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The case of Christopher Alan Temple

Missing, but not forgotten...

By J. Nathaniel LeePublished 11 months ago 22 min read
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The case of Christopher Alan Temple
Photo by Irina Iriser on Unsplash

The Disappearance of Christopher Temple

On April 22nd, 1990, Christopher Temple and four of his friends were enjoying some peaceful bonding time around a campfire at the local Rose Lake Wildlife Research Area. Around 9 p.m. Chris walked off north, away from the campsite and his comrades, to a trail in the 4,000-acre expanse and was never seen or heard from again.

This is the story of the missing, but not forgotten, Christopher Alan Temple.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

I have chewed on the Christopher Temple case for years. If this case was made into a movie… Well, frankly, they would never make this story into a movie. The studio would point out, from the very initial concept, nobody would buy it. No matter how many times their writers went to work on the script, they could never connect all the lines and dots to make all the events and circumstances come together to fit into a narrative the audience would buy. Outside of a ridiculous leap of Deus ex machina or making a shift into an alien abduction tale, I don’t know how they would make this story work.

There is a good reason for these issues that plague this case. It’s absurd. It never should have happened. The case of Christopher Temple may be the best example I have ever encountered of the old saying that sometimes facts are stranger than fiction. If, after I have finished laying out the sequence of these baffling events, you believe you know of a better example; I implore you to reach out to me and make your case.

THE SETTING

For this tragic tale, we must travel to south-central Michigan. Specifically, we head to the areas just east of her capital: East Lansing, Haslett, and north into Bath Township to the Rose Lake Wildlife Research Area.

For those unfamiliar with the area, East Lansing sells itself on their website as the “small-town atmosphere with big-city sophistication.” With its smaller population count of under 50,000 residents, yet housing the comparatively large Michigan State University campus and residing a stone’s throw from the state’s capital of Lansing, I would say their sales pitch is a rather apt description.

Just east of East Lansing is the unincorporated community of Haslett. For those seeking an even more small-town feel than East Lansing; Haslett, with its fewer than 20,000 residents, would likely fill the bill.

Just north of Haslett, and a small dash east, we find the epicenter of our mystery: the Rose Lake Wildlife Research Area. At the time of Christopher’s disappearance, this location was a 4,000-acre wildlife area with research facilities tied to the nearby Michigan State University. Today, it still boasts the same size but is now a controlled area under the Department of Natural Resources. Even though it’s used significantly less these days as a research facility, the Rose Lake area is still quite active for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities.

CHRIS TEMPLE

Christopher Temple, or Chris as he preferred to be called, was born on May 18th, 1972, to parents John and Ronnie Temple. At the time of his birth, the two were hard-working small business owners of a shoe store in East Lansing, and the picture of a typical growing middle-class family.

Little is written about Chris’s childhood. This appears mostly because, by all accounts, Chris had what we can describe as a very “normal” or stereotypical middle-class upbringing and childhood of that day. Chris was the oldest of three children and, as we will see evidenced later, he had two parents and siblings who loved him dearly.

While Chris was a typical teen in most ways, it appears he struggled a bit more than usual with the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. His final years of high school were plagued with a growing number of tardiness and absences, and an overall marked decline in his grades. This change is not all that surprising. It was during this time that Chris started abusing alcohol and drugs—much more than can typically be described away as mere teen experimentation.

As time passed, Chris continued isolating himself more and more, keeping few friends and rarely dating. He also showed little interest in other teen rites of passage; such as he didn’t drive or seek independence through an outside job. This downward spiral culminated in an August 1989 arrest in East Lansing for Larceny over 100 dollars. While I can’t find more on this event, it seems likely to me that Chris committed a little shoplifting. Whatever the specific offense was that landed him in court, we know he received probation and was assigned a probation officer.

