Arizona Vanishing: What happened to Randy Doyle Parscale Jr?

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Randy Doyle Parscale, Jr. was born on Jan. 13, 1969, to Randy Parscale Sr. and Peggy Parscale, now Foley. They divorced not long after his birth.

Randy resided with his father and stepmother, Naomi Parscale, at 4622 E. 31st St. He attended third grade at Roberts Elementary School. 

Randy has been described as “loving” and “affectionate,” who thought “he was strong like the Incredible Hulk,” according to his stepmother, Naomi Parscale. He was a “loner” who liked to “do things on his own.” 

The girls in his classroom thought he was the “second cutest guy,” who loved to make his fellow students laugh. 

Randy had a rough spell with his academics and behavior, but he worked hard to improve both. As a reward, he was set to be named “Citizen of the Week,” a high honor among third graders because it required positive behavior for nine weeks. Unfortunately, Randy never received the reward.

On Saturday, April 7, 1979, Randy, 10, his father, grandfather, uncle, and two siblings visited Peppersauce Canyon, a few miles southeast of Oracle in the Santa Catalina Mountains. 

The group spent the day rock-collecting but eventually grew tired of the activity. Randy’s grandfather, Walter Guthrie, reclined in the shade. Randy and Robert, 11, asked Guthrie if they could go on a hike, something Randy had never done. 

“Yes, but be careful,” Guthrie replied. Randy’s father and sister stayed behind with Guthrie, but the boys’ uncle went along. 

The climb was challenging and steep, with cacti, loose rocks, and shin daggers concealed among the scrub oak and pines. Robbie received thorns in his foot, and the boys’ uncle stopped to help, but Randy was impatient.

“Come on,” called Randy.

Randy began racing up the mountain, and his family yelled for him to stop, but he kept going.

Robert told the Tucson Citizen in 1983: “All I can remember is Randy going around that turn and not seeing him again. That really freaked me out.” 

Randy was last seen about 200 yards from a campground at the canyon’s mouth alongside the old Mount Lemmon highway.

When Naomi Parscale received word from Randy’s father that the boy was missing, she and Foley and one of Randy’s grandmothers rushed to the canyon to help search for him. As they neared the area where he vanished, they saw a black Ford Mustang quickly drive by but thought nothing of it at the time. Their primary thought was the driver was going too fast for road conditions. Later, campers said they had seen Randy talking to the man driving the car, and the man had camping gear with him. 

A witness reported seeing a boy matching Randy’s description at 5:30 p.m. on April 7. The boy appeared to be hitchhiking. If he was Randy, the boy was heading into the mountain instead of away from it.

A rescue squad of approximately two dozen people, including some on horseback, and tracking dogs, searched for nearly six days.

The party scoured the rugged terrain, caves, and old mine shafts and performed aerial searches.

Searchers found footprints that led to a dirt road where they suddenly stopped, suggesting Randy might have entered a vehicle at that point. Police and Randy’s father were skeptical the prints belonged to the boy.

“He was wearing a shoe with a large tread pattern and exaggerated waves from side to side,” said Chuck McHugh in 1983. McHugh coordinated the search and rescue efforts for Randy. A search party member wore similar shoes as Randy, and the tracks might have belonged to him.

Temperatures dipped into the 40s. There are many water areas in the canyon, so police believed Randy could have survived on his own for a few days if he was still there and uninjured. 

But a couple of days later, snow and 55 mph winds impacted the search, and temperatures dropped to the 30s. Tracking dogs trained for searches in wilderness areas were used. The handler said if Randy had still been in the canyon, the dogs would have found him, and they did not. 

Police called off the search after five and a half days and had no new leads to investigate. The search cost a total of $50,000. The case was then handed over to Detective Tom Rankin of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department. 

During the grueling hunt for Randy, one of the searchers, Manuel M. Navarro, 49, died of a heart attack on the fifth day of searching.

Randy’s family believed the boy left the canyon with someone who abducted him. If he had been in the mountains, searchers would have found him. While Randy had been known to run away before, there were no signs that he was unhappy and would do it again.

There was only one real clue that might have explained what happened to him. During the search, a male camper told authorities that Randy had stopped by his campground.

“He said it was sometime in the late afternoon when it was starting to get cool,” Randy Parscale Sr. said in 1989. The man vanished before investigators were could properly interview him.

