PEKIN — It was an unusually warm day last Nov. 17 when a south side Pekin boy did two things sadly typical of him. He skipped school, then ran from home.
This time, 13-year-old Robert Bee Jr. did not return. The city hasn’t been the same since.
One year ago Friday, the mystery of Bee’s disappearance began – first as that of a youth who had run again from his troubled, unkempt home, then as the focus of unparalleled public concern, then – after eight months and a week – as a death investigation.
That’s where the case has stood since July 25, when police acknowledged the scattered skeletal remains found the prior day in woods just off Illinois Route 29, about two miles south of Bee’s home, were likely those of the boy.
How it may yet evolve, its lead investigator and the city’s police chief won’t speculate publicly, and can’t afford to do so professionally, they said this week.
“Everyone’s got theories. We have to deal with facts and where they lead us,” said Chief John Dossey.
“It’s an investigation of his death, what caused it,” said Lt. Seth Ranney, who leads the Police Department’s investigative team that’s employed help from other city, state and federal agencies in the case.
After the remains were found, a Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department chief officer said it’s safe “to assume foul play was involved” and Bee’s death was a homicide. Ranney said he can’t do that yet.
“We’re not going to get pigeon-holed into one direction,” he said. “We pursue the evidence and take it one step at a time.”
The process, he said, is “extremely tedious and time consuming. It’s got to be perfect.”
It would be marred by revealing its details to the public, Dossey said. That’s why he and Ranney wouldn’t discuss the condition of Bee’s discovered remains, including whether any clothing or other items were also found in the brushy woods behind an abandoned shed and a man’s chain-link fenced backyard in the 14300 block of Route 29.
The fleshless state of the remains, some of which an animal apparently nudged into the adjacent yard where the homeowner found them, indicates decomposition and exposure over months.
But while the two officers wouldn’t discuss how, when and in what condition Bee might have come to the wooded property, they repeated what they said about the site the day after Bee was found.
It’s owned by a woman who lives nearby, and who has a relative “who is involved in the investigation,” Ranney said then.
The property “is relevant and pertinent to the investigation,” he confirmed this week. But, for now, “We can’t get tunnel vision on the subject.”
He acknowledged another important question in the case from its missing-person phase remains unanswered.
Bee bolted that morning from the home he shared with his mother, Lisa Bee, when a District 108 truancy officer and a police officer came to take him back to his sixth-grade class at Wilson School.
Where did he mean to go, and did he get there?
Investigators have pursued the report from a woman that Bee, possibly with his mother’s knowledge, spent the night with a friend, the woman’s son, at their nearby home. The next morning Bee walked with his older friend, a high school student, to the youth’s school bus stop and told him he was going home, according to the report. Bee’s mother had already left home that morning.
If true, that scenario could significantly impact the investigation, Ranney said. But, “We haven’t been able to confirm it.”
“We have to rely on facts” that are verified, Dossey said.
To that end, he asks the public to “come forward with information, no matter how trivial” to help investigators learn what happened to Robert Bee after he ran from home for the last time.