As is often the case when a teen goes a bit off track, an event that seems devastating at first turns out to be the blessing that forces the young individual to get back on track. You can call it “scared straight,” “hitting bottom,” “shakabooku,” or whatever you like. For Chris, this arrest seemed to be a positive motivating factor and a real turning point in his life. He transferred to Haslett Community Education, an alternative high school, and continued his education. By 1990, with perfect attendance and great grades, Chris was well on his way to graduating in a matter of months. With the aid of his probation officer, he was working through his community service and even taking part in drug and alcohol abuse support. This was a great kid who, after making a short left turn, really got his act together.

TWO PARKS AND A BONFIRE

On April 22nd, 1990, 17-year-old Chris made plans to hang out with his friends at an Earth Day celebration at the Riverfront Park in Lansing, Michigan. He met up with friends Nate, Alan, Justine, and Matt, and together they spent the day at the park. As the Riverfront celebration wound down, the group collectively decided that they weren’t ready to call an end to their festivities. Instead, they agreed to move and keep the party going at the nearby Rose Lake Area.

There are a few sources that claim the group already had some form of loose camping plans before that day. For several reasons, I find this idea suspect—not the least of which is none of the young men had anything with them that would resemble camping equipment or outdoor gear. While it was an unseasonably warm day, hovering in the 70s, any Michigander knows that the night temperature was bound to drop like a stone. We will get to the other reasons shortly.

Alan, in his mid-twenties, was the oldest of the group and took care of all the driving that day. The group piled into his car and headed over to a friend’s house to procure some additional marijuana. The group then made a stop at a local 7-11 and bought some snacks, marshmallows, and beer. Alan then drove his buddies to an open area of the Rose Lake grounds, perfect for their bonfire gathering.

No judgment from me about the marijuana, especially as a growing number of states have realized that this substance should be legal. Also, no judgment from me for a bit of underage drinking. For those of you very few who made it to 18 or 21 without imbibing a bit of the grain, more power to you. For most of us, a sampling of adult beverages was a rite of passage and created the opportunity for some personal narratives we could share with our kids when they reached that age.

Around 7 p.m. that evening found the boys arriving, gathering some wood, and getting their fire going as the party started. It’s reported the group had a guitar that was passed around for entertainment, while the lads enjoyed some drinks, smokes, and snacks. Frankly, this all sounds like any number of gatherings I attended in my teen years, and it’s likely most of you would say the same as well. Had this not ended in tragedy, I think they all would have cataloged this as a great day, full of quality high school memories. Unfortunately, a few hours after the fun began, things took a decidedly unexpected and downward turn.

CHRIS TEMPLE WANDERS OFF

At approximately 9 p.m., Chris stood up, mumbled something, and wandered off on a trail north of the fire and group. His cohorts interpreted his actions as a need to answer the call of nature, or perhaps that it was time for a puke and rally—either way, there seemed to be no significant cause for concern.

I want to preface the following sections with a provision, mostly so I don’t have to keep repeating this point: by this time, the witnesses have been drinking and smoking marijuana throughout the day and over the last few hours of their impromptu bonfire. We must take their likely condition into account when considering their interpretations of time and events.

After 15 minutes or so—let’s call that more or less, as stated above—someone noticed Chris’s continued absence and alerted the others. As more time passed, the group worried about his welfare and started calling out for him. When they got no response from Chris, the group began searching the areas where they believed he would be located. Their search turned up nothing suspicious, other than their friend seemed nowhere to be found.

Around 10 p.m., the group faced a fresh problem: both Justin and Matt had curfews, and they would need to leave if they were going to make it back in time. The four were forced to pile back into the car and leave the area without their friend. Alan dropped off Justin and Matt at their homes, and then the two remaining searchers headed to Nate’s house to pick up flashlights and coats. Darkness had set in, and the temperature had dropped substantially by that time.

THE SEARCH CONTINUES

According to the two boys, they arrived back at the Rose Lake Area to continue the search around midnight. (I am not sure where the two hours went, but I am going to assume that was not a precise time, especially given that we have some sober people coming into play starting around 1 a.m.) The two conducted a second search that, once again, turned up nothing. They decided it was time to get parents and authorities involved.

