On October 31, 1981, 11-year-old Karl Heikell told his parents he was going for a walk in his town of Calumet, Michigan. The boy never returned home. A year later, evidence of his remains would be found in nearby woods.
Forty years later, residents of the town of Calumet are still wondering what happened that Halloween night in 1981.
Now, after all these years, a local librarian is trying to bring the case back to the minds of Calumet residents. Dillon Geshel lives in Chassell, Michigan, a few miles from Calumet. About 10 years ago he heard a story he couldn’t believe.
In an interview with Dateline, Dillon said this story was told to him by a fellow library worker. “So the story was that there was someone who moved to the Calumet area for a new job,” Dillon said. “They had 40 acres of land that they were going to use for hunting. The very first night he was in a tree and he could hear a boy crying in the forest. When he turned on his projector to look around, the crying stopped. Likewise, when he turned off the light, he could hear more crying. He had the feeling that sometimes the crying might come closer to him.
Dillon continued. “So this person apparently approached the local librarians with this story to say, ‘Can you help me find out if anything strange has happened on my property in the past? “”
Dillon said it was during a return visit to the library that the person read Michigan Tech University’s records of a missing child who was later found on their property.
Dillon’s curiosity was piqued immediately. “So I went to the Michigan Tech University archives and pulled out the Upper Peninsula Vertical Missing Persons File in Michigan,” Dillon said. “And of course I found newspaper clippings about the disappearance of Karl Heikell.”
The young librarian was eager to learn more about this local mystery. “So I asked the State Police to get their files under the Freedom of Information Act and searched other libraries on the Upper Peninsula for more newspaper clippings” , Dillon said.
As he sifted through the documents, the decades-old story began to unfold…
Karl Heikell was like any other 11 year old. He was the youngest of four children and the only boy. Dateline spoke with one of his older sisters, Patty Heikell, who said, “He had three older sisters and we terrified him.”
Patty said Karl was happy and outgoing. “He wasn’t shy at all. He was a very social kid,” Patty told Dateline. “I think he wanted people to like him, so he liked all kinds of people.”
Early in the evening of October 31, 1981, Karl told his parents that he was going for a walk. As it got dark and Karl had not yet returned home, Karl’s family began to worry. Patty told Dateline that her little brother is terrified of the dark. “This kid was definitely afraid of the dark,” Patty said. “He slept on our sofa in the living room because the street lamp shone through the window. He didn’t want to sleep upstairs in the bedroom because it was dark.
When Karl still hadn’t returned home the next morning, his family reported him missing to the Michigan State Police.
Michigan State Police Detective Sergeant Jeremy Cleary spoke to Dateline about the case. Although he was not one of the first investigators in 1981, he was assigned to investigate Karl’s case earlier this year. He said Karl was originally listed as a fugitive/missing person. Patty says their family never believed that. “No,” she said. “No, my brother didn’t run away.”
Detective Sergeant Cleary told Dateline that authorities conducted an aerial search, a ground search and used canines in an attempt to locate Karl. But they found nothing.
News of the missing boy quickly spread throughout the Calumet area.
According to Dillon Geshel, locals believe there were multiple sightings of Karl in the days following his disappearance. “About Karl being out that night at different restaurants — a pizzeria and a bowling alley,” Dillon said. “There are these kids who talk about maybe Karl living in the woods and other kids bringing him food – which he hides.”
Detective Cleary could not confirm that any of these sightings were legitimate. “The problem they had was people were catching sight of it, saying they had seen it in certain places,” he said. “Which led police to believe he was alive and moving.”
Some of the alleged sightings reported to authorities were from nearby towns. “They were like, ‘I saw it here,’ and [police] checked and they couldn’t catch him,” Det. Claire said. “They were only a step behind, you know, at the start of this investigation.”
Patty Heikell, who was just 13 at the time, told Dateline her parents were hoping to find Karl. “My dad was just – consistent, every day, you know, just trying to figure out where he would be – who he would be with,” Patty said. “I don’t think at that time my parents ever thought he was gone.”
The holidays were very difficult for the Heikells. “It was just torture for my dad. It was hard on my parents,” Patty said. “Christmas came around and he wasn’t there, you know, on the holidays.”
Dillon Geshel told Dateline that the random and unfounded sightings of Karl went on for weeks. “But that leads nowhere for the police,” he said. “Until 11 months later, when a bird hunter is hunting in a wooded area northeast of Centennial Heights and finds torn clothes.”
