Remains of Vanessa Guillén identified, suspect charged.

Remains of Vanessa Guillén identified, suspect charged.

The family of Vanessa Guillén had their worst fears confirmed last week when the Army officially identified human remains as belonging to the missing Fort Hood soldier. Vanessa Guillén disappeared in late April 2020 from her regiment headquarters located near Killeen, Texas. Her remains were found last Tuesday in what has been described as a “shallow grave” by a river in Texas. Authorities have stated they believe Guillén was killed by a fellow soldier, prompting outcry from the community and legislators who have demanded an investigation into the oversights that contributed to this crime.  

Remains of Vanessa Guillén identified, suspect charged.

Vanessa Guillén’s missing person case has been turbulent over the last ten days, beginning with the discovery of her remains by contractors who were working on a fence near the burial site. In a ghastly discovery, investigators found human remains in multiple locations throughout the area. According to ABC13, “When authorities searched the area, they found scattered human remains that appeared to be placed into a concrete-like substance and buried.”

Following the identification of the remains of Vanessa Guillén, investigators were able to identify a person of interest in the case—Aaron David Robinson, 20, an Army Specialist serving with Vanessa Guillén at Fort Hood. Robinson died by suicide on the day authorities contacted him after  Guillén’s remains were identified. While it’s clear we’ll never get to hear an explanation from Robinson himself on his alleged role in the murder of Vanessa Guillén, police have received a gruesome alleged account from his estranged girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar.

Aguilar, 22, has officially been charged with a single count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence with regards to her role in concealing Vanessa Guillén’s murder. She gave a second-hand account of Guillén’s murder based on what Robinson allegedly confessed to her when he solicited her help in burying the remains. Aguilar told investigators that Robinson had confessed he had killed Vanessa Guillén in his arms room while on post the day she went missing. He did so by striking her in the head with a hammer. According to Aguilar, he then placed her body in an box and moved the box off-base near Leon River.

Aguilar then told investigators that Robinson picked her up from a gas station and took her to the box. According to what Aguilar told investigators, she then assisted Robinson in dismembering Vanessa Guillén and placing her remains in holes in three different locations near the bridge where they were discovered by contractors last week. Aguilar’s first court hearing is Monday, July 13.

The attorney representing Vanessa Guillén’s family has stated that Guillén may have been sexually harassed before her disappearance, but Army investigators have yet to establish a connection between the alleged harassment and the murder. The family has also criticized the Army for failing to act in the weeks following Guillén’s disappearance, stating that it wasn’t until national spotlight was on the case that the investigation was able to move forward. Major General Scott Efflandt defended against these claims by saying during a press conference, “What I was able to share [with the family] was tempered by my responsibility to protect the investigation so that we could a) find Vanessa; b) prosecute those responsible for this travesty, and in the end be in a position to punish them.”

Vanessa Guillén’s death prompted many in communities surrounding Fort Hood spent their Fourth of July a little differently this year. Thousands took to the streets of Houston last Saturday, demanding justice and accountability for a fallen member of the armed forces in the days following the identification of her remains. The case has sparked outrage from citizens in different walks of life including mothers and veterans who were sickened to hear the story of the Fort Hood Soldier, and how the Army appeared to have dragged its feet when it came to investigating her disappearance and getting answers for her family.

Search for Pregnant and Missing Chicago Women Continues

Search for Pregnant and Missing Chicago Women Continues

Their due dates have passed, but these women have still not been found…

The ticking of the clock is resonating as a heavy blow in Chicago, as communities continue to demand answers in the cases of two pregnant and missing women who have disappeared from the south side over the last year. As of today, their due dates have passed, further compounding the concern and worry of friends and family.

Back in October of 2018, we shared the story of 26-year-old postal carrier, Kierra Coles. She was three months pregnant at the time of her disappearance, and her projected due date was April 23. She was last seen leaving her apartment on October 2, 2018.  She lived by herself in her new apartment, having lived there for four months. She was regularly in touch with her mother, Karen Phillips.