As this was an era where cell phones weren’t all that prevalent, Alan and Nate left the area a second time and headed to a nearby payphone. They reached John Temple. The boys informed the father that his son was missing and relayed the events and their attempts to locate him. After this startling conversation, John called the authorities, and then he and Ronnie immediately headed out to the location.

The couple is reported as arriving in the area shortly after 1 a.m. Appearing nearly simultaneously with the Temple’s was an officer from the Bath Township, an officer from the Department of Natural Resources, and a deputy from the Sheriff’s department. Together, they all joined in the search for Chris until nearly 3 a.m. Once again, no evidence of Chris was found.

Around 3 a.m., the authorities brought in a canine unit from the Michigan State Police. Nothing found. At dawn, they dispatched a helicopter to fly over and search the area. Nothing found. They issued a BOLO for the 5 foot 7, Caucasian male, 130 pounds, dark hair, hazel eyes, last seen wearing a Pink Floyd tee under a jean jacket, jeans, and New Balance running shoes. Still, Nothing.

By noon that day, the authorities were leaning towards the theory of Chris as a runaway. However, I need to point out: even though he was nearing his 18th birthday, the lack of any evidence of foul play, and their hours-long searches yielded no results, these officials did not exhibit the tunnel vision that I have seen in so many cases like this one. Although they were leaning towards runaway, they did not lock into the runaway theory, to the exclusion of all others. They even brought boats in to search Potter Lake, Rose Lake, and Mud Lake; all of which were within the Rose Lake Wildlife Area.

Police interviewed Nate, Alan, Justine, and Matt. Their stories matched pretty well, except for one key detail: How intoxicated was Chris? His friends ranged Chris’s state from mildly intoxicated to very intoxicated. They all willingly confessed to drinking and smoking some pot through the afternoon and more through the evening. They also appear to agree that Chris was a bit quieter and more standoffish than was his usual at the bonfire that night.

Several more subsequent searches for Chris were conducted. On April 25th, family, friends, and classmates gathered to perform a search of the park. Despite their best efforts, nothing relating to the disappearance of Chris was uncovered. On April 27th, Michigan State Police performed another aerial search, but again they turned up nothing new. It appeared as if the boy had just vanished into the mist.

JOHN AND RONNIE TEMPLE

Several months passed and by June 1990, sadly, it seems the coverage and rescue efforts for Christopher had all but died. However, this was not the case for John and Ronnie—neither was willing to accept that their boy had simply run away. This was not his style, especially as his life had turned around so substantially. The runaway theory just made didn’t fit.

The Temples quite literally threw everything they had at finding their son, Christopher. They offered monetary rewards, hired several private investigators, and hired search teams. Heck, they even consulted psychics. The family continued chasing down each and every alleged sighting; all to no avail. Throughout the years, no amount spent was too much and no effort out of bounds. For the Temples, nothing was off the table—but unfortunately, nothing is all they ever found.

NEW DISCOVERIES ARE MADE

On October 23rd, 1991—now 18 months after the disappearance of Christopher Temple—a hunter was in the area tracking prey. Instead, the man tripped over a shoe. Rather than ignore the dirty, abandoned item, he alerted authorities. It matched the description of the shoes Chris wore that night, and the evidence was quickly confirmed. This was the first clue, really ever. Up to that point, it seemed Chris had quite literally just vanished.

On October 26th, the authorities launched another search of the area. This time, they found more clues. The missing matching shoe was spotted, and nearby they found two large clumps of strawberry blonde hair. According to several reports, there was enough of this hair to fill two 8x10 envelopes. Around the area of their new discoveries, they also found as many as eight 22 caliber shell casings.

These findings left the authorities scratching their heads. The two shoes, the hair, and the shell casings were located in two areas, both less than 400 yards from where the group had their bonfire. They had searched this area thoroughly numerous times. How could these things have been missed? If they weren’t missed, how and why did they show up later?

