A Mother’s Breakdown: The Disappearance of Timmothy Pitzen

On the morning of May 11, 2011, Timmothy Pitzen was in a good mood when his father dropped him off at kindergarten. The 6-year-old was full of energy and loved playing with the kids in his class. The students and teachers in his Aurora, Illinois elementary school adored Timmothy; he was friends with everyone and really enjoyed learning, which set him apart from most of the kids his age.

Timmothy Pitzen / Timmothy Pitzen / Timmothy Pitzen, Amy Fry-Pitzen / Jim Pitzen, Timmothy Pitzen, Amy Fry-Pitzen.

Source: YouTube

As he jumped out of the car, he told his dad he loved him and swung his Spiderman backpack as he walked toward the school entrance. Jim Pitzen watched his son walk into the building before he drove away. The loving father had no idea that his biggest nightmare was about to come true.

Just an Ordinary Day

When Timmothy’s dad dropped him off at school that day, he didn’t realize it would be the last time he would ever see his son. Less than an hour after her husband dropped Timmothy off, Amy Fry-Pitzen showed up at the school. She told the faculty that there was a family emergency, and she came to pick up her son.

A footage of Amy Fry-Pitzen picking up Timmothy from school.

Source: YouTube

She signed Timmothy out at 8:30 a.m. The surveillance camera from the school showed the mother and son walking through the lobby and out the front door. Timmothy had his backpack on and held on to his mom’s hand. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?

Playing Hooky!

After picking up her son, Amy drove to La Grange, Illinois, about 30 miles east of Timmothy’s school. Once there, she went to an auto repair shop and dropped her Expedition off for maintenance. Instead of sitting around waiting for the car, Amy asked a worker at the shop to drop her and Timmothy off at the Brookfield Zoo nearby.

Exterior view of the repair shop.

Source: Office space

They seemingly had a wonderful day. They went through the entire zoo and spent hours looking at all the animals and exhibits. Then, at around 3:00 p.m., they went back to the auto shop to pick up the car.

Pick Up Time

That afternoon, Jim Pitzen arrived at the school to pick up his son. He was incredibly confused when the staff notified him that Amy had signed him out that morning due to a family emergency. He saw his wife before she went to work that day, and everything was fine, definitely no emergency.

Parents inside their cars wait in line to pick up their kids.

Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Naturally, he called Amy frantically, but it kept going to voicemail. He didn’t know what to do, so Jim just headed home while continuously calling Amy’s phone, desperately trying to reach her. He was just praying that she would pull into the driveway with Timmothy have a very good explanation.

Amy Had Other Plans

But Amy had no intention of going home. After leaving the auto repair shop, she drove about 45 miles north to Gurnee, Illinois, where she took her son to the Key Lime Cove Indoor Water Park and Resort. The two slept there on Wednesday night and checked out the next morning.

Timmothy slides down the water slide.

Source: Facebook

Then, their journey continued 170 miles to Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, and they spent the night at the Kalahari Resort. Once again, they checked out the following morning at 10:10 a.m. At that point, Amy finally called her mom to let her know that Timmothy was okay.

She Reassured Family That Everything was Fine

Amy insisted that she just wanted to get away for a day or two; she really needed a break from everyone and everything but would come home soon. She continued to ignore Jim’s calls, but she decided to call her brother-in-law to let him know that Timmothy was safe. She didn’t want anyone to worry.

Amy and Timmothy pose for a picture.

Source: Tumblr

Late Friday night, Amy checked into a hotel in Rockford, Illinois, only this time, she was alone; Timmothy wasn’t with her. The next day, the hotel staff made a gruesome discovery in her room: Amy’s lifeless body. She had committed suicide.

Where Is Timmothy?

There was no sign of Timmothy or any of his stuff in her hotel room. Her cellphone was missing, and so were the clothes she wore when she picked up Timmothy from school that day: brown capri pants, a light pink shirt, and sandals.

A portrait of Timmothy smiling.

Source: Tumblr

She did leave a suicide note behind, but it only raised more questions. It said that Timmothy was “with people who love him and will care for him… you’ll never find him.” When Jim Pitzen found out that his wife had taken her life and Timmothy was missing, he was in complete and utter shock.

A Shocked Husband and Father

He had already reported them missing that Thursday morning but relaxed when some family members spoke to her. Now, he was trying to understand what she had done. Amy had her share of depression in the past, but once she began taking medicine, she seemed to be doing well.

Jim Pitzen speaks in a televised interview.