When Karen could not get ahold of Kierra for three days, she reported her missing to the police. The key piece of evidence in Kierra’s disappearance is CCTV footage showing her leaving her apartment on the morning of October 2nd, walking up and down the street a few times before disappearing from view forever.

The search for Marlen Ochoa-Uriostegui is barely a week old as authorities search desperately for answers. The 19-year-old was last seen on April 30th, leaving the Latino Youth High School in Pilsen. Like Kierra, CCTV footage taken from the school’s exterior shows Marlen walking off campus alone at 3:05 PM. She was nine months pregnant and was expected to deliver her unborn child on May 5.

Less than a week after Marlen was reported missing, a newborn infant was discovered on top of a trashcan in an alley in the 1700 block of North Keystone Avenue. The umbilical cord was still attached, but was not clamped, so the infant was actively bleeding. The infant was unresponsive and starting to turn blue when a couple rescued him and got him medical care. Now, the family of Marlen Ochoa-Uriostegui wants authorities to perform a DNA test to see if the baby boy could be her child.

In the cases of both missing women, there were rumors and allegations of involvement on behalf of the fathers of the unborn children. Police now suspect Kierra has met with foul play, though they have not specified it was at the hands of her boyfriend. While her mother has publicly discounted rumors the father of Kierra’s child was involved in her disappearance, the family of Marlen Ochoa-Uriostegui believes her husband to be responsible for her disappearance.

Pregnant and missing women are some of the missing persons who are at the most risk. The March of Dimes estimates 1 in 6 women will be abused during pregnancy. Pregnancies are a time of heightened stress and emotions, and this can trigger abusive behavior in intimate partners. Perhaps the partner is upset because the pregnancy was unplanned or kept from them. As a stress response, the financial burden involved with giving birth and raising a child can be enough alone to trigger this behavior. The partner might also have feelings of jealousy towards an unborn child, because the mother’s attention is now divided. The leading cause of death in pregnant women after car accidents is homicide as the result of intimate partner violence. This is why it is not uncommon for pregnant and missing women to be investigated as homicides from the start.

If you are pregnant and you are the target of domestic or intimate partner violence, please visit The March of Dime’s website for resources, including a guide to a safe exit strategy for a volatile situation.

If a loved one has gone missing in your life, please contact Lauth Investigations International (317-951-1100) for a free consultation from the firm of the leading expert in missing children and adults.

Police Identify Remains of Jabez Spann

Police Identify Remains of Jabez Spann

Last week, Tawana, the mother of Jabez Spann, received the closure she’d been chasing since September 4, 2017. That Labor Day weekend was the last time she saw her son alive. The Sarasota teen went missing from his own front yard after having attended a candlelight vigil being held two blocks from his home. After a torturous 18 months without answers, she finally received the news she dreaded. Two men were checking a fence in a pasture in Manatee County when they made a grisly discovery: A human skull. They called 911. The remains of Jabez Spann identified from dental records. Sarasota Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson said in a press conference, “Today, I am sad to report that we were not able to recover Mr. Spann living and return him to his family.”

To tell the full story of Jabez’s disappearance, you have to go all the way back to August, 2017, and the death of another man in Jabez’s life. In late August of 2017, Travis Combs, 31, was fatally shot and killed, with law enforcement investigating his death as a homicide. When the news broke about Jabez’s disappearance, one of the dominating bylines denoted him as a witness to a murder, having been named in a probable cause affidavit for a suspect. Reginald Parker, 55, claimed to have witnessed the shooting of Travis Combs, and allegedly told several individuals that he had witnessed it in November of 2017. These individuals were interviewed by police, corroborating what Parker had told them. Prior to Parker’s arrest on 2017, Jabez’s presence at the crime scene was merely a neighborhood rumor. The publishing of the arrest probable cause affidavit confirmed his presence at the crime scene that night.

