When a loved one goes missing in the United States, their families file a missing person report in good faith that local law enforcement will conduct a thorough investigation into their disappearance. Concurrent with the investigation, family and loved ones conduct their own information campaign, keeping their missing loved one’s face in the media to increase the likelihood of their being found. However, when a person goes missing in Mexico, families and friends might not have recourse from the American government.
American investigative bodies do not have jurisdiction in Mexico. When Americans go missing in Mexico, the FBI is only able to assist Mexican law enforcement in searching for the missing person. The Los Angeles Times covered the story of a missing man named Francisco Aguilar, an American citizen and firefighter. Aguilar was last heard from in an WhatsApp message from his Rosarito beach home. Aguilar’s ex-wife, Karla Izquierdo, remarked on how difficult it has been for her family in the wake of Aguilar’s disappearance, “This is a living nightmare. Since this happened, we’ve been meeting all these families in Mexico who have also been searching for their loved ones for years and have been left without answers.” Despite filing a missing person report, Izquierdo said it was weeks before investigators in Mexican law enforcement seriously looked into what has been called Aguilar’s “forced disappearance,” leading to hundreds of hours of lost time and case progression.
The Baja California Police Department has come to the defense of the Mexican authorities, stating that Aguilar’s disappearance was thoroughly investigated, particularly because there was immediate evidence of foul play at his Rosarita home, including missing property and blood found inside the home. Two people were arrested in Aguilar’s disappearance after being found in possession of his credit cards. A former San Diego police sergeant by the name of Oscar Armenta vouched for the Mexican authorities, “I can personally tell you they’re outstanding at investigations. They’re really good at boots on the ground, with the limited resources and the other challenges they face.”
When a loved one goes missing in Mexico, Americans usually begin their due-diligence inside the United States by filing a missing person report. Anyone can file a missing person report in the United States for a loved one who disappeared outside of the country—however, American authorities realizing they have no jurisdiction in the area will advise “if you think your loved one is in Mexico, go to Mexico.”
Americans who go missing in Mexico typically—either by design or by happenstance—have run afoul of illegal activity south of the border. Criminals in Mexico do not kidnap Americans for the sake of doing so. Missing Americans in Mexico typically draw a lot of attention from both media and law enforcement that make operating a criminal empire more difficult. Without recourse from other law enforcement agencies, there are families who follow their scant advice and travel south of the border in search of their loved one missing in Mexico, despite the fact that they also run the risk of coming to harm.
Not all families are equipped to drop their entire lives to search for a missing loved one. Even fewer are able to make it down to Mexico to conduct a proper search. That’s why many families turn to the expertise of Lauth Investigations International and their team of private investigators to find answers in the case of their missing loved one. A private investigator can be the ideal professional to conduct a missing person search in tandem with law enforcement. Private investigators are independent from law enforcement and are not bound by any jurisdictional restrictions. This means no time is lost in looking for the missing person. Private investigators have a diverse tool chest of skills that allow them to turn over every rock in Mexico in search of a missing person. Because they’re not law enforcement, witnesses are more comfortable opening up to private investigators, giving them necessary information needed for case progression. Lauth’s private investigators have previously worked with the FBI, Interpol, and other agencies to recover missing persons from throughout the globe. If your loved one has gone missing, call Lauth Investigations International at 317-951-1100.
A Woodland Hills family is breathing a sigh of relief this week since the recovery of a mother who had been missing for almost two weeks. Holly Courtier, 38, was found alive October 18 in Zion National Park in Utah following an extensive search by friends, family, and law enforcement. Holly Courtier had arrived in the area of the park on October 6 by virtue of a private shuttle bus that was meant to pick her up from the park the same day. She did not make the return trip in the shuttle bus however. Park rangers were able to locate her after they received “a credible tip from a park visitor that they had seen Courtier within the park.” While the circumstances of her disappearance still remain murky, her family is overjoyed to have her back. Courtier’s family expressed their gratitude in a statement, “We would like to thank the rangers and search teams who relentlessly looked for her day and night and never gave up hope. We are also so grateful to the countless volunteers who were generous with their time, resources, and support.”
