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'It's still a horror': No answers, 30 years after UBC student's disappearance

Last Updated Oct 28, 2018 at 10:20 pm PDT

Emerson Dobroskay Jr. is his convocation picture taken within a week of his disappearance. (Source: submitted, Emerson Dobroskay)

Emerson Dobroskay Jr. never made it to his dorm room after he went out to celebrate after his exams in 1988

There have been reports of sightings over the years, but he's never been found

Theories about his disappearance: he was picked up and left UBC, he fell into a construction pit, he never left the pub

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – For decades, Emerson Dobroskay has been living every parents worst nightmare.

30 years ago his only child went missing and Dobroskay hasn’t seen or heard from him since.

“It’s still a horror and everybody was just numb, couldn’t believe it,” says Dobroskay. “There’s no evidence one way or the other that he’s with us or not with us, it’s just a void.”

Dobroskay as a student at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dobroskay as a student at the University of Saskatchewan. Submitted photo.

In the early morning hours of October 28, 1988, Emerson Dobroskay Junior headed home after a night out at UBC’s Pit Pub. The 21-year-old meteorology masters student had been celebrating the end of exams with friends and, while they all left together at closing time, Dobroskay Jr. went ahead as his friends stopped to talk to an acquaintance. He never made it to his dorm room at Totem Park Residence that Friday, and his disappearance remains a mystery to this day.

Dobroskay Sr. remembers getting the news that his son was missing. He initially thought he had maybe given himself a long-weekend as a reward for all that exam studying.

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“I wasn’t too concerned on Friday. But when he still wasn’t there Saturday, I got on the first flight out I could get,” says the now almost 72-year-old Dobroskay Sr. as he recalls the life-alternating event unfolding.

An extensive search by police and search and rescue units from around the region was immediately launched. Dobroskay Sr. remembers cops being led by dogs, helicopters scouring from above and hovercrafts in the water. Not a single sign of the younger Emerson emerged.

“He was gone,” says Dobroskay Sr. from his home on Vancouver Island, “and it’s totally out of character for him to just take off like that.”

LISTEN to Monika Gull’s interview with Emerson Dobroskay Sr. and Const. Kevin Ray


Years later, in the early ’90s, another comprehensive search would also turn up empty.

Described as happy, a bit of an introvert and smart — with particular strength in math and science — Dobroskay Jr. had dreams of becoming a weatherman at the time he was attending UBC. Bright even as a boy, he started Grade 1 a year earlier than other kids his age and had recently graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor’s Degree with Great Distinction.

“First in math, second in physics or vise versa, I can’t remember. He led in one and was second in the other,” recalls Dobroskay Sr. He was proud to admit his son was smarter than him.

In fact, his son’s intelligence is one of the reasons he believes a man with physical features similar to his son spotted at a shelter the summer after he went missing, could have been the same young man.

“[A staff member at the shelter] said ‘he had checked in, he’s not around now, but he didn’t give the name of Emerson Dobroskay, he gave the name John Nash,’” says Dobroskay Sr., who now recognizes that as the same name as the world-famous mathematician.

“Now, this was a few years before that movie, “A Beautiful Mind”, came out, so at that stage, the only type of person that would know of John Nash are mathematicians, that sort of thing.”

1991 article in UBYSSEY via UBC library

The second-hand account sighting is just one of many Dobroskay Sr. and the family has followed up on over the years. Out of hope and desperation, the family has painstakingly looked into countless tips, offered monetary rewards, and roamed the streets of Vancouver. A couple of years after the disappearance, a potential sighting in Las Vegas even sent Dobroskay Sr. to the busy and bright strip.

“I walked the streets, but I could be walking one street and he could be one block over and I’d miss him,” he says, adding that after a while, you end up seeing signs everywhere.

Supposed sightings have also driven many theories on what happened to Dobroskay Jr. — and there’s no shortage of ideas: there was the man named Jeremiah who supposedly gave the UBC student a ride, a suggestion from police that he might have fallen into a construction pit on his way home, and there’s the psychic who suggested Dobroskay Jr. never really left the pub and that a clue lies within the building’s crawl spaces.

Photos of young Emerson Dobraskay Jr. Submitted by Emerson Dobroskay Sr.

Investigators have also been sent in different directions over the years in their quest to solve the puzzling missing persons case.

“There was even a couple of sightings, one in Kingston, Jamaica, one in Barbados, but ultimately we got in contact with the local police departments there and confirmed that they weren’t him,” says University RCMP Constable Kevin Ray, who’s currently handling the case.

“In most cases like this, there’s some sort of clue that directs you in a certain direction. In reading all the statements of the people that were there, whether they were his friends, acquaintances, people that saw him that night, bar staff, the servers at the time, everybody remembers him being there and then he left and no one saw him again.”

Ray says investigators have probed many of the leading possibilities but most have been ruled out.

“What we’re hoping for is, you know, even 30 years after the fact, somebody might have seen something, somebody might remember something, that would give us a clue and aid us in our investigation to find Emerson and hopefully get some closure for the family,” he says.

Police generally don’t believe that Dobroskay Jr. fell into the hands of someone with sinister intentions but rather, his disappearance was caused by some sort of accident.

Dobroskay Sr. is less certain about his son’s fate as without answers, anything is possible. He believes his son may still be alive and that he might get some closure, even after all this time. But he’s well aware he doesn’t have much of it left.

“I can hope, but it’s pretty slim. In three months I’ll be 73, so I’m gonna run out of time.”

If you have any information that could help police in the investigation into Dobroskay Jr.’s disappearance, call University RCMP at 604-224-1322. If you wish to remain anonymous, you can call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8427 or visit their website., www.bccrimestoppers.com.