SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — For two years, a family has been searching for answers on how their loved one died in South Dakota. Ryan Pyle was just passing through the state when first he was reported missing. Nearly three months later his remains were discovered by hunters in a remote area near the Missouri River.
Many things about the 37-year-old’s death don’t add up. In tonight’s KELOLAND News Investigation into this “Mystery Death Along the Missouri,” we reveal evidence that points to the potential of foul play and talks with his frustrated family about the lack of any action in the case.
37-year-old Ryan Pyle was a pizza delivery guy, Frisbee golf enthusiast, and a heck of a guitar player.
“He always started his voice mails with ‘I love you, dad.’ He was just good-hearted, not real complicated. But he would give you his shirt if he thought you needed it,” Brian Pyle said.
Ryan’s dad, Brian Pyle, lives in Washington State, but this is his third trip to South Dakota with his wife Nikki. They are searching for answers to the question, “What happened to Ryan?”
Angela Kennecke: What was he doing here?
Brian Pyle: You know I’m not sure. I’m really not.
Ryan’s girlfriend in Fargo had reported him missing on August 8, 2020. His car later turned up in a cornfield in Gregory County.
Kennecke: And you have no idea why his car was in that cornfield?
Brian Pyle: I do not, I do not.
Ryan’s dog, Simba, was found alive on the same side of the river as his car.
“He loved that dog. He took him everywhere,” Niki Pyle said.
But no one knew where Ryan was.
Brian and Nikki took us to a remote area that can only be accessed on foot or by an all-terrain vehicle, where one mystery was solved and another began.
Two hunters stumbled across the remains in a remote gully three months after Ryan was reported missing and his car had been found in the area.
Dental records confirmed the remains were those of Ryan Pyle.
“His knee was badly hurt. So he was having trouble walking and what the DCI inspector, Brian Schnabel, said was that he walked from where his car was up to the road, across the bridge, down the embankment here, down to where the gully was, and up the gully, and died,” Brian Pyle said.
Brian provided KELOLAND Investigates with a recording of their family’s meeting with Gregory County Sheriff Tim Drey:
“All I was told is the body was found in a bog and it looked like it was in a fetal position. So to me in my mind, somebody laid down and got cold, laid in the mud and got cold. That was in my mind, right away–exposure,” Sheriff Drey said.
Brian says he’s not buying the idea that his son died of hypothermia or exposure and here’s why:
The water was nearly 80 degrees and temperatures were in the 90s at the time.
While his bones were found in Charles Mix County, his belongings were across the river in Gregory County.
They were strewn around his car which was found in the cornfield and many items were missing, including the money he had on him.
Brian Pyle: We think he had at least $1,500, if not $3,000.
Kennecke: And where’s the money?
Brian: Nobody knows. It disappeared.
Kennecke: What else is missing?
Brian: Everything. He had no clothes on him. When his remains were found, he had no clothes and I was told over and over, that the coyotes would have taken it all.
Brian provided KELOLAND Investigates with his recorded conversation with investigators with South Dakota’s DCI:
“You’d think we would find something, but come to find out after consulting with experts across the country, with animal predation, especially coyotes, coyotes will eat everything,” DCI agent Isaac Voss said in the recording.
“And I have a real hard time believing that,” Brian Pyle said.
So do national coyote experts we consulted with, who say it is unlikely that coyotes carried off every piece of clothing, Ryan’s shoes, keys, and anything else he may have had on him. Yet, none of those items have ever been found.
According to a report from the Gregory County Sheriff’s Office, they got a call from someone who saw a hitchhiker on August 12th in the area and it was a man wearing a backpack and carrying a guitar and the man, who was most likely Ryan, wanted to take his pickup, but the owner drove away. The sheriff and deputies looked for the hitchhiker, but never located him. Two weeks later, Ryan’s car was found two miles north of where the hitchhiker was seen. The vehicle was unlocked and no keys were in it.
“I believe that somebody could have gone back down there afterward and beat him, beat him to death, and took his money and ransacked his car and threw stuff in the ditch,” Brian said.
Brian’s not alone in that belief. He hired private investigator, Marty O’Connor, out of Yankton to look into the case.
Kennecke: What do you think happened to Ryan Pyle?
O’Connor: I believe he was murdered. I believe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, met the wrong group of people and the rest is in the record books.
According to Ryan’s autopsy report, his nose was broken.
Brian later took his son’s skeletal remains to University of Nebraska Forensic Anthropologist Bill Belcher for examination.
Kennecke: What do you know about the broken nose? What can you tell by his skeleton?
Bill Belcher: He just has basically a broken nose that we know wasn’t healing or hadn’t healed, so we know it happened just before, or at the time, or just after death.
“I learned his nose was broken, at the time of death. Which doesn’t help me. I mean it does, but that’s the part…. Because he was scared. He was scared to death and he was fighting for his life. And they killed him anyhow, my baby boy,” Brian said.
Belcher plans to bring his graduate students to search the remote area where Ryan’s remains were found once the vegetation dies off this fall.
“Maybe there is clothing. Maybe his clothing is down at the bottom, maybe additional remains. It’s not just the bone structures we’re looking for, it’s any other type of evidence,” Belcher said.
“On June 29 of this year, I met with DCI in person, with Charles Mix County State’s Attorney Steve Cotten. I asked the DCI agent to his face if in fact this was a closed case and it took a few seconds, but the answer was yes.”Marty O’Connor, Private Investigator
“To me, DCI hasn’t done what I feel they should have. For one, they told me they were going to fingerprint and DNA the car. And they could have fingerprinted the garbage that was in the ditch. They didn’t even pick it up. And I know Ryan didn’t throw that in there. Somebody did,” Brian said.
While Ryan’s backpack and Frisbees were never found, his guitars were. One was 200 yards from his car smashed in a cornfield and the other was found a half mile away in a wooded area.
“This is a ball dropped and what we do when we drop a ball is we pick it up and say my bust and we go forward from here and make thing happen. We’ve got enough evidence here to go forward with what either is an ag assault turned into a murder or vice-versa, I’m not sure. But he’s got actual injuries that occurred during and at the time of death, confirmed,” O’Connor said.
“That’s the part that frustrates me the most. I guess I trusted that they would help and they would make an earnest effort to help me and I don’t feel they have. In fact, I feel they’ve done everything they can to thwart my efforts. And I’m angry about it.”Ryan Pyle’s father, Brian
The family says it’s the not knowing that makes Ryan’s death even harder to take.
“What was he doing here and what happened to him? It’s such a question; what’s happened? We want to know,” Niki said.
“And I’d like some help. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t how to do this, how to find out. Just some answers,” Brian said.
And until those answers come, this family will not rest.
“This will never be over for me, never, never,” Brian said.
The Pyles are hoping by sharing details of the case, someone will come forward who knows something.
The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation issued KELOLAND Investigates the following statement:
“The DCI has thoroughly investigated every lead in the case of the death of Ryan Pyle. If anyone has any information that might assist the inquiry they are encouraged to contact the DCI.”Stewart Huntington, Spokesperson SD DCI