An October 4, 1982 article in the Daily Mining Gazette states: “State Police say the remains and badly torn clothing were found by a hunter at around 2 p.m., Saturday, October 2, 1982, in an area heavily wooded from about half to a mile east of Centennial Heights.”
Dillon Geshel described the area in which the remains were found. “Based on the description of police reports, Karl’s remains were found northeast of Centennial
Heights,” he said. “It was somewhere near the Centennial #6 mine check dam. This is sometimes referred to as “the old dam” in police reports. »
The Daily Mining Gazette article reported that “State police combed through the area and found the skeletal remains and some hair, according to Det. sergeant. John Arid of the State Police Station in Calumet. County medical examiner Dr. Howard Otto identified the remains as those of a young man.
According to the article, that same detective, John Arid, also said: “There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the remains are those of Karl Heikell. Her mother said her husband and daughters identified the clothes. The question now is how he died.”
Dateline interviewed current detective Jeremy Cleary about the area where the evidence was found. “They don’t really have a scene, do they? I mean, the bone wasn’t found until what – over a year later? You know, leftover Karl,” he said. “So at that time they had no idea.”
After the remains were identified as Karl in 1983, the family applied to court for a death certificate. “So they can have some semblance of closure,” Det. Claire said. “And the court agreed to do it.”
“It’s almost like they’ve unofficially closed the case,” Det. Cleary told Dateline. “It’s still an open cold case, but they cremated whatever evidence they had and returned some of the remains to the family for burial.”
This means that none of the original evidence collected at the scene is available today. Detective Cleary said he was not aware of any DNA that might be available to help solve this case. It’s “really sad, in retrospect,” he added.
According to Patty Heikell and John Karvonen – a longtime resident and business owner in Calumet – there was speculation that Karl might have gone to see a friend on the night of his disappearance: Billy Langdon. Billy died by suicide between Karl’s disappearance and the discovery of his remains. Some thought this meant that Billy may have been involved in Karl’s disappearance.
“I personally never thought Billy Langdon had anything to do with my brother’s disappearance,” Patty said. “I knew Billy well. He was a real mild-mannered teenager. He was, you know, he was a little wild, but I don’t think I could ever say that Billy would have done anything to my brother.
John Karvonen accepted. “It’s a shame that so many people have Billy in their head like that ‘kind of person,'” he told Dateline.
Detective Cleary told Dateline that after Billy’s suicide, police looked into his possible involvement in the case. “I don’t think they found anything to say he was involved in any way,” he said. “But they investigated further after the suicide.”
Detective Cleary said police also examined another person. He was a man who had worked for Karl’s uncle, Paul Heikell Sr., at the Mr. Radiator Transmission shop. “I personally don’t think he had anything to do with it,” Det. Claire said. “The information I have completely separates me from him.”
Detective Cleary said he was relatively new to his position at the Calumet, Michigan station. He told Dateline he’s been picking up new leads since Dillon Geshel first became interested in the case.
The detective told Dateline he hoped to close the case. “It’s not cold anymore in my opinion,” he said. “I would say it’s hot.”
After all this time, Dillon Geshel hopes his work will help uncover more answers about the boy who disappeared all those years ago.
He compiled the information he gathered on a website that details the case.
Patty Heikell hopes Dillon’s efforts will help bring her family together. “I’m grateful that Dillon took that and kind of revived it,” Patty said. “I really wish something would come out and someone would finally come forward and say they know what happened to my brother.”
Patty and Karl’s father died in 2017. Patty said their mother was elderly and still hoping for answers. “I think ever since my brother disappeared, it’s been a tough time for her,” Patty said. “It’s hard for her every Halloween.”
It’s hard on Patty too. “Until my kids were past 11, I would freak out on Halloween,” she said. “I would never let my kids do tricks or heal themselves.”
Patty hopes the recent interest in her brother’s case sparked by Dillon Geshel’s work will lead to answers. “Over the past 40 years, my parents – they found out where my brother was,” she said. “But they don’t know what happened to him. So there was never really a shutdown at all,” she said. “Give my mother a little peace.”
If you have any information about the disappearance and death of Karl Heikell, contact Detective Sergeant Cleary of the Michigan State Police Calumet Post at 906-337-5145.