Robert Mayer woke up early on Friday, June 14th, 2013. He had to be out the door by 4:30 AM to drive to a job site in Brooklyn, about an hour’s drive from the Mayers’ house in Dix Hills, New York. In the quiet and dark, he got dressed and ready while his wife and kids slept.
He pulled on a pair of jeans and a gray collared polo shirt with the logo ‘J.G. Electrical’, and grabbed his lunchbox and car keys. He said his usual, quiet “goodbye, love you” to Ida, and stepped out the door of the house into the strange but pleasant stillness of pre-dawn.
It was just like every other morning.
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Ida Mayer called her husband around 9:00 AM that morning. It was going to be a big weekend, filled with the normal chaos familiar to any family with with kids. Their son, 15 years old, was playing guitar with his band on Saturday. Robbie had turned his son on to classic rock, and did a little drumming himself. He never missed one of his son’s concerts – he was extremely proud of his kids, and would need to get to the venue early to help set up the equipment as usual. And Sunday was Father’s Day. Ida and Robbie were doing a barbecue at their house. Robbie asked Ida to pick up some oysters – he loved manning the grill, and was looking forward to whatever sweet tribute the kids were planning for him.
“It was one of those conversations you have with your husband,” Ida told me. “You know – the usual thing, where I’m yakking away a mile a minute about what needs to be done, and Robbie’s going ‘okay, okay’ and ‘hang on, I can’t hear you’ because of how loud it always is at job sites.” Robert, an electrician who worked for the Local 3 union, was working on a theater being constructed in Brooklyn, and the noise of the equipment nearly drowned out Ida’s voice.
After a couple of minutes, the call dropped. Ida shrugged, and went about her morning busy routine, doing the thousand chores that always need to be done and re-done. They could always nail down the planning details after Robbie got home. He’d probably leave work early, since it was a Friday and there were so many things to do for the weekend.
But Robert was also a hard worker, very responsible – so Ida only really started to worry in the late afternoon. She kept watching for his car, a bright red 2004 Pontiac. Robert loved that car: “It’s the family first, and that car second,” Ida says. He was extremely careful about it. He kept it in great shape, used a club every time he parked it, and never left it in lots that didn’t have some kind of security.
Ida called Robbie’s cell again. This time, it went straight to voicemail. She tried a few minutes later – same result. Maybe he was stuck in traffic? She checked the street, watching for the flash of red.
Evening came, and night. Ida was now frantic with worry, which she tried as best she could to keep hidden from the kids, but they were smart and picked up on everything; they knew something was wrong.
Finally, around 1:00 AM on Saturday, June 15th, Ida called the cops and reported Robbie missing. That was almost exactly two months ago. Robert Mayer never made it back home, and his family has not seen him since.
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Calling Ida for this story was like opening a small window into a world nobody in their right mind would want to inhabit. When I asked for Ida Mayer, the voice on the other end of the call – a woman’s voice, even-toned and cautious – said: “Whom may I say is calling?”. After I told her my name, she said “This is Ida; hi, sorry, the phone’s kind of non-stop.” During our conversation, I heard people in the background – the Mayers’ friends, family, the kids – and Ida frequently had to pause to say goodbye to someone, or to answer a question from another person.
I’d researched the case, and had seen Ida’s many posts on the Robert Mayer Search Group page on Facebook. As she answered my questions, I realized how many times she must have to repeat the same information to different reporters; how much effort she puts into organizing and searching; the huge amount of self control it must take her to get through each day, keeping things as “normal” as possible for the kids; keeping up with the investigation; looking for clues. It’s a wonder she ever sleeps, I thought – but in her situation, sleep must seem like a luxury, only to be indulged in when truly needed.
What Ida and the kids need, more than anything, is information. The police have opened an investigation, and although they have said that they don’t currently believe foul play was involved, there are several very strange things about Robert Mayer’s disappearance. Here are the things that are known:
- Robert was seen at work in Brooklyn. He definitely made it there.
- His cell phone was last pinged at 1:45 PM, around Melville, just off the Northern State Parkway. Because it was the Friday before a busy family weekend, Ida believes he was probably on his way home early, as she’d expected.
- At 2:15 PM, Robert was seen at Arrow Scrap in West Babylon – about a 17-minute drive from Melville. He would have turned off the Northern State Parkway and taken a series of roads – Broad Hollow, Old Country, Pinelawn, Little East Neck – to get to Arrow Scrap, where he and other electricians occasionally go to sell junked scrap metal collected from job sites. Robert had been to Arrow Scrap before: “Not often,” says Ida, “but he went there a few times.”
- At 2:45 PM, Robert Mayer’s phone was either shut off, or it went dead.
