|This case has remained unsolved for 2 years, 5 months, and 14 days.|
It was June 23, 2021 when geologist Daniel Robinson drove off into the desert from a worksite in Buckeye, Arizona (AZ). It shouldn’t have been anything odd either for him to head out after work, but that was the last time he was seen alive. His family reported him missing that evening and police began searching.
About a month later, Robinson’s overturned Jeep was found, along with many of his personal possessions (wallet, cellphone, keys), but he has never been seen since. A private investigator discovered that the car had been driven over 11 miles from when the airbags first deployed.
According to the Robinson family, authorities have all but stopped searching for Robinson despite repeated pleas for additional assistance. David Robinson II has sought donations and put the money into search efforts to find his missing son, and yet several years later, we still don’t have any answers. What happened to Daniel Robinson?
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About Daniel Robinson
In 2021, Daniel Robinson was a 24-year-old geologist working in Arizona. He graduated from college in 2019 with a degree in geology and ended up moving to Phoenix, AZ for work.
Robinson oversaw many sites in remote desert conditions, but that apparently didn’t bother him at all. His father, David Robinson II, said of his son, “Daniel has an innate passion for adventure and is known to travel inopportune moments.”
According to his family, Robinson loved nature, adventure, and traveling, but he wouldn’t have just up and left without telling them where he was going. So why did this otherwise happy 24-year-old suddenly go missing?
The Day of the Disappearance
June 23, 2021 was supposed to be like any other day for Daniel Robinson. There are no reports that he was acting erratically or oddly at work. He was reportedly last seen that day heading away from a jobsite near Sun Valley Parkway and Cactus Road.
The next day, his family filed a missing persons report. According to the police report filed, Robinson’s father, David Robinson II, contacted the Buckeye Police Department (BPD) to say that he had not heard from his son since the previous morning and was not responding to texts from friends and family.
Responding officers then contacted missing Robinson’s workplace and spoke with some people there. The last person to have seen Robinson said that he was saying things that didn’t make much sense. The police report states:
“Daniel was saying things that did not make sense like asking if [coworker] wanted to go rest and then asked if he wanted to go to Phoenix to rest. [Coworker] advised that Daniel was not making sense with the things that he was saying and that he was talking about things that did not make sense.”Police Report (Source: News Nation)
After that, the officers said that they’d drive around the area to see if they could locate Robinson’s Jeep. Although the officers drove around “for hours” looking for Robinson, they were unable to locate him or his vehicle.
The Search Begins
Since Robinson went missing and was unable to be quickly located, the BPD used a number of different tools to help find him over the next few days and weeks, according to their reports. They used UTVs, cadaver dogs, and additional air support including a drone and a helicopter and searched over 70 square miles, but found no trace of him.
Robinson’s Jeep Found
On July 19, a month after Robinson went missing, his blue/grey Jeep Renegade was located in a desert ravine roughly two and a half miles from the worksite. The vehicle was found tipped over on its passenger side, almost like it had rolled and then landed on its side. Robinson’s keys, wallet, and cell phone were located inside the vehicle. Police reports state that no blood nor any other evidence of an injury were observed.
Investigators looked into the Jeep’s black box and found that after the airbags deployed, the Jeep was driven 11 additional miles with 46 ignition cycles. So who was driving the car after it had been involved in the crash? And why?
Authorities now believe that the vehicle might’ve been placed where it was ultimately found. Investigator Jeff McGrath said of the site: “That’s why I’m saying that vehicle did not crash here. Its last place of rest was here, but something was going on with that vehicle.”
Near the scene where the Jeep was found, some discarded clothing was also located by authorities. The police report states:
“Scattered up the western side of the hill were two (2) socks, two (2) boots, jeans, shorts, shirt, and an orange reflective vest. In the pants was a wallet with an Arizona Driver’s License belonging to Daniel Cornelius.”Police Report (Source: News Nation)
Why would Robinson have taken off his clothes and left them behind? It’s true that the Arizona deserts can get extremely hot, but it seems odd for him to have been in a car accident, then suddenly remove his clothes and wander off into the desert.
