September 26, 2010

09/17/98: Robert Kovak, 24, Blacksburg, VA

Robert Kovak -
Missing since 1998
Robert Kovak is missing.

On Friday, September 17, 1998 Jacqueline Kovack tried to call her son Robert, a graduate student in architecture at the Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, but he wasn't home. She called again Saturday and made several more calls on Sunday, but he still wasn't home. When he missed his weekly Sunday night phone call to her, she became very worried.

On Monday morning, she learned that her son had left the Blacksburg campus on Friday (9/18/98) to head home to rural Rivesville, W.Va., for the weekend. His roommates said he left at approximately 5 p.m. and thought he might possibly be planning to attend a West Virginia University football game the following day. They said Rob had been packing clothing earlier when they left the apartment, and when they returned, they saw that the laundry hamper was gone and figured he had left. But Rob never called his parents to say that he would be coming home, and he never made it there.

The Search for Robert Kovak

Robert Kovak
Authorities retrace Kovak's steps

According to the Collegiate Times, at approximately 4:30 p.m., Robert Kovak was positively identified getting gas at the Wilco station on 825 N. Main St. Rob spoke briefly with the gas station attendant, telling him he was on his way home to visit friends. He paid for his gas with a check then took off in his red Geo Tracker, heading up Progress Street toward his Terrace View apartment in Blacksburg.

At 5:21 p.m. on September 18, 1998, video surveillance captured Robert Kovak withdrawing $80 from an ATM at the Freedom First Credit Union on South Main Street in Blacksburg, Virginia.
At approximately 5:45 p.m., Catherine Porzio, a fellow architecture student, saw Rob in Cowgill Hall. She was in the elevator, and as it stopped on the second floor, Rob stepped onto the elevator. Rob asked her how she was doing, but nothing further, then she exited on the third floor. Porzio said she was supposed to see Rob later that night at a party, but she heard through mutual friends that Rob would not be there. If her timing is accurate, this may be the last sighting of Robert Kovack.

Car found abandoned

Geo Tracker similar to Kovak's vehicle
Kovak's red soft-top 1992 Geo Tracker was found abandoned three days later (9/22/98) at the intersection of Lansing Road and U.S. Route 19 near Fayetteville in West Virginia, just beyond the New River Gorge Bridge.

It was the first vehicle he had purchased himself, and Kovak was known for keeping it clean and in immaculate condition. Yet, investigators thought the car was dusty and had not been cleaned for some time. There were no keys in the ignition, the driver's side door was locked, and the passenger's side was not. There were no signs of struggle or foul play in the vehicle. A slit had been cut into the soft-top canvas, near the passenger's side door, and an amplifier that had been in the rear cargo area of the vehicle had been stolen. The blue laundry hamper that Rob's roommate thought he took with him was also not there.

The crime lab processed the vehicle for clues, finding only one partial latent fingerprint and one palm print they couldn't identify. Police theorize that rafters on the New River had noticed the abandoned vehicle and cut a slit in the soft-top to unlock the passenger's side door. Police think they may have stolen the clothing and amp.

A resident of Craig County later reported finding an empty blue clothes hamper, missing its lid, on her property. The sheriff's department described the hamper to Robert's mother. She thought it sounded similar but did not think it belonged to Rob.

When the Tracker was discovered, it was out of gas, just two and a half driving hours from where he was last seen. The 4-wheel drive was engaged, which wouldn't have been need in the mild September weather on the highway.

The Tracker was found a half-mile past the nearest gas station.

Michael Kovak believes something happened to his brother in Blacksburg, and someone drove his car as far north as they could, using the 4-wheel drive so that the car would run out of gas quicker. The person wanted it to appear as though Kovak had run out of gas.

"This wasn't a stupid kid," Michael said. "This was somebody who was very smart, very intellectual, and had driven that same course multiple times. Anybody who has driven that stretch knows that if you don't have gas when you hit Fayetteville, you aren't getting any until you hit Mount Nebo, another 15 miles away."

And if witness reports are accurate, Rob's Tracker was not parked on the bridge immediately after he went missing. Rob's very good friend at college, Jason Yoho, grew up in Rivesville with Rob. The two friends had drifted apart but ended up reconnecting in college and were even roommates for a time. Yoho drove the same route that Rob was supposed to have taken, only 12 hours later. He told investigators he did not recall a vehicle parked where Rob's Tracker was found, and he could not recall a vehicle being there on his way back on Sunday.

A citizen of Morgantown, WV also called police to inform them that she and her husband had been traveling to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and had stopped at the Gorge Bridge between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. Shaffer told police that she always noticed vehicles parked on the side of the road, but she did not see the red Tracker that day.

Further search and investigation

Dog teams, whitewater rafters and National Park Service rangers helped in multiple searches of the vicinity of where Robert's car was found. Their searches included door-to-door visits to homes on Lansing Road and the Canyon Rim area. State police also conducted helicopter sweeps, and Rob's family and friends walked the area searching for clues. Nothing was found. The area is said to be an immense space near a national forest where search parties would have difficulty finding someone.

When investigators and family searched Robert Kovack's Terrace View apartment in Blacksburg, they discovered that his roommates had packed up nearly all of his things in boxes and taken apart his bed before it was ever inspected, despite direct requests from the Kovak family to stay away.

The police notice that most of Rob's personal items were still in his room. According to the Collegiate Times, his backpack, bike, unopened mail--including a bill for rent--shaving kit, toothbrush and toothpaste were found in the apartment. No architecture supplies were found, just a single pen and two stamps. his wallet and credit cards have never been found.

About Robert Kovak

Robert Kovak grew up in Rivesville, West Virginia, a small, rural coal mining town in the northern part of the state. He was described as modest, detail-oriented, dedication to getting things done, friendly, likable, sweet, and as being someone who would not back down from any situation, no matter how high the odds were stacked against him.

