The Disappearance of Bobby Panknin

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19th March 2021  •  3 min read

4-year-old Bobby Panknin was camping in Deep Lake Resort in northern Stevens County when he disappeared. He had been momentarily left on the trail while his siblings went to look at a nearby waterfall. When they returned just minutes later, he was gone.


The Disappearance of Bobby Panknin

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Morbidology is a weekly true crime podcast created and hosted by Emily G. Thompson. Using investigative research combined with primary audio, Morbidology takes an in-depth look at true crime cases from all across the world.


The photograph above shows the Panknin brothers in Riverside State Park during the summer of 1963. From left: Ted, Bobby, Jim and Bill. This was the last photograph the boys ever took with their 4-year-old brother, Bobby Panknin before he disappeared in the remote Deep Lake area of Stevens County, Washington.

It was a hot summer’s day on the 3rd of August, 1963. Bobby and two of his brothers – Jim, 6, and Bill, 10 – went on a hike with their mother, Edna, alongside a logging road situated near their campsite at the now-defunct Deep Lake Resort in northern Stevens County. Ted had decided to stay at the campsite that afternoon and go fishing with his father instead.

As they hiked along the trail, Bill asked his mother if he could briefly check out the nearby waterfall which he could hear from the trail. She agreed and told Jim to stand waiting with Bobby while they momentarily went to look at the waterfall. However, Jim decided that instead of staying with Bobby, he would follow Bill and his mother, leaving Bobby standing alone on the trail.

After a few minutes, they returned to where Bobby had been left. However, Bobby was nowhere to be seen. He had been barefoot yet no footprints were found; it was as if the ground had opened up and swallowed him whole.1

Over 500 people a day participated in the nine-day search for Bobby, drawing thousands of volunteers deep into the remote Deep Lake area that surrounded the campsite. The search area was around 20 miles south of the Canadian border and was extremely undeveloped and treacherous. It was hilly and rugged and the search was a difficult one.

Bloodhounds were called in to assist in the search. “When we turned the bloodhound loose at midnight Saturday after giving him a sniff of the boy’s shoe, I had no doubts that the party would be back in an hour or so with the child,” said Sheriff Albert Holter.2 The bloodhound picked up a scent that ran for two miles before abruptly stopping at a fork in the road. The bloodhound would follow this scent twice and according to the sheriff, this led them to believe that Bobby walked to this spot, turned around and then walked back, confusing the bloodhound.3

When Bobby vanished, he was wearing only blue swimming trunks. The area where he vanished was treacherous and there were many areas that would have been impossible to walk barefoot and without clothing to protect him from the underbrush. “It’s difficult to describe just how bad this terrain is. If he were to have fallen into a hole under some logs and to have been hurt, it’s possible that 20 searchers could have crossed right over him,” said Sheriff Holter. 4  Divers of the Stevens County Scuba Patrol of Colville searched Deep Lake while searchers scoured alongside Current Creek.

Eventually, the official search for Bobby was called off when not a single clue was uncovered. His parents, Edna and Howard would return to their home in Spokane but a number of locals living in the area would continue their personal search for Bobby

Sheriff Holter considered that Bobby – who weighed just 30 pounds – was snatched by an eagle or even taken by a bear or wild cat.5 However, he also said that this was unlikely due to the fact that Bobby would have called out and there would probably have been evidence of some kind of commotion.

He was also open to the theory that Bobby had been abducted but once again, said that this was unlikely, stating: “It would require an unusual sequence of events to put a possible kidnapper at that exact remote spot at that particular moment to make kidnapping a possibility.”6

In March of 1964, a letter from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said that “no evidence has been developed indicating a kidnapping has occurred.” Despite this, Sheriff Holter urged doctors, including doctors in Canada, to keep an eye out for Bobby on the chance that he had been abducted and was living with a new family. He informed a number of doctors that Bobby had a chocolate allergy, was susceptible to ear infections and that he had difficulty pronouncing “R” and “C” sounds. His parents said that he was extremely interested in cowboys and parades and would respond to the name of the family dog, Frisky.

To this day, Bobby’s brothers still dwell on their actions that afternoon. Although they were all young children at the time, they still question what would have happened if they didn’t go to the waterfall or if they didn’t leave Bobby standing alone, if even just for a brief moment.

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Footnotes:

  1. The Spokesman-Review, 6 August, 1963 – “Hope Fades in Search for Boy”
  2. The Spokesman-Review, 15 May, 2011 – “Search  Confounded 4,000 Volunteers”
  3. Spokane Chronicle, 5 August, 1963 – “Missing Tots are Hunted”
  4. Spokane Chronicle, 6 August, 1963 – “Search for Lad Pushed”
  5. The Spokesman-Review, 7 August, 1963 – “Vast Hunt Goes On for Youth”
  6. The Spokesman-Review, 13 August, 1963 – “Kidnapping Possibility is Pondered”

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Heather
Heather
6 months ago

Emily, I remember you writing about Bobby on Tumblr and have shared your theories but I cannot recall now…. what is it you believe happened to him?

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