Human Remains Located
A few weeks later, human remains were located south of the area where the Jeep had been found. Although it was originally speculated that the found skull might’ve been Robinson’s, DNA testing proved that it was not. Other bones found during the investigation and searches turned out to be animal bones.
Troubling Texts Uncovered
During the police investigation, authorities uncovered texts from Robinson’s phone that were a bit troubling, with some dated from just a few days before he went missing. He reportedly met the woman while driving for Instacart, a grocery delivery service, and he ended up sending her a number of texts after being invited into her home for drinks.
However, things reportedly took a troubling turn in the days closer to Robinson’s disappearance. On June 20, the woman told Robinson via text, “Honestly you showing up at my house unannounced made me extremely uncomfortable.” And then a day after that, Robinson wrote back, “I’m outside of your place.”
After multiple texts to get Robinson to leave her alone, Robinson wrote in one final, bizarre text to her:
“The world can get better, but I’ll have to take all the time I can or we can, whatever to name it. I’ll either see you again or never see you again.”Daniel Robinson (Source: News Nation)
It’s not clear if Robinson was actually stalking the woman or if he was only pretending to. Either way, the behavior was troubling, and Robinson’s father said that he thought his son was in love with a woman “he didn’t know anything about.”
A Friend’s Account
According to the police report regarding the case, one of Robinson’s friends and coworkers had mentioned that Robinson had seemed unusual. “Something’s up with Daniel. Something’s not right. I need to talk to him,” the friend said, according to the report.
The friend also stated that Robinson had been acting strange, perhaps even bordering on paranoia. There was an incident in which Robinson cut off his hair when he had been trying to grow it out, then a discussion about miracles and whether the friend believed in them or not. That was strange because Robinson “had never really expressed any religious views to him.”
Criticism of Police Response
Robinson’s father, David Robinson II, has been publicly critical of the Buckeye Police Department’s efforts. He has temporarily moved from South Carolina to Arizona to help in the search for his son. He wrote in a Change.org petition:
“The Buckeye PD investigation has not gathered any evidence of their own. They are unwilling to move beyond their theory which leads to non-action on their part. This petition is another step in holding the Buckeye Police Department accountable to make sure this case is taken seriously.”David Robinson II (Source: Change.org)
Robinson II also claims to have found six sets of human remains searching in areas the police claimed to have already searched. Authorities have countered and said that any other bones found were animal bones.
BPD Chief Larry Hall has stated, “We are committed to finding Daniel Robinson. Our investigators are working tirelessly to find answers and bring closure to Daniel’s loved ones.”
Private Investigator Hired
The Robinson family hired a private investigator to look into the case more closely since they didn’t feel that the BPD was doing enough. Accident reconstructionist and private investigator Jeff McGrath was brought on to see if anything more about the scene could be deciphered.
Ultimately, McGrath concluded that the Jeep had been staged. He explained:
“This looked like a staged event to me. After the airbags came out, somebody turned that ignition over at least 46 more times. There’s an additional 11 miles on the car so that tells me the car was driven around after the crash.”Jeff McGrath (Source: 12News)
Disparities in Media Coverage
Some have pointed out that there was a lack of media attention focused on Robinson after he went missing whereas other missing persons (namely Gabby Petito) dominated the headlines for weeks on end. Robinson’s family has also publicly spoken out about the lack of investigation into his case.
Others on social media have been vocal about the attention (or rather lack thereof) that Robinson’s case received. Some have pointed out that this may be another case of Missing White Woman Syndrome — that is, the media tends to focus on cases where the victims are white women as opposed to people of color.
Missing White Woman Syndrome: Is it Real?
There may be some truth to Missing White Woman Syndrome. A 2016 Northwestern Law study using FBI data concluded that “Missing White Woman Syndrome is an empirical fact for abductees of all ages” and that white missing women tend to get more media coverage than other racial groups.
