July 17, 2022

Joe Pichler // 120 // Disappearance

Joe Pichler // 120 // Disappearance

Joseph David Wolfgang Pichler is a child actor that disappeared on January 5th, 2006, when he was 18 years old.  A note was discovered in his car that talked about his desire to be a "stronger brother" and he wanted his belongings to go to his younger brother, but his family does not believe this is a suicide note.



Joseph David Wolfgang Pichler (Pik-ler) was born February 14th, 1987, in Bremerton, Washington. He was the fourth of five children and he started acting when he was 4 years old and was cast in a commercial for a Seattle department store at age 6. This is when the family relocated to Los Angeles, California, so he could begin his acting career. In addition to the commercials and voice overs, he also appeared in things like Touched by an Angel, The Fan, and Varsity Blues, Music from Another Room. He won Young Artist Award: Best Performance in a Feature Film or TV Movie-Young Ensemble in 1999 for his role in Shiloh 2. In 2000, he was cast in Beethoven's 3rd movie as Brennan Newton, he also reprised his role in Beethoven's 4th. The film, Children on Their Birthdays was the last film he did.

When interviewed for the Kitsap Sun in 2001 about how Joe selected his roles, he said, “I've said no to sex and drugs. I don't want to get typecast. I'd much rather do moveis. I like the whole atmosphere of changing characters and meeting new people.”

In 2003, Joe moved back to his hometown of Bremerton, it sounds like the family insisted that he come back. His mom, Kathy, said, “I just wanted him to have some normalcy in his life. He's a good boy and took it well, but he wasn't really happy aoub it.” He graduated high school in 2005 and he was planning to move back to Los Angles in the following year. He had braces on and once they were removed, he was going to get back into acting. The bottom braces had already been taken off, but the top braces needed more time. When he moved back to his hometown, he wasn't living with his family, he lived on his own across town. It's reported that he was not happy about moving back, but he was settling in just fine, it's not like this was a long term thing anyways. He received a significant amount of money from his trust fund after turning 18, so that's how he was able to afford his own place, but he stopped by his parent's home often. Two months before Joe disappeared, he got a full-time job as a telephone technician at TeleTech. He was a tech person for Nextel and another phone company.

It is known that at this time, Joe was experimenting with drugs and alcohol recreationally. He liked to play the card game Magic: The Gathering, he had a pet guinea pig, and he loved Mexican Food and food from Jack In The Box.

In 2006, when Joe was 18 years old, he disappeared. On January 5th, between 4 to 4:30AM he called a friend and this was the last time anyone heard from him. The friend says that Joe was inconsolable on the call and had been drinking. Before they hung up, Joe said he would call his friend back in about an hour, but that never happened. He was last seen with a group of friends and they were playing cards at a friend's place. They say he was in good spirits and acting normal, but one friend claimed his mood changed when the night ended and everyone left. According to reports, Joe drove his friends home after they were done playing cards and he placed the call to his friend after he dropped them off. The friend claimed that Joe said he didn't know why he was crying, but he couldn't stop drinking.

In the article from Seattle Post-Intelligence, it says that we don't know exactly what Joe was wearing on the last day he was seen, but he most likely had a white metal Nixon The Rotolog Real Wood Watch on this left wrist and he may have been wearing a brown t-shirt and jeans. That was his typical style. He usually had t-shirts, very loose-fitting jeans, sneakers, baseball caps, and an animal skin belt. 

Four days later, so this would be on January 9th, his silver 2005 Toyota Corolla was found parked behind a Mexican restaurant near the intersection of Wheaton Way and Sheridan Road in Bremerton. This is near a body of water called Port Washington Narrows. Inside the car, there was a 2 page note. It had some poetry and there was also some written information where Joe apologized for not being a better role model and stronger brother to his younger brother and he wanted his belongings to go to his 17 year old brother, AJ. 

The Pichler family officially reported Joe missing to the policy on January 16th and the last time he had been heard from was on the 5th. The police read the letter and immediately assumed he took his own life. He was drinking, inconsolable, left a letter about his belongings and his car was parked near the water. The family wasn't convinced though. In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligence, Joe's mom said that a detective told her, “I don't know how to say this to you without sounding really bad, but basically I think your son's dead, and it could take months for him to show up in the water.” The detective denies this and said he didn't say that. He said that he actually told Kathy Pichler that the state rules require the department to obtain dental records of any missing persons who haven't been found after 40 days. Police do believe that Joe jumped off the bridge into the Port Madison Narrows, but search dogs did not trace his scent to the bridge.