Combs’ case eventually became overshadowed by the disappearance of Jabez Spann in media coverage, as he went missing less than a week later. The facts of the case as we know it read more like an edgy police procedural—a teenage boy, having already allegedly witnessed a violent crime, disappears without a trace, and police find themselves stymied. He disappeared less than 200 yards away from where Combs’ body was discovered. After Jabez’s remains were found, Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson claimed that “hundreds upon hundreds” of hours have been logged in this investigation, citing that Jabez’s family has been a valuable asset to investigators. He also noted in a press conference that this case is personal for law enforcement, like many cases involving teens or young children, “Many of our detectives…have children of their own. I’m a father, as the sheriff. I can’t imagine having that information broken to me about my son. There’s been highs and lows in this investigation where there’ve been sightings and tips and things we’ve followed up on. And every time it’s a peak and a valley, [the family] stood with us, and our investigation team, every step of the way.”  At that same press conference, police noted that they did not believe Jabez left Sarasota of his own volition.

The two men who called 911 told the dispatcher they did not see signs of a weapon at the site—just the skull and “some bones.” It was the break that came after 18 months of following over 100 tips reported to law enforcement that proved to be dead ends. Members of the community have found the news of the discovery bittersweet, like activist Wayne Washington, “You can’t just hurt a child in our community and think that you can live life and everything is going to be sweet. The emotions are very high because I wish that he was alive, but by the family finally finding him they can get the closure they need as a family.” Over the course of the investigation, the reward sum for any information leading to the whereabouts of Jabez Spann had grown to $50,000. Police have yet to say if or how the funds will be disbursed.

Despite the heartbreaking news in her son’s case, his mother remains steadfast in looking towards the future. Since the time her son disappeared, she believed he witnessed a brutal murder, and the person responsible had a hand in making him disappear. She now wants to see that person answer for their actions, “We’re going to move forward in the hopes that they can find whoever did this. Those last moments that you caused him, that you did to him when he was helpless and couldn’t call on anybody…that’s what I want to see justice for. We got some closure. We’re going to put him in peace and lay him to rest. We’re not done.”

History of Missing Persons Law in the United States

History of Missing Persons Law in the United States

missing personSeveral federal laws in the United States are focused on the plight of unresolved missing persons and unidentified remains. Each law, the result of families of missing persons who searched every dark corner for their missing child and tirelessly worked to ensure changes would be enacted to avoid the pitfalls they experienced in search of their missing or murdered child. The history of missing person law is always changing and evolving. Each law represents a victim, who in their name, would ensure another child would have a better chance.

As of May 31,2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). An additional 8,709 unidentified persons are listed as active cases in NCIC.

These numbers are staggering and reflect gaps in the response and procedure to missing and unidentified cases, as well as a lack of a federal mandate requiring all law enforcement within the United States to intake and respond to a missing person case.

The families of missing persons have dedicated, at times years, to addressing the lack of response to missing person cases reminding the public each missing person reflects the name of an individual who is a child, mother, father, grandparent or sibling.

Missing Children Act of 1982

etan patzEtan Kalil Patz was a 6-year old boy who vanished on his way to school. The morning of May 25, 1979, Etan left his SoHo apartment by himself planning to walk from his residence at 113 Prince Street to his school bus stop on Broadway. He never got on his bus.

When Etan did not return from school that afternoon, his mother Julie called police to report him missing. An intense police search ensued that evening with approximately 100 police officers and a team of bloodhounds conducting a thorough ground and door to door search for Etan.

Etan’s father Stanley Patz, a professional photographer, had recently taken many professional photographs of Etan and made flyers and posted them throughout the neighborhood where his son had vanished.

Etan has never been found but his disappearance spurred a movement that would affect missing children cases for years to come.

In the early 1980’s Etan’s photograph was the first child to be profiled on milk cartons. Etan’s case marks the massive use of flyers to search for missing persons and credited for creating more attention to missing child cases.

In 1982, the Missing Children Act was introduced to Congress and passed to authorize the FBI to enter missing children’s personal data into and maintain a national clearinghouse of information in the NCIC, making the information accessible to local, state, and federal law enforcement and providing a previously lacking resource to help find missing children up to age 18.

