Special Reports

Search for Robert Manwill turns grim

A crime scene investigator works in the back yard of a home in 6600 block of Southdale Drive Friday afternoon as part of the search for missing eight-year-old Robert Manwill. Two neighbors peer through cracks in the fence to watch. Police have not said what they are looking for at this location.
A crime scene investigator works in the back yard of a home in 6600 block of Southdale Drive Friday afternoon as part of the search for missing eight-year-old Robert Manwill. Two neighbors peer through cracks in the fence to watch. Police have not said what they are looking for at this location. Shawn Raecke / Idaho Statesman

The man whose Boise home and yard were being searched Friday night for evidence related to Robert Manwill's disappearance says he knows the 8-year-old's family but has no idea what may have happened to him.

Evan Wallis told the Idaho Statesman that he doesn't know what police are looking for at his rental home in the 6600 block of Southdale Avenue, near Five Mile Road in Southwest Boise.

"If it's going to help anything, do it," Wallis said. He said he knows Robert's mother and her boyfriend but is much closer to the boyfriend's brother, David Ehrlick. "I'm innocent. I'm an innocent bystander."

Wallis' comments came after 24 hours of drama that began with a Thursday night police search of the apartment near Vista Avenue where Manwill's mother, Melissa Jenkins, lives with her boyfriend, Daniel Ehrlick Jr.

On Friday, police said they had discovered "suspicious circumstances," and as night fell authorities were searching Wallis' backyard.

The Statesman interviewed Wallis at David Ehrlick's home in the 2800 block of Bannock Street. Also interviewed there was Daniel Ehrlick Sr., the father of David Ehrlick and Daniel Ehrlick Jr.

Daniel Ehrlick Sr. said that his son Daniel had accused him of taking Robert and that police had questioned him repeatedly.

THE BACKYARD SEARCH, A STOLEN SUBURBAN

Wallis said the police were digging up his backyard after bloodhounds picked up a scent at his house.

He said his black-and-gray Chevy Suburban was stolen July 22 after someone came into his house and took the keys. He found it Monday after returning from a weekend away and called the Ada County Sheriff's Department.

When officials investigated, he told them of his connection to the Ehrlick family.

"I mentioned that I know these guys. I've met the little boy," Wallis said.

Wallis said he last saw Robert at David Ehrlick's home a few months ago.

He said he and his wife have been re-doing their backyard, planting grass and adding a sandbox. He said he did not notice any disturbances in the backyard, which he said was large and had "a lot of junk" in it.

"It makes me sick to know this is going down at my house right now," he said. "I didn't do nothing back there. I'm not going to say for the record nothing's back there because I don't know. Maybe something did happen along the lines when I was out of town."

EHRLICH'S FATHER: MY SON ACCUSED ME

A man Robert called "Grandpa" said Friday that he has been questioned repeatedly by investigators after his older son accused him of taking Robert and told investigators the same thing.

Daniel Ehrlick Sr., a former Marine who served in Vietnam, said he thought he saw Robert on the day he was reported missing when he stopped by Ehrlick Jr.'s apartment to drop off money to help pay bills.

"(Ehrlick Jr.) told me that Robert was down in the back. When I came to the door, I don't know if it was then that I spotted it, or I spotted it before, but I spotted another boy that looked just like Robert with a white T-shirt on," Ehrlick Sr. said.

Investigators have said Robert was wearing a blue Superman T-shirt at the time of his disappearance.

"I haven't talked to him since he accused me Sunday. I haven't talked to him," Ehrlick Sr. said. "I don't know if (Jenkins and Ehrlick Jr. have) been real truthful with me."

David Ehrlick, Ehrlick Sr.'s youngest son, said he was with his father the entire day on Friday.

Ehrlick Sr. said he used to pick up Robert at his father's house in New Plymouth and bring him to Boise. He teared up as he discussed the missing child while smoking a cigarette in his front yard.

Ehrlick Sr. and his youngest son, David, told a story of a boy that was constantly in trouble with his mother for the pettiest of infractions. David Ehrlick said that Robert was not allowed to go outside and play during a recent birthday party.

"It was scary around her with her children. Robert would get in trouble for everything. It didn't matter if it was asking a question, he'd get grounded. He'd have to sit on his hands," said David Ehrlick. "He's just a little boy."

Said Ehrlick Sr.: "That's why I was afraid to even say, 'Robert, let's go fishing.'"

They said that they told investigators their concern when Jenkins was investigated for injuring her infant in October 2008.

Ehrlick Sr. praised the volunteers and investigators.

"People have been awesome. I just wish there was something I could do for all the people involved," he said. "In my opinion, the Boise police are doing a good job."

POLICE AT THE APARTMENT, THE LANDFILL, THE HOUSE

The police and FBI have been investigating some of the people closest to Robert - including the boy's mother, her boyfriend and his father.

After spending hours searching the apartment shared by Jenkins and Ehrlick Jr. - and removing at least two cars from the Oak Park Village apartment complex near Vista Avenue - police announced that they had found new evidence that showed Robert could have been "the victim of a tragic event." They asked the more than 2,300 volunteers scouring Boise to start looking for signs of a crime.

Meanwhile, officers converged on Wallis' home and cordoned off an area of the Hidden Hollow Landfill that had been left alone since trash was dumped there the morning after Robert was reported missing.

Landfill operators said they could use a backhoe to spread Saturday's refuse thin enough to be searched, if asked.

Boise police had said all week that they had no reason to suspect foul play and had no suspects. But friends and family members say officers had been examining several people close to Robert.

Sean Buffington, who lives upstairs and across the hall from the apartment shared by Jenkins and Ehrlick Jr., said Ehrlick Jr. told him last Sunday that "basically the two of them were the No. 1 suspects" already.

"He said they had been through the wringer as far as interrogations," Buffington said.

Jenkins is on parole after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of injury to a child in relation to an October 2008 incident that left her infant with a fractured skull.

Ehrlick Jr. has been convicted of burglary, battery and possession of drug paraphernalia, and is banned by the courts from being alone with Robert's half-sister.

The couple, who had appeared but not spoken at many of the police updates, did not attend Friday's news conference.

A Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center spokesperson said Friday that Ehrlick Jr. had been admitted and released from the hospital but did not say exactly when or for what he was treated.

Police plan a news conference at noon Saturday to update the public.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444. Reporters Rocky Barker, Cynthia Sewell, Anna Webb and Bethann Stewart contributed.

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