It’s been 15 years since Richard “Dick” Roberts’ gray and white Ford pickup was found in the Utah desert near the Colorado state line, surrounded by a cluster of pinyon pines.
Roberts’ wallet, car keys and .22-caliber rifle were missing and so was the 6-foot-tall, 250-pound, red-haired man who served as Hayden’s mayor for three years.
He left a half-full, moldy pot of coffee at home and three daughters, who a decade and a half later, have nothing but questions. The reason for his disappearance is a mystery, even to those closest to him.
“It looked like he just stepped out the door to run an errand,” said Gayle Roberts, Dick’s middle daughter who now lives in Seattle. “It was not the house of somebody who decided to go somewhere.”
Roberts, 51 at the time he disappeared, was an out-of-work construction worker, a heavy smoker and suffered from seasonal depression.
He was last seen around 8:30 p.m. Feb. 1, 1995, when he told town clerk Janet Hayes he would not be attending the Hayden Town Council’s bi-monthly meeting later that week.
The town clerk’s office reported Roberts missing Feb. 9. The Hayden Police Department launched its investigation into Roberts’ disappearance a few days later.
“Whatever happened to him, somebody knows,” Gayle said.
Fifteen years later, Gayle still is trying to cope with the pain of her father’s disappearance.
“I feel like God, or the cosmos, or whatever, has a reason that we don’t get to know where he is right now,” she said. “Even though this feels like the worst thing that could happen, maybe it’s not, and maybe we are being protected from something.”
In 2008, Dick’s bother, Alan Roberts, of Meeker, submitted a blood sample to a national DNA registry.
Gayle, who also submitted DNA to the registry in 2008, said it was important to have Alan’s DNA, which matches Dick’s, in case evidence or a body ever turns up. The DNA could be used to identify and match the missing mayor to any remains found.
Gayle also continues to work closely with the Hayden Police Department to keep the case alive.
Hayden Police Sgt. Gordon Booco has been helping investigate the case.
“It’s one of the cases that you just hope for small bits of information from time to time to get you back on track,” he said.
Throughout the years, the Hayden Police Department has kept the file open hoping for any evidence that would “open up a new chapter,” Booco said.
“We’re going to keep trying, and (Gayle) is very persistent about it,” Booco said. “I’m trying my best to help her out when I can, but time is just a bit tough to work in a full investigation with our small department.”
Hayden police also have helped put Roberts’ face and case summary on playing cards distributed to correctional facilities in hopes someone might recognize him, Booco said.
“I know that there is someone out there that has some information,” Booco said. “People tend to forget. It is important for the case to be brought up every now and then. Hopefully, someone will be able to come forward with information.”
In the meantime, the people affected by Roberts’ disappearance are left to wonder.
“When somebody dies and there is a mourning process, you have all those stages and you can get through them,” Gayle said. “But when someone goes missing, you just get stopped. There is no closure.”
Pam Gann, a Hayden Town Council member who was elected the same year Roberts took office, said Roberts’ disappearance has left a “big empty spot.”
Gann said Roberts was a well-liked and generous man with whom she developed a friendship.
“He was so proud to be mayor,” she said.
Later, the Hayden council voted to elect a mayor pro tem in his absence.
“I just wanted to cry, but we had to go on with business,” Gann said.
Lisa Dowling, Hayden Town Hall secretary at the time, said she still hopes the mystery will be solved.
“I’ve always held out hope that he is out there somewhere, but I don’t think that is the case,” she said. “It is unsettling to know that we’ll never know, but I’m hoping someone … will be able to unearth the mystery and that will put a lot of people at ease.”
Dowling also said the case is “something you think about less and less as time goes on and are less affected by.”
“In the few years following it, it was tough and frustrating and something you think shouldn’t be that hard to solve,” she said. “I still have that feeling of frustration. It is hard for me to see how a person could just disappear from the face of the earth.”
Although Gayle said her father’s disappearance is hard to relive every time it is brought up, she continues to fight the uphill battle of keeping the case in the public consciousness.
“Honestly, I could just let this go and it would go out of memory and there would be nothing, ever,” she said.
Like Dowling and Gann, there are Hayden residents who remember their unique mayor.
“He was a hell of a guy,” said Bob Robinson, owner of R.N. Robinson and Son.
Roberts worked full time for R.N. Robinson and Son., an excavation company in Hayden, for about six years before he was elected mayor and part time after being elected.
Robinson remembers Roberts as a “good and enjoyable friend,” who “just wanted to do the town a good job.”
But memories and the truck, discovered by Utah rancher Jim Tomlinson, were the last and only trace Roberts left behind.
Three footprints were found near the truck but a dry winter left them indistinct. All but one set of fingerprints left in the truck were accounted for. No other evidence was found at the site.
“One theory is that he committed suicide, but obviously not where the truck was found,” Gayle said. “My other feeling is that someone hurt him, someone killed him.”
Dowling said she was immediately concerned after having not seen Dick for a while, but her sentiments weren’t universally shared in the community.
“The thing that has always stuck in my mind about it was that nobody seemed to be overly concerned about it at first,” Dowling said. “Nobody thought it was a big deal.”
Gayle was under the same impression.
“Some people told us, ‘Oh he just took off to Mexico or something and is down there drinking margaritas,’ and I had a real visceral reaction to that,” she said. “It pissed me off.”
She thinks such a loving father would never turn away from his family.
“My dad may have not been a perfect dad, but he was a good one,” she said. “He loved his kids a lot and talked with us every week and to think he is just going to take off to Mexico and never call us again? I don’t think so.”
Throughout the years there have been private investigators contracted to search for any clue of Roberts but the trail was too cold, Gayle said.
Bones found in 1999 in the area around where Roberts’ truck was found tantalized those invested in the case, but they turned out to be animal bones.
Shells from a .22-caliber rifle also were found, but Gayle thinks they could have been from any hunter wandering through the area.
But despite the mystery, the 15 years without seeing his signature red hair, the constant frustration and now living states away, Gayle still has fond memories of her father.
“The best times we had is when we got to go out and work with him,” she said. “Driving out to oil well locations, getting out in the county, the middle of nowhere, driving a bulldozer, and hiking around while he was working.”