On May 25, 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the day National Missing Children’s Day.

Adam Walsh

adam walshThe disappearance of 6-year old Adam Walsh would spearhead the most significant contribution to finding missing children to date.

On July 27, 1981, Reve’ Walsh took Adam to a Sears department store in the Hollywood Mall, in Hollywood, Florida. Only a few minutes out of his mother’s sight, Adam vanished. His severed head found in a drainage canal alongside Florida’s Turnpike in rural St. Lucie County.

Adams parents, Reve’ and John Walsh spearheaded the effort to create the first national clearinghouse for missing children to provide resources to law enforcement and families of missing children.

In 1984, The United States Congress passed the Missing Children Assistance Act creating the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

NCMEC’s “Code Adam” program for helping lost children in department stores is named in Adam’s memory.

In addition, Congress passed the “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act” on July 25, 2006 and President Bush signed it into law on July 27th, the day Adam had gone missing. Both John and Reve’ attended the signing ceremony held on the South Lawn of the White House. The law institutes a national database of convicted child molesters, while also increasing penalties for sexual and violent offenses against children.

Over the years, John Walsh has made a significant impact in the lives of missing children and their families with his advocacy, while also becoming internationally known for his hit television show “America’s Most Wanted” and the current hit show “The Hunt with John Walsh.”

Jennifer’s Law

jennifer wilmerIn 1992, Jennifer Wilmer was a 21-year old living with her parents in Long Island, New York. She had received a full scholarship to St. John’s University in New York City but dropped out after one semester, planning to later enroll in College of the Redwoods in the small town of Eureka, California.

She moved to California in early 1993 and quickly found work but eventually fell on hard times, having to go on public assistance for a time. Her parents, Fred and Susan Wilmer promised to send an airline ticket to a local Eureka travel agency, so Jennifer could return to New York, but she never arrived to pick it up.

There are two conflicting accounts as to what happened the day Jennifer disappeared. One account was that Jennifer was last seen leaving her northern California residence on September 13, 1993, to go to the travel agency to pick up her ticket. Another account was Jennifer was last seen hitchhiking from the Hawkins Bar area to Willow Creek to inquire about a job opportunity at a farm. Jennifer remains missing.

In 1994, Fred and Susan Wilmer sought out help to find their missing adult daughter from the Nation’s Missing Children Organization (NMCO), founded by Kym Pasqualini, and located in Phoenix, Arizona. The group organized visits to the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), and members of Congress to raise awareness of Wilmer’s disappearance and thousands of other missing persons throughout the country. They also formed a group of families of missing persons to create a group called F.O.C.U.S. (Finding Our Children Under Stress) and invited experts in the field of psychology and law enforcement to participate in order to better understand the emotional and psychological effects of dealing with “ambiguous loss” when a person goes missing.

The Wilmer’s also began the years long effort to pass a federal law that would enable each state to enhance its efficiency with regard to the reporting system for unidentified and missing persons.

  1. Report to the National Crime Information Center and when possible, to law enforcement agencies throughout a state regarding every deceased unidentified person, regardless of age, found in the State’s jurisdiction;
  2. Enter a complete profile of an unidentified person in compliance with the guidelines established by the US Department of Justice for the NCIC Missing and Unidentified Persons files, to include dental, X-rays, fingerprints and DNA, if available;
  3. Enter the NCIC number or other appropriate case number assigned to each unidentified person on the death certificate of each; and
  4. Retain all such records pertaining to unidentified person until a person is identified.

The Wilmer’s early advocacy brought much needed attention to the correlating problem between identifying unidentified persons by cross-referencing the descriptive information of missing persons with unidentified remains.

Kristen’s Law

kristen modafferiIn 1997, 18-year old Kristen Modafferi was an industrial design major at North Carolina University. She had been offered an opportunity to attend a summer photography course at University of California at Berkeley and left North Carolina on her birthday, June 1, 1997, to travel to San Francisco. It would be her first time away from home.

