It seemed to be a day like any other – but it turned out to be anything but. James Pitzen dropped his son, Timmy, off at school on the morning of May 11, 2011. By the time the dad went to pick up the six-year-old that afternoon, however, the little boy was gone. And as the months went by, few leads subsequently arose in the case – yet Pitzen nevertheless held out hope. Then, eight years later, it seemed that the Illinois man’s wish to see his son again had finally come true. Someone stepped forward alleging to be the missing boy.
A party in the early 2000s had originally brought Pitzen together with his future wife, Amy Fry. And the pair had apparently hit it off, too, as they subsequently embarked on a long-distance relationship – although the going wasn’t always easy. You see, Fry reportedly struggled with depression stemming from her first divorce – she had had three husbands prior to her relationship with Pitzen – and these feelings appear to have come to a head in 2003.
That year, you see, Fry had tried to take her own life. According to Pitzen, she had sat on the side of a cliff, swallowed pills and then slipped into unconsciousness; she had also fallen from the ledge upon which she had been sitting. And Pitzen later told CNN he had subsequently received a call explaining both that his significant other had survived and that doctors were looking after her in an Iowa hospital.
After the traumatic incident, however, Pitzen seemingly still felt determined to make things work with Fry. He apparently believed that, as a supportive partner, he could help her improve her mental health. And so the couple eventually tied the knot before welcoming their son, Timmothy, into the fold on October 18, 2004.
But although both Fry and Pitzen presumably felt enamored with their newborn son, their relationship began to disintegrate after his birth. It’s believed that the couple were experiencing problems with money and that they would fight over their finances. And to make matters worse, Fry would apparently jet off on trips with her friends. According to CNN, she also started to broach the topic of divorce.
However, Pitzen reportedly didn’t want to consider splitting up at this time. And, of course, the couple had their son to think about, too. As Timmy grew up, he became an outgoing, playful child, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. He also always seemed to be happy, and he appeared to have boundless energy.
In a 2017 interview on Crime Watch Daily, Pitzen said of his son, “[Timmy got] along with everybody, running down the street. [He was] always happy – always fun to be around. [He was] always looking for the next adventure.” And it seems that these traits remained with the boy all the way to kindergarten, too.
On the morning of May 11, 2011, as Pitzen later recalled, he and Fry had shuttled their six-year-old son to his school in Aurora, Illinois. “I said, ‘I love you, buddy,’ and he said, ‘I love you, too, Dad, and I’ll see you later,’” the father explained. And after that, Timmy happily ran off. In 2015 Pitzen told People that his son had a funny way of doing so – with “this little waddle run like a chubby old man.”
Then, later that day, Pitzen returned to his son’s school to pick him up and chauffeur him to daycare. But when the dad got there, Timmy’s teacher told him that the boy had already left that morning. “I’m like, ‘What do you mean he left at 8:30 a.m.?’” Pitzen recalled in the Crime Watch Daily interview. And so the worried father checked the school’s records – only to see that his wife had taken their child out of school.
Pitzen therefore did his due diligence: he called Fry’s place of work and also tried her cellphone. “I said, ‘Just tell me that you’re fine. Just call me. What’s going on?’ I had no idea where they were,” the father recalled. He figured in turn that his wife was mad at him for something and that she’d come home when she had calmed down.
But, worryingly, Fry didn’t come back the next day, which led Pitzen to reach out to police to report his family missing. Meanwhile, it turned out that Fry and her son had had plenty on their agenda, although the mom hadn’t told anyone where they were or what they were doing. First, it seems, she had signed Timmy out of school under the guise of a family emergency; in reality, though, the pair had simply gone to the zoo.
And following Fry’s trip to see the animals with Timmy, she had picked up her car from the repair shop at around 3:00 p.m. After that, she had driven to their next destination: a resort in Gurnee, Illinois. At this point, though, word had gotten out that the mother and son had gone missing. Consequently, loved ones started searching for the duo.
But while family and friends were panicked, Fry and Timmy seemed to be acting normally. Security footage from the resort would later show the pair looking completely relaxed, holding hands as they walk. “Timmothy was following mom,” Pitzen described on Crime Watch Daily. “[He] was playing with what looked like a semi truck on the floor. Timmothy was happy and didn’t seem to have any distress or anything,”
Then, on the following morning of May 12 – when Pitzen called the police to report his family missing – Fry and Timmy moved to a third location. Specifically, they arrived at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin, which is around 150 miles north of their previous location. And while there, Fry went to a store to buy clothes and toys for Timmy – presumably since she hadn’t brought much with her.
