James “Martin” Roberts, 19, was a popular fraternity brother at Appalachian State University when he disappeared on April 21, 2016. The only clue he left behind was a cryptic note. Despite a massive search and hundreds of tips, police have no leads. Just more questions. This Martin Roberts wiki delves into his life of secrets, his disappearance, and the so far futile efforts to locate him.
Who Is Martin Roberts?
James “Martin” Roberts, known more commonly as Martin Roberts, was born August 22, 1996.
He grew up in Kernersville, North Carolina. He attended East Forsyth High School, where he was a high school soccer star with a large circle of friends.
After graduating, Roberts continued to excel academically at Appalachian State University in nearby Boone, North Carolina, where he enrolled as a freshman in fall 2014.
Even though his parents had divorced, Martin Roberts maintained a tight relationship with his family, who continued to live in Kernersville, North Carolina. For their part, Roberts’ family thought they had a close relationship with their son, too.
Things took a strange turn in Roberts’ sophomore year.
Martin Roberts’ Life Takes a Drastic Turn
On the first day of his sophomore year in 2015, Martin Roberts, then 18, went to a fraternity party and, as one might expect, got drunk.
Unfortunately, Roberts decided it was a good idea to drive back to his residence on campus. That led to an arrest for DWI.
Embarrassed or ashamed, or both, Martin Roberts hid this fact from his family. Or rather, he lied to his parents about what really happened. Martin Roberts told his parents he’d walked home after the party and was stopped, on foot, for being drunk and disorderly.
In actuality, he spent the night in lock-up.
His on-again, off-again girlfriend Kayla Shelton, meanwhile, drove 100 miles that night to meet Roberts. By the time she arrived at the local jail, he’d already been released. And he wasn’t happy. When he saw Shelton, the two of them got into a heated argument and they ended up breaking up.
In less than 24 hours of starting his second year at university, Martin Roberts had lost his driver’s license, spent the night in the drunk tank, and ended his first serious romantic relationship. That’s a tough night for any adult, but even more so for an impressionable teenager.
As the holidays approached, Martin Roberts told his parents he wanted to take some time off—he needed time away from the crazy fraternity life and to refocus himself.
Roberts eventually returned to school. All appeared well, according to his parents. But it wasn’t. Roberts said he was going back to Appalachian State University, but he enrolled in a nearby Caldwell Community College.
He planned to take online classes through the community college and boost his grades, with the hopes of eventually returning to Appalachian State University. His goal: enroll in business school in his junior year.
While at community college, Martin Roberts maintained his fraternity membership and burgeoning social life. His life appeared to be back on track, until the spring of 2016.
Roberts Starts Dropping Out
Halfway through the semester, Martin simply stopped logging in to get his assignments and stopped going to campus.
On Monday, April 18, 2016, Martin Roberts spoke to his father, John Roberts, about budgeting and saving money. Before they hung up, Martin said he’d speak to his father again, either the next day or on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, April 19, a fraternity brother drove Martin around to run some errands—to get his hair cut and groceries, mostly frozen dinners.
Then, out of the blue, on Wednesday, April 20, Martin Roberts, who had been the leader of the freshmen pledge class at Tau Kappa Epsilon, dropped out of the fraternity. He also dropped out of his fraternity and high school group chats.
Some of his fraternity brothers were concerned when Martin went quiet during an online chat they were having. They decided to drop by the off-campus apartment he shared with his roommates. When they got there, a roommate told them Roberts wasn’t around. They looked in his room and saw his laptop, cellphone, and wallet. A note was also found face down on his bed.
It was apparently a farewell note of sorts. It didn’t say where he was going or what he was doing.
The roommate then called the authorities.
April 21, 2016 – Martin Roberts Vanishes
On Thursday, April 21, Roberts left his apartment on Old Bristol Road at around 10:30 a.m., telling a roommate he was going to the university library.
A short while later, he ran into his cousin. According to the cousin, Roberts was his normal, joking self and told her he was going to the fraternity house.
But again, he wasn’t. He’d just left his apartment and a cryptic note behind.
It was around 12:30 p.m. Security camera footage at the AppalCart bus stop in front of the Holmes Convocation Center on Blowing Rock Road captures Roberts, then 19, wearing an Appalachian State University pullover and carrying his backpack, waving goodbye to his cousin as she gets on the bus.
As the bus departs, Roberts is seen, over a 17-second time frame, walking toward a busy intersection. He looks both ways, and then disappears out of frame. It is the last confirmed sighting of Martin Roberts.
The next day, Boone Police began searching for Martin Roberts.
An investigator would later say, “If I didn’t know better and I believed in The X-Files, I would believe a ship came down and picked him up and carried him away.”