Source: NBC News

She had at least one previous suicide attempt, but she never actually harmed herself. After getting in an argument with her second husband, she parked on some train tracks. She claimed she wanted to get hit by a train, but she drove away before the train came.

Amy’s Unstable Behavior

From the train tracks, she drove straight to the psychiatric hospital and checked herself in for a week. She was put on antidepressants which helped her a lot. She was feeling better, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to save her marriage.

A picture of Amy and Timmothy at a restaurant.

Source: Tumblr

Amy wasn’t really lucky in the love department; Jim was her fourth husband, and Timmothy was her first child. There was nothing she loved more than being a mother. Jim called her an amazing mother who was totally dedicated to their son; that didn’t mean the marriage wasn’t rocky, though.

Just Your Usual Relationship Problems

Jim acknowledged that the couple had been arguing, and things only got worse when Amy went on a cruise without him. However, they didn’t take any steps toward divorce. Amy mentioned the possibility of separation but then decided to make her marriage work.

A family picture during a day trip.

Source: CNN

She was terrified that a divorce might cause her to lose custody of Timmothy because of her mental health. She made it incredibly clear that she wasn’t going to allow her son to be taken away from her. There were so many unanswered questions. The chances of finding Timmothy were slim, considering the last person to see him was dead.

Did Amy Kill Him?

Police asked Jim if there was any possibility that Amy would have killed Timmothy before killing herself? But Jim absolutely refused to believe that she was capable of doing something like that. Amy’s family and friends all agreed with him.

A family portrait from the Pitzen’s.

Source: YouTube

Sure, she had mental issues, but no one believed she would murder her own child. In fact, they all believed that Timothy was safe. As she clearly wrote in her suicide note, Timmothy was safe and with people who are taking care of them. Now, all they had to do was find him.

Tracing Her Steps

When investigators reviewed Amy’s credit card purchases, they were somewhat optimistic. On Thursday morning at 11:15 a.m., Amy bought children’s toys and clothes from a store in Racine, Wisconsin. None of the purchases were found in her car or hotel room.

A video still from Amy and Timmothy at a check-out line in the hotel.

Source: YouTube

Timmothy’s Spiderman backpack and his car seat were also missing. It led to the assumption that maybe Amy left these items with the people taking care of Timmothy. It seemed to be the only reasonable explanation. Nevertheless, investigators launched a massive search from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa, looking for the six-year-old.

Let the Search Begin

The last calls made from Amy’s cell phone on Friday came from the Sterling, Illinois, area. That’s where the search began. Posters of Timmothy were put up, and residents were asked to keep their eyes open for the missing child. Investigators even conducted grid searches in the hopes of finding Timmothy’s belongings.

Close-up view of a woman talking on a mobile phone.

Photo by Dave Thompson/PA Images/Getty Images

They later found out that Timmothy’s car seat was not in the car when Amy drove off with him that day. She actually left it at her mother’s house the last time she watched Timmothy. This didn’t exclude the possibility that Timmothy was safe and being cared for, but Amy clearly wasn’t too concerned about his safety on the road.

Have You Seen This Child?

Obviously, Jim and the rest of the family were terrified but hopeful that he would be found soon. If Amy really did leave him with a friend, they would have likely come forward after seeing all the headlines and news coverage about Timmothy. The missing child got a lot of media attention.

Timmothy Pitzen’s Missing handout.

Source: Aurora Police Department Illinois

Jim also made a public plea, begging the person who had his son to take him to a nearby police station so that he could be reunited with his family. His heart stopped every time the phone rang, as he prayed to hear someone tell him that Timmothy was safe and coming home.

What Happened to Timmothy Pitzen?

As days turned into a week, law enforcement wasn’t as optimistic about finding the missing child alive. They followed up on multiple leads, some as far as Maine, but nothing led them to Timmothy. Detectives tried to reconstruct Amy’s whereabouts based on her cell phone records and credit card statements to maybe get a better understanding of where she could have taken her son.

A portrait of Timmothy Pitzen smiling.

Source: Facebook

After using her cell phone in Sterling for hours, Amy stopped at a grocery store roughly 50 miles away in Winnebago. Timmothy was at the food store with her. With no idea where Amy might have stopped in between, detectives were left with a massive area to search.

That Doesn’t Mean She Killed Him

Once forensic tests were done on Amy’s Expedition, police were even less optimistic about Timmothy’s chances of being alive. There was a considerable amount of blood that was identified as Timmothy’s found in the backseat. But the family refused to believe the worst and hung on to any shred of hope. Blood doesn’t necessarily mean death, right?

A video still of Amy entering alone to a store.