Others have hinted at Missing White Woman Syndrome being a real phenomenon. Danielle Slakoff, an assistant professor for criminal justice and the media at Cal State Sacramento, told news outlets:
“Research, including my own work, has shown that white missing women and girls do receive more initial coverage and they do receive more repeated coverage.”Danielle Slakoff (Source: New York Times)
Indeed, Black and Native American people make up a disproportionate share of missing persons as a percentage of the population. Data compiled from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center shows this disparity:
So, there may be some truth about Robinson’s case not getting the sort of coverage that Gabby Petito’s case got. In a perfect world, all victims would be valued equally and everyone would receive appropriate coverage in the case of a disappearance. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and Robinson’s case remains unsolved.
Theories on What Happened
There are a number of plausible theories in this case to look into, although there doesn’t seem to be a compelling amount of evidence pointing to one theory over the others at this point in time.
Foul Play was Involved Somehow
The fact that the Jeep’s ignition was attempted 46 times after the crash and that the car was driven an additional 11 miles after the airbags deployed is the evidence that many point to as being indicative that foul play occurred in Robinson’s case. His father, Robinson II, wrote:
“The evidence is clear that this should be changed to a criminal investigation because my private investigator found that my son’s vehicle was staged and that a possible crime had occurred.”David Robinson II (Source: Change.org)
Some have suggested that perhaps Robinson’s disappearance had something to do with the woman he’d been texting — that someone like her boyfriend or brother might’ve acted to get revenge. Or perhaps this was a random act of violence, with someone aiming to harm Robinson before driving his wrecked Jeep to another place to dump it.
Robinson Had a Mental Break
Some, like the authorities in this case, have suggested that mental health played a role in Robinson’s disappearance. However, family isn’t convinced, and openly stated that he wasn’t and had never been suicidal. (If you’re struggling yourself, please reach out to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.)
In a statement to the public, Robinson’s family has said that they weren’t aware that he was going through any mental health challenges:
“Neither my family nor the Buckeye Police Department are mental health professionals to be able to diagnose mental health conditions. However, Daniel never expressly communicated to the family that he was going through anything… We fervently believe if Daniel were indeed in crisis, our family would have been the first to know.”Robinson Family Statement (Source: Twitter)
Robinson had also made plans to meet up with his family in July, just a month away from the time he went missing. Why would a suicidal person make plans for the future? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it seems odd to make plans that you aren’t going to be around to participate in.
Robinson Started a New Life
Is it possible that Robinson ran off to start a new life? Robinson’s family doesn’t think so, and has repeatedly stated that they don’t think he just ran off. His father has said of his missing son, “He always communicates with friends and family about his travel plans.”
Additionally, even the police report stated that there was no indication that Robinson had planned for or packed for a trip at his apartment: “There was no indication of foul play and no indication that Daniel had packed and planned a trip.”
If Robinson had been planning to leave and start anew somewhere else, I believe there would have been more evidence found that supported that idea. Remember that he left everything behind, so how was he supposed to start a new life without anything?
What Do I Think Happened?
This is another one of those cases that seems to have many inconsistencies or odd pieces of evidence that need to be evaluated carefully. According to Robinson’s family, nothing was mentally wrong with him, but some of his friends and coworkers said that there were some strange behaviors. Although the car was found crashed, it was driven after the incident. Why? And did the near-stalking incident with the woman right before Robinson went missing have something to do with his disappearance?
Car Situation is Very Strange
I think it’s odd that the Jeep had driven 11 miles after the airbags deployed, and yet Robinson’s car was only found about 2.5 miles from where he’d last been seen. I know the locations probably weren’t a straight shot from one another, but where was the Jeep being driven that it ended up with 11 additional miles? Wouldn’t someone have seen a busted-up car on the road that had airbags deployed and contacted authorities?