A Cryptic Note
Martin’s father, John, wasn’t worried when he didn’t hear from his son on the following Tuesday or Wednesday. He was, after all, a college student, and it wasn’t totally out of character for him not to call back when he said he would.
But by Friday, he became worried. He called the landlord of the apartment where his son was living and spoke to his roommates. They told him they hadn’t seen Roberts for a couple days. However, they did find a cryptic note in his room that said he was taking off. But it didn’t provide any concrete information about exactly where he was going.
While the exact wording of the note has never been released, police have not said it was a suicide note. The handwritten note was written in the past tense and was somewhat vague.
“The note itself said he regretted he hadn’t taken advantage of opportunities he had and that he was leaving,” his father said. “It didn’t say if he was going somewhere or going to do something or what his intentions were. It was vague. It’s still one of the biggest mysteries.”
“To the folks that I won’t see, my family’s given me a lot of opportunities that I’ve not taken advantage of,” the note read, according to Boone Police detectives.
What isn’t in the note is also important. Martin Roberts does not say he’s going to harm himself, but he also doesn’t say he isn’t going to either.
“It seems to me that Martin was very much trying to keep up the façade that everything was going great for him. In his note, he alluded to being tired of that, tired of his life not living up to expectations,” said Lieutenant Chris Hatton of the Boone Police Department.
A similar draft was found crumpled up in a garbage can in his bedroom.
More Mysteries as Police Search for Martin Roberts
The police search for Martin Roberts uncovered more and more mysteries. By the time he disappeared on April 21, 2016, Martin Roberts hadn’t logged in to any of his online classes in a month.
There were other missing periods of time in his life. In the lead-up to his disappearance, Roberts would tell his roommates he was hanging out with his cousin—the same cousin he bumped into the day he vanished. She said she hadn’t seen Martin Roberts all semester.
Martin also told friends he was working, but there is no evidence to suggest he had a job or had been hired at any of the places where he claimed to work.
Martin Roberts had no history of mental illness, had never mentioned running away, and reportedly didn’t suffer from depression. Why, then, were antidepressants found in a plastic bag in his off-campus bedroom?
“We don’t know where the pills came from, whether he was trying to self-medicate, whether he found them, whether someone sold him one thing and it turned out to be something else,” his father, John Roberts, said. “One of his friends said … the bag had dust all over it, so it was obviously not something he was taking regularly before he left. There’s still so many questions.”
“He was being mysterious, untruthful, hiding something from just about everybody,” John added. “That’s not like him.”
“It’s one thing if he’s doing something he thought we, his parents, wouldn’t approve of, but when you’re making up things to your friends, what could he possibly have been doing that his friends would’ve judged?” stepmother Abbie Roberts asked.
Even where he vanished, the intersection of Blowing Rock Road and Rivers Street, in front of the university’s Convocation Center, seemed like it was planned to confuse.
“Basically he could’ve gone three ways from there: He could’ve gone back into campus, gone toward King Street, or crossed the street to the fraternity house,” Abbie added. “He wasn’t picked up on any of the video cameras on King Street or on campus, and we know he didn’t show up at the fraternity house, so it’s just a real mystery.”
Despite surveillance cameras everywhere, and despite not having access to a bicycle or car, Martin Roberts seems to have simply vanished into thin air.
It is possible that Martin Roberts got into a car with someone. And there were two unconfirmed sightings of him that afternoon hiking a little ways away from the campus at Trout Lake, a private area that students were known to visit.
His father John said Martin was in good shape after playing soccer for 15 years. He enjoyed hiking, camping, and spending time on the trails around the Blue Ridge Parkway, but had never shown an interest in hiking or walking the Appalachian Trail.
A friend also said they saw Martin Roberts a couple hours after he was last seen on the security camera, near the intersection of Flannery Fork and Payne Branch roads.
If it was him, where was he going? He left his wallet behind and there were no cash withdrawals from his bank accounts or evidence to suggest he had stashed large amounts of money away for a rainy day.
Police and Civilian Searches Turn Up Nothing
A police helicopter equipped with infrared cameras was used the night Martin Roberts was declared missing. It searched the wooded areas around for signs of heat or a campfire. Police also searched extensively around Trout Lake after hearing about possible sightings. Police would also eventually drag Trout Lake, too.
Sonar equipment and divers were used to explore other bodies of water nearby, and cadaver dogs searched the woods, trails, and water for any kind of trace of Martin Roberts.
In addition to police searches, family, friends, and Roberts’ Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity brothers carried out several searches of their own. Like the police, their searches turned up nothing.
