Drone Pilot Helps Solve 10-Year-Old Missing Person Case in Missouri

James Hinkle, a drone pilot and YouTuber, may have discovered the remains of Donald Erwin, who went missing in Camden County, Missouri, 10 years ago. Hinkle’s interest in the case led him to search for Erwin’s vehicle with his drone, and he eventually found it in a small pond on private property. This discovery has provided investigators with new leads in the case.

The Search for Donnie Erwin

On December 29, 2013, Donald “Donnie” Erwin left his Camden County home to buy cigarettes and never returned. For almost a decade, there were no leads in the case until Hinkle, who operates a search and recovery channel called Echo Divers, took an interest in it. He had been working with Beyond the Case, a small outfit that investigates cold cases, and had been searching for Erwin for the last nine months.

Hinkle’s Search Efforts

Hinkle had been searching for Erwin in various locations, including quarries, a cave, and Ha Ha Tonka State Park. However, it wasn’t until he flew his drone over a small pond on private property that he spotted what he believed to be Erwin’s vehicle. This was one of several places Hinkle had searched, and he had been documenting his search efforts on his YouTube channel.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Donnie Erwin

There was little information about what happened to Erwin before his disappearance. An Army veteran, Erwin was 59 years old at the time and had left home in his 2002 Hyundai Elantra without his wallet, glasses, or wheelchair. The state Highway Patrol’s missing person notice for Erwin also mentioned that his left leg had been amputated above the knee.

Possible Theories

In a December 2022 interview with Fox 2, Sergeant Scott Hines with the Camden County Police Department mentioned that Erwin’s amputation may have affected his mood. He also stated that the ongoing theory was that Erwin had taken his own life. However, Hinkle had also considered the possibility of an accident in his search efforts.

The Final Discovery

After finding the vehicle with his drone, Hinkle arranged to search the property on foot. The Camden County Sheriff’s Office has not yet confirmed if the remains found in the vehicle are those of Erwin, but they have stated that the discovery has provided them with new leads in the case. Hinkle’s dedication to finding answers in this cold case has brought hope to Erwin’s family and friends. 

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