She would quickly get a job at Spinelli’s Coffee Shop (now called Tully’s) at the Crocker Galleria in San Francisco’s financial district, working weekdays. On weekends, Kristen worked at the Café Musee inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

On June 23, 1997 Kristen asked a Spinelli’s coworker for directions to Baker Beach, located next to the popular Land’s End Beach about a 20-minute bus ride from downtown San Francisco. That was the last time Kristen was ever seen.

Her parents, Robert and Deborah Modafferi immediately flew to San Francisco to file a missing person report for their daughter. A ground search was conducted with Bloodhounds and detected Kristen’s scent at an overlook at the beach, but no other evidence could be found.

Soon after Kristen’s disappearance, the Modafferi’s requested help from the Nation’s Missing Children Organization (NMCO) in Phoenix, one of the only groups in the country that would provide services to families of missing persons over the age of eighteen.

The founder, Kym Pasqualini, would again travel to Washington D.C., with the Modafferi’s to speak to the USDOJ and members of Congress to raise awareness of adult missing persons. In 1998, Representative Sue Myrick of North Carolina spearheaded the introduction of Kristen’s Law that would appropriate $1 million per year for 4-years to create the first national clearinghouse for missing adults.

On November 9, 2000, President William J. Clinton signed Kristen’s Law with the recipient of the funds going to the Phoenix-based NMCO to create the “National Center for Missing Adults,” (NCMA), the first national clearinghouse for missing adults. The group went on to serve thousands of families of missing adults, receiving up to 100 calls per day from families and law enforcement needing assistance.

In 2002, NCMA in cooperation with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) at the USDOJ, and Fox Valley Technical College created and implemented the first training program for law enforcement focused exclusively on the disappearances of those over the age of eighteen.

Suzanne’s Law

In 1998, Suzanne Lyall was a 20-year old undergraduate at the State University of New York at Albany. On March 2, 1998, at closing, Suzanne left her job at the Babbage’s in Crossgates Mall in a suburb of Guilderland, NY. It is believed Suzanne had taken the city bus from the mall to the University’s Uptown Campus, where a classmate of Suzanne’s told police they saw her getting off the bus at Collin’s Circle near her dorm. She has never been seen again.

The Lyall’s became outspoken activists on behalf of families of missing persons creating the “Center for Hope.”

In 2003 President Bush signed “Suzanne’s Law” requiring police to immediately enter the person’s descriptive information into NCIC when someone between 18-21 is reported missing. Previously police were only required to report missing persons under the age of 18. Now, anyone under the age of 21 is considered a missing child and qualifies to also receive assistance from NCMEC.

In 2007, Congress enacted the Campus Security Act, requiring all colleges across the country to maintain written plans on how they will work with local law enforcement agencies in the event a student is reported missing.

The Lyall’s have continued to make their mark in the lives of others, in the name of their daughter Suzanne. On the 20-year anniversary of Suzanne’s disappearance, her mother, Mary Lyall was presented with the Senate Liberty Medal for her work on behalf of other families of missing persons.

Molly’s Law

Molly DattilloAt approximately 7:00 p.m., on July 6, 2004, Molly Datillo dropped off an employment application off a Wendy’s fast food restaurant near 10th Street and Highway 465 in Indianapolis, Indiana. She then purchased personal hobby and school supplies for one of the three classes she was taking at Indiana University where she was taking a summer class while she was readying to graduate from Eastern Kentucky University later that year.

Molly had been taking private voice lessons and had planned on auditioning for the “American Idol” show in August. She had attended all of her classes up to the day she vanished.

At 11:00 p.m., Molly placed a call to a friend from a pay phone at a Thornton’s gas station on Crawfordsville Rd. the friend said the phone disconnected when they picked up the phone. Molly has never been seen again.

In October 2008. Police announced they were investigating Molly’s disappearance as a homicide and looking at John E. Shelton as a person of interest because he was the last person to have been with her when she placed a call from the gas station. Shelton had a lengthy criminal record for theft and traffic offenses, with his driver’s license being legally suspended for life.