However, the next day would be the last time that security cameras would capture footage of Timmy. On that occasion, he and Fry were spotted checking out of their Wisconsin Dells hotel at 10:00 a.m. before getting into the car and traveling over 100 miles to Rockford, Illinois. And at this point – two days after Fry had taken her son out of school – the mom finally called her family.
First, Fry apparently contacted her mother, with Pitzen later recounting what he knew of the conversation. “[Fry] said, ‘We’re fine. We’ll be home in a day or two. I just need some time to figure out and try to think about how to approach this,’” Pitzen recalled on Crime Watch Daily. Then, instead of calling her husband, Fry reportedly got in touch with her brother-in-law.
According to Pitzen, his brother “could hear Timmothy in the background playing or hanging out” during the chat. Fry also supposedly said, “Timmothy is fine, Timmothy belongs to me. Timmothy and I will be fine, [and] Timmothy is safe.” But this seemingly mundane conversation, which happened during the afternoon of May 13, would mark the final time that anybody would hear the six-year-old boy.
That evening, at around 7:30 p.m., cameras at a store in Winnebago, IL, recorded Fry coming in to buy stationery. Timmy, however, was nowhere to be seen. Then, about 30 minutes later, another device captured the mother going in to buy food at a grocery store, where she stayed for six minutes. And, once again, there was no sign of her young son.
Finally, at just after 11:00 p.m., Fry got a room at the Rockford Inn for the evening. The following day, though, the hotel’s housekeeper made a shocking discovery: the mother had taken her own life through self-inflicted wounds and an overdose. And to make matters even more troubling, investigators found no trace of the deceased woman’s son in the room; neither his clothes nor his playthings remained.
Meanwhile, Pitzen – totally unaware of the tragedy that had unfolded – waited for updates from authorities on the whereabouts of his wife and son. “I figured everything would be fine, and we’d be one big happy family again,” he said on Crime Watch Daily. But, sadly, that wasn’t to be. And on May 14 police duly arrived at Pitzen’s door and told him that they had found Fry – yet there had been no evidence of Timmy.
Nevertheless, before taking her own life, Fry had left some cryptic words behind. As well as a note that police had found at the scene, Fry had sent a letter to her mother, Alana Anderson. And Anderson read her daughter’s message on Nancy Grace’s eponymous TV show. “I’ve taken [Timmy] somewhere safe. He will be well cared for, and he says that he loves you. Please know that there is nothing you could have said or done that would have changed my mind,” the message said.
Of course, this strange note left Pitzen in limbo once again. After all, while his late wife had claimed that their son was alive, she had never said where he was. And those who knew Fry felt as though she wouldn’t have harmed Timmy. As Aurora Police Detective Lee Catavu told People, “Therein lies the mystery.”
So, in the years since Timmy’s disappearance, Pitzen has been left to wonder what happened to the bouncy son whom he dropped off for kindergarten in 2011. And in 2015 the dad admitted that the most difficult aspect of the situation was awaking and realizing that Timmy wouldn’t be there. “I try to close my eyes and go back to sleep,” he told People. “It doesn’t always work.”
Naturally, Pitzen has had to grapple, too, with Fry’s last days and her final act of suicide. And although the dad once spent time blaming himself, he added, “It’s taken a lot of therapy – and a lot of searching and going through it day after day after day – to learn that it wasn’t my fault. She had planned this for a while, because you just don’t do something like this without having some plan that goes along with it.”
What’s more, Fry’s mysterious messages had also left Pitzen with more questions than answers. “I always wonder what she told Timmothy. Why hasn’t he tried to call? We taught him how to dial 911. ‘This is your number, this is your mom’s number. You know where you live – your address.’ All the stuff you do,” Pitzen said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, four years after Timmy’s disappearance, Pitzen was still sleeping by his phone every night in case his son decided to call. “Maybe I’ll see Tim in the morning. Maybe tomorrow they’ll find him,” Pitzen hoped. By this point, though, police had seemingly chased down all of their potential leads. They had also shared age-progressed images of Timmy – but without any breaks in the case.
