Thirty-seven years ago today, on April 19, 1977, a young man from Oregon disappeared somewhere in the southwestern U.S. His name was Jay Calvin Pringle and he was 17, and attended Medford Senior High School (now known as North Medford High School). This is not a well-known missing persons case and we either know very little about it, or what is known has not been made public. This case has fascinated me since I first got interested in missing persons in 2009. Although I’ve profiled many missing persons cases on this blog, this is the only case I have actually tried to investigate. I did not have much success, as you’ll see here, but for the record I thought I would lay out what is known about this case, briefly discuss some of the theories about it, and what questions remain to be answered. In 37 years I don’t know if there’s ever been an article on Jay Pringle as a stand-alone subject, and that, in my view, is a shame.
Who was Jay Pringle? What do we know about him?
Not very much. He was born in July 1959, probably not in Oregon; city directories for Medford first list his family in the area in the mid-1970s. He seems to have been a pretty typical teenager of that era. He had long brown hair, brown eyes and wore gold rimless eyeglasses. One of the few photographs of him show him wearing headphones. Lots of kids in the ’70s were stereo “hi-fi” enthusiasts; whether he was is just conjecture. I recall reading, in a news article that was sort of a “potpourri” of missing persons cases, something to the effect that Jay loved to go on road trips; I’ve searched for that article online and can’t find it anymore but I’m pretty sure I saw it. In any event, a road trip is a crucial part of the story of his disappearance.
What happened in April 1977?
Sometime in April, Jay Pringle left Oregon with at least one friend (there may have been others but I can’t find definitive mention of them). This person’s name was Robert Harry Kellogg, who was 23 in the spring of 1977. I note that in 1977 Easter fell on April 10. Although I don’t know when spring break was at Medford Senior High School, this may have been a spring break trip. Jay Pringle and Robert Kellogg traveled somewhere together. Then Jay disappeared. He was reported missing by his mother when he didn’t come back from the trip.
Robert Harry Kellogg, as he appeared in 1971, six years before Jay Pringle’s disappearance. Kellogg died in 2011.
The story recorded by the police, and the one that forms the basis of most of the missing persons database listings on the case, is that Jay and Robert were in Gardena, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. They had some sort of falling-out, and Jay was last seen on April 19 when Jay left him, refusing to travel any further with him. He was carrying a suitcase and a brown and green wool blanket and wearing a headband. This report was made by Robert Harry Kellogg.
It seems that Kellogg was in Las Vegas around this time. He traveled back to Oregon from Nevada, and Jackson County (Oregon) investigators somehow determined that Kellogg had spent a bunch of money belonging to Jay. Obviously that’s suspicious, but we have to be careful about what we’re suspicious of. The police believe that Kellogg was somehow involved with Jay’s disappearance, but as there was no evidence, he was never charged with anything. He left Oregon during the investigation and seems to have settled in Washington state.
Robert Kellogg and the Las Vegas Connection
One of the first things I noticed when I started researching this case is that there is confusion about precisely where Jay vanished. Charley Project’s file (which I helped to clarify) originally stated he was missing from Gardena, California; however, NAMUS (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System) lists him as going missing from Las Vegas, Nevada. Robert Kellogg was apparently the only person who placed Jay in Gardena. The trail, if there was one, obviously went cold there. If we know Kellogg was in Vegas, and somebody somewhere seems to have thought it at least possible that Jay was there too, another potential narrative begins to take shape: that Jay and Kellogg traveled to Las Vegas, not the L.A. area, and whatever happened to Jay occurred there, and the story about Gardena might have been a red herring.
Las Vegas as it appeared in the 1970s. Was Jay Pringle here? We’ll never know for sure, but I think he might have been.
Robert Harry Kellogg is dead. He passed away in September 2011. I certainly have never had access to any information that law enforcement in Jackson County might have had about his involvement in the case; spending Jay’s money and leaving the state during the investigation certainly seems suspicious. That said, over the course of his life Kellogg had only two minor arrests–I looked up his records, which are public–and there was nothing obviously ominous about him that I could find from what thin records are available. He may have been involved; he may not have been. We just don’t know.
Why did Jay and Kellogg go to Las Vegas? Did Jay make it there? Was he ever in Gardena, and if he was not, why did Kellogg say he was? It seems they had a conflict at some point–what was it about? These are the key questions in the case; unfortunately we know the answers to none of them. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office maintains an open file on this case, but they did not respond when I asked them for comment.
Fringe theories: psychics and serial killers
There are theories about what happened to Jay Pringle, but none are supported by any evidence. Where there are few clues and a case remains unsolved for a long time, self-professed “psychics” often step in claiming to have “solved” the case. At least two psychics have chimed in on Jay’s case, one of them claiming he is buried behind an Italian restaurant in California. Obviously this is utter nonsense. A psychic has never once solved a missing persons case.
It has been suggested on at least one Internet forum dealing with missing persons that Jay Pringle was the victim of Randy Kraft, a notorious serial killer who preyed on young men in California and Oregon in the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly hitchhikers in their late teens. Kraft kept a cryptic “score card” of his killings, which police found. I tend to think Randy Kraft was not involved in this case in any way. No entries on the score card can be said to refer to someone matching Jay’s circumstances, and April 1977 fell in a period where Kraft seems to have committed no other murders; furthermore, Kraft almost always dumped his victims on the sides of freeways and such and rarely tried very hard to conceal them. In any event Kraft was in southern California in April 1977, and Jay may have disappeared in Las Vegas, far away. I think trying to connect this case with a famous killer is unproductive speculation. Whatever happened to Jay, I believe, was less high-visibility. Unfortunately we have no clue what it was.
Why is this case invisible?
Almost no one seems to care about Jay Pringle’s case. It was a sleeper even at the time. I’ve searched every news source I can find (through my academic connections I have access to databases that the general public does not), and even browsed microfilmed archives of Medford and Ashland, Oregon papers from the spring of 1977 for any mention of this case, but there was evidently no press at all about this young man’s disappearance. In 2011, Jay did make it into a deck of playing cards issued by Jackson County authorities profiling still-open missing persons cases; he is the nine of spades. (Ironically the news story reporting on the playing cards got his name wrong and erroneously listed the date of his disappearance as 1997 instead of 1977). But that’s it. No Investigative Discovery shows have been made about him, as they have about other young men who have vanished more recently; the case commands nothing even close to the attention given to other missing persons cases that are arguably equally mysterious. Jay Pringle is an entry in a database. I have no explanation for why this or that particular case becomes “famous” while others remain obscure. It seems to be luck of the draw.
But Jay Pringle was a real person, someone with a family who undoubtedly thinks about him and has grieved for him every single day in the 37 years since he was last seen. There may never be any resolution to this case, but let it not be forgotten. Someone should light a candle for Jay once in a while. Tonight that person is me.