Shelton had been the friend of a friend. Molly had met him the day of her disappearance. They went on a boat ride, then ate dinner together at a Taco Bell restaurant according to him.

In the aftermath of Molly’s disappearance, Molly’s sister Amy Datillo worked tirelessly to get a law enacted that would outline what makes a missing person “at risk” and how law enforcement should obtain information relevant to finding the missing adult.

The FBI defines an “At Risk” missing person to be someone who has a proven medical or physical disability such as someone with mental health issues, diminished mental capacity such as Alzheimer’s disease or other physical disability that compromises the health and safety of the individual without immediate intervention.

Though not a federal law, Molly’s Law was signed by Governor Mitch Daniels in 2007, requiring law enforcement to enter an “At Risk” missing person into the NCIC database within two-hours of their disappearance within the state of Indiana.

While Amy would still like to see Molly’s Law become a federal law, it will serve as a “model” for to her states to follow and Molly will always be remembered by the people she helped after she disappeared.

PD, Barron volunteers continue search for Jayme Closs

PD, Barron volunteers continue search for Jayme Closs

Jayme ClossThe news cycles this week have been dominated by another missing persons case in middle America, where a familiar refrain is ringing out across the media: “This does not happen here.” It’s a repeated sound byte from law enforcement and Barron, Wisconsin citizens alike as search efforts continue for 13-year-old Jayme Closs, who remains missing following the murder of her parents in their home on October 15th, 2018.

A mysterious 911 call led law enforcement to the Closs home that evening. The dispatcher could not reach the person on the end of the line; however, a commotion could be heard in the background. The 911 call log later revealed the call made from Denise Closs’ cell phone came from inside the Closs home. The call log does not offer useful information about who made the call, the nature of the disturbance, or the content of what was said—if anything. The dispatcher characterized the commotion as “a lot of yelling.” Responding officers noticed signs of forced entry when they arrived at the scene, their description quoted across media claims the door appeared to have been “kicked in.” Inside the house, they discovered James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, shot to death around 1 AM on October 15th. Their 13-year-old daughter, Jayme, was nowhere to be found on the premises.

Law enforcement officials have fielded more than 1,000 tips from citizens hoping to help find Jayme, but no solid leads have emerged from the tip line. In recent decades, developments in technology used by law enforcement have closed mile-wide gaps in missing persons investigations, especially those of minors, where every second counts. One of these developments is the growing ubiquity of surveillance cameras and CCTV footage in public places and on private property. Jayme Closs’s disappearance has caused many online armchair detectives to draw parallels between her case and that of Mollie Tibbetts, another Midwestern young woman who went missing from sleepy Brooklyn, Iowa over the summer. The major break in her case came from a surveillance camera in which the suspect’s car was seen driving back and forth on the stretch of road where Mollie was known to regularly jog. Private investigator, Thomas Lauth, notes while Jayme disappeared from a town comparable to Brooklyn, the lack of surveillance cameras in comparison to larger municipalities will likely hinder the investigation.  In addition, Lauth told Vice, although law enforcement released an Amber Alert, it likely did not unearth credible leads because authorities did not release information about any vehicles associated with Jayme’s disappearance. “Amber Alerts are effective when there is a vehicle description that goes with it. The public is very important in a case like this if there was a vehicle on the actual Amber Alert.”

Jayme Closs

Now as the search enters its second week, Chris Fitzgerald of the Barron County Sheriff’s Department is turning to the public for more help. In a press release on Monday, the department expressed a need for droves of volunteers to continue the expanding search for Jayme on Tuesday, October 23rd. “Two thousand volunteers are needed and should report to the staging area at 1883 Hwy 25, Barron, WI… Jayme remains missing and endangered and has been added to the top of the FBI’s Missing Persons list, and is currently on digital billboards nationwide,” said Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald in the press release.