Courtier’s story is not an isolated incident by any means. People go missing in national parks every year. When a person goes missing in a national park, the disappearance is usually attributed to the missing person having ran afoul of nature or misadventure, a non-human element that has caused them to come to harm and are unable to call for help. Data surrounding the exact amount of people who have disappeared in our national parks system is unreliable or inaccurate, depending on the source, because the government does not invest in resources for tracking these incidents. In the case of Holly Courtier, if she had not been located, her disappearance may have never entered a database. Courtier’s family may have had to settle for an educated guess by law enforcement that she was attacked by a wild animal. Courtier was luckily seen by another person visiting the park, leading to her safe recovery. The disappearances of persons in national parks over the years have concluded more favorably in recent years with improvements in technology and the amount of resources available to aid in searches in national parks. For Holly Courtier’s family, they now have the answers they need and their loved one back in their embrace.
It was nearly a year ago that the nation was first captivated by the story of Lori Vallow and her missing children. The entire story read like a salacious doomsday novel, involving cultist extremism, murder conspiracies, and the lives of two missing children who fell through the cracks in the system. Seventeen year-old Tylee Ryan and seven year-old Joshua “JJ” Ryan were last seen last fall in September. It wasn’t until November that they were reported missing and police went to the home of their mother, Lori Vallow, to perform a welfare check. Lori Vallow and her new husband, Chad Daybell, told law enforcement that the children had been living in Arizona. When the police returned the next day with a search warrant for the home, they discovered that both Vallow and Daybell had fled.
While law enforcement searched for Tylee and JJ, journalists and bloggers alike started digging into the lives of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell. What emerged what a slew of intriguing and suspect details about their personal lives. A handful of people in their spheres had turned up dead, including both of their spouses. Daybell’s previous wife, Tammy, died of natural causes, according to her obituary just two short weeks before he married Vallow. Lori Vallow’s previous husband, Charles Vallow, was shot and killed by her brother Alex Cox, who subsequently died from what has been described as “unknown causes.” The sudden deaths of both their spouses their following nuptials, and their flight from Idaho have been the fuel that sustains an online brushfire of conspiracy theories.
J.J.’s autism required the use of a service dog, primarily for sleeping soundly through the night. A dog trainer based in Arizona has come forward with startling information, “I was surprised and shocked when I got the call from Lori that she needed to re-home the dog.” Her only explanation was that her husband had recently passed and the family was moving to Idaho.
The new year came and went, and finally in June of 2020, law enforcement made a discovery that confirmed their worst fears. While executing a search warrant on Chad Daybell’s home in Fremont County, Wyoming, they located human remains that were later identified as JJ and Tylee. As the legal process continues to unfold for Vallow and Daybell, the media is already seizing on the aftermath of what has turned out to be a grisly and heartbreaking case. A recent television special revealed disturbing new details, particularly from Lori Vallow’s friend, Melanie Gibbs, who told the production that when asked about JJ’s whereabouts, Lori told her that JJ was “safe and happy.” This became concerning to Gibbs when she realized that Vallow had told other friends that JJ was in Gibbs’ care prior to his going missing.
As investigators continue to unravel the twisted world of fanaticism and murder, Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell sit in jail, awaiting trial for the unlawful disposal of JJ and Tylee’s remains, the grandparents of JJ Vallow grieve the loss of two bright and effervescent children who were taken from this earth too soon. Upon visiting the site on Chad Daybell’s property where the children’s remains were found, Larry and Kay Woodcock were greeted by the site of mementos and messages of support hung on the fence that lines the property. Moving forward, Woodcock stating that he is interested in a peaceful existence with Daybell’s family, “I’m not coming in hostility in any way. I come with trying to be the peacemaker, and that’s all I want. I just want to be a peacemaker. Let’s all get along here.”
A nervous, home-bound American population is not shy about how obsessed they are with Netflix’s true-crime docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. The nation is enthralled with the story of Joe Exotic, the owner of the infamous G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma and his personal and professional drama with other big cat owners in the wildlife community. Joe Exotic’s story, full of twists and turns, brings the viewer’s focus to big cat sanctuary owner, Carole Baskin, his self-declared arch-nemesis. While the documentary has viewers feverishly binging the series, it’s also left viewers with a lot of questions about Carole Baskin’s second husband, Don Lewis, whose 1997 disappearance has never been solved.
From his platform as the subject of the documentary and through his YouTube reality show about his zoo, Joe Exotic is too excited to direct fans to the alleged bad acts of Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. Among a litany of accusations towards Baskin, the one that really had fans arching an eyebrow was the accusation that Carole Baskin was responsible for the disappearance of her second husband, Don Lewis, and covered up his death by feeding his remains to the tigers in the sanctuary. In a time where missing person cases are receiving less attention because of COVID-19 coverage, law enforcement and armchair detectives alike are taking a deeper dive into this cold 1997 missing persons case.
