Robert ‘Bobby’ Tennison still missing in S. Humboldt; holidays heighten painful loss


Franklin Stover

Humboldt Beacon

A 37-year old man from the town of Keyes in Stanislaus County came to the Garberville area almost a year ago to get paid for a construction job and mysteriously vanished shortly after arriving. Dropped off in Alderpoint on Monday, Jan. 19, family members have not seen or heard of Robert Joseph Tennison for ten months. According to his mother, Sandy Tennison, he was supposed to return home on Sunday, Jan. 25. This year will mark their first Thanksgiving without him.

The father of four sons and a member of a large extended family, ‘Bobby’ Tennison was born on Sept. 11, 1971 in Turlock, Calif. and raised in Keyes by his mother and an adoptive father. Tennison is now 38. Keyes is located about 15 minutes south of Modesto on Highway 99 where most of Tennison’s family resides.

When Tennison got out of high school, he worked in the construction trade and lived with his mother doing odd jobs to earn a living. Although Tennison never married, he fathered four sons, aged 5, 8, 11, and 17. A few weeks before his disappearance, Tennison reunited with his birth father, Johnnie Tennison at a family gathering in Manteca in December of 2008.

According to Tammy Lankford, one of Tennison’s cousins, his ties to Humboldt County began around the time two friends from Keyes moved to Alderpoint. Introduced to friends of theirs, Tennison learned about building projects in the area and worked freelance while staying in touch with family. At least two projects in an Alderpoint neighborhood occupied Tennison’s time: a bathroom remodel at one house, and a kitchen remodel at another.

Tennison was in the habit of taking the bus to Garberville and meeting up with acquaintances who would provide a lift. Being a traveling carpenter, tools were made available to him wherever he worked. He was there long enough to pick up the nick name, Builder Bob, as a clerk at the Alderpoint General Store on 4th Street called him. “I thought they found him,” she said, momentarily confusing Tennison with Garberville resident Sam Cushman, whose remains were discovered on Oct. 29 in Trinity County.

But this time, Tennison left Keyes with his eldest son and a friend by truck, appearing at an Alderpoint address where he had completed a job not long ago.Tennison cleared things with contacts in Alderpoint before coming north, and his plans were to complete a job he started, get paid, and give his traveling friend Andrew, a chance to sell a dirt bike to an interested party.

Not long after the three arrived, Tennison showed his son the completed kitchen remodel and all had lunch together. Tennison stayed on, as was the plan, while the other two returned to Keyes. Lankford said Tennison reassured his son he would return by bus in a week, but Sergeant Ken Swithenbank of the Sheriff’s Substation in Garberville said, without going into detail, that Tennison probably had plans to stay longer.

As far as family members were concerned, however, Tennison was expected to be home on Jan. 25, and they began to worry when they didn’t hear from him by the appointed date.

”What happened after he arrived has been the hardest puzzle to put together. All leads of information lead to a dead end,” Lankford said.

Days turned into weeks, and Tennison’s family contacted Stanislaus and Humboldt County Sheriffs to lodge missing person’s reports. The first report was filed in Stanislaus County on Feb. 9, according to Tennison’s mother. But in no time, Lankford began hearing horror stories of her cousin. “Immediately after his disappearance, rumors started to spread that Bobby was murdered,” she said.

”On March 13, Calvin (not his real name) came on March 13 and told my aunt that Bobby had been murdered,” Lankford said.

Tennison’s mother was told by one person in Alderpoint that her son walked off the job and disappeared somewhere in an area known as Murder Mountain which was by some accounts, covered in snow in mid-January.

Another story has Tennison in a scuffle with several other individuals, resulting in a blow to the head by a blunt object, killing him. Other stories collected by family members include one about him leaving a Garberville home in an altered state of mind, never to be seen again – though the family insists that drugs were not an issue.

Irrespective of hearsay and innuendo, police have not concluded that there is anything in the disappearance that could be considered suspicious. According to Humboldt County Sheriff’s investigator Dan Paris, the case “is listed under the missing persons format and is labeled under ‘unknown circumstances.’ It was reported to us on March 19, 2009.”

Paris indicated that he would be talking to Sgt. Swithenbank about the case to determine what course the follow-up investigation will take. Paris referred to Swithenbank as a valuable resource, and “is quite familiar with many of the involved people.”

Swithenbank remarked by email that he interviewed several people regarding the disappearance, but said that no suspects have been named.

”I have never heard (with any validity) that Robert was murdered. Several family members have speculated murder but have no real grounds or viable information to follow it up with. Some locals have offered that he may have wandered into someone’s marijuana garden and been killed because of that. That’s always the first rumor that comes up when someone goes missing in the SoHum area, and once again there is no information at all to back up that rumor – just pure speculation,” Swithenbank said.

”As I told the family,” he added, “my investigation leads me to believe that the disappearance is an unfortunate accident.”

Anna Fletcher, another cousin of Tennison’s wrote that her family is looking for closure. “It’s not easy losing someone you love but it’s even harder not knowing what has happened to them.”

Robert Tennison is described as a caucasian with long sandy brown hair, shoulder-length or longer. His left eye is blue and his right eye is green. Tennison has a broken tooth in the front, and a tattoo of a woman’s face on his abdomen. He is generally seen wearing a baseball cap and stands at 5 feet, 6 inches tall. Also, his right heel was broken from an old accident. Tennison weighs between 150 to 160 pounds.

Jamie Dunn, mother of Tennison’s oldest son, Robert, said that Tennison was easy going and calm. “Bobby was not a trouble maker…he is a kind and loving man. And he never stayed away from his family, especially his mother. He would always keep in touch because as a mother, he knew how she would worry.”

Recalling fond memories of her cousin, Cindy Tennison wrote he would go lizard hunting with his boys. “Bobby liked doing that kind of stuff and the boys love it too. As for him doing anything out of character, no. Bobby never flipped out or even raised his voice.”

If you have information or tips about Robert ‘Bobby’ Tennison, call Dan Paris at the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department at 445-7251 or Sgt. Ken Swithenbank in Garberville at 923-2761.

submitted photos

1. Robert ‘Bobby’ Tennison, at a December 2008 family gathering in a Manteca Burger King. A resident of Stanislaus County, Tennison arrived in Alderpoint last January to collect a debt and has not been seen since. While some family members suspect fowl play, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office says the circumstances behind his disappearance are ‘unknown.’

2. Tennison with one of his sons, taken in 2001 in Keyes, Calif.

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