The family of Suzanne Morphew has finally seen movement in the case of the missing Colorado mother who disappeared one year ago. Her husband, Barry Morphew, has been arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder in the presumed death of Suzanne, authorities announced on Wednesday.
Though Suzanne Morphew’s body has not been found, the affidavit that was the basis for Morphew’s arrest detailed reasons why investigators believe he is responsible for his wife’s disappearance and presumed death. While that affidavit remains under seal, Morphew also exercised his right to remain silent, immediately asking for representation following his arrest. Chaffe County Sheriff, John Spezze, said, “Today is not the day for celebration nor does it mark the end of this investigation. Rather it’s the next step in this very difficult yet very important journey as we seek justice for Suzanne and her family.”
Suzanne Morphew, 49, has been missing for over a year, disappearing on May 10, 2020, Mother’s Day. She was reported missing when a neighbor called 911 to report that Morphew had gone for a bike ride and never returned. In a Facebook video that arched many eyebrows on the internet, Barry Morphew pled with the public for any information leading to her safe return, offering a $200,000 reward. “Now questions asked, however much they want, I will do whatever it takes to get you back,” Morphew said in the video.
When searches by law enforcement of the area where Suzanne went bike-riding turned up nothing, her brother, Andy Moorman, announced in mid-September that he was recruiting and organizing volunteers for his own search efforts. “I need to find her, need to bring her home, give her a proper burial and closure for my family,” he told KMGH-TV. “And that’s my point, I’m not about finding somebody guilty or trying to inflict punishment on anyone. That’s law enforcement’s job.”
Morphew’s arrest is the result of a sprawling effort by law enforcement to find answers in his wife’s disappearance. More than 135 searches have been conducted in the state of Colorado, and investigators interviewed an excess of 400 people across several states. Suzanne was described by Spezze as “a rare find” and someone who was much beloved by those who knew her. She had two daughters at the time of her disappearance.
According to stunning new allegations by prosecutors, Paul Flores killed Kristen Smart following attempts to sexually assault her in her dorm room on the night she went missing. This week, investigators, family members, and true crime fans are all feeling some semblance of progress in the case of missing Cal Poly student, Kristen Smart after Paul Flores, a long-time person of interest in the case was arrested in connection with her disappearance. Smart disappeared in 1996 after she left a party with her friends and never arrived back at her student dormitory. Since her disappearance, investigators have been looking Flores, who was reportedly the last person to see Smart before she went missing.
The public’s fascination with the Kristen Smart’s case goes back to 1996 when she first went missing. The Cal Poly student was on her way to a party the night she went missing, May 24, 1996. She was supposed to speak to her parents on the phone before she left her dorm room for the party, but her parents never heard from her. Kristen ended up at an off-campus party where she became heavily intoxicated and passed out on the lawn of a neighboring house. Kristen was leaving the party with friends when Paul Flores came up on them and offered to walk Kristen back to her dorm. Kristen was never heard from again, and Paul Flores has always been identified as the last person to see her alive.
The theory that Paul Flores killed Kristen Smart came from the presumed timeline of Kristen’s last movements the night she disappeared. Since Flores was the last person to be seen with her, it stands to reason he would have information about her disappearance. However, over the years, Paul Flores has proven to be a tough nut to crack. Despite the fact that Flores remained ingrained in discourse around the case for the next 20 years, he was never formally charged by law enforcement, and invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination when deposed in a wrongful death suit in 2005 levied by Kristen’s parents. Despite numerous searches by law enforcement, friends, and family, her remains have never been found.
Authorities investigating the disappearance of Kristen Smart have credited a true-crime podcast in part for the progress that has been made in the case. Your Own Backyard, a true-crime podcast that takes a deep dive into Kristen Smart’s disappearance, was launched in 2019 by Chris Lambert, a veteran podcaster who was humble when describing his investigative efforts to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, “The podcast was one part of the whole formula. Even with what I found, I can’t go arrest somebody. I needed [the sheriff’s office] to do their job. I was willing to do what I could to assist in that. You can get varying levels of agreement about what I did directly led to an arrest. My personal opinion was that I was one piece of the formula.” Following the release of the podcast, law enforcement was able to develop leads. Paul Flores and his father, Ruben, was also arrested as an accessory after the fact and is believed to have helped Flores dispose of Kristen’s remains. In a press conference following their arrest, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said to the media, “In 2019, we interviewed several witnesses that had not been previously interviewed and some of that information came to light through the podcast that many of you are familiar with.”
