"We have Robert" warns $750,000 ransom note

A millionaire's son kidnapped, a wild ransom note and a family on the edge of terror

Just a week after Robert Wiles vanished, it was do-or-die time. The kidnappers ordered Tom Wiles to put the money in a box:
Obtain an item of luggage of the appropriate size and place in it $750,000...place the box unopened in your son's office.

Read the full ransom note

FBI agents rejected Tom's idea of using actual money. Instead, they filled the box with coffee - making sure it weighed the same as $750,000 in cash.

"We did in fact have a camera which was watching the package in Robert Wiles' office," Special Agent Dan Kelly explained. "We were able to monitor that 24 hours-a-day."

Operations manager Toby Holt, whose office was next to Robert's, was handpicked by Tom to help the FBI change the camera's videotape.

"We needed a person of trust within National Flight Services," Kelly explained."We had placed two SWAT team members in Toby Holt's office monitoring that package."

Out of sight but heavily armed, an entire SWAT was close by.

"Did it strike you as odd that whoever was behind this wanted the money brought back to what essentially would've been the scene of the crime?" Peter Van Sant asked Special Agent Jim Bucenell.

"Yes, it was very odd that somebody would want money placed inside of a locked building," he replied.

"Almost dumb in a way, isn't it?"

"Not very smart."

Everything was in place. Minutes, then hours, ticked by but nothing happened. Days passed without a word from the kidnappers.

"What was this doing to the family?" Van Sant asked Pamela Wiles.

"It affected all of us very differently," she replied. "I couldn't be the mother that I wanted to be because I was really - my priority was Robert at the time."

"To be honest, I felt a little neglected," Tierney Wiles said. "The repercussions left me in a pretty dark place my senior year of high school."

The Wiles' always had been a loving family, but now that reality was shattered.

"It's kind of like removing a single piece from the puzzle. It's Robert being gone. He was the glue. He wanted to keep us together...and he would hate this," said Tierney.

"My mom and my dad kind of split off and went to Florida to go search for Rob and then...my sister and I were kinda left behind," said Audra Wiles.

Tom and Pamela were determined to try everything - even going on national television and offering a $250,000 reward for any tips that led to Robert's whereabouts.

"We had several calls from psychics who pointed us in all kinds of different directions," said Bucenell.

"This guy called me in the middle of the night, a psychic, called me in the middle of the night and he said, 'I know where Robert is,'" said Tom.

The caller described a swampy area and said Robert was buried there in a shallow grave.

"We chartered a helicopter and the next morning, went out and we're talking to this guy on a cell phone in the helicopter and he says, 'Look for a backhoe, an abandoned backhoe," Tom explained. "Son of gun, there's an abandoned backhoe. 'Wow, this guy, this is for real,'"

Not quite. The information was later found to be bogus.

"Deep inside, I felt Robert was dead but I think as a mom...you just can't give up on your kids," said Pamela.

Was there a chance that Robert could still be alive? Well, there was a tip that came in from Robert's barber, Janie Beard.

"When I first heard he was missing, I said, 'Oh my God, he -- he actually did that? I can't believe he had the guts to go ahead and kidnap himself,'" said Beard.

Beard told FBI agents that she could not recall the exact date of the conversation.

"He was frustrated with his life and I said, 'Well, there's other jobs you could do. What do you wanna do?' He told me about the fishing and the captaining of the boat," she said.

Beard said that Robert had learned that his father carried a kidnapping insurance policy and that Robert seemed intrigued.

"He said, 'I could do that. I got some plans laid out for it,'" she said. "The last thing he told me when he left...he turned around with a solemn face and says, 'Please don't tell anybody I told you all this.'"

Family members say there is just no way Robert would ever be that selfish.

"It's just impossible. That's not the type of person he was. He's not someone who would just abandon his family, abandon his friends and just pick up and leave," said Tierney.

The FBI agreed and followed other, potentially more important, leads like one that came from Joel Valle, the owner of another airplane engine repair business. Valle and Robert were together the day before he disappeared.

Asked what it was like doing business with Robert Wiles, Valle told Van Sant, "Very nice. Very good...he wanted to bring fresh ideas to the company."

Valle and Robert had hatched a deal to partner with Tom's company. Steve Lindsey, who Valle considered a brilliant mechanic - would play a key role.

"We had already organized everything and Tom shut it down," Valle explained. "Tom Wiles told Robert no way he wants part of it. As long as Steve is involved he doesn't want any part of it."

Remember, years before, Tom had fired Lindsey because of his alcoholism.

"That was his last hope...his last chance to make something of himself," said Valle.

It was left to Valle to give Lindsey, who was dead broke and desperate for money, the devastating news.

"It's like the world just caved in on him and he just got this face of anger," Valle recalled. "I mean the rage in his face and his eyes...he said, you know, 'Tom is gonna know who I am. He'll pay for this one.'"

It wasn't long before the FBI questioned Valle about Robert's disappearance.

"They asked me if I knew anybody that was capable or willing to harm Robert Wiles," Valle explained. "I said, 'Steve Lindsey. Go on talk to him.' And they start calling him...He does not answer...and the FBI on the radio, it comes out, 'He's on the run.' I heard it right there and I just said, 'Wow.'"

Not only had Robert Wiles disappeared, but Steve Lindsey had vanished too.