Bobby Smith: Happy ending to a missing child case


PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Bobby Smith, 13, is an exception among children kidnapped by a stranger -- he was found alive.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C., which opened seven months ago, listed Bobby in an 'abducted children's directory' it distributed to law enforcement agencies in mid-October.


The Long Beach, Calif. boy turned up last Monday thousands of miles from home and 21 months after he was lured from home on April 10, 1983 by a man who befriended him.

He is the only one of 70 or so children in the directory of children believed to have been abducted by a stranger who has been found.

The boy's mother said the man apparently gained her son's confidence by giving him money to play video games.

Police said transient ex-convict David R. Collins, 55, took Bobby from California to the Pacific Northwest, then to the Deep South, and, most recently, to New England where Bobby's family has its roots.


In their travels, Collins told people Bobby was his son, and the boy went by the name 'Bobby Simpson.'

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates 1.5 million children disappear a year -- 1 million to 1.1 million are estimated to be runaways, about 200,000 are abducted by parents in custody disputes, and about 200 to 400 are abducted by strangers.

About 2,000 to 3,000 of the 1.5 million children who disappear are never found and rarely are children abducted by strangers seen again, said John B. Rabun Jr., deputy director of the center.

Sociologist Richard J. Gelles of the University of Rhode Island, a national authority on child abuse and family violence, said the fact that police found Bobby and arrested Collins was a rarity in cases where strangers snatch children from their homes or neighborhoods.

'It is rare,' Gelles said, 'because they don't catch that many of them to begin with. It was a freak solution. Until last year, there was no mechanism to catch them, there was no clearing house.'

Bobby was found last Monday in Rhode Island after police traced a car involved in a crash that killed another teenager to a Robert Hickcox, alias David Hunter. Further checking with the National Crime Information Center's police network showed Hunter was wanted in California in the disappearance of Robert C. Smith Jr. of Long Beach.


When state police went to the Providence apartment of Hickcox, alias Hunter, they found Collins -- his real name -- and Bobby Smith.

A Providence County grand jury indicted Collins Friday on one count of kidnapping and eight counts of child molestation.

Rabun credited good, solid police work for cracking the Smith case.

'These guys did this in absolutely the right way,' Rabun said.

'You've got some of the best law enforcement work in children's cases involved in this case -- in Long Beach and in Rhode Island. Long Beach put Bobby's file in the NCIC, and in Rhode Island, the state police are under orders to work hard on these cases.'

Rabun said the attention police pay to such cases is improving across the country -- but not enough to suit him.

'The fact is, on a public policy level, nobody has ever told police to give the same attention to stolen kids as they have to stolen TV sets. That's turned around in the last two years with the airing of (the TV movie) 'Adam,' and other cases that have come to the forefront.

'There are still police departments that don't use NCIC for missing kids. For the most part, Atlanta doesn't. For the most part, Chicago doesn't. And you might as well say New York City doesn't at all.'


The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was formed following the widely publicized case of Adam Walsh, 6, who vanished from a Hollywood, Fla., shopping center in 1982. His severed head was found 2 -weeks later. The case inspired an NBC-TV movie last year on the family's search for Adam.

Rhode Island State Police said Bobby Smith told them he saw the movie on TV. Lt. Richard Wheeler, detective commander, said Bobby also saw his own photograph flashed on the television screen after the movie.

Bobby said when he saw his picture, he thought he wanted to go home, but was too frightened to call and forgot the hotline number. He said he sometimes tried to call home, but had forgotten that number, too.

'Probably once a week, he would ask to call his parents,' Wheeler said Bobby told police. But Collins would tell Bobby 'if he did, he would be locked away for the rest of his life somewhere,' the lieutenant said.

After picking up his son in Rhode Island last Wednesday, Robert C. SmithSr., a machinist-foreman and father of seven, said he never gave up hoping Bobby would be found.

'I didn't want to touch anything in his bedroom, because that would be like saying I'd given up,' he said.


Latest Headlines


Follow Us