The third episode of the series examines the facts of Don Lewis’s missing person case, documenting his alleged history of womanizing and leading a second life with a girlfriend in Costa Rica. To camera, Carole describes a marriage that at its best was mutually beneficial, and at its worst was insufferable, “Don was not easy to live with and like most couples, we had our moments.” She described a pattern of erratic behavior, which she retroactively attributes to the possibility that Don was suffering from deteriorating mental capacity, possibly from Alzheimer’s. She was also able to confirm after his disappearance that he was being treated for bipolar disorder when she found a prescription for it in their home. It was well-known that Don Lewis was worth millions—although reports of how many millions differs depending on the talking head. Alternate theories of his disappearance have included that he used his vast wealth to disappear to Costa Rica to live with one of his extramarital partners.
Carole Baskin is not the only subject in the docuseries who is revolted by how she is portrayed, and like the others, she took to social media to defend herself as the film started to receive a wave of backlash. In a long media post after the docuseries’ release, Baskin vehemently denied once again that she ever played a part in Don Lewis’ disappearance, citing particular dissatisfaction that the docuseries perpetuated the ‘rumor’ that she had fed her husband’s remains to the tigers in the sanctuary, “The meat grinder shown in the video was enormous. Our meat grinder was one of those little table-top, hand crank things, like you’d have in your kitchen at home.” Baskin went on to say that at the time of her husband’s disappearance, she was engaged in the search and cooperative with law enforcement, “When he disappeared, I did everything I could to assist the police. I encouraged them to check out the rumors from Costa Rica, and separately, I hired a private investigator.” The “rumors from Costa Rica” come from a theory that Don Lewis might have permanently relocated to Costa Rica, where he had visited many times, both for business and pleasure. The rumors go further to suggest that Don had a mistress with whom he was attempting to build a new life. Carole Baskin’s full response to Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness can be found on the Big Cat Rescue website.
The real-life drama of these big cat professionals has taken another strange turn as ABC announced that Baskin would be appearing on the next season of Dancing with the Stars, leading to complex discourse about the ethics of putting a figure like Carole Baskin on the reality television show. Despite the fact that law enforcement was unable to link her to Don Lewis’s disappearance, the idea has left a bad taste in the mouth of some viewers who call the move ‘tasteless.’ Prior to being eliminated from the show, the family of Don Lewis took out local ad space to raise awareness about his unsolved disappearance. The family of Don Lewis, their attorney, and his former assistant appeared in the television spot right before Dancing With the Stars was set to air, encouraging anyone with information to contact law enforcement. Attorney John Philips said that some of the tips that were generated by the ad spot have proven to be credible, with tipsters offering both people and locations to investigate with due-diligence.
The Netflix docuseries has reignited interest in Don Lewis’ cold missing person case within present-day law enforcement. Chad Chronister, the sheriff in Tampa, Florida, tweeted out that he was asking for anyone with information to come forward in the interest of generating new leads in Don’s disappearance. Law enforcement at the time of the disappearance made it clear that Carole Baskin was investigated as a person of interest in Don’s disappearance, but they found “nothing linked her to being involved.” Its not uncommon for the spouse of a missing person to be looked at as a person of interest in their disappearance, but when the lead has been exhausted, investigators move on. Don Lewis’ missing person case is just one in an excess of 800,000 cases that remain unsolved today.
Anyone with information on the disappearance of Jack “Don” Lewis is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8200.
In recent weeks, U.S. marshals have recovered 72 survivors of sex trafficking in Indiana, Ohio, and Georgia during “Operation Homecoming” in tandem with a string of similar operations occurring throughout the United States. The operation concludes within children from a wide age range being rescued from dangerous criminals who intend to traffic these children with intent to exploit throughout the United States and the globe. Of those children, eight were recovered in Indiana, leaving many with questions regarding sex trafficking in the Midwest.
Because cases of sex trafficking are not often reported on in extensive detail, social justice warriors have taken to creating hashtags to spread awareness. Among these is the hashtag #SaveOurChildren which seeks to bring awareness to sex trafficking and the pervasive cloak of criminal conspiracy under which it supposedly thrives. From claims that the furniture company Wayfair was selling children by disguising them as cabinets on the website to claims that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are aiding or abetting sex traffickers by allowing access to record numbers of displaced children, awareness of the machinations of sex trafficking are becoming a more tangible fear for many Americans. In Indiana particularly, learning how pervasive sex trafficking in Indiana has been and continues to be can be a difficult reality for those who previously thought of their state as a safe Midwestern state to live and thrive. Sex trafficking the midwest is underreported and dismissed as fiction by many under the false assumption that sex trafficking only occurs in enormous, bustling cities. Sex trafficking in the Midwest can be just as pervasive, if not more so, due to lack of awareness on the problem.