His brother, Michael, told the Collegiate Times, "Where we grew up, you held your own or got picked on. He was small and scrawny, but he was scrappy. He wouldn't take anything, despite the size difference. He would take his ass with him before he walked away." He added that his brother was "one of the nicest guys in the world, but if someone tried to pick a fight, I don't care if they were 500 pounds and 10 feet tall, he'd go," Michael said. "They might beat the hell out of him, but he wouldn't shy away."

Rob and his brother are just one year apart and always very close, getting together as frequently as they could, usually in the summer when school was out.

Kovak was a 1991 graduate of Fairmont Senior High School and had received his undergraduate degree at Fairmont State University in West Virginia near his home in Rivesville. Rob was then accepted into graduate school--the architecture program at Virginia Tech--where he then rose to the top of his class.

He loved Blacksburg and life at Virginia Tech, his first experience at a large university. In his free time, he played softball and went mountain biking. He enjoyed living so close to his classes and road his bike to class. He also loved that the school was still close to his home, so he could visit his family.

Robert Kovak is described as being 6'3" tall and 175 pounds with a slender build, dark hair, and frequently a goatee. His brother told the Collegiate Times that he looked like a typical, clean cut college student. Porzio, the last person to see him, said he was wearing blue jeans and a polo shirt. She told police that he looked exhausted, with "bags under his puffy eyes." He had also shaved his beard, something that, to her, made him appear heavier.

While Kovak did have $12,000 in credit card debt, police do not believe he committed suicide. The young man was nearing graduation and had been hired to work for Blackwood and Associates, an architecture firm in Richmond, VA, after graduation.

Unanswered Questions

Many questions have puzzled Kovak's family, friends and investigators.
  • Kovak must have been planning to go home since he packed his dirty clothes. But why didn't he call his family to let them know he was coming?
  • Why would he engage his 4-wheel drive? He was very familiar with how the 4-wheel drive system on his vehicle operated and would have known that he didn't need to use it. He also likely would have known that it would burn more gas.
  • Robert had just gotten gas at the Wilco station at 4:30. Why was he already out of gas?
  • Why didn't he stop at the gas station before Fayetteville? He had driven that route home many times before. He would have known it would have been his last chance to get gas for another 15 miles.
  • If someone had been trying to harm Robert Kovak, he would have fought back fiercely. Yet, there were no signs of foul play or struggle near his vehicle. Could this indicate that something happened to him elsewhere?  

If you have any information concerning this case, please contact: Blacksburg Police Department at 540-961-1150 or West Virginia State Police at 304-469-2915. Please refer to the Agency Case Number (6210-10254) when contacting any agency with information regarding this case.

Case Details
Name/age: Robert Leroy Kovak, 24
Last seen: 9/18/98, Blacksburg, Virginia
Date Of Birth: October 30, 1973
Physical Description: White male, 6'1-6'3"; 175-185 lbs, dark brown hair; brown eyes, wearing
blue jeans and either polo shirt or T-shirt and watch on left wrist.
Agency Case Number: 6210-10254

Fleming, Caleb. (2009, March 7). Decadelong disappearance. Retrieved September 9, 2010 from


Lisa said...

Robert sounds like a remarkable young man. We are holding onto hope that he will be brought home to his family so that they might receive some answers.

Devin said...

I agree 100 percent Lisa!
I have read through this case three times now and still don't know if I have all the particulars of the story right.
Prayers to all of these young mens' family and friends and hopes for the missings safe return!
Thanks for all of your very hard work on this blog!

Lisa said...

Thanks, Devin!

A lot of details were made available in this case, thanks to a very in-depth article published in the Collegiate Times. Be sure to check that out if you haven't read it yet; it was one of those rare times when I felt like we were hearing the full story. Yet, so many unanswered questions remain in Robert's disappearance. I imagine that his family is longing for answers.

If someone out there has information, it is time to come forward! Leave a tip with the Blacksburg Police Department at 540-961-1150 or West Virginia State Police at 304-469-2915 (Agency Case Number 6210-10254.)

osu11 said...

Sad to know he is still missing after all these years. Were his roommates investigated (most likely they were) but is sounds as if something happened to him maybe in the apartment. They then cleaned up, placing evidence and/or clothes/towels in the hamper taking it with them along with Robert.

They then took his vehicle, perhaps traveling off road (that's why was in 4-wheel drive) to dispose of him and the hamper. They may or may not have planned to run out of gas, maybe they did on purpose to make it look like Robert ran out of gas then had to walk to gas station, thus disappearing.

If he was planning on going home, and took his dirty laundry, then he would have almost certainly brought his personal items like shaving kit and toothbrush along too.

It was probably a made up story to say that he planned to go home, his parents didn't know and they felt he would have certainly called them to tell them he was coming. Something probably happened to him and the story was made up after the fact to explain why they hadn't seen him since Friday.

Too many things that don't fit.

Faithful Shepherd said...

How was Michael small and scrawny @ 6'1"-6'3" and 180+ pounds?

man♤77 said...

Today March 10 2016 a body was found near the bridge where Roberts car was found. I remember this case well, I live in the area and followed it closely. I always thought it sounded a little odd Porzio was told by the friends that he was going home. The Wilco station attendant said Rob said " he was going home to see (or hangout ) with friends, but didn't say what home or what friends. And the roommates had moved out his things before his car was even processed. I have thought about this all to frequently. I hope for the family that justice will come to those who are responsible. I thought about this case several times a year and today I would add my thoughts.

Unknown said...

Wondered the same thing

clm72 said...

They have found remains not far from where Roberts vehicle was located. His ID was there as well.,,20993180,00.html

conserveyourhearing said...

Body found march 2016