An earlier of version of this story stated the name of the docu-series was "Ashes to Ash: The Case of Robert Bee". Ashes to Ash TV is the name of the YouTube channel that the series will air on. "The Case of Robert Bee" is the name of the series.
On July 25, 2017, skeletal remains of a teenage boy were found in a plot of woods just off Route 29 on the south side of Pekin.
If you’re from Pekin, you probably know the name of that teenager. If you aren’t from Pekin, you likely don’t.
Though Robert Bee’s remains were found on that summer day in 2017, the case remains unsolved. The public still doesn’t know what happened to Bee after he ran away from his home to evade a truancy officer in 2016.
After hundreds of tips — and one obstruction of justice arrest in December 2016 — police had yet to find Bee, and by February 2017 the tips had dried up.
In July 2017, a man found a skull while he was mowing his backyard lawn, and the disappearance of Robert Bee had the unfortunate end the city had feared.
What the city still doesn’t know is how and why Robert Bee’s remains got to those woods and what happened in the time in-between.
The case of Robert Bee didn’t gain widespread national attention, but it did catch the eye of a New Jersey filmmaker who is beginning work on a docu-series and podcast about the case.
Soon, the world might be a lot more familiar with Robert “Bonzai” Bee.
Ash Patino is the owner of Generic Brand Human, a video production company based in Stanhope, N.J. She was in Pekin on Tuesday, July 9, checking out the landscape of the place she had come to know, but hadn’t yet set foot in.
Patino and fellow filmmaker Koehl Ehlers spent the day meeting with sources and filming B-roll for the project titled “The Case of Robert Bee” which will appear on the YouTube channel Ashes to Ash TV.
Patino spoke with the Daily Times about the docu-series, how she came to learn about the case, and the strange, strange things you can find on Facebook.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity:
What was it about Robert Bee’s case that made you decide to choose it as the focus of your next project?
I honestly think it was everyone’s passion towards wanting an answer. I was almost overwhelmed by (it). Not only were there different Facebook groups — there were multiple — but they all had different theories.
We posted on one of the groups that we were coming, (seeing) if anyone had any information, and pretty soon one of the other people were posting ‘who are these people’ on other groups. I’m like, ‘My God! these people care so much.’ And everyone just wants an answer. That’s the cool thing too; everyone’s cautious but wanting to talk also.
With discovering the case through social media and doing some research through the various platforms, how do you parse through what’s helpful and what’s not?
It’s been one of the most helpful and least helpful things. It’s really picking through things, it’s really overwhelming the amount of stuff people are sending through Facebook. I think it’s good in the way it gets our feet under us and starts to explain the (people) to us, but then I think we have to let it go.
When doing a piece like this, there’s always that line of ‘are we trying to solve this, or are we providing information to tell a story?’ Do you find yourself on one side of that spectrum, or do you think there’s room for both?
I think especially in recent years what you’ve seen some podcasters do is they give people time to respond. Everything I’ve made in the past has been like a movie. It comes out and it is what it is and that’s it. Now, you have people who want to respond, and they are curious about what’s happening, and we felt like this case could have that be part of it.
We want to release episodes (of the docu-series and the podcast) every two weeks, so that episode will come out and it gives people a chance to respond to it. I think that we’re going to have a number and an email so that if people have tips or they want to remain anonymous they can call or tell us something.
On the other side of that, I’m a filmmaker. I’m not a podcaster, but I think the podcast will be a good way to get that information, and I think we can create that series out of it. Whether that just means at the end we don’t know (what happened) but Robert was an important person and that should be recognized, or maybe we do uncover something and that would be amazing.
Tell us a little bit more about the format, how will the rollout work with the podcast and the docu-series?
The podcast will be almost identical to the series as far as the information that we’re providing. We’re going to alter them a little bit because one’s obviously audio based. Really the purpose is if somebody likes to watch things, to cover that base and, if someone likes to hear things, to cover that.
There’s a podcast called ‘Up and Vanished.’ Beautiful job, but one thing I thought that was too bad is he didn’t film everything. He’s got the podcasting crowd, but I don’t think he probably captured the TV watching crowd or YouTube watchers. That’s really what we want to do.
I think we want to have the first one come out in about two months, I think that’s probably a safe estimate. From there my hope is to do something every other week.
Where can people find the project?
We’ll start releasing the podcast on the places you get your podcasts, and we’re going to do the series starting on (our) YouTube (channel: Generic Brand Human). So people will be able to immediately gain access to this.
We’ve seen true crime podcasts gain notoriety on a large scale in recent years, probably since ‘Serial’ came out, but what brought you guys into the genre?
I think I’ve always been into true crime because I’m fascinated by people’s behavior I guess, and sometimes our lack of being able to see the obvious answer where people have been freed and other people end up getting hurt.
I think that’s been something that’s frustrated me throughout my life, and I think from that perspective it’s always been fascinating to me when you hear about these stories where they have 10 times to catch somebody and nothing happened. And so I think that kind of brought us in (to the genre). Then two years ago, a young lady in a town near where I live committed suicide after being bullied at school, and the family hired me to do a documentary on it. I had done narrative films prior to that, that was my first documentary, and when that happened, I thought ‘this is where I’m meant to be.’
When I started to see how many people care about this stuff, I started to think we can give a voice to people who can’t say anything now. That’s kind of my goal through all of this: this person’s gone and there could be a solution that we just don’t see so let us try and sort it out.
Where are you at in the filmmaking process?
We made a couple calls prior (to coming to Pekin). We actually listened to them all in the car on the way down, because it’s a lot, we had to try to sort this all out because sometimes it’s hard to ask questions when you’re thrown so much information. Now I feel like we’re actually (understanding) the different players.
I don’t have a theory yet, but even today going to where the body was and seeing the evidence flags still on the ground, I think that’s been what’s interesting. When you read the reports it always says ‘rural Tazewell County,’ so we’re picturing 20 miles out in the middle of nowhere, and (actually) it’s the edge of town. It’s next to a couple houses.
I think seeing where he was left was a chilling moment. Because you’re doing all this and it brings you back to why you’re doing it. There’s the excitement and learning and then all of a sudden you’re like ‘Oh wow, I’m doing this because a boy’s not here.’
What are the questions that you want to answer through the project?
I guess the biggest question I have is where Robert was that night. I feel like that is really up in the air. Obviously a lot of the things we’re dealing with are hearsay. We’re trying to corroborate everything before we put anything up because I also don’t want to put out a name or get someone in the weeds who shouldn’t be. We want to protect everything we’re doing also, just to protect everybody involved.