Son still missing weeks after ransom paid

April 28, 2008 12:08:17 PM PDT
The owners of a large airline maintenance firm have gone public with their son's kidnapping nearly a month after meeting a ransom demand -- and getting only silence in return. Thomas and Pamela Wiles went to the cops last week after they complied with a ransom demand for the return of their 26-year-old son Robert Wiles.

On Friday the FBI held a news conference to delicately lay out some details of the case and the frightened parents pleaded for their son's release.

"Robert was," Thomas Miles began, then quickly correcting himself. "Is, is. He's a pilot with multiengine instrument ratings. He's a diver, athlete and a journeyman fisherman."

Robert Wiles was last seen at his job at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport at 6:30 p.m. April 1. Lakeland is about 35 miles east of Tampa.

Wiles works as the business development manager for his father's company, National Flight Services, which performs repairs and maintenance at airports in Florida, Ohio, San Antonio and Toronto.

Robert Wiles' business also took him to Thailand and other overseas destinations.

On April 3, two days after he disappeared, Thomas and Pamela Wiles, who live near Toledo, Ohio, received a ransom note. The kidnappers demanded cash with specific instructions that Wiles' parents met.

Since then, there has been no additional correspondence from the kidnapper or kidnappers and the parents said they fear the money may never have made it to their son's captors. They also have said that they do not know of anyone, including business associates, who may have a problem with their son.

"Although the parents had been following the directions in the ransom demand, the communication stopped with the parents from whomever is responsible for Robert's disappearance," Dave Couvertier, special agent and spokesman for the FBI's Tampa office, told ABC News. "By going to the media, we agreed that we could try to get a message out to the person responsible for that ransom note in hopes they would continue communication with the family and we can get Robert home safely."

Couvertier said the FBI is working with local police departments, the Polk County Sheriff's Office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the state police, in addition to law enforcement in Ohio. The FBI's involvement in the missing person's investigation was triggered by the ransom element, he explained.

"Kidnappings for ransom are very rare in the United States, unlike some other countries," he said, acknowledging that authorities believe that Wiles' life is in danger -- if he is still alive.

Couvertier declined to discuss many details common in missing person's cases. He would not say whether there has been any activity in Wiles' bank accounts or on his cell phone, for example, or whether he had a vehicle that was abandoned at the Lakeland airport the evening he vanished.

"He was last seen at 6:30 p.m. at his place of business," Couvertier said. "From there, traces of his movement disappear."

He also would not share details of the ransom request, including how it reached Wiles' parents and what they paid in order to get their son back.

Couvertier said that investigators have some leads among his business associates that they continue to follow.

"We're conducting [a] logical investigation with any of them," he said. "We're pursuing every possible lead."

The attention generated by Friday's news conference, he said, has already generated several calls about Wiles' case. Thomas and Pamela Wiles already have offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to their son's return.

"Anyone out there who knows our son or who has met our son knows the enthusiasm that he has for life," Pamela Wiles said. "We'll do anything we can to get our son back."