Paul Flores and his father, Ruben were arraigned on Thursday morning. The DA’s office is reportedly requesting a higher bail amount for Ruben Flores set at $250,000. Paul Flores remains in jail, held on zero bail for felony murder.
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.
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.
There is an epidemic of missing and murdered mothers in the United States. Many missing and murdered moms get a great deal of press coverage, but for some reason, their cases go unsolved.
Among these missing and murdered moms is Marlen Ocha-Lopez. Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, 19, was a dark-haired beauty and nine months’ pregnant when she went missing April 23, 2019, in Chicago, Ill. That day Ochoa-Lopez had attended classes at Latino Youth High School in Chicago, planning to pick up her 3-year old at daycare later that day.
According to police, prior to her disappearance she had appealed to other mothers on a Facebook group called “Help a Sister Out,” asking for help securing a double stroller for her toddler and new baby.
A high-school student, Ochoa-Lopez wrote in a post that she was unemployed and short on cash, and willing to buy, trade, or accept the double stroller as a donation.
A woman had responded to her Facebook post with an offer to provide baby clothes and other items. The woman then directed Ochoa -Lopez to private message her for more information. Ochoa-Lopez had purchased baby items from the woman before.
On May 14, 2019, the body of Ochoa-Lopez was found stuffed inside a garbage bin in the backyard of the woman who had offered her baby supplies.
Ochoa-Lopez had been strangled with a cable and her unborn baby forcibly removed from her womb.
(Arrested in the death of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez; Clarissa Figueroa, daughter Desiree Figueroa, and boyfriend Piotr Bobak.)
Police arrested the woman from the Facebook post, Clarisa Figueroa, 46, along with her daughter Desiree Figueroa, 24, both charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child less than 13 years old. Desiree Figueroa’s boyfriend Piotr Bobak was charged with concealing the death of a person and one felony count of concealing a homicidal death.
“Words cannot express how disgusting and thoroughly disturbing these allegations are,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
Community helping put the puzzle together
During the 3 weeks Ochoa-Lopez was missing, friends and family frantically searched for her. According to the family’s pastor, Jacobia Cortes, when Ochoa-Lopez’s husband tried to report her missing, he was told to return in 72 hours. He did return and in addition, the family had hired a private investigator.
The family also turned to the local church who came together and helped plaster the neighborhood with fliers of Ochoa.
As a result, people in the neighborhood began calling the church to report they had seen Ochoa-Lopez enter the home where she would be later found dead. According to Cortes, concerned residents also said one of the women who lived at the residence, describing her in her 40’s, had suddenly had a baby without ever appearing to be pregnant.
The same day Ochoa-Lopez went missing the Chicago Fire Department received a call that a newborn was in distress at the home where Ochoa was eventually found.
According to fire department spokesperson Larry Langford, for the three weeks that Ochoa-Lopez was missing, her baby boy was hospitalized and accompanied by a woman who claimed she had given birth to him. However, according to Ochoa’s father, Arnulfo Ochoa, there were missed opportunities to find his daughter earlier.
Grizzly details surface
On May 14, police obtained a search warrant and crime lab technicians searched the house on Chicago’s Southwest Side, only 4 miles from Ochoa-Lopez’s own home.
(Chicago police search the home of Clarisa Figueroa on May 14, 2019.)
Bleach and other cleaning supplies were found in the home, along with evidence of burned clothes.
“They are finding remains of burned clothes, they are finding some blood indication on the living room carpet, some blood indication on the hallway, some blood indication on the bathroom floor,” police said.
Ochoa-Lopez’s body was found in a garbage can, hidden in the yard, along with the cable used to strangle her.
Desiree Figueroa told police she helped her mother strangle Ochoa-Lopez from behind the couch until she took her last breath and peed herself.
