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Guy Heckle was reported missing to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office in Cedar Rapids late on Saturday, February 3, 1973, after disappearing while on a Boy Scout camp-out near the Duane Arnold Energy Center northeast of Palo, Iowa and two miles northwest of Toddville.
The 11-year-old Heckle — a member of Linn County’s Boy Scout Troop 101 — had been camping out with fellow scouts at the Kiwanis Cabins along the Cedar River between Palo and Toddville for the scheduled Feb. 3-4 event. Heckle was last seen at approximately 8 p.m. while playing a game of “Capture the Flag” with other troop members.
He’d been wearing a light blue nylon quilted parka, striped multi-colored maroon jeans, and chukka boots.
The Eisenhower Elementary School fifth-grader wasn’t missed until bed-check that evening, and troop members spent 90 minutes searching for him on their own before summoning the Linn County sheriff. Regular and reserve deputies, Marion police and Civil Defense volunteers searched the reserve near the Cedar River’s ice-clogged backwaters that night.
On Sunday, Feb. 4, a searcher found the boy’s blue parka — still zipped at the bottom — snagged on a log along the river’s east bank. Heckle’s mother, Nancy Heckle, identified the coat as her son’s.
That same day, about 500 people searched a heavily wooded area about a mile west of Toddville, not far from the Cedar River.
In addition to the 500 persons on foot, a helicopter, airplane, all-terrain vehicle and horses were employed for the search, the Gazette reported on Feb. 5, 1973. The search was called off once darkness fell and scheduled to resume the following day.
On Monday, 250 searchers scoured the area, along with a bloodhound and a special search-and-rescue team from California.
Investigators theorized Heckle may have slipped into the river and drowned, but admit it is possible something else led to his disappearance. Though weather was mild at the time of the camp-out, snow arrived shortly afterwards.
Guy Heckle lived with his parents, Nancy and Howard Heckle, and two older sisters, ages 12 and 13, at 1505 48th St. NE in Cedar Rapids.
School officials considered the boy a good student.
The blue parka remains the only known trace of evidence ever found in Heckle’s mysterious disappearance.
According to Mike Mason — Guy Heckle’s cousin — the family always thought there was more of a chance foul play was involved versus the drowning theory, particularly since the boy’s body was never recovered. Heckle’s disappearance also coincided with a number of 1970s media reports about Iowa Boy Scout leaders allegedly molesting troops in their care.
Heckle had disappeared after dark. On Feb. 3, 1973, the sun set over the camp at 5:24 p.m., and Heckle was last seen at 8 p.m. while playing the game “Capture the Flag” with other troops.
“Capture the Flag” (as defined by Wikipedia) is a traditional outdoor game where two teams each have a flag (or other marker) and the object is to capture the other team’s flag, located at the team’s “base,” and bring it safely back to their own base. Enemy players can be “tagged” by players in their home territory. These players are then — depending on the agreed rules — out of the game, members of the opposite team, sent back to their own territory, frozen in place until freed by a member of their own team, or “in jail.” (One variation of the game includes a “jail” area in addition to the flag on each team’s territory.)
The game is often played at night, where players might use flashlights, glowsticks, or lanterns as the “flags.” Wikipedia says of the night time game:
It is also suggested that teams wear dark colors at night time to increase the difficulty of the opponents to see them.
Different versions of the game have different rules, both for handling the flag and for what happens to tagged players. A player who is tagged may be eliminated from the game entirely, be forced to join the opposing team, sent back to their own territory, or be placed in “jail,” which Wikipedia defines as:
The jail is a predesignated area of the group’s territory which exists for holding tagged players and is normally towards the back of the group’s territory. It is usually located a good distance from the flag to minimize the possibility of simultaneous flag grabs and jail breaks.
While tagged players may be confined to jail for a limited, predetermined time, the most common form of the game involves the option for a “jailbreak.”
Generally speaking, there is nothing sinister about the game itself, though when played in the dark — particularly if an adult child molester is in the vicinity — it provides a perfect opportunity for a child to become isolated from other team members and/or lured away by a trusted leader.
Please Note: We at Iowa Cold Cases are in no way insinuating that any troop leader for Linn County’s Boy Scout Troop 101 was involved in Guy Heckle’s disappearance and/or death. The information and game rules about “Capture the Flag” has been noted only because Heckle went missing while in the midst of playing this night time game, which may or may not have played a role in his disappearance.
On May 26, 1974, the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI — now Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation) announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to Guy Heckle’s discovery.
The reward went unclaimed.
Twenty-two years after their son went missing, Howard and Nancy Heckle told the Gazette they still held out hope that someday their son’s remains would be found. Other than having their son back alive, the most they could hope for was for someone to find his remains, they said.
“Not knowing is very hard,” Nancy Heckle said in Gazette article published July 24, 1995. “The chances of him being alive . . . We have to be realistic.”
Howard Heckle, 65, had since retired from his job at Iowa Electric, though Nancy, 63, continued to work as a registered nurse at Mercy Medical Center.
For years, the Heckles had kept Guy’s room the same as it was when he disappeared, but eventually turned it into a spare bedroom, they told the Gazette. They’d finally given away most of Guy’s toys and clothing, but said they’d kept a Boy Scout’s shirt similar to the one their son had been wearing when he disappeared.
The couple had conducted their own search for Guy for more than a year after he went missing, and would go out after work each day and on weekends, sometimes searching with a boat.
Guy was then — and remains today — listed as a missing person with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, and the Heckles said knowing the case remained alive offered them hope that one day they’d know what happened to their son.
Howard Heckle died, still waiting, on January 20, 1998.
In a Cedar Rapids Gazette interview published February 3, 2002, Nancy sat on a sofa in front of wall photos of her children and many grandchildren.
“I don’t have any hopes that he is alive now, but we would like to know what happened,” she told Gazette reporter Steve Gravelle. “If someone knows that Guy met with foul play, it’s not too late to give Guy’s family some peace,” she said.
Guy Howard Heckle was born December 20, 1961, to Howard F. and Nancy Heckle. In addition to his parents, he left behind two older sisters.
“I remember him the age he was,” Nancy Heckle said in a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated February 3, 2002. “I think about him every day.”
Mrs. Heckle described her son as “comical” with a marvelous sense of humor.
“If it was foul play, at least one person knows, if they’re still alive,” she told Gazette reporter Steve Gravelle. “If someone knows, it’s not too late to give Guy’s family some peace.”
The family, who long clung to hope, never had a funeral or memorial service for Guy.
“When do you say it’s OK?” Mrs. Heckle said in the ’02 interview.
Howard Heckle died January 20, 1998, without ever learning what happened to his son.
If you have any information regarding Guy Heckle’s unsolved disappearance, please contact Lt. Gene Parks at the Linn County Sheriff’s Office at (319) 892-6100 or the Des Moines Police Department at (515) 283-4800.