On Saturday, March 16, 1995, six teenaged boys by the names of Jay Boyle, age 17; Chad Smith, age 18; Michael Cummins, age 17; Robert Rumbold, age 17; Jamie Lefebvre, age 17 and Daniel Higgins, age 17, did as many kids their age do and went to a big party in their hometown of Pickering, Ontario, in Canada. At around 12:50 AM the following day, the boys left the party and Jay would call his girlfriend, Monique Vavala, at around 1:50 a.m. to tell her that they were all heading out to goof around at the nearby Lake Ontario. At the time, she told him not to go and managed to convince him to promise to come home with Robbie and Michael, but they never did. In fact, none of them would ever come home again, and the six boys would go on to become a perplexing unsolved mystery that still has no concrete answers.
When the boys all failed to return home later that morning they were reported as missing and police began looking into it. Three of the boys were observed on video surveillance heading towards the Frenchman's Bay Marina, and it would turn out that they had apparently broken into two marinas and stole a four-meter imitation Boston Whaler, a three-wheeled paddleboat they boosted the night before, and a case of beer they found in another boat. Residents who were interviewed reported that they had heard the sound of a motorboat at around 2:30 to 3 a.m., but the boys were never seen again after this. Police immediately suspected that the boys had gone out for a drunken joyride out on the lake, and did not really take it very seriously at all at first.
At first it was thought that the boys would quickly be located, because two of them were experienced boaters, and when they hadn’t come back it was thought to be because the boat they had allegedly taken had only half a tank of gas. The worst case scenario at this point was thought to be that they had run out of gas and were bobbing around out there on the lake waiting to be found. It soon became apparent that this was not the case, they were nowhere to be seen, and soon police were taking it a bit more seriously, launching a massive search involving the Durham and Toronto Police, the Coast Guard, a Hercules C-130 aircraft, and a helicopter from the Canadian Forces base in Trenton. The intensive search turned up no bodies, no wreckage, and the only thing that was found was a gas can washed up on the beach near Wilson, New York, which was believed to have been stowed on one of the stolen boats. Nothing else was found, and as the weeks turned into months it was suspected that they had gone out on their drunken joyride and had at some point capsized.
Over the years there would be occasional leads that would emerge, mostly in the form of alleged sightings of one or more of the boys, but these ran into dead ends. It would not be until 1998 that the first real potential break in the case turned up, when a pair of distinctive red Levi’s jeans were found in the Niagara River near the water intake channel for Sir Adam Beck Hydro Generating Station. This was exciting because the missing Jay Boyle had been wearing red jeans at the time of the disappearance, but there was no way to prove they were his and it was thought to be unlikely that the boy’s body could have drifted there from the lake.
After this the case went completely cold, and authorities seemed satisfied to let it rest on the conclusion that the boys had simply capsized and move on, but there have been some rather curious findings in recent years since by private investigators. Ottawa-based private investigator Bruce Ricketts has been working on the case on a volunteer basis for years, and his investigation has painted a rather unsettling picture of evidence that was poorly analyzed, leads that weren’t followed through, and overall police incompetence and perhaps even a cover-up involved in the case, which he has made into a book titled The Lost Boys – What we Know and What We Believe. In Rickett’s opinion, Canadian authorities were too quick to jump to a conclusion and effectively close the investigation, and he has said:
At this time, based on limited and heavily redacted materials provided by Durham Police, we cannot conclude that the boys stole a boat or drowned in the lake. There is no concrete evidence to support that theory. The truth is that we do not know what happened or where. Nor do we know the fate of the boys.
Rickett believes the authorities bungled the case from the beginning, starting with their slow response to launch an official search. He also thinks that the gas can that was found did not belong to the boat that the missing boys were on, saying it would have been impossible for it to drift from where the boys were to where it had been found unless the boys went out into the lake and up towards Toronto, which he finds unlikely. Since it was also found without a cap, he also thinks it would have likely flipped over and sunk. He also questions the surveillance footage taken at the marina, pointing out that the video clearly shows only three of the boys – Cummins, Lefebvre and Rumboldt – at the marina, but it also shows other people – both before and after the appearance on the video by the youths –none of which showed up on Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) reports or were really looked into at all. Indeed, he was initially told by police that the video did not even exist at all, and he only finally got access to a heavily redacted version of it after numerous Access to Information and Privacy requests (AITP). This is only one instance of many in which Rickett claims he was met with uncooperativeness and straight up stonewalling by Canadian police. Rickett also found it odd that there had apparently been little coordination between the DRPS, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Toronto Provincial Police (TPP), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Toronto Police Marine Unit. Rickett explains of this and some of the jerking around he has experienced looking into the case:
The OPP response was that no files exist with respect to this case. That is possible as we can find no reference to the OPP being asked to support this case. However, we find this rather puzzling, as a 25 mile radius (the maximum distance for travel ascribed to the Boston Whaler, given the gas volume estimated) from Pickering could have taken the boat outside of the jurisdiction of the DRPS. The RCMP responded with the comment that they searched their records, and no files were found. This is odd, in that the potential search area crosses the international border. Again, we can find no record of DRPS requesting assistance from the RCMP.
On 1 May 2021, I requested, through ATIP, copies of communications between TPS and DRPS with respect to the 1995 case. The intent of the request was to fill in the gaps in the investigation by DRPS. The request was refused based on … Presumed Privacy. I appealed the refusal to the Information and Privacy Commission (IPCO) who tried to mediate between me and TPS. The result was negative. However, on 25 January 2022, TPS issued an Amended Decision Letter which amended their first reply citing privacy and instead stated: “a thorough and complete search… failed to locate any records responsive to your request.” I immediately amended my complaint to IPCO to include the question of TPS’ honesty in processing my ATIP in that they first stated a privacy issue and then amended it to say there was no records found. Why the contradiction?
Even more unbelievable is that he would find that police had actually found a piece of bone in the red jeans that they had kept secret for years, with Boyle’s family not even knowing about it until 2013. It took numerous requests and a lot more being jerked around before being told that the reason the bone had not been investigated previously was because the box containing the bone had been “misplaced” during a renovation. Niagara Police finally agreed to send the bone to the Ontario Coroner’s Office for DNA analysis, and came back to say that there was no match. Rickett does not buy this, and thinks it is more incompetency or conspiracy. He has continued to search for answers and launch his requests, but has not come any closer to truly cracking the case. What happened to these boys? Where did they go and what is the meaning of all of the odd clues? We may never know for sure.