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  Whatever Happened To John Robek?  
  July 26, 2012 Edition  
     BY JOHN A. DARNELL JR.
      associate editor
      About 3:00 a.m. on Thurs., June 28, 2012
      Boardman police Lt. Edward McDonnell fielded a telephone call from an unidentified man who said he wanted to talk to someone about John Robek.
      The unidentified man wanted to know if
      the police department handled cold cases like that of John Robek, whom the man
      identified as a narcotics officer who
      disappeared one day “and they never found him.” The man said he had his facts straight, but before he said anything more about John Robek, he hung-up the phone, saying “Things happen on both sides.”
      It is perhaps, the first time in more than two decades that John Robek’s case ever came to the attention of the Boardman PD.
      But Lt. McDonnell didn’t know anything about the Robek case. John Robek had
      vanished more than two decades before
      McDonnell joined the Boardman PD.
      * * * * * * * * * *
      John Robek Disappears
      About 6:30 in the morning of May 31, 1974, John Robek Sr. was getting ready to leave for work when he went to his son John’s bedroom to ask that his son move his car from in front of the family’s home because a load of topsoil was going to be delivered to the home at 7033 Amherst Ave. The son assured his dad he would move the car.
      It was the last time that Mr. Robek ever saw his son.
      Mr. Robek Sr. is now deceased. However, on Sept. 18, 1990, he authored a statement that had been kept in a shoe box, until it was uncovered by this reporter from one of his sisters.
      “When I came home from work around 3:30 p.m. that afternoon, the car was still there and the topsoil was in the drive.
      “My wife was worried and I became upset because I knew something was wrong, that car would have been moved,” Mr. Robek Sr. said in his statement.
      * * * * * * * * * *
      John A. Robek, his was born Nov. 2, 1949. He grew up in Boardman. He attended St. Charles Elementary School and Cardinal Mooney High School as a freshman, and then transferred to Boardman High School for his sophomore through senior years of high school.
      While at Boardman HS, Robek played for the Boardman Spartans grid teams in his sophomore and junior years. An injury from getting spiked in the leg kept him off the team in his senior year. By all accounts, Robek was a good football player.
      In 1966, following a game between the Spartans and the Brookfield Warriors, Robek earned the ‘Hatchet Man’ award from head coach Steve Sonoga for making 11 tackles in the game.
      “John has proven by his past actions and attitudes, both on the football field and off, that he is highly deserving of this award,” Coach Sonoga said in a letter sent to Robek’s parents on Oct. 5, 1966.
      John Robek graduated from Boardman High School as a member of the Class of 1968. By the spring of 1973 he had graduated from Youngstown State University and reportedly had landed a job in the fall of 1974 as a full-time school teacher.
      Until he assumed his teaching duties that fall, Robek worked undercover for little more than two months in the murky world of narcotics enforcement with the Youngstown Police Department, partnering with a man identified as his boyhood friend, Kenny Swartz.
      On the day that his son went missing, Mr. Robek recalled that Swartz showed-up at the family home on Amherst Ave. Swartz said he went to the home to drop off a paycheck for his partner.
      “We told him about John and [Swartz] said he didn’t know where he was, that he had to go to work,” Mr. Robek said, adding “This was the only time we saw Swartz since John disappeared.”
      Still extremely worried and upset, Mr. Robek called his son’s boss at the Youngstown Police Department, Det. Jack Lynch. The detective told Mr. Robek that nothing could be done about his son’s disappearance unless a missing persons report was made, and to do that, the Robeks would have to wait 24 hours to make such a report.
      The following morning, on June 1, 1974, Mr. Robek again called Det. Lynch, who then advised the Robeks to make a missing person report with the Boardman Police Department.
      “We asked him (Lynch) if he had talked to Swartz and he said he was unable to do so, because Swartz was out shopping with his wife,” Mr. Robek said.
      “This bothered us,” Mr. Robek said in his statement of Sept. 18, 1990, adding “Swartz’s partner and boyhood friend was missing and he didn’t seem to be concerned?”
      * * * * * * * * * *
      On the morning of May 31, 1974, about 10:30 a.m., Swartz and his partner, John Robek, were reported to have gone groundhog hunting at a site off Roller Rd. in Greenford. So said Det. Lynch of the Youngstown Police Department.
      One of Robek’s sisters, Carol, still recalls that morning as she was packing and preparing to go to Florida for a vacation. She told The Boardman News that she saw her brother leave with Swartz about 10:30 a.m., both wearing camouflage clothing.
      According to statements attributed to Det. Lynch that were published in June, 1974 in The Youngstown Vindicator, Swartz dropped Robek off at his home at 11:30 a.m. on May 31.
      * * * * * * * * * *
      At 1:30 p.m. on June 1, 1974, Boardman police patrolman Steve Balog showed-up at the Robek’s home to make an official missing persons report.