Apparently, Clarisa Figueroa plotted for months to acquire a newborn before they kidnapped Ochoa-Lopez and cut her baby from her womb using a butcher knife, according to prosecutors.
(Cook County prosecutor Jim Murphy briefs Chicago media with details of murder of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez.)
Ochoa-Lopez was lured to Clarisa Figueroa’s home. When she arrived, Desiree Figueroa showed her a photo album of her late brother to distract her as her mother went behind Ochoa-Lopez with a cord and began strangling her, prosecutor Jim Murphy told reporters.
When Ochoa-Lopez managed to get her finger under the cord, Clarisa Figueroa yelled at her daughter, “You’re not doing your f—ing job!” The daughter then pried Ochoa-Lopez’s fingers from the cord “one by one” while her mother continued to strangle the teenager for another five minutes.
Reading from court documents, Murphy said when Ochoa-Lopez showed no signs of life, Clarisa Figueroa cut her open with a butcher’s knife, removed the baby and the placenta, then put the baby in a bucket with the umbilical cord still attached.
Authorities think the nightmarish plot was hatched during 2018, when Clarisa Figueroa told her family she was pregnant, later posting an ultrasound and photos of a room decorated for a baby on Facebook. Her daughter said she was surprised because she believed her mother had had her tubes tied.
According to Murphy, this announcement came not too long after Clarisa Figueroa’s own adult son had died from natural causes during 2018.
On March 5, 2018, Clarissa Figueroa made a Facebook post that read, “Who is due in May?” Another post said, “Where is the May mammas at?” Ochoa-Lopez, seven months pregnant at the time, replied and that is when Clarisa Figueroa offered her free baby clothes.
When Clarisa Figueroa first asked her daughter to help her kill someone to take their baby, the daughter initially said no.
They first met with Ochoa-Lopez around April 1. Desiree told her boyfriend of her mother’s intention to kill Ochoa-Lopez, and he warned he would call the police if they harmed the young mother. According to the prosecutor, Clarisa Figueroa then told the boyfriend the whole thing had been an April Fool’s joke.
They killed Ochoa-Lopez when she returned the second time on April 23. After killing her, the mother and daughter allegedly wrapped her in a blanket, placing the body in a large plastic bag. They proceeded to drag the body outside and placed it in a garbage can in a hidden area next to the garage.
Clarisa Figueroa then called 911 and claimed she had just delivered a baby and that it wasn’t breathing, authorities told reporters. When the first responders arrived, the baby was blue. The baby was immediately transported to a nearby hospital.
“At the hospital, doctors found no signs Clarisa Figueroa had just given birth,” prosecutors said. “She also had blood on her arms, hands, and face that police later determined to be the blood of Ochoa-Lopez.
Christ Medical Center in suburban Oaklawn has declined to comment, cutting state and federal regulations.
The baby, named Yadiel, remains hospitalized in intensive care and on a breathing machine.
(Funeral procession comes together to bury Marlen Ochoa-Lopez on May 25, 2019.)
On May 25, hundreds filed into a Stickney funeral home to pay their respects to the young mother.
“Today is a sad day – not only for [Marlen’s] family but for all of Chicago,” one community organizer said.
There are Many More Missing
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as of April 30, 2018, there were 86,927 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
Though no agency in the country can provide statistic specific to missing pregnant women, NCIC lists approximately 5, 714 missing persons with disabilities.
Many cases may be of people missing are due to diminished mental capacity such as Alzheimer’s, and other mental health issues but a few are pregnant women. However, while it is rare a pregnant mother goes missing, it seems to be happening with more frequency.
When a person goes missing, it becomes a cooperative effort on behalf of the police, the community, and the media,” says private investigator Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations International. “When a pregnant mother goes missing it should be treated with utmost urgency.”
Some missing pregnant women make national news, and some do not. Often it can depend upon the circumstances of the disappearance, but some experts say the police and media response can also be affected by race and socio-economic status.
Lauth who has been a private investigator specializing in missing person cases for 25 years, says the public’s reaction to a case becomes paramount when searching for a missing person and Ochoa-Lopez’s case reflects how successful community involvement can be in a missing person case. “Many, many cases are solved with the information provided by the public,” says Lauth. “Getting information out via media is often the only way to generate that one lead that may help law enforcement bring the victim home.”
