Travis Jay Zwieg was born on January 6, 1988, to Kevin Zwieg and Nancy Finley, the middle child of three. Travis has an older sister, Jessica, and a younger brother, Cory.
The family resided in La Quinta, California, but enjoyed spending time at a cabin on Indio Avenue in Pinyon Pines, about 100 miles northeast of San Diego. Their friends, Rick Russell and Sherry Jones, lived there as caretakers.
Jessica told KESQ in 2017: “It was nice in the winter. We’d come up. My dad would cut wood. We’d hangout. We really enjoyed our time up here. And we all came up here as a family.”
But one weekend was different, and Jessica’s life would never be the same.
Where is Travis Zwieg?
The second week of March 1991, Kevin and Travis went alone to the cabin, where Rick and Sherry awaited them while Nancy and the other two children remained in La Quinta. Most of the weekend went by as usual and uneventfully until Sunday, March 10. There are conflicting reports about the events of that morning.
The Desert Sun articles stated Travis was playing with four dogs, while the Los Angeles Times reported he was playing fetch with a golden retriever named Baby using a worn-out doll.
According to The Desert Sun, Kevin was fixing a chainsaw at 10:30 a.m. when Sherry asked him, “Where’s Travis?” Kevin looked around, but the boy was gone.
The Associated Press stated that Travis went to urinate in some bushes. Kevin called for the boy 10 minutes later but did not answer.
It is unclear why the reports widely vary.
Travis was last seen wearing a red shirt and blue jeans. Kevin, Rick, and Sherry searched for the boy before calling the Riverside County Sheriff’s Dept. at noon.
Search and Investigation
Kevin believed someone had abducted Travis and vowed never to stop looking for his son.
“I have contended from the beginning that someone just grabbed him,” Kevin said a few days after his son’s disappearance. “He just disappeared too fast. There were three adults here, and there’s no way he could have gotten away from us.”
Kevin told KESQ in 2017: “After 15 or 20 minutes, I knew something was wrong and he had been taken. There was no way for him to get away from me that fast, and Travis wasn’t a little boy that liked to wander. He liked to hang around his dad, and I knew right away there was something wrong.”
About a dozen search teams throughout Southern California searched the air and ground for Travis. They only found footprints leading across the asphalt and into a ravine and drag marks nearby. A theory emerged that a cougar had pulled the boy away, but “expert federal trackers determined that animal prints next to the child-sized footprints belonged to a large dog that was apparently chasing after a deer.” (Hubler and Dodson 1991, 229)
Trackers picked up Travis’s footprints again, but the scent ended in some chaparral “where it appeared as if a small child had sat down.” (Hubler and Dodson)
Rescuers searched for Travis for several days but suspended the search due to sub-freezing temperatures, snow, and strong winds. Subsequent searches failed to find the missing toddler.
A Pinyon Pines resident and his wife spotted Travis walking alongside their house a little past 10:30 a.m. but did not realize the boy was missing. They lived near the cabin.
Several witnesses in Pinyon Pines told the police they saw Travis with two men traveling in “a late 1940s bus with ‘Grace Baptist Church” written in script lettering on the side.” (A.P. 1991)
A woman visiting a beach in Malibu on March 12, 1991, saw a boy fitting Travis’s description accompanied by two white males. Malibu is about 150 miles northwest of Pinyon Pines. The woman had seen Travis’s disappearance in a local newspaper. She said the child was distraught, and the men attempted to comfort him. She also stated that the men were driving the same bus the other witnesses saw shortly after the boy’s disappearance. However, she noted that the bus was “white or light blue.” (Wojnar 1991a)
Investigators said several witnesses saw the same bus in Pinyon Pines before Travis vanished.
With such a distinct vehicle, it seemed a solid lead and easy to track. However, the police never found the bus, the child, or the two men.
About 12 days after Travis vanished, Kevin, Rick, and Sherry took and passed polygraph tests, and authorities ruled them out. Recent reports state that Nancy also passed one. However, The Desert Sun reported on March 22, 1991, “Investigators did not ask Travis’s mother, Nancy Finley, 34, to take the test because she wasn’t at the cabin when Travis disappeared.” (Wojnar 1991b)
Several months later, in October 1991, hunters in Mentone in San Bernardino County found a human skull later determined to belong to a child between 4 and 8. The area is about 70 miles from Pinyon Pines, and Riverside County officials were skeptical. Ultimately, DNA tests revealed a negative match to Travis in June 1993. Thirty years later, advanced DNA technology identified the remains as that of four-year-old Derrick Burton, who had been abducted from his home in 1990. Derrick’s father is a person of interest in his death.