Theories abound, though. Did Martin Roberts meet with foul play? Did he commit suicide, get lost hiking on the Appalachian Trail, or leave to start a new life?
One lead, fortunately, ended up in a dead end. Authorities found a human leg 350 miles away in Indiana with a gray New Balance sneaker, the same kind Martin Roberts was wearing the day he disappeared. But DNA testing showed it didn’t belong to Roberts.
More Missing Pieces
There were hopes that Martin Roberts had left some clues behind about his whereabouts. Everything was still in his room when he left: clothing, computer, cellphone, iPad, and other electronics. His bank card was in the pocket of a pair of jeans laying on the floor.
The only thing missing was food Martin Roberts had purchased a couple days before he vanished while out on a grocery run with his fraternity brother. Keep in mind that he mostly bought frozen TV dinners, nothing that would last for a long period of time.
“He did leave with a book bag, so he could have brought the food with him and planned to head off to the woods for a day or two,” Lt. Hatton said. “The one thing we know about this case for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure.”
And Martin Roberts made sure to cover his tracks. In addition to lying to family and friends about what he was doing, whom he was visiting, and where he worked, he hadn’t made any bank transactions. Was Martin Roberts, in the weeks leading up to his disappearance, working under the table somewhere, being paid in cash?
A Digital Dead End
Martin Roberts’ digital trail was also a dead end. It took police a while to figure that out, though. Martin Roberts’ Apple devices were password protected, so police had no way of searching his phone, iPad, or laptop.
Apple was of no help. They said they couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t, break into Roberts’ devices because of a 2016 precedent, where the company refused to help the FBI crack the iPhone linked to the December 2015 fatal shooting in San Bernardino, California.
Police found a loophole, though. They tried different passcodes on his phone 10 times, which erased the phone’s data and uploaded it to iCloud. Police then obtained a search warrant for data stored in the iCloud. Unfortunately, there was nothing there.
Does Roberts’ Laptop Hold the Key?
A month before vanishing, Martin Roberts searched Marine recruiting and workout programs for joining the military on an old Dell computer investigators looked at. Police chased these leads down, but determined that Martin Roberts had never joined the military or met with any recruiting officers.
What police did conclude, however, was that Roberts’ Internet searches showed he was looking for a change of scenery. They found a fake ID in his apartment (probably used to get into bars) and thought maybe he had another fake ID using a new alias.
Investigators tracked down the company that made the fake ID, but they are based in another country and therefore under no obligation to cooperate.
Leads Pour in But All End in the Same Place
Leads continue to pour in but none of them have actually been helpful. That doesn’t mean police don’t follow every lead. Police have searched the mountains and even a cave, again, not because they believe or have proof he’s been there, but because they are crossing every place they can off their list.
Another obstacle is that Martin Roberts does not have any features that would make him stand out in the crowd. He’s 5-foot-10, lean, with brown hair and blue eyes. This might be one of the reasons why so many tips come in.
Police have fielded calls about people seeing Martin Roberts on the Appalachian Trail and a Taco Bell at Carolina Beach. Sometimes tips come in at the same time, but in two places 300 miles apart.
Again, police follow up on the tips, but for the most part, the tips are about men who just happen to look like Roberts.
“When I met with the fraternity leadership, all three kids were wearing the same clothing description Martin was when he went missing: khakis, New Balance shoes, and an Appalachian pullover. It’s like the unofficial uniform for frat guys here,” Hatton said. “Now if he had a pink mohawk that would be different.”
Martin Roberts could have changed his appearance, though, to make starting a new life easier (e.g. dyed his hair, gained weight, grown a beard, or used color contact lenses).
Did Roberts Make His Way to Jamaica?
Is it possible that Martin Roberts somehow made his way to Jamaica? Roberts could easily change his appearance, but, his father says, chances are good that Roberts would never have removed two tattoos he got after graduating from high school.
Roberts has a tattoo of multicolored mountains on his left forearm. He also has a tattoo over his right rib cage, with a quote from the song “Zion Train” by Bob Marley: “Don’t gain the world, but lose your soul/ Wisdom is better than silver or gold.”
Martin Roberts’ affinity for Jamaica came out of his family’s annual vacations to the Caribbean island. His familiarity with Jamaica and love of the beach could have drawn him there. But, his parents still have his passport and it isn’t exactly easy to leave the U.S. without ID. Unless, of course, you have fake ID.
The search for Martin Roberts continues. Anyone with information regarding Martin Roberts’ whereabouts is encouraged to contact the Boone Police Department at 828-268-6900, or submit a tip to High Country Crime Stoppers either online or by calling 828-268-6959 or 828-737-0125.