According to the Tucson Citizen, “police had a license plate number for the camper that was issued in Arizona but the car for which the license was issued turned up in a wrecking yard in California.” They never found the camper.

Police performed another search for the boy in early May 1979 after a hunter reported previously unknown and treacherous terrain at Peppersauce Canyon, the Arizona Daily Star reported. The search was unsuccessful. However, Rankin found two women and three children who saw Randy after his family reported him lost. Nothing further came from the tip.

Police used several psychics in a desperate attempt to find the young boy. All of them said Randy was dead, and each one gave a different location for his remains.

On July 4, 1985, a West Virginia woman found a cryptic message written on a dollar bill she’d received in change: “I’m alive in Phoenix, Arizona. Help me. Randy Parscale.” She reported it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, established the year before. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Department could not track down the lead or determine whether Randy had written it. Randy would have been 16 in 1985.

In 1989, Randy’s father received word that a man in Phoenix was using Randy’s Social Security number. The man was working at a construction site, but when Parscale drove there, he discovered the man no longer worked at the site. The man fit Randy’s description, but investigators never located him. 

There were a few theories in the days after the boy vanished.

  • Randy became lost and died in the canyon.
  • He ran away.
  • Someone kidnapped him, possibly a person who knew him.
  • Someone was holding Randy somewhere for ransom money.

Police never found Randy Parscale, Jr.

“Unsolved Mysteries” showed interest in Randy’s case years ago and traveled to Tucson to interview his stepmom and brother. However, producers later chose not to do the segment, saying the case was too old.

On the 21st anniversary of his disappearance, Randy’s biological mother Peggy Foley, her daughter Pam Brume, then 33, and other family and friends gathered at the Children’s Memorial Park in Tucson to bid a final farewell to Randy and admit it was finally time to move forward. Randy was Foley’s only son.

Brume told the Tucson Citizen that shortly before the memorial service, a former Salvation Army counselor said to her that Randy’s disappearance became a campfire legend that started the summer after his disappearance.

According to Brume, it was the tale of a boy who wandered off and vanished while playing amid the trees. During the story, the young campers “observed a unique butterfly shape in a clearing near the camp and started calling Randy the Butterfly Boy.”

From that moment on, they regarded Randy’s disappearance as a warning not to wander off alone. The legend brought some comfort to Brume and Foley.

The last interview Foley appears to be in May 2010 and coincided with Missing Children’s Day. Randy’s family has always believed someone abducted him from the canyon that day.

His father died on Jan. 5, 2003, at age 59. The rest of his family still reside in the Tucson area.

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

Randy’s disappearance is strange to me. He literally vanished into thin air. He wandered a little further ahead of his brother and uncle, and poof! Then there was no sign of him whatsoever.

Now, we could look at it as maybe Robert and the uncle were not entirely telling the truth. How did Randy vanish within a short amount of time without Robert or the uncle seeing or hearing anything?

Maybe Randy ignored their calls for him, continued walking away, became lost, and then someone abducted him.

The abduction theory makes the most sense. 1) The searchers said if he had still been in the canyon, they would have found him. 2) The driver of the black Mustang is suspicious to me. He seemed in a big hurry to leave the area.

There are also the sightings of Randy in the canyon the day he disappeared. One person saw a boy resembling him hitchhiking into the mountain instead of away from it. That might suggest he was trying to get back to his family, but the wrong person offered him a lift. 

Then, the mystery man claimed to see Randy near his campground and apparently disposed of his car and camper, so I think he might be responsible.

The writing on the dollar bill in 1985 is odd, no doubt. However, Randy might not have written it, and it could have been a hoax. Police said they could not verify Randy wrote it, which I find strange, too. All they had to do was compare his handwriting, say on schoolwork, to the writing on the dollar bill. How hard is that?

As a parent, I would have recognized my kids’ handwriting, so how is it that his parents could not? Heck, my kids are adults, and I would still recognize their handwriting, so I find that strange, too.

I think the 1989 Phoenix sighting of Randy is interesting and goes along with the dollar bill incident in 1985, as far as location goes.

There is still the possibility that Randy died in the canyon, and the searchers just never found his remains.

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True Crime Diva

True Crime Diva

I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

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