As it turned out, the hair, after testing and analysis, was found to have nothing to do with the Christopher Temple case. Frankly, this just adds to the mystery. The shell casings? Well, after all, this was a popular hunting area. The shoes? They are yet another layer to this mystery. They were determined to be Chris’s shoes. Though found at different times, they were both found untied, and their overall condition seems to be debatable. Some believe their condition was such that they were out in the elements the whole 18 months since his disappearance, while others argue the shoes were in better condition than they should be if they were exposed for that long a time period.

CASE THEORIES

There are several theories that attempt to answer what happened to Christopher Temple. We are going to skip over the outliers, like alien abduction or Big Foot did it, and pursue the more likely scenarios.

Christopher runs away? The theory with the “happiest ending” is the one that has Chris simply walking away into the mist and starting a new life. Is it possible? Absolutely. Is it likely? Statistically, this is quite rare and drops even further as the age of the subject gets younger. Chris was 17, with no license, no money, and he was barely clothed enough to handle the chill of that night, let alone future nights. Further, even if he voluntarily ghosted himself, I don’t believe he would have stayed off the radar this long. As close as he was with his family, especially his father, I can’t mesh Chris with the type of person who would leave them suffering for this long. This possibility seems nothing like the Chris I have heard described. Plus, with the discovery of his shoes, I believe this theory drops to a near-zero probability. However, there is a theory that ties together with this one that we are going to be discussing shortly.

Christopher met with foul play from friend or foe? The theory that Chris met a dastardly deadly end at the hands of someone else has the same premise that breaks into two potential scenarios:

First, there is the theory that has his four friends harming him and then concocting their “missing” story. Some argue that this was a spontaneous event where, during their bonfire, some sort of disagreement broke out that escalated and Chris ended up dead. Together, they hid the body and came up with a cover story. Others theorize that their acts were premeditated. They hold to the idea that the four boys took Chris to the wildlife area with the express purpose of dispatching and disposing of him.

Personally, I don’t buy the theory that the boys were involved in his disappearance, either by spontaneous action or premeditation. True, their stories were very similar. However, not, in my opinion, to the point of sounding contrived. The only discrepancy, the level of Chris’s intoxication, can simply be explained as they were each viewing his intoxication through the level of their individual intoxication.

As for the progression of events as a crime of impulse, I just can’t see it. A bunch of mellow dudes sitting around a campfire noodling on a guitar, drinking, smoking some weed, and munchin’ on s’mores suddenly becomes the scene of deadly rage? As if that weren’t enough, they then had an impromptu murder scene and a body on their hands? Is it possible? Sure. But we would then have to agree that a group of intoxicated teens who had just committed the most heinous of crimes, had the mental fortitude and skills to one, create a convincingly clean scene that would fool seasoned detectives, two, dispose of a body that nobody has discovered to date, three, create a story and timeline that fit, and four, that all present could stick to said story without going off book or breaking down for all the years to come. Let’s also not forget that, right after killing their friend, two of them showed up on time at home, calm, clean, cool, and collected. So, killing their friend, no big deal. Missing curfew, that was just going too far. I just don’t buy it.

Frankly, I think some people postulate premeditation to answer the problems found in the theory that the boys were suddenly driven to murder. It’s true that, if it were planned, the four would have more time to achieve all the things listed above. But why? Where is the motive? It would have to be a big one for a cabal of four to agree that this boy had to die. And then, after everything else was achieved, these four have managed to keep the secrets and lies going for all these years? Is it possible? Sure. But it just doesn’t seem the most likely possibility to me.

What about Chris meeting with a foul end at the hands of someone other than his friends? I find big issues with this theory for a myriad of reasons. Let’s start with the very first problem: the bonfire plan itself. Some argue that they planned this little party in advance. Mostly, I believe, to fill in the hole that Chris met a random stranger, or strangers, in the park that killed him. They use this to create the theory that Chris had plans to meet up with someone other than his friends, and perhaps it was something like a drug deal gone wrong as the motive. I just don’t believe this matches the facts of the case. After all, they had to stop for supplies, and later for coats and flashlights. Heck, two of them had a curfew. A curfew that was so important they meet that the group left a missing friend in the park just to get home on time. It seems clear that not one member of this group was prepared for camping out during a Michigan night in late October. The facts all point to a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Could Chris have pushed the group that day into this location to meet another purpose, like meeting up with others? Sure, but wouldn’t that have come out—like, hey we wanted to keep the party going and Rose Park was Chris’s idea? Chris didn’t have a cellphone, and nobody mentions Chris making any calls or going off on his own for a time. I’m not sure how he could have made outside arrangements for a meet at a location he didn’t know about in advance? Is it possible that all things could have lined up, and Chris met with someone he knew that did the boy harm? It is possible, but frankly only slightly more likely than the stranger theory.

