Family members of Robert Hilker, a chef hired at a downtown Pleasanton restaurant several months before disappearing in late spring, have confirmed that his was the previously unidentified body found yards off the Marilyn Murphy Kane Trail in early September.
The Pleasanton Police Department declined to confirm the identity this week, with Lt. Erik Silacci saying investigators are still waiting on final positive confirmation from the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau, with DNA analysis pending due to the level of decomposition of the remains. But Silacci did say the coroner provided a family with a preliminary notification in the case.
Multiple family members of Hilker, in social media posts widely distributed among Pleasanton community groups starting last weekend, publicly confirmed that they've been told it was the 39-year-old whose body was discovered on the evening of Sept. 3 in a brush area a number of yards away from the trail path.
The remains belonged to a male decedent, but they had experienced significant decomposition out in the open over the summer, rendering identification difficult, police said at the time.
Hilker, who was working as a chef for Pairings Wine-Bar Restaurant on Main Street, was last seen on Memorial Day. PPD put out a missing-person alert about Hilker via social media on June 17.
"His loved ones and I kept up our hope, and searched for him until September 4 when an unidentified body was found and our worst fears were confirmed; Robert was gone," Hilker's aunt, Cathie Hilker Deal, wrote on Facebook. Her fundraising campaign, which is trying to generate support for Hilker's toddler son, has taken in $13,568 toward its $15,000 goal since starting four days ago.
Hilker's longtime girlfriend Lindsay Potter also confirmed the news on social media.
"His friends, family and I never stopped trying to find Rob, but I knew deep down he'd never have just left us and those that knew him would say the same. He was compassionate, protective and outgoing with a side of sarcasm lol. He was a proud father, loved his family and his profession," Potter wrote.
"It's been hard to wrap my mind around everything and I know a part of me is still in denial as I type this," she added. "While this isn't the outcome anyone had hoped for, his family and I are grateful to the woman who found his body, very sorry for what she experienced, but we are able to have some closure because of her and not spend our days and nights wondering where he is. We can finally lay him to rest, down with his mother (who died in September) in Southern California."
The owners of Pairings shared about Hilker when contacted by the Weekly on Tuesday, saying he had joined their team the first week of March not long before the restaurant shut down at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Hilker had remained on board working on new menu items and ingredient sourcing for their eventual reopening.
"Unfortunately, the week after Memorial Day weekend, Lindsay contacted us saying he had gone missing. We too had stopped hearing from him," Dana and John Campanella said in an email. "We all hoped he would eventually show back up and the Pleasanton community had seemed to come together to look for him. But we also knew how much he loved his son and Lindsay. It just didn't make sense."
"It's all so tragic and sad for everyone," the Campanellas added.
The police investigation, meanwhile, remains open until the coroner confirms the identification via DNA, according to Silacci. A cause of death is still not known.
"The coroner sent the DNA to their lab for analysis. This process can take several weeks or even longer depending on what their backlog is," Silacci said.