Barron is a town of around 3,300 people, so two thousand volunteers? That’s more than half the town turning up to search, but it could serve as a coping mechanism for some who cannot wrap their heads around Jayme’s disappearance. Many in the community say not knowing her fate is the worst part, leaving them in a stagnate stasis of fear, where they don’t forget to lock their doors or fail to be vigilant of their children.  But the Barron County Sheriff’s Department just might meet their requirement of 2,000 as support for Jayme and her family only continues to grow and expand. On Monday, the Barron Area School District held “A Gathering of Hope” as a chance for the community to gather in solidarity for Jayme and to connect the community with support resources, such as counseling services. It’s a familiar atmosphere, the kind felt in the community Brooklyn, Iowa, following the death of Mollie Tibbetts. Mollie and Jayme were both young women who vanished from small towns under peculiar or perilous circumstances—their absence disrupting their entire communities as citizens begin shaking their heads, “This does not happen here.”

Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.

Why Are Cases of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Being Ignored?

Why Are Cases of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Being Ignored?

Indigenous women in this country are more likely than any other group to be raped or murdered. The salt in this gaping wound is they are also least likely to see justice. Indigenous women in this country are more likely than any other group to be raped or murdered. The salt in this gaping wound is they are also least likely to see justice. These are very passive terms, but there are no others, because the amount of data available about violent crimes against indigenous women is dwarfed in comparison to those of other groups. Last year, there were 5,646 Native American women entered into the National Crime Information Centre (NCIC) as missing. As of June 2018, there had been 2,758 reported missing. Many of their families have claimed no one bothered to investigate.

The jurisdictional issues surrounding cases occurring on reservations is a giant knot of Christmas lights; difficult to unravel, involving federal, state, and tribal law. It can sometimes be unclear to investigating bodies exactly who should be looking for answers. These cases become stillborn while law enforcement plays jurisdictional musical chairs—trails go cold, witnesses disappear, or develop amnesia, evidence is eroded. These women are not likely to be found, nor are their cases likely to be prosecuted. The disappearance of Ashley Loring HeavyRunner is a chilling example. She went missing from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana in June of 2017. Her sister begged for help from the Indian Bureau of Affairs, and the FBI did not investigate until March of 2018, nine months later.    

Despite the fact tribes on the reservations are guaranteed self-government by the Constitution, the more serious crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI. The FBI is not obligated to notify them if a member of their tribe is reported missing or murdered. On top of that, the crimes do fall under tribal jurisdiction are placed in the hands of a woefully understaffed force. “A lot of times it doesn’t go beyond the missing persons report,” said Marita Growing Thunder, a 19-year-old murdered and missing indigenous women (MMIW) activist.

Annita LucceshiIn fact, the work being done to preserve information about murdered and missing indigenous women is being performed in large part by private citizens, like Annita Lucceshi, a PhD student at the University of Lethbridge in Southern Alberta. “I realised how difficult it is to get a sense of just how many murdered and missing women there are because it changes constantly and there is so little official information,” Annita told Independent. The database she has compiled goes back a little over a century, and she described her experience with obtaining accurate information to be heavy labor. “The police are not helpful. Typically, I get no response at all. If I do, they say they don’t collect the data, or that they won’t be able to pull that information.”

It gets worse. In preparation for his film Wind River, director Taylor Sheridan paid a handful of lawyers to compile a statistic regarding murdered and missing indigenous women. After three months, they came back empty-handed, but had learned some disturbing facts along the way. As recently as 2013, sexual assault of a Native woman by a non-Native could not be prosecuted because it was a state crime on federal land. Natives accused of crimes against non-Natives can be prosecuted twice, by the federal government and by tribal police. This was rectified when the Violence Against Women Act gave criminal jurisdiction over non-indigenous people who commit sexual violence against Native American women.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women In 2015, the Department of Justice announced they were developing the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP) so tribes can enter and view information in the federal NCIC database, thereby streamlining muddled communications between investigating bodies. Ten tribes were selected for the beta-test of this new system, but as of 2016, some had not received their TAP terminals. Once again, the wheels of justice turn at a glacial pace for missing and murdered indigenous women.

Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.