Disappearance of Bethany Decker
Bethany Decker was 21 and five months pregnant when she vanished from her Ashburn, Va., apartment on January 29, 2011. She had been visiting her parents at their Columbia, Maryland home earlier that day.
(Bethany Decker vanished from her Ashburn, Va., apartment on January 29, 2011.)
Decker who was majoring in global and economic change didn’t show up for her classes at the nearby George Mason University (GMU), or her full-time job but it would be three weeks before she was reported missing.
During the time Decker attended college at GMU, she became pregnant by Emile Decker, an Army National Guardsman. The two married in 2009 and they had a son six months later. Emile Decker was often deployed to Afghanistan for months at a time.
While working at a Centreville Italian restaurant, Decker met Roland, a Bolivian immigrant who was approximately 30 years old and began an extramarital affair with him. By 2010, there were problems in the Decker’s marriage and Decker moved to a separate apartment in Ashburn. Roland soon followed and moved in with her, but Decker found him controlling and abusive. Several times a day Roland demanded Decker send him a picture of herself from her cellphone to show who she was with. Concerned, her parents began devising a plan to get their daughter out of the relationship but by the end of the year Bethany found out she was pregnant.
In January 2011, Emile Decker returned to the United States for a month-long leave to see Decker. By the end of the month, they went on a week-long vacation in Hawaii and returned on January 28, spending the night at Decker’s parent’s home in Maryland.
The following morning Emile Decker stayed at the home and Decker returned to her apartment a little over an hour drive away. On February 2, Emile returned to Afghanistan. Friends that met him at the airport to see him off noted that Bethany wasn’t there like previous occasions but attributed her absence to the couple’s marital problems.
Initially, friends and family were not concerned when they didn’t hear from Decker as of the beginning of February. They said she made an effort to stay in touch but with her busy life and classes at GMU, along with a full-time job, sometimes days would go by before they heard from her.
February 19, Nelson asked her parents, who lived near Ashburn if they could drive by their granddaughter’s house to see if she was there. Decker’s Hyundai was parked out front at an unusual angle with a flat tire. Immediately concerned, Decker’s grandparents called Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department and made a missing person report.
Detectives found Decker had not used her bank account or cell phone since January 29 and initially focused the investigation on Roland and Emile Decker since both may have a motive to harm her.
Emile Decker returned to the states and took a polygraph.
Police then focused on Roland who said he had not seen Decker since the 29th but offered no additional information.
Roldan who had a criminal record prior to Decker’s disappearance is considered a person of interest in the case. In 2015, Roldan was arrested for the attempted murder of another girlfriend Vicky Willoughby.
(Ronald Rowland is suspected to be the last person who saw Bethany Decker alive on January 29, 2011.)
Police in Moore County, North Carolina, responded to a 911 call for a domestic incident at Willoughby’s home on November 12, 2014. Police said Willoughby shot Roland in self-defense twice, once in the chest and once in the abdomen. Roland then grabbed Willoughby’s .38 caliber handgun and shot at her three times, hitting her in the head and leg. She lost an eye in the shooting.
After the Willoughby recovered, she appeared on the Dr. Phil Show and claimed Roldan had made statements to her that implicate him in the disappearance of Decker. He is currently serving time in a North Carolina prison.
In March 2019, Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman announced to media that police have had movement as recently as “last week,” in the eight-year search to determine who killed 21-year old Bethany Decker.
Though Chapman did not elaborate on what the development was, he said it came after a January search warrant of Decker’s Facebook account.
(Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Mike Chapman announces recent development in the disappearance of Bethany Decker.)
Loudoun County investigators have never charged Roland or named him as a suspect but have said he is no longer willing to answer questions about the disappearance of Decker.
Two weeks after Decker disappeared, Emile Decker said he received a “sketchy” email, “and did not believe it was sent by Bethany” according to a Facebook search warrant filed January 9 of this year.
“Suspicious activity” was also later reported on Decker’s Facebook account by her mother and some of Decker’s friends according to the warrant.