- Robert’s cherished bright-red Pontiac was found by a friend of the Mayers’, at the Deer Park train station of the Long Island Rail Road line, seven and a half miles from the Mayers’ home in Dix Hills. Robert is a tall guy – over six feet. The driver’s seat was found moved noticeably forward from where Robert normally had it. The car was locked, but the keys were missing. The trunk, where Robert usually kept tools and other things, was empty. His lunch pail was missing, though there was a bottle of water on the front passenger seat. The car is currently being processed by investigators.
“There is no way he’d leave that car at the train station,” Ida says. “The lot at Deer Park has had a lot of car thefts and break-ins. He distrusted that lot in particular.” There are no security cameras at Deer Park train station. This also means there is no surveillance footage of Robert’s car entering the lot and being parked. No way to see who was driving it.
Just across Long Island Avenue from the Deer Park train station is the Edgewood/Oak Brush Plains Preserve. It’s a large area, over 800 acres of land covered by pine barrens: dense thickets of pitch pine and scrub oak, interspersed with stands of bigtooth aspen. Some of the area has been searched – at first by official teams with canine search units, now by search groups organized by Ida Mayer, friends, and supporters. So far, the dogs have not picked up Robert’s scent – not at Edgewood/Oak Brush; not at Deer Park train station. The canines were brought to the site of the abandoned Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, which adjoins the preserve, but found nothing. It seems the dogs have not yet been brought to Arrow Scrap.
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Looking at the area on Google Maps, you can trace the route Robert Mayer took to work in Brooklyn. On his drive home, the town of Melville, where his phone last pinged, is just off the Northern State Parkway. Robert would have turned South and followed the roads down to Arrow Scrap. The route from Arrow Scrap to the Deer Park train station, where his car was found, would require heading up the 495/Long Island Expressway; going over three miles PAST Dix Hills, where the Mayers’ home is located; then another three-plus miles South, down the Sagtikos Parkway; taking a right onto Pine Aire Drive, and driving another mile to the station.
Could Robert have driven to the station from Arrow Scrap? Maybe, but that idea stretches belief. Robert and Ida have been happily married for 18 years. They never spent a night apart in that time. Robert is an exceptionally good father, according to his family and friends. Well-liked in his community, he is one of those guys who gets along with most people. Hard working. Funny. Smiles a lot. Never misses a show when his son gets up on stage and plays the classic rock songs he loves; never took the train; never, ever would have left his car – practically a fifth family member – at the sketchy Deer Park station lot. With the driver’s seat scooted to a position that would have made driving uncomfortable, if you were a strapping guy over six foot tall. It just does not wash. And Ida, who knows Robert better than anyone, has a gut-deep certainty that something is terribly wrong here.
To get through each day and long night, in Ida Mayer’s situation, takes an amazing amount of stamina. Ida is uncomfortable with praise, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the stoic determination she shows. She even laughs, briefly, on the phone with me, as we bond over those typical husband/wife phone calls, where we blab our heads off about this or that errand that needs doing, while our husbands say “yeah, okay” once every few minutes or so. Talking to Ida on the phone just underscores how normal they Mayers are. There is no dramatic backstory here that would indicate any suspicion of Robert Mayer. His disappearance is like sudden rain out of a clear blue sky.
The kids’ friends have been great, and that helps. It also helps that so many people are starting to take notice of the situation: the Robert Mayer Search Group page on Facebook has over 2,000 members, and Ida has given interviews to a local CBS affiliate, to News 12 of Long Island, and to quite a few print journalists. She helps organize and conduct regular search groups of volunteers, who are methodically covering as much of the Edgewood/Oak Brush preserve as possible, and passing out the MISSING/REWARD fliers. Thanks to donors, there is a substantial reward – $10,000 – for information leading to Robert’s discovery. Ida Mayer juggles all this and her kids and chores with a kind of no-nonsense practical outward stoicism, though it’s clear she’s in a lot of pain and gripped by a need to know what happened to Robert.
Practically speaking, ‘courage’ is not the key word in a situation like this, though many have praised Ida’s courage, and I understand why they do. It’s one of the hardest truisms of life that when something horrible happens, life – difficult and hectic enough for most of us, particularly those with kids – doesn’t just politely stop and let you tackle the emergency issue. There are dinners to be made, clothes to wash, school events, activities; the thousand chores that need to be done and re-done. The word ‘courage’ implies choice. And what can Ida Mayer do but put one foot in front of the other, and keep going? She doesn’t exactly HAVE a choice, and – from what little I could glean of her personality from the phone – she’s not the type to complain or seek attention. Indeed, I got the feeling that one of the hardest things about this whole incident is how she’s been forced by circumstance to get as much attention as possible. “The donations to the reward – I don’t know.. it just makes me so uncomfortable to have to even ask,” she told me.
But this discomfort, too, must simply be dealt with, so that she and her kids have the best possible chance of finding out what happened. On the phone with me, Ida spent no time talking about her own feelings, but she choked up when I asked her how the kids were doing. “It’s very hard for them,” she said. “They’re so close to their father. They love him so much.
“Every day they ask me: Where’s Dad? When’s Dad coming back?” Ida says.
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