However, eight years after Timmy had seemingly disappeared into thin air, a shocking twist occurred in the case. In early 2019 people in Newport, Kentucky, started to notice an unfamiliar boy walking alone through their neighborhood. And at first, the residents felt suspicious as to why he may have been there.
But one woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said that she realized the boy didn’t mean to cause trouble. To the contrary, in fact, he appeared to want help. The witness told WLWT, “He walked up to my car, and he went, ‘Can you help me? I just want to get home. Can you just please help me?’” And when she asked the individual what had happened to him, he had a terrifying story to tell.
“I asked [the boy] what was going on, and he told me he’s been kidnapped, and he’s been traded through all these people,” the woman went on. “He just wanted to go home. He needed help.” And as the mysterious stranger spoke, the witness noticed that he “looked like he’d been beat up or something.” She added, “He had a really big bruise on his face.”
But then came the kicker. When the woman asked the boy his name, he said that it was Timmothy Pitzen. He also told police the same thing before elaborating on how he had ended up in Kentucky. According to People, the stranger calling himself Timmothy said that kidnappers had kept him captive for the past eight years. He had apparently slipped out from an Ohio inn, however, and had then traveled to Kentucky.
According to a police report, the boy also described his captors as a pair of white, muscly men. One of these individuals, he added, had on a Mountain Dew T-shirt and pants and had a spider web tattoo etched into his neck. By contrast, the boy claimed that the second man stood shorter and had another distinct tattoo: a snake inked into his arm.
Still, perhaps the most important detail of the boy’s story was that he had identified himself as Timmothy Pitzen. And while police naturally had to confirm this assertion through a DNA analysis, Timmy’s family told ABC that they nevertheless felt hopeful. After all, as Timmy’s grandmother, Anderson, revealed, his nearest and dearest had never given up on their search.
But when Aurora Police Sergeant Bill Rowley spoke to the Chicago Tribune, he advised that the family and the public remain guarded. “We have no idea if this is Timmothy Pitzen,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s a hoax. Obviously, everyone’s hopeful, but we have to be super judicious.” And as it turned out, the sergeant’s advice would come in handy.
You see, Timmothy Pitzen would have been 14 years old if he had indeed surfaced in Kentucky in 2019. Yet the person who identified himself as the missing child turned out to be nine years older. And his real name, it transpired, is actually Brian Michael Rini. Apparently, Rini has a long history of run-ins with the law and has also struggled with his mental health.
And when the bizarre story made headlines, Rini’s brother Jonathan spoke out. He told Fox 8, “[Rini has] been doing stupid stuff – not this serious – but he’s been doing stupid stuff for as long as I can remember. He was receiving treatment, but then he stopped and started getting in more trouble, [and] he recently got out of prison.”
Of course, Timmy’s mother had reportedly battled mental health issues of her own. And perhaps that’s why his family dealt with Rini’s false report with such grace. Instead of showing anger toward the 23-year-old, you see, they felt sympathy for him. “I would reserve all judgment and pray for the young man involved,” Timmy’s aunt, Kara Jacobs, said at a press conference.
And despite the whole experience being a roller coaster, Anderson had nothing negative to say about Rini, either. “[The past 24 hours have] been awful. We’ve been on tenterhooks… It’s just been exhausting. As [Jacobs] said, I feel so sorry for the young man who had a horrible time and felt the need to say he was someone else. And [I] hope that they can find his family,” she said.
Police didn’t feel as sympathetic toward Rini, however. A day after a DNA test revealed the 23-year-old’s true identity, he faced charges for lying to authorities. What’s more, according to documents filed by the FBI, Rini had already pretended to be a victim of trafficking in two previous interviews. Nevertheless, despite the apparent evidence against him, Rini declared his innocence.
And, fortunately, the FBI made clear that the mishap had done little to deter them in their search to find the real Timmy. The Louisville branch of the bureau posted on Twitter, “To be clear, law enforcement has not and will not forget Timmothy, and we hope to one day reunite him with his family. Unfortunately, that day will not be today.”
Pitzen, meanwhile, also still holds out hope that his son will one day make it home safely. But each day, he feels acutely aware of the passage of time and how much Timmy has lost out on as a consequence. As he put it to People, “The longer he’s away, the less time I’m going to have with my son. One thing you can’t do is make up for lost time… He’s just missed more every day.”