Source: YouTube

Plus, Timmothy would often get nosebleeds, and since forensic experts weren’t able to determine how long the blood had been there, Jim was certain it was from one of his son’s nosebleeds a few months prior.

Amy’s Car Was Found Dirty

When the Expedition was found, it was extremely dirty; soil and vegetation samples were taken from it and sent for analysis. If the detectives could figure out exactly where the plant matter was from, it would definitely help narrow down the search area.

Amy Fry-Pitzen’s SUV.

Source: YouTube

It was established that Amy drove her vehicle onto a gravel road, then backed up into an open field filled with plants like black mustard and Queen Anne’s lace. With that, investigators concluded that the location was most likely in northwestern Illinois. Finally, they had something to work with.

What the Heck Was in Sterling?

Police couldn’t figure out what Amy would be doing in the Sterling area. They found absolutely no connection between Amy and anyone there. Plus, her family said she’d never been there before and doesn’t know anyone in or around Sterling. But something had to have drawn her to that area…

A welcoming sign to Sterling city.

Source: Pinterest

Investigators looked through Amy’s cell phone records, financial statements, and email account, hoping for a clue, but once again, they found nothing. They did, however, uncover a secret email account that Amy had. Nevertheless, computer technicians said there was nothing incriminating in there, and most of the 32 emails were just spam.

More Useless Evidence

Amy had an I-PASS account which automatically paid for tolls on Illinois highways. The transponder was missing when police recovered her Expedition, but they managed to gain access to her account records. Luckily, these records showed detectives all the tolls she had driven through.

An EZ-Pass inside a car.

Source: Tumblr

Police were stunned to find out that she made a couple of previous trips to the Dixon-Sterling area in the months leading up to Timmothy’s disappearance. She drove over there on February 19 and went again on March 20. This is a four to five-hour trip just to get there before taking the same long drive back.

A Meticulously Planned Kidnapping?

Amy’s relatives were just as shocked as the detectives were. They were totally unaware that Amy had taken these trips to Sterling and couldn’t think of a possible reason for her to go there. With no explanation, it became clear that whatever Amy did with Timmothy wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. She planned this.

A search team looks for Timmothy.

Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty Images

It looked like she arranged to drop Timmothy with someone who lived around there. Or maybe she was looking for a place to hide a body. Anything was a possibility at that point. Search teams covered more than two dozen sites but didn’t find anything to help the investigation.

A Huge Piece of Evidence

When October 2013 rolled around, a woman went to the police station to turn in Amy’s missing cell phone. She randomly found it thrown on the side of a road, just north of Mount Carroll, Illinois. Amazingly, she found it two years earlier but didn’t connect it to the missing child’s case.

A police detective talks about the case.

Source: ABC News

She kind of forgot about the phone for a while but remembered when her brother needed a new cell phone, so she gave it to him. He plugged it in, and once it was charged, he saw the contacts list and recognized it as Amy’s phone.

Has Timmothy Pitzen Been Found?

Yet, again, they got no new leads. The phone didn’t bring them any new information regarding the case. However, they continued to follow up on every tip they received, but eventually, the case went cold. But in April 2019, the case made national headlines.

A view of Newport, Kentucky streets.

Source: YouTube

A disheveled man in Newport, Kentucky, told police officers that he was 14-year-old Timmothy Pitzen. He said that two men had been holding him captive in an Ohio Red Roof Inn, and he finally managed to escape. He described the men to SVU and told police where to find them.

Just an Imposter

Two Aurora investigators were told to interview the disheveled man, but they were a little skeptical of this return story from the beginning. Something felt off. He wouldn’t let them take his fingerprints, but he did agree to take a DNA test to confirm that he was, in fact, Timmothy.

A man is wandering a Kentucky neighborhood.

Source: ABC News

Newspapers and media outlets all across the country covered the story. The headline of a missing boy found after eight years in captivity is gold for the press. Unfortunately, Timmothy hadn’t be found. It didn’t take long for detectives to identify the man as 23-year-old Brian Rini, a convicted criminal from Medina, Ohio.

Not the Smartest Criminal

This man’s DNA was already in the system due to his felony convictions, so it was really easy to discredit his story and confirm who he really was. He was just released from jail a month earlier, after serving a sentence for burglary. When he got caught, he told investigators why he pretended to be Timmothy.

A mugshot of Brian Rini.

Source: Belmont Correctional Institution

Rini admitted that throughout the years, he saw television interviews with Pitzen and decided that he wanted a father like that. So, of course, he did what any rational person would do: pretend to be his missing son.