Professionals across multiple disciplines and capacities, including medicine, social services, and the criminal justice come across survivors of sex trafficking in Indiana at a much needed, if overdue point of intervention. This leaves many professionals and advocates at a loss, as they only have a limited role in preventing sex trafficking before it happens. Kalyani Gopal, the founder and president of SAFE Coalition for Human Rights recently told the Chicago Tribune, “There is significant underreporting in Indiana due to a lack of training and awareness among first responders. Trafficking victims do not identify as being trafficked for many reasons, Mostly, they see themselves as being with a boyfriend or being used by a family for paying bills.” The reality is that in many of these situations, the “boyfriend” is actually a pimp exploiting the survivor through manipulation and violence. Survivors of sex trafficking in Indiana have often previously been subjected to molestation, domestic violence, and extreme poverty, leaving them with few options or cognitive tools to recognize a pattern of abuse and report it to authorities. This tracks with a Fox59 report from 2019 that states Indiana was one of only 20 states in the country that had no new criminal sex trafficking cases pending in the criminal court system. However, experts and advocates alike agree that this is not indicative of a fall in sex trafficking in Indiana. Kyleigh Feehs of the Associate Legal Counsel for the Human Trafficking Institute said in a public statement,
“There’s no evidence that shows that trafficking in the U.S. has dropped so the fact these prosecutions are dropping means there are more traffickers who are free to continue to exploit victims they have in their custody now as well as a future stream of victims. One of the most effective ways to combat trafficking is to prosecute traffickers, so this decline in cases is concerning ot us and we hope that this data will show that there’s a need to prioritize this issue and to dedicate, have dedicated investigators, and prosecutors who are working to stop traffickers.”
Indiana has been unflatteringly called “the armpit of the sex trafficking industry in the Midwest.” The same set of circumstances that garnered the state motto “The Crossroads of America” makes Indiana a hotspot for sex traffickers. The proximity to the city of Chicago and major interstates that extend to the rest of the country make the path through Indiana unfortunately efficient to move survivors through, often undetected by law enforcement. By the time law enforcement becomes aware of any sex trafficking activity, traffickers may easily have slipped out of state and beyond their jurisdictional reach. Sex trafficking in Indiana is not only allowed to prevail under the binds of the state, but also through general apathy or horror. The inherent problem with combatting sex trafficking is that from law enforcement officials to private citizens, adults in the United States would rather ignore the problem with internal rationalizations involving the assumption that law and order successfully curbs these crimes coupled with general apathy and victim-blaming. In addition, the ever-evolving sophistication of sex traffickers, law enforcement also must work within a broken social system where endangered children and survivors constantly slip through the cracks. In Gopal’s words, “No community is immune.”
When it comes to missing children, sex trafficking is often one of the most horrifying culprits. Survivors of sex trafficking are particularly between 12 and 14 years of age, have been groomed over the internet, and have been lured from their homes into criminal clutches. Unfortunately, children who are reported missing by their families to law enforcement as “runaways” may not get the attention they deserve as endangered missing children—simply because runaways do not want to be found, and law enforcement often prioritizes time and resources elsewhere.
Sex trafficking is deeply exploitive for survivors, but they are not the only one effected by the horrors of sex trafficking. Their families are left twisting when law enforcement is unable to recover their endangered child from sex trafficking. That’s why many families turn to private investigators to find answers when their child goes missing. Private investigators carry similar skillsets to law enforcement in investigative methodology, surveillance technology, and fact-finding. Private investigators are typically self-employed and independent of any chain of command, which means they are not tethered by the same jurisdictional or bureaucratic red tape. This allows private investigators to follow leads from state to state as sex traffickers keep moving to evade law enforcement. Many private investigators are former law enforcement personnel who can assist police in a recovery effort once they’ve successfully located a missing child who has been trafficked.
Lauth Investigations International is a private investigation firm located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Their founder, Thomas Lauth, is one of the nation’s foremost experts in missing children. For over 20 years, Lauth has been working with families of missing children, documenting the factors that led to them being coerced into sex trafficking, and assisting law enforcement in recovery operations to reunite survivors with their families. “It is very important for families to seek help independent from law enforcement in tandem with filing a police report. Unfortunately, law enforcement can be often unable or unwilling to help families of trafficked children because they see them as runaways. Having a private investigator involved at the onset of the case ensure that families with missing children have a greater chance of finding their missing children.