Related topics

Man rejoins family 20 years after disappearing

February 7, 1997

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ In the eyes of the law, Ralph Heidler is a dead man. In the eyes of his son, he’s the man who walked back into his life Thursday more than 20 years after disappearing without a trace.

``I recognized him,″ said James Heidler after reuniting with his father at Pittsburgh International Airport. ``He recognized me, sort of. It was the eye contact kind of thing.″

James wouldn’t say more about the reunion, or let a reporter talk to his father, whom he said was busy getting acquainted with his grandchildren.

Ralph Heidler, 54, resurfaced last week in Honolulu but doesn’t remember the family he left behind in Osterburg, about 73 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Then a construction worker, Heidler was reported missing when he failed to return home from a trip to buy truck parts on Nov. 7, 1976.

Seven years later, his wife had him declared legally dead. She remarried and refused to comment on his return. Two of their seven children have since died.

Heidler’s sister, Marjorie Platon, said he was one of 14 children but now has only a dim memory of growing up and has no idea of how he ended up in California, where he lived before moving to Hawaii.

Heidler told his family that he had looked up people with his last name in California in an effort to learn clues about his background. He also acknowledged seeing a psychiatrist in Hawaii and said he had three children from two subsequent marriages, Ms. Platon said.

Recently, state police made a nationwide computer check of driver’s license records, and found that Heidler once had a California license. Trooper Roger Smith tracked Heidler down in Hawaii on Jan. 30.

``I’m thrilled,″ said Ms. Platon. ``I’m sure glad they found him alive. We just have a lot of questions for him.″

Smith, who interviewed Heidler, said it’s possible Heidler’s amnesia story is the truth and no charges would be filed.

``There’s no criminal activity here, just a missing person who’s been located,″ the trooper said.

James Heidler was 14 when his father disappeared and now has three children of his own.

``They knew their Dad had had a Dad, but they thought he had passed away,″ said his wife, Dawn. ``It’s been an adjustment for everyone _ a happy adjustment.″

Update hourly