The Hoax Made Headlines

As you can imagine, the Pitzen family was crushed. And Rini wasn’t able to comprehend the pain and heartbreak he brought the family, who had been on a devastating emotional roller coaster for years. Naturally, he was charged with identity theft and lying to federal authorities—another wonderful addition to his criminal resume.

A picture of Jim and Timmothy smiling in a car.

Source: YouTube

Ironically, the story about this man who constructed this elaborate hoax got more coverage and attention than Timmothy’s initial disappearance. Unfortunately, the increased publicity didn’t help find Timmothy, and soon enough, the case stalled again.

Jim Believes Timmothy Is Alive

Jim Pitzen refuses to believe that Timmothy is dead. He feels like his son is alive somewhere, and unless a body is found, the family will continue to hope and pray. Faith is the only thing they have left to hold on to. Detectives also hope to crack the case one day and bring much-needed closure to the Pitzen family.

Jim speaks in a televised interview.

Source: CBS News

The MCMEC periodically creates updated age progressions of Timmothy, hoping that someone out there will recognize him and call authorities. This case is absolutely insane! But the craziest part is that they really have no idea where Timmothy could be.

Still Missing…

Did Timmothy’s mentally unstable mother harm him? Or did she really arrange for someone to take care of her beloved son before taking her own life? This case is incredibly frustrating because there are a lot of factors and information, but none of it has led to Timmothy’s location. The case remains unsolved.

A picture of Timmothy.

Source: Facebook

“Timmothy Pitzen was six years old when he went missing in 2011. He has brown hair and brown eyes, and at the time of his disappearance, he was 4 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 70 pounds. He was last seen wearing blue or green shorts, a brown T-shirt, and white socks. He was carrying a Spiderman backpack. If you have any information about Timmothy, please contact the Aurora Police Department at 630-256-5000.”

The Theories

Jim Pitzen thinks back to the last time he saw his precious son, that fateful day he dropped him off at school. In 2015, Jim told PEOPLE that he saw Timmothy approaching his teacher in “this little waddle run, like a chubby old man.” He added, “I told him I loved him and to be good. And then he was gone.”

Father drops son at school.

Source: YouTube

I can’t even imagine the anguish of dropping my child off at school one day and never seeing them again. But the part that really baffles Jim is his wife’s behavior. What the heck was she doing? And what was her motive? Here are the theories.

Amy Had a Mental Break

We know that Amy and Jim had their share of issues, but don’t all marriages? Would that really cause a person to kidnap her son, kill herself, and then leave her child with a stranger instead of his father? Obviously, something more sinister was going on here.

The entrance to the psychiatric emergency services.

Photo By Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

We know she had some mental problems, but don’t we all? Many people deal with anxiety and depression, but it doesn’t make them kidnap their own child from school? Plus, she was taking her medicine which is known to help treat mental instability. However, it doesn’t always work.

Everything We Know

Based on the information we have, it’s safe to assume that Amy was having a mental breakdown. After picking up Timmothy, Amy turned off her phone, seemingly because she didn’t want to be tracked as Jim kept calling her. But why wouldn’t she answer him? Whether they had problems or not, they shared a son. Plus, according to Jim, things between him and Amy were totally fine that morning.

Close-up view of a woman talking on a mobile phone.

Photo by Dave Thompson/PA Images/Getty Images

Perhaps she didn’t want police to trace her steps either… And it kind of worked. On the third day, she briefly emerged, ignoring Jim’s messages but calling her brother.

A Mother’s Disturbing Suicide Note

On that third day, she also called the police to notify them that neither of them was missing and that Timmothy was perfectly fine. From the moment she picked up Timmothy from school, everything she did was irrational. And the suicide definitely points to some sort of mental break.

Amy’s suicide note.

Source: YouTube

Amy’s lifeless body was found in her Rockford hotel room with self-inflicted slashes to her wrists and neck, but her family members insisted that she would never have done that to Timmothy. Perhaps the most chilling part of this unsolved case is the suicide note Amy left behind.

You Will Never Find Him

After her phone call to the police, Amy’s movements evaporated. But when she was found dead later that day, the unsettling suicide note raised a ton of questions and concerns. She said that Timmothy was “safe” and being taken care of. “You will never find him,” she added.

A picture of Amy and Timmothy.

Source: Tumblr

Sadly, her dying words were an accurate prediction. Jim still doesn’t think his wife would have harmed their child. “A lot of people think she killed him,” Jim explained to PEOPLE. “But she loved that little guy so much. I can’t see her killing him. I just can’t.”

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