There are a few theories about Travis’s disappearance.
In late March 1991, Kevin told The Desert Sun that he believed a former family friend had taken Travis, although he never mentioned a name or reason. (Wojnar 1991c)
A detective said the female friend was not a strong suspect back then. Nevertheless, Kevin has always maintained that Travis’s disappearance was an abduction but does not believe a stranger kidnapped his son. He thinks Nancy and her parents abducted Travis or had someone do it for them.
Kevin said in 2017: “They (Nancy’s family) were pointing the finger at me. So, it was a matter of who the investigators believed the most. And obviously, they chose them. Because they were awarded custody of my kids. And subsequently, they just dumped my kids off into welfare and had them adopted out. I was never even given the opportunity to raise my own children after this.”
Jessica supports her father’s theory. Her mother had placed her into foster care, and she grew up in various foster homes in Riverside County. About a decade ago, she searched for her father online and found him through newspaper articles about the disappearance. The two, who had each gone through losing Travis alone, could now search for him together.
“I believe my grandfather or my mother had my brother kidnapped,” Jessica told KESQ in 2017. “I think that my mother knows something. They (Nancy’s parents) didn’t like my dad. They didn’t like him at all. They had issues with him from day one. They didn’t like Travis. My mother and grandmother had taken me shopping that day for some unknown reason. Weekends prior to that, we were up here (Pinyon Pines) as a family. But that first weekend, I wasn’t here. And he disappeared.”
Her plausible theory supports the witness sightings of Travis with two men on the church bus in March 1991. Maybe one of those men was Nancy’s father.
Kevin and Nancy never married and broke up sometime after March 1991. He moved back to Washington, where his family lived, and has not spoken to Nancy since. Her parents are now deceased.
Whitepages lists Nancy’s current residence as Tempe, Arizona.
Not much has happened with the investigation since 1991, but Riverside County investigators are still looking into Travis’s disappearance. They hope advanced DNA technology will help solve the case.
Anyone with information should call Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s Palm Springs Desert Sheriff’s Station at 760-836-1600.
It is worth noting that Travis’s mother did not participate in any media interviews that I could find, save for one dated March 28, 1991. It was always Kevin, which speaks volumes. I do not believe he had anything to do with Travis’s disappearance. That said, Nancy Finley should have been a person of interest and thoroughly investigated, as well as her family members. She gave up her other two children without hesitation and likely could not handle raising kids, dumping them into the foster care system. Where Cory Zwieg is today is unknown. I believe Nancy knows what happened to Travis and is partially responsible. There is a big possibility that Travis is alive and unaware of his true identity. He would now be 36.
Associated Press. “Missing 3-Year-Old Reportedly Spotted.” The San Francisco Examiner, March 15, 1991.
Hubler, Shawn and Marcida Dodson. “Distraught Father Vows to Press Hunt for Son.” The Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1991.
KESQ News Team. “Family Members Speak About 26-Year Search for Travis Zwieg.” KESQ News Channel 3 (Palm Springs, CA), April 12, 2017. https://kesq.com/news/2017/04/12/family-members-speak-about-26-year-search-for-travis-zwieg/ (retrieved February 10, 2024)
“Skull Found by California Hunter in 1991 Identified Through DNA as Remains of Missing 4-year-old Derrick Burton. CBS News, June 26, 2023. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/skull-found-california-1991-identified-dna-missing-4-year-old-derrick-burton/ (retrieved February 10, 2024)
Wojnar, Rose. 1991a. “Investigators Suspect Kidnapping in Boy’s Disappearance.” The Desert Sun, March 15.
–1991b. “Polygraph Clears 3 in Disappearance.” The Desert Sun, March 22.
–1991c. “Daily Reminders Haunt Parents of Missing Boy.” The Desert Sun, March 28.
–1992. “DNA Testing Will Reveal if Skull Found in Mentone is Missing Tot’s.” The Desert Sun, February 17.
–1993 “DNA Test Shows Remains Not Those of La Quinta Boy.” The Desert Sun, January 21.
Images of Travis Zwieg: The Doe Network