4410.
COLD CASE: Family of man missing for 20 years hopes to find closure, WHO-TV Channel 13, Oct. 8, 2010