According to the family, the last outgoing call on Joe's cell phone was between 4 to 4:30 AM on January 5th when he called his friend. (I saw different times for the call in each article, so it's 4, 4:08, 4:15 or 4:30) The friend told Joe's mom, Kathy that the two of them hung out earlier that day. They had been drinking alcohol and writing poetry together. The friend says that when Joe called him, he recited a poem to him and told him to write it down. All of Joe's belongings were left behind, but two things were missing. His car keys and his wallet. His apartment was found unlocked and all the lights were on, which his family says is not something he would do.

Joe is considered to be in danger as some of the poetry did indicate that he was feeling depressed, but he did not indicate that he was going to harm himself. He typically carried an albuterol inhaler with him, but did not have it when he disappeared.

He has light brown hair, hazel green eyes and he has a red Star Wars emblem tattoo on his inner right forearm and a small scar across the bridge of his nose. At the time of his disappearance, he had black rubber bands on his top braces and he was only 1-2 months away from getting them off and then he could move back to Los Angeles.

If Joe just disappeared on his own, his sister, Shawna believes he may be too embarrassed to come home now, like things have gone on way too long, he wouldn't know how to face everyone. She says worst-case scenario, if he's not alive, she believes it's foul play, but not suicide. His brother Matthew said the note talked about how he wanted to start over. And his mom added that there was no goodbye. 

Joe's mother and sister said that his car was released to the family without fully being processed for evidence. They say that the police didn't fingerprint the car, they didn't go through it, and they didn't even go through his apartment, they were in there for about 3 minutes before calling it good. One investigator said he believed the crime scene investigators did process the car for prints, but he couldn't be positive because he was the only one in the office at the time he was being questioned and he didn't have the reports handy.

The Bremerton police say that tips still come in from time to time and they are exploring all options. They have monitored Joe's bank accounts, driver's license, social security records, and even his MySpace page, but nothing has come of this.

Joe's sister Shawna says: “People say it gets easier with time. I guess that's true when you know where the person is. The worse feeling out of all of this is the alone feeling. After time goes by, the press stops, people move on....but for us, it doesn't stop, it just keeps going.”

Joe's mom is very frustrated with the outcome of this case and believes that the Bremerton Police made up their minds about their suicide theory and didn't do a thorough job investigating this case. She wrote on the Surviving Parents Coalition Website in 2011:

“My son, Joseph Pichler, went missing five and a half years ago. His case was handled SO poorly by police and most of the evidence was lost. Their mistakes were because local police didn't know the correct procedures for missing children/persons. Since the disappearance of my son, my local law enforcement has learned to handle these cases much better. For that, I am very thankful. It helps find some purpose for my family's tragedy. Joseph is not a runaway; that's the only thing I know for sure about his disappearance. We still have no resolution. Since Joseph's disappearance, my focus has been to help raise awareness of our nation's epidemic. I also struggle to get through each day without answers as to the whereabouts of my missing son. Our system is so very broken, in so many ways. Through education and prevention, there is hope. I keep looking for purpose in my son's disappearance. The only way I've found anything positive about my loss is when I help others live this nightmare. I do understand the suffering of other parents. Now I try to work for a better future so that others aren't forced to wear these shoes.”

The Pichler family has had a lot of help in their search for Joe. Janet Bates, who volunteers as the family spokeswoman has worked on missing persons cases in every U.S. State and is passionate about helping families find their loved ones. Her own grandfather was murdered when she was younger, so she knows what it's like and she is very passionate about this particular case. Janet Bates says, “I live and breathe Joe's case and I won't let it collect dust. I will not rest until this kid is brought home one way or another.” She makes sure a spotlight stays on his disappearance. 

Joe's mom, Kathy and his sister, Shawna went to New York as volunteers for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They want to teach local communities about the resources that are available to them when someone goes missing.


-He wrote in the note that his belongings should go to his brother. Some people believe that's because he was planning to take his own life, but what if he was leaving his items behind because he was moving in 1-2 months when he got his braces off? He had a trust fund, he may not have needed all of his belongings.

-The note in the car may mean absolutely nothing. The friend that he called said they spent the day drinking and writing poetry. It may have just been his thoughts, like he was journaling almost and not necessarily a note that was being left behind.

-It's suspicious that the apartment door was unlocked and the lights were all on. That to me sounds like someone left in a hurry or intended to come back quickly.

-I did read some online forums that said there was something missing from his apartment. The Some of the Magic: The Gathering cards were missing.

-The search dogs didn't pick up his scent at the bridge. What if he didn't drive the vehicle to the intersection? Also, why would he take his car keys if he was taking his life? Sure, he could have grabbed them out of habit, but that seems strange to me.

This is an unsolved case, if you have any information, please contact the Bremerton Police Department at 360-473-5228 or call 1-800-THE-LOST