From the police report, DNA swabs were taken from the Jeep (steering wheel, door handle, gear shift, etc.) and I’d be interested in hearing if the DNA all comes back to Robinson or not. If there is DNA in the car that can’t be explained (like one of his friends who might’ve borrowed the car), then there is likely more to this story and foul play could be involved.
On the other hand, if all the DNA comes back to Robinson, then it seems more likely that he was the one who crashed the car and then ended up driving it to the spot it was eventually found. Then again, it’s also possible that a perpetrator was wearing gloves and/or other protective gear in an effort not to leave their DNA behind.
Mental Health Likely Played a Role
Despite there not being a lot of evidence pointing to a poor state of Robinson’s mental health from his family, there are several strange situations that could’ve indicated there was a problem:
- Robinson saying odd things at work the morning he went missing, according to his coworker.
- A friend explaining that Robinson had been acting strangely in the days leading up to his disappearance: cutting his hair suddenly when he was trying to grow it out, asking about miracles when he hadn’t been religious before, wanting to get rid of items he liked.
- The clothes that were removed and left behind at the accident site that belonged to Robinson.
In some ways, this case reminds me of the Terrence Woods Jr. case I wrote about recently. It’s another case of a young black man who ran off and has never been found, and I speculated in that case as well that mental health troubles likely played a role in the disappearance.
If Robinson indeed suffered some sort of mental break, then it would make sense that he made plans to meet with his family the next month. After all, he wasn’t suicidal; something just snapped that morning and he drove off into the desert for whatever reason.
All that being said, just because someone has a mental health issue doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be searched for just like any other missing person. David Robinson II, Robinson’s father, has suggested that the BPD has ceased their search efforts because they think that his son had a mental break of some kind.
“Daniel’s mental health does not abate the Buckeye Police Department’s inactivity in this investigation,” Robinson’s family said in a public statement on Twitter, and I agree with that. Just because someone is suffering from mental illness does not absolve the BPD from trying to find Robinson, or anyone else.
That being said, all police departments have a limited budget in terms of time and finances, and they would rather invest those resources on other cases rather than searching for someone who got lost in the desert and is likely deceased (from their point of view).
The fact that the brunt of the search efforts have fallen on David Robinson II is an unimaginable burden for any parent to bear. I can only hope that Robinson is found safe at some point or, if that isn’t possible, that his remains can at least be returned to his family and loved ones.
Despite the relative newness of this case, there have been a number of updates and social media campaigns.
July 2021: GoFundMe Established
Daniel’s father, David Robinson II, set up a GoFundMe to try to raise funds to search for his missing son. As of writing, the campaign has nearly reached its goal of $350,000.
November 2021: More Human Remains Located
More human remains (leg bones) were located while searches for Robinson were carried out. However, the remains aren’t believed to be that of Robinson. Maricopa County officials stated:
“Based on anthropology’s indication of race and the postmortem interval (time outside), neither set of remains is believed to belong to missing geologist Daniel Robinson.”Maricopa County Officials (Source: 12News)
January 2023: #HikeforDanielRobinson
A hike for Daniel Robinson hashtag (#HikeForDanielRobinson) went around to try to raise awareness about his disappearance. His father wrote, “Daniel loved the outdoors, and what better way to show our love and support.”
February 25, 2023: Another Search Planned
According to the PleaseHelpFindDaniel website, there is to be another search carried out on February 25, 2023. Daniel Robinson II has invited law enforcement agencies to come and help search for his missing son.
Do You Have Information?
At the time of his disappearance, Daniel Robinson was 24 years old, 5’8 and 150 lbs. with brown eyes and black hair. He was born without a right hand. If you have information, please contact the Buckeye Police Department at (623) 349–6400.
Cold Case Questions
- Do you think mental health played a role in Daniel Robinson’s disappearance?
- What do you make of Robinson’s odd behavior before he went missing?
- Do you think this case will ever be solved?
Tell me your thoughts in the comment section below!
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