The stranger theory maintains that Chris was a victim of opportunity. That he was spotted by a stranger, or strangers, who took him and either murdered him and disposed of the body there, or abducted and took him out of the park. So, either they came upon Chris on the trail while he was looking for a place to pee or puke, or they discovered the boys and waited for someone to wander off from the group. Oh, and by the way, they would have to subdue Chris in such a way that no sound could be made. We are talking about an out-of-the-way, wilderness-covered place here. The only sounds were of conversation, a little guitar, and a crackling fire. Anybody who has been camping knows how even the cracking of branches or the sounds of animal disturbances travel a long way. Someone would have had to sneak up quietly on Chris (in the woods, mind you), and keep him from making a single sound. Then they had to dispatch him, and soundlessly get rid of the body or drag him away. That would take some real Rambo moves there–especially as all of this occurs within 15 minutes or so, to keep with the timeline.

You can apply the same issues of time and sound to Chris hosting a pre-planned meeting as well. Neither just seems all that likely, or really all that possible, to me.

My theory, based on my research of this case, is that Chris likely walked away willingly. It’s possible that Chris walked away and committed suicide. After all, he was working very hard on his sobriety, and by all reports, he was clean for a while—right up until that day. Maybe his defeat with that struggle led to him ending his fight. His friends noted how standoffish and quiet he seemed that night. But I go back to how well he was doing, and how right things seemed to have been going for him. It’s true, we really can’t understand the final thoughts and motivations of those who choose suicide, but it just doesn’t quite add up for me. Plus, he would have had to kill himself and have the forethought beforehand to hide his own body so well that no search has turned up his remains?

Is it possible that he decided, spur of the moment, to take off and disappear, but never made it? Absolutely—people have come up with far crazier ideas while high. It would account for him getting far enough that there were no clues. It's also just as likely that he wandered off to find some solitude, and lost time and place. For those of us that have enjoyed marijuana from time to time, we know that losing time and place is par for the course. This would also account for his friends all agreeing that Chris was more distant and standoffish, even more than was usual, that night. The boy had something deep on his mind, and it was more than just having a good time with some friends.

I believe, whether he had the sudden idea to disappear, or was simply looking for a quiet place for contemplation, Chris lost his bearings. We are talking about 4000 acres here, known to be covered with bogs and marshes. I think Chris likely lost time and wandered far away, passed out or got hurt, and then the elements, both weather and land elements, claimed him.

But what about the shoes? The magic shoes that were not there during the search, and then appeared sometime later? The reserve is full of animals, and it’s possible that they were scavenged and drug around the park. Maybe Chris took them off willingly on his hike, stashed them, and continued on without them. Heck, maybe he buried his shoes because they were cursed? He was high, after all. The point being, although the shoes certainly add to the mystery, I am not sure we can build a theory around them to the exclusion of all other facts.

In the end, based on the events as we know them, I think we are facing a horrible accidental tragedy. The tragedy of Christopher Temple brings to mind some of the news stories we have been hearing lately, especially out of places like Wales, where they are discovering bodies that have been lost in the bogs and marshes for hundreds of years. Someday, maybe hundreds of years from now, I believe they are going to find a shoeless teenager swallowed by nature. Gone, but not forgotten. I can only hope that when they do, they will be able to identify him and remove him from the register of the lost souls.

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About the Creator

J. Nathaniel Lee

Husband and Father, Author and Content Creator, Podcaster and Freelancer-my top 3 loves in that order. jnathaniellee.com / @jnathaniellee

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