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What really happened to Timmothy Pitzen?

Little boy sitting in the car and look out from the car window.
Image: Shutterstock

It has been ten years since six-year-old Timmothy Pitzen vanished after being picked up from school in Aurora, Illinois, by his mother, Amy Pitzen. She took her young son on a three-day, 500-mile road trip, stopping at various amusements and waterparks, before ending her own life in a motel room in Rockford, Illinois. She had left behind a chilling suicide note which warned that Timmothy would never be found; a decade has passed since then and there has still been no sign of Timmothy.

Timmothy Pitzen was born on the 18th of October, 2004, and was the only child of James Pitzen and Amy Pitzen. Since 2006, the family lived in the 400 block of North Highland Avenue located in Aurora, Illinois. Timmothy was very outgoing and was said to always be smiling. He loved going to the park and the zoo with his family as well as eating pizza and McDonalds Playlands. ‘He’s a wonderful little boy, full of energy,’ recollected his grandmother, Linda Pitzen (The Beacon News, 16 May, 2011 – ‘Aurora Boy, 6, Missing After His Mother is Found Dead in Rockford’)

On the 11th of May, 2011, James dropped Timmothy off at his kindergarten class at Greenman Elementary School. Shortly thereafter, Amy arrived at the school and checked Timmothy out, citing a family emergency. According to Timmothy’s family, however, there was no family emergency. Speaking of Amy, James said: ‘She was not in a good place when she left.’ Amy had not taken her anti-depression medication that morning and she had attempted suicide at least once in the past. Police spokesman Dan Ferrelli would state during a press conference that it wasn’t uncommon or Amy to take off somewhere without warning. However, she had never taken Timmothy with her beforehand.

When Timmothy and Amy were reported missing by James, their names were immediately added into a database which notified thousands of police departments across the nation. Missing person posters were distributed for the missing mother and son duo. They described Timmothy as standing at around 4 feet 2 inches tall, weighing around 70 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing green shorts, a T-shirt, tennis shoes and a Spiderman backpack. They also described Amy as standing at around 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing around 180 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

Three days later, there was an unexpected update in the case when it was announced that Amy’s body had been discovered inside the bathroom of a Rockford motel room. She had slit her wrists and left behind a note which ominously read that Timmothy was safe, that he was being cared for by somebody who loved him and that he would never be found. Timmothy was nowhere to be found and there was no evidence that he was ever in the motel room.

An investigation would uncover that after checking Timmothy out of school, Amy had taken him to the Brookfield Zoo and then checked in to the Key Lime Cove Resort in Gurnee, a lavish hotel and water park costing over $150 per night. The following night, she had checked in to the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells. Much like the Key Lime Cove, this too was an expensive hotel with its own water park. Surveillance footage from the hotel would capture Amy and Timmothy checking out the following morning. Timmothy can be seen holding his mother’s hand as he appears to be bored waiting in line. This was the last image of Amy and Timmothy together (The Beacon News, 12 June, 2011 – ‘Amy’s Final Trip’).

The following morning, Amy called and sent a number of text messages to certain family members and friends excluding James, informing them that she and Timmothy were fine. During one phone call, a relative spoke with Timmothy and said that he sounded ‘okay.’ However, according to relative who spoke with Amy, they had heard Timmothy in the background saying that he was hungry. These phone calls were placed as Amy was driving south on Interstate 39 and west on Interstate 88, heading towards Sterling, located around 80 miles west of Aurora.

Amy was then seen alone at a Family Dollar in Winnebago, Illinois, where she purchased paper, pens and envelopes. Around half an hour later, surveillance footage captured her alone at Sullivan Foods, located on 70 North Elisa Street in Winnebago, where she bought milk and crackers (Courier News, 13 May, 2013 – ‘We Very Badly Want to Find Him’). She then checked herself in to the Rockford Inn, located on 3909 11th Street, Rockfort, at some point between 11:15PM and 11:30PM that night. Her body would be found by a maid the following afternoon at around 12:30PM.

Investigators were able to track Amy’s cell phone calls and credit card receipts as far as Racine, Wisconsin, Sterling, Illinois, and Johnson Creek, Wisconsin. They also trawled through surveillance footage and spoke to witnesses who came across Amy and Timmothy during their road trip. They were left with thousands of miles of open land between the motel where Amy took her life and the furthest location she was known to be. They would admit that they didn’t have any clues which could pinpoint them in a direction to focus their search.

In a bid to uncover some leads, investigators would send dust, plants and other material found underneath Amy’s blue Ford Expedition to scientists at Microtrace. Based on sediments and plant material, the scientists would collude that the Ford Expedition had been stopped for an unknown period of time on a wide gravel shoulder or a gravel road which was located either next to, or very near to, an asphalt secondary road which had been treated with glass-road marking beats. They were also able to determine that near this road, the Ford Expedition then backed onto a grassy meadow or field to a spot that was nearly treeless. They found that there were birch and oak trees in the general vicinity but not directly over the location where the Ford Expedition had stopped. There were Queen Anne’s Lace and black mustard plants growing in a row nearby (The Naperville Sun, 12 May, 2012 – ‘One Year Later: Where Is Timmothy Pitzen?’).

According to the scientists, the area where the Ford Expedition had stopped was not in a residential lawn or park and there was a strong likelihood that there was a pond, a small stream or a creek in the area. No corn pollen was found which enabled them to narrow the search down even further. Scientists further believed that the area where the Ford Expedition stopped was most likely located in north western Illinois with Lee and Whiteside counties as the most likely locations. However, Carroll, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties could not be ruled out.

With such a detailed description of where Amy had stopped her SUV, investigators released this information to the public, hoping that somebody somewhere could recognise the description of the area. They encouraged people to check their own land or any surrounding land for any kind of evidence, such as Timmothy’s Spiderman backpack, several toys and a tube of toothpaste that Amy had purchased for Timmothy during the trip.

Since the disappearance, there have been a number of theories as to what happened to Timmothy. Inside Amy’s Ford Expedition, it was noticed that Timmothy’s child seat and Spiderman backpack were absent, leading to hope that Amy could have dropped Timmothy off with a friend. However, investigators had also considered that Amy, who had a history of depression, gave Timmothy to somebody with the false story that he was in danger (The Beacon News, 18 May, 2011 – ‘Focus of Search for Missing Aurora Boy Shifts West’). There was also unavoidable speculation that Amy could have killed her son before killing herself.

A decade has passed since that fateful road trip and Timmothy still remains missing. Investigators continue to pursue every lead that comes in, including the periodic calls from people who believe that they are Timmothy or believe that they have spotted Timmothy. In fact, in 2019, a man came forward and claimed that he was Timmothy. DNA testing, however, proved otherwise and the man would admit that it was a cruel hoax (The Fresno Bee, 5 April, 2019 – ‘FBI Rejects Man’s Claims of Being Missing Boy’).

What started out as a pleasant impromptu vacation transformed into a horrendous detour from which Timmothy has never emerged. Every two years, the National Center for Missing & Exploited releases an updated age progression image showing what Timmothy could possibly look like now. These images are an important tool in the mission to help bring Timmothy home. His family still cling on to the hope that one day, they will uncover the truth of what happened to him. They firmly believe that Amy would never have harmed her son: ‘I’m 100 percent sure of that,’ said Linda. ‘After I read the suicide note, I know in my heart he’s alive. I just don’t know where he’s at. And so I pray every night for God to put his arms around him.’ (The Beacon News, 12 June, 2011 – ‘Amy’s Final Trip’).