      Just prior to his arrival, Mr. Robek said he was on the phone with Det. Lynch who said a Youngstown police officer would ‘come by’ to ask questions [about his son] and “he told us to say nothing.”
      “What could we tell him,” Mr. Robek said, adding “we knew nothing, only that John was missing and that we were terribly upset.”
      The Robeks did tell Officer Balog that their son had gone target shooting with a friend. Balog’s report lists a telephone number and the name of “Swartz.”
      Mr. and Mrs. Robek returned home at 4:00 p.m. on May 31, 1974 and found that John did not come home at all during that night or during the [next day], Ptl. Balog reported, adding “The boy missed several engagements Friday [May 31] and his parents are concerned because he is usually quite reliable.”
      “Another unusual circumstance concerning the boy’s disappearance is the fact that his car is still parked in front of his house, and he has no other means of transportation,” Officer Balog reported.
      After Officer Balog left the Amherst Ave. home, then Boardman Police Chief Grant Hess stopped to inform the Robeks that “he was taking charge of the case...”
      The Vindicator reported at the time that because of the nature of Robek’s work, Lynch, Hess and a Mahoning County Sheriff, Bill Johns, decided to conduct their investigation “secretly in an attempt to eliminate any possible harm to Robek’s friends and associates with whom he had worked.”
      Officer Balog and then Boardman Police Officer Robert Rupp, whom this reporter has spoken with during the past month about the Robek case, indicate their recollection is that the Youngstown Police Department was in charge of the Robek case.
      “There was a lot of funny things and secret operations back then at the Youngstown Police Department,” one of the officers recalled. Their recollections are supported by comments from several, other now retired police officers.
      * * * * * * * * * *
      On June 1, 1974, after Ptl. Balog and Chief Hess showed-up at the Robek home, Det. Lynch made his appearance there, according to Mr. Robek.
      “He said he wanted to look at John’s drug buy records. When he left, he took one of two ledgers and some marihuana that John had apparently purchased undercover,” Mr. Robek recalled.
      According to the father, Det. Lynch said that “John was straight and Swartz had been in trouble at times and John would keep him in line.”
      Mr. Robek recalled Lynch as saying that “Swartz had a cloud over his head.”
      * * * * * * * * * *
      John Robek Sr. worked at the Youngstown Vindicator as a printer for 35 years. He recalled on June 1, 1974, the day after his son went missing, that there was an ad in the paper pertaining to some guns that were being sold.
      “The phone number [listed in the ad] was Swartz’s,” Mr. Robek said.
      He noted “Knowing nothing about guns, and that John’s were missing, I told Det. Lynch about these ads.
      “Lynch told us that Swartz said that John had given them to him to sell,” Mr. Robek recalled.
      Of note, sometime in 1985, Mr. Robek received a letter from the Boardman Police Department, informing him that the BPD had possession of a gun that belonged to his son.
      * * * * * * * * * *
      At the time of his disappearance, John Robek was engaged to a woman by the name of Linda Von Hendon. She was listed as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy that Robek had while working with the Youngstown Police Department.
      On Sept. 16, 1987, Mahoning County Probate Judge Charles Henderson declared John Robek legally dead and that his former fiance was the beneficiary of the life insurance policy.
      At the time of John Robek’s disappearance, the fiance and many of Robeks acquaintances are said to have searched the area where Robek and Swartz went groundhog hunting (or target shooting), finding nothing.
      “My younger son, Brian and I were there many times,” Mr. Robek recalled, adding “We heard nothing from the police except that a railroad track repair crew working in the area had seen two men go into a wooded area and only one came out.”
      * * * * * * * * * *
      Two years later, in early Sept., 1989, the Robeks met at the Boardman Police Station with where they met with Boardman and Youngstown police to discuss their son’s disappearance 15 years before.
      “They both (BPD and YPD) admitted that all they had about John was a missing persons report and that the case had been badly mishandled, outright bungled,” Mr. Robek recalled.
      Mr. Robek’s wife, Marian, recalls that her son was very popular.
      “He had many friends...Kenneth Swartz was one of those friends. In fact, John said he wouldn’t have gone to work for the Youngstown Police Department unless Swartz was his partner,” Mrs. Robek said.
      She added, “We just can’t seem to understand why Swartz never came around to talk to us after John’s disappearance. After all, we had known him very well ever since he was a small boy.”
      If there ever was an investigation into John Robek’s disappearance, authorities never did talk to his sister, Carol, who says to this day that she saw Robek and Swartz leave the Amherst Ave. home at 10:30 a.m. on May 31, 1974. The sister is, by all accounts to date, the last person, other than Ken Swartz, to see Robek alive.
