Noreen Hyslop photo Vicky Peters, wife of missing local man, Robert Peters, spends a rare moment with her daughters, Lauren (at left), and Emily. Vicky Peters has spent nearly every waking moment assisting with the search effort since her husband's disappearance June 28.
Sunburned and scratched skin serves as testimony that over the past two weeks, Vicky Peters has spent about 15 hours a day combing through a dense wooded area of both Wayne and Bollinger Counties in search of her missing husband, the 43-year old Dexter man who went missing in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 28.
"Robert and two friends had gone up to the Hidden Valley Campground on the Castor River on Saturday (June 27)," recalls his wife, Vicky. "The girls and I had spent all day Saturday at a family wedding, and we were tired. So we decided we'd drive up on Sunday and join him."
That reunion never took place. In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, a camper within 100 feet of Peters' campsite says that Peters walked into his campsite area and asked if he could direct Peters to where he'd been camped. The man reportedly pointed Peters in that direction.
"But within 20 minutes," says Vicky Peters, "Robert returned to the same man and asked directions once again. He was the last person known to have seen Robert."
Vicky Peters and other family members, including Peters' sister, Sarah Sandusky, also of Dexter, were not surprised at the odd behavior reported by the fellow camper. Peters is a diabetic, and it is not uncommon for his blood sugar levels to drop dramatically at times.
When that occurs, his wife explains, "His behavior can be very erratic. He often becomes confused, sometimes belligerent and nonsensical until the insulin kicks in and gets him back on track."
Peters was equipped just days before his disappearance with an insulin pump that regulates the supply of insulin to his system on an "as needed" basis. His wife says he was having a difficult time adjusting to the pump and had been going through a period of depression before his disappearance due to his health related issues.
Peters has been a diabetic since childhood and has experienced many health-related issues his entire life. A sister donated a kidney for him several years ago when his failed due to his diabetic state.
Last year, he suffered a broken ankle and that injury left Peters with a slight limp and added yet another health frustration. When it was surmised by authorities that he had walked a considerable distance, his wife doubted he would have covered much distance, given the pain he suffers from the ankle injury.
The search for Robert Peters began around mid-day Sunday, June 28. After a brief search by his friends was fruitless, he was reported missing to the local authorities. Eventually, the Missouri State Highway Patrol assisted, along with the Water Patrol, Wayne County and later Bollinger County authorities and throngs of family members and friends. Vital in the search effort have been members of the volunteer Glen Allen Fire Department. Bloodhounds and even cadaver canines have been implemented as well. Four-wheelers, volunteers on horseback and divers have been involved.
"We've even had inmates from a Farmington correctional facility in on the search and a canine unit from Eureka," Peters' sister, Sarah Sandusky, reports.
"The Patrol has searched by use of a helicopter from Troop G equipped with an infrared system that can detect body heat and they have found nothing. After two weeks, most everyone has pulled out. We have almost nothing to go on. People don't just disappear. He's got to be somewhere," Peters' visibly shaken wife states.
A clue to Peters' whereabouts came two days after his disappearance when a Sikeston man, James Hopper, called Sikeston Police and reported having picked up a hitchhiker matching Peters' description along a stretch of Interstate 55, south of Cape Girardeau. Family members say that the man later saw media accounts of the missing man and felt certain that Peters was the man he picked up and delivered to a Sikeston restaurant.
"I never thought anything of it," said Hopper in a Monday interview, "until I saw the report on TV the next day and I was just certain when I saw that picture that it was the fellow I picked up."
Hopper says the man spoke in a low, muttered tone and said he was hungry. Hopper was driving a work dump truck at the time, which he parked and exchanged for his own pickup truck near Sikeston and the two rode to downtown Sikeston.
"He wanted to eat at KFC, but they were closed and so he said he'd eat at the Mongolian Grill. That's where I dropped him off," Hopper recalls. "It was about 10 or 10:30 Monday morning when I picked him up."
So sure was Hopper that the man he picked up was Peters, that he secured his pickup for several days, letting no one open its doors, in hopes that a canine unit could sniff out Peters' scent and confirm that it was indeed the missing man.
"An attempt was made to lift fingerprints from the truck," Vicky Peters explains, "but the surface was rough and they couldn't get a viable print. We were told that using the dogs to sniff the scent couldn't be done since the dogs are trained to follow the scent, not detect it."
A second sighting of Peters was reported from a professor at SEMO University, who, once she heard of Hopper's account, also confirmed having seen the same man along I55 while en route to the university on Monday morning. She also said the man matched Peters' description, although neither she nor Hopper recalled the man having a limp.
Still, the search continued around the Hidden Valley campsite and beyond, with Bollinger County authorities and the Water Patrol searching the shoreline and the waters of Castor River.
The insulin pump, the family explains, would likely only sustain the man's sugar levels for about three to four days if he was active. If he was unconscious, however, or in an active state, it would sustain him for many more days, they say. To surmise that the same pump with which he was equipped at the time of his disappearance would sustain him for over two weeks is not reasonable, they agree.
Vicky Peters says her husband was not carrying a credit or debit card when he disappeared, and had perhaps $50 in cash. She says her husband is not a swimmer or an outdoorsman and given his medical condition, the family fears that if it was not Robert who was picked up by Hopper, he could have wandered deep into the rural area of Bollinger County and collapsed in a confused and disoriented state.
The Peters couple own two Miracle Ear franchises, one in Sikeston and the other in Poplar Bluff. Since his disappearance, Peters' parents, Ronald and Karen Peters of Bloomfield, have worked, along with a limited staff, in an effort to maintain the business' operations in both locations.
"We're at a loss as to what to do next," says an obviously emotionally and physically drained Vicky Peters. "We have searched and searched, and there is simply no sign of him. What do we do? We can't go on the assumption that it was definitely Robert that Mr. Hopper transported in case he's still out in the woods. I can't just resume my life as it was before without him and yet for the sake of our girls, we need some state of normalcy. We have a business to run and bills to pay, but I can't leave this search."
"We're so thankful for everyone who has come out and helped try to locate Robert. We just ask that they don't give up. I know they all have families of their own to get back to. We just don't know where to go from here."
A Bollinger County Sheriff's deputy confirmed Monday morning that their department was no longer actively involved in the search for Peters, but they are following leads.
While Wayne County deputies are not involved in the search on a daily basis, Sheriff Phillip Burton confirmed Monday that his office is pursuing daily leads in the case also and that volunteers from Wayne County are still involved in the search effort and have been reporting their endeavors to the sheriff, enabling the department to keep an accurate account of ground covered.
"We continue to work on any leads, and we've had several phone tips involving people who believe they saw Robert Peters; but none of those tips have been successful in locating him," Burton reports.
"We cannot rule out that he left the area, but we cannot confirm that he did not," the Sheriff says.
In the meantime, Vicky Peters is in a state of limbo, not about to give up on the search for her husband and father of her girls, but needing to return to life as she knew it to be prior to June 28."
"I can't just leave him behind," Peters' distraught wife explains. "He's my husband and I have to keep looking. I just have to."
Anyone with information that assist in locating Robert Peters, or anyone wishing to assist in the search effort is asked to contact Wayne County authorities at 573-224-3219 or Bollinger County authorities at 573-238-2633.