Better technology has assisted investigators with pinpointing the origin of the suspicious activity to reexamine Decker’s Facebook account.
During Roland’s conviction for the attempted murder of Willoughby, North Carolina prosecutors stated after Roland completes his time, sometime in 2021, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will then take him into custody for deportation proceedings to Bolivia.
However, Loudoun County sources told WTOP News that they expect a grand jury to indict Roldan for Decker’s murder despite her remains not being found.
“It’s going to primarily, I would imagine, be a circumstantial case,” said Chapman. “You have to compile all the evidence, and see where it all leads, and make sure you have enough to achieve a conviction.”
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Bethany Decker is asked to call the Loudoun County Sheriff at 703-777-1021.
Disappearance of Jasmine Robinson
Jasmine Robinson, 23, was last seen February 18, 2019, at her home in Alachua County, Fla. She was seven months pregnant at the time of her disappearance.
(Jasmine Robinson is seven months pregnant and reported missing February 18, in Alachua County, Fla.)
After coming home from work, Robinson told her aunt she was going to bed at approximately 8 p.m. but friends and family became concerned when she hadn’t answered her phone and failed to report to work the following day. The family made a missing person report to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Department.
From investigating Robinson’s home, police believe Robinson left her residence with “someone” as it did not appear Robinson had not been ready to go anywhere, leaving many of her belongings at the house.
“Over two squads of detectives have been engaged in her case. What we need now is that last piece of information from the public about where she is,” said Lt. Brett Rhodenizer of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
The Florida Sheriff’s Association Criminal Apprehension Assistance Program and Crime Stoppers are offering a reward of up to $8,000 for information that leads to the arrest of anyone responsible for the disappearance of Robinson.
“Whoever saw her last, we need that information because that would give us the key starting point, where we can then have the assistance from the public, use the specialized resources that are available to the sheriff’s office to get out and begin that very deliberate ground search to bring Jasmine home,” said Rhodenizer.
Anyone with information about regarding the disappearance of Jasmine Robinson is asked to call the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office at 352-955-1818.
Disappearance of Kierra Coles
Kierra Coles, 26, stepped out of her home in Chicago’s South Side in her postal worker uniform and disappeared into thin air on October 2, 2018.
(US Postal worker Kierra Coles has been missing from her South Side Chicago apartment since October 1, 2018.)
She was three months pregnant when she disappeared.
During her last phone call with her mother, Karen Phillips, Coles asked for advice about a product and “she seemed okay.” Coles was reported missing on October 4, after her Phillips hadn’t heard from her in two days and calls were being forward to voicemail.
Chicago Police was called to perform a welfare check at Cole’s apartment but found nothing out of the ordinary.
After checking with neighbors, police said the following day; Coles was seen on a neighbor’s surveillance video leaving her apartment near 81st Street and Vernon Avenue. Her vehicle was found in front of her apartment complex with her cell phone, prenatal vitamins, and a packed lunch still inside.
To add to the mystery, coworkers of Coles say she called out sick that day.
Leaving everyone baffled, Cole’s father, Joseph Coles told Dateline his daughter was excited to be a first-time mother. “She had no reason to disappear,” he said.
(Family members of Kierra Coles hand out fliers in Chicago’s South Side.)
In the months following Cole’s disappearance, authorities have searched areas around the city of Chicago. Since Cole’s disappearance, her father quit his job in Wisconsin and moved to Chicago to search “night and day” for his daughter.
“I’m trying to stand out here and stay strong for my daughter and my grandbaby,” said Joseph Coles. “I do my daily routine – pass out fliers, trying to get the word out,” he added. “There’s a lot of love in this family. There is no way in hell she would run away.”
Police announced they feel “foul play” is suspected in Cole’s disappearance.
Chief Guglielmi told Dateline there is a minimum of two to three people of interest in the case and who was the last to see her. “We’ve narrowed down our group here to a personal associate of hers – a friend – who was one of the last people to see her.” Guglielmi did not comment on the person’s name.
Cole’s father holds out hope his daughter and grandbaby are still alive.
“I just want the world to know I love my baby and my