Philip and Roberta Snider left their Hartville home Jan. 4 for possibly their last trip to Graceland, the Tennessee home of Elvis Presley.
Only Philip made it home.
He told his family, and later police, that Roberta — who would have turned 70 on Monday and had several serious medical issues — died in their Ford F-150 in a Memphis hotel parking lot across the street from the place that bills itself as the world’s most famous rock ’n’ roll residence.
Philip never called 911. He told police he saw an ambulance in a parking lot adjacent to the motel and waved it down for help.
Emergency medical technicians whisked Roberta’s body away, Philip told police, but he didn’t know where they took her, so he came home.
Roberta’s brother called Hartville police this week after hearing what happened, hoping they could help the family bring Roberta’s body home.
“We talked to her husband who said she passed of natural causes,” Hartville Police Chief Larry Dordea said Thursday. “At first blush, what happened seemed reasonable.”
But Dordea has since discovered that Tennessee authorities have no record of Roberta’s body, nor any Jane Doe who matches her description.
Dordea is now trying to retrace the couple’s steps along the 725-mile route between Hartville and Memphis, looking for clues as to what happened.
“I think [Philip’s] recollection may be suspect,” Dordea said.
But he cautioned, it’s not clear whether Philip intentionally misled police or not.
“It’s a traumatic time for him, a lot of emotional pain,” Dordea said. “I’m not ready to clearly support any kind of thesis on this now. We have to painstakingly, methodically sift through the evidence.”
Philip, 72, and Roberta lived in a three-bedroom condominium on a dead-end street off Market Avenue Northwest not far from the Hartville Antique Center in the Stark County town of about 3,000 people.
People knew Roberta as “Bobby,” her brother Brian Heisler said Thursday. She had been a housewife and an avid crafter, he said. Heisler last spoke to his sister on New Year’s Day.
Philip and Bobby told at least one of their children they were headed to Graceland, a place Philip wanted to take his wife to one more time before she died, police said.
According to what Philip told police, this is what happened next:
He and Bobby packed up their white pickup and left early Jan. 4. They drove about 285 miles and stopped for the night at a Ramada Inn in Sparta, Ky.
The next morning, they set out early for the remaining 440 miles to Graceland.
They almost made it.
When Philip pulled into the parking lot of the Days Inn where they planned to stay — which is directly across the street from Graceland — Bobby had some sort of medical emergency and died, prompting Philip to seek the help of a nearby ambulance, he said.
Rescue workers told Philip they were taking her to a hospital in Memphis, but Philip didn’t know which. He also didn’t know the name of the ambulance company.
Philip ended up spending the night at the Days Inn and checking out the next morning, something police have since confirmed with motel officials.
Whether Philip looked for Bobby is unclear.
Investigating something that may have happened a couple of states away isn’t easy, Chief Dordea said.
Police have searched Philip and Bobby’s condo and taken some receipts from the trip. But the credit card they used was in Bobby’s name only and police cannot access those records without a judge’s order, he said.
Dordea said he hopes publicity might turn up witnesses who saw the Hartville couple during the journey.
“I don’t know what information may trickle in to put us on the appropriate path with this, or whether I may have tripped over it already,” Dordea said.
Police have entered Bobby’s name and photo into a national database of missing persons, noting that she is believed to be deceased.
“We don’t need a wild-goose chase,” he said. “Whether this is a crime or not, we want to find Mrs. Snider and get her back to family so she can be laid to rest in proper manner.”