      * * * * * * * * * *
      Ken Swartz was born Mar. 13, 1950 and grew-up on 395 Melbourne Ave. in Boardman. He graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School in 1968.
      His mother, Mary, died in March and according to her obituary, her son now lives in South Carolina---some police sources suggest either Goose Creek, South Carolina or Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina. He is also said to have once maintained contact with a longtime acquaintance in Memphis, Tenn.
      After working at Ara Aluminum in Girard and the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co., Swartz landed a job as an undercover officer with the Youngstown Police Department, working from Mar., 1974 to Sept., 1974 with the agency.
      It wasn’t Swartz’ first job with law enforcement.
      As former Boardman Police Chief Glenn E. Bowers recalls, Swartz worked for the Mill Creek Police Department.
      A document obtained from the Robek family claims that during 1972, Swartz served as a patrol officer with the Mill Creek Park PD.
      Chief Bowers remembered an incident that involved Swartz and missing money from a deposit bag from the day’s receipts from Mill Creek Park Golf Course.
      The document obtained from the Robek family says on June 18, 1972, a part of his regular duties, Swartz picked-up two money bags (the day’s receipts) from the golf course.
      “One of the bags was stolen out of his cruiser, according to Swartz, who said they had been placed in the back seat of the police vehicle and were left unattended for a short period of time when he had to check on some situation,” the document obtained by The Boardman News says.
      After working with the Mill Creek Park PD, Swartz then worked as an undercover officer with the Youngstown and Warren Police Departments.
      On Oct. 6, 1975, Swartz was hired as a patrolman with the Liberty Police Department funded by a government grant.
      “Subsequently he was questioned about another incident that had taken place while he was still employed as an undercover agent with the Youngstown Police Department,” the document obtained by The Boardman News says.
      That ‘incident’ happened on June 11, 1975 when the YPD staged a drug raid at a home at 113 Hilton Ave.
      Three undercover agents were part of that raid, including Swartz, former Boardman Police Chief Pat Berarducci and Officer Joseph DeMatteo (now deceased).
      “Allegations developed that money and possibly property at the house turned-up missing following the raid,” the document obtained by The Boardman News says.
      Berarducci is now the police chief in Medina, Ohio and he told The Boardman News the raid of June 11, 1975 was the only time he ever worked with Swartz.
      “YPD Det. [Roger] Halbert warned me after that to never meet Swartz anywhere alone,” Chief Berarducci said last week.
      Swartz resigned from the Liberty PD in Jan, 1977 after the grant money funding his employment there expired. He had been considered for a full-time position in Liberty after the grant monies ran out, but the issues that surrounded him when he was employed with the Mill Creek and Youngstown Police Departments surfaced during routine background checks. At that time, Swartz was said to have returned to work at Ara Aluminum.
      Records available to The Boardman News show Swartz bonded out “from a charge” in El Paso, Texas in Sept., 1989, “where he had been jailed for over a month.”
      Gunnison County, Colorado Sheriff Rick Besecker told The Boardman News this week that a Kenneth F. Swartz, now 62, did have an arrest warrant on him issued Apr. 25, 1989 for burglary of a residence and theft of firearms.
      Sheriff Besecker said records in Colorado indicate that Swartz was picked-up on the warrant in El Paso, Texas where he apparently fought extradition.
      Records in Colorado about Swartz seem to end on May 22, 1990, when there is an entry noting “no further action, Sheriff Besecker said.
      According to a document obtained by The Boardman News, the warrant for Swartz in Colorado drew the attention of the Lt. Michael Landers of the Youngstown PD.
      “The Youngstown Police Department had placed a hold on [Swartz] for questioning and subsequently learned from the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office that [Swartz] was supposed to turn himself in there. He never did,” said the document.
      Chris Acosta, public affairs director for the El Paso County, Tex. Sheriff’s Office. told The Boardman News this week “a person by the name of Ken Swartz) was arrested on July 20, 1989 on a Fugitive From Justice warrant for a felony charge out of the State of Colorado. He was booked on $10,000 bond and released on a personal recognizance bond Aug. 22, 1989.”
      * * * * * * * * * *
      While Swartz was a ‘person of interest’ in Robek’s, May 31, 1974 disappearance, there have been a few reports that claim Robek is still alive.
      A member of the Boardman Road Department claimed he had heard a story that Robek was recognized at a roadway intersection in Arizona, but once seen, sped away.
      And there is a lone report that years ago, someone called Robek’s home on Amherst, asking “Dad, is that you?” Some suggest that call was made by the missing man.
      * * * * * * * * * *
      After 38 years, who is the unidentified man that called the Boardman Police Department at 3:00 a.m. asking about the May 31, 1974 disappearance of John Robek? Could that man hold the answer to the question of whatever happened to John Robek?
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