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It’s been more than a year since Daniel Robinson, a then 24-year-old field geologist for an engineering company, got into his dusty blue Jeep and disappeared into the Arizona desert.
What happened next remains a mystery, despite his father David Robinson’s tireless searches through the unforgiving desert for his once-happy son, who had loved science and dreamed of one day traveling abroad.
Daniel’s complex case is the first to be explored in NBC’s new original six-episode podcast “Dateline: Missing in America,” which dropped Tuesday, and dives into some of the country’s most perplexing unsolved missing persons cases.
“Usually in a ‘Dateline’ story, by the time we air it it’s over — it’s fully adjudicated — and there’s not really a role for the audience to play. In this case, there is. Because something you know, or something you saw, might be crucial to solving this,” reporter Josh Mankiewicz told Oxygen.com of the series’ distinctive approach.
In Daniel’s case, the young geologist disappeared on June 23, 2021 while doing field work at a development well site in the hot Arizona desert.
His coworker Ken Elliott, a pump technician, told Buckeye Police that he’d met Daniel at the desert site that day to check a well, but it had been raining at the time and the pair waited for the storm to pass.
Elliott told police that Daniel was gazing out into the desert and then suggested that they leave work to go relax in Phoenix, according to Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall. Elliott believed the storm would pass and decided to stay, while Daniel got into his Jeep and drove off without saying another word.
“When Daniel was leaving, you know, the main access road to get into the jobsite is east of the location and he said that Daniel went west, which is concerning because there’s nothing out there,” Hall told “Dateline: Missing In America.”
What had inspired him to make that decision? Questions also arose over another incident that occurred just days before he disappeared when Daniel met a woman through his part-time Instacart job.
She told police that she met Daniel after he’d made a food delivery to her home. She and a friend invited him into the house and they exchanged numbers, but then she said that Daniel started showing up at her residence uninvited.
Daniel’s father doesn’t believe that either incident suggests his son was having a mental break.
“Daniel never had a diagnosis for mental health. He’s a happy guy,” he said in the podcast. “He’d never done anything that made you think he needs to be in therapy or see a professional.”
Daniel had been extremely close to his family, yet in the days after he disappeared, he did not call or text anyone. No money was taken out of his bank account, either.
Then in July, Daniel’s Jeep was found just a few miles from where he had disappeared, at the bottom of a ravine. The airbags had been deployed and the sunroof panel looked like it had been kicked out, but there was no sign of Daniel.
Nearby, Daniel’s orange construction vest, boots, and pair of blue jeans—which still held his wallet—lay on the ground. His backpack, laptop, and apartment keys were discovered in the Jeep, along with his cell phone.
“We didn’t find anything that would make us believe that his disappearance was at the hands of another individual,” Hall said.
A collision report showed that Daniel’s airbags had deployed 11 miles before his final odometer reading. An expert told “Dateline” vehicles have a number of sensors which are constantly feeding information to the car’s internal systems and there can sometimes be a lag.” But Daniel’s father and a private investigator he hired, Jeff McGrath, who specializes in accident reconstruction, doesn’t believe that’s what happened.
"Of all my years of doing any type of vehicular crimes, this is the most mysterious case I’ve ever worked,” McGrath told “Dateline: Missing In America,” adding that he believes the vehicle’s airbags had deployed at another location before it was driven to the ravine.
Today, there’s still no sign of Daniel. His father, who continues to lead searches into the vast desert, remains convinced his son is still out there, somewhere, alive.
“There’s a disagreement on whether or not Daniel Robinson was the victim of foul play. But in the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter, because the family still doesn’t have answers. And they want those answers — no matter what they are,” Mankiewicz told Oxygen.com.
Anyone with any information on the case is urged to call a police tip line at 623-349-6411.
For more on this case and others like it, tune into the podcast “Dateline: Missing In America,” which is available for free on Apple Podcasts, Amazon, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and TuneIn. New episodes drop weekly on Tuesdays.
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