Robert Thomas Fischer never knew he was missing.
But lucky for him, an employee at the Towson Sheraton did. And with a little help from Mickey Mouse, hotel driver Bud Schneider FTC spotted Mr. Fischer yesterday morning, helping police end a hectic search for the 31-year-old Navy seaman reported missing Wednesday in the Loch Raven Reservoir area where two men were slain last month.
"I saw this guy walking away from the gift shop with fishing rods and a white bucket and his coat and thought it was very peculiar," said Mr. Schneider, who had heard television news reports that Mr. Fischer was missing. "I walked over and turned his left arm and then turned over the right arm and saw a Mickey Mouse tattoo with one of those dunce caps on.
"That's when I knew it was him. And that's when I told him, 'A lot of people think you're dead.' He thought I was crazy."
Mr. Schneider promptly called police, who relayed word to officers at the Warren Road bridge to end the search.
Police said Robert Fischer was dropped off Wednesday morning near the bridge by his father, who arranged to pick him up at 3:30 p.m. But when Thomas Newton Fischer returned, his son was nowhere to be found.
Fire rescue specialists and police, using a helicopter and dogs, searched the reservoir from about 6:30 p.m. until almost midnight. Yesterday, two search dogs started roaming the area again at 6 a.m.
But at midmorning, police drove Robert Fischer to the Warren Road bridge, where he was reunited with his anxious and relieved father.
"Come here before I strangle you," said the elder Mr. Fischer as he embraced his son in front of several smiling police officers, firefighters and reporters. "Me and him, we'regoing to have a long talk after we get home," he added, shaking his head.
Appearing oblivious to all the commotion, the younger Mr. Fischer said he had "hoofed it" more than six miles down Dulaney Valley Road to Towson when his father didn't show up on time at the bridge Wednesday. He said he arrived at the hotel around 8 p.m., checked in and walked across the street to a mall, where he "bought some clothes to clean up."
"I just didn't think to call," said Robert Fischer, who had been stationed in Japan and began his leave at the family's Reisterstown home June 10. He is scheduled to report to the Miramar Naval Air Station in California on July 25.
"It's nice to know they worry, but I can take care of myself," he added. "I guess I caused my dad some heartburn."
County police, meanwhile, were relieved to discover they did not have another homicide on their hands.
Police are trying to solve last month's slayings at the cove. Vernon A. Smith, a 46-year-old Cockeysville contractor was bludgeoned to death, and a man he apparently had never met, Vincent B. Young, a 26-year-old insurance adjuster, was shot fatally.
"Given the circumstances of the deaths last month, we had to be sure," said Cpl. Kevin B. Novak, a police spokesman. "[Robert Fischer's] disappearance was completely mysterious. He was not familiar with the area, it was a heavily wooded area, there were a lot of trails and, of course, the homicides that took place here were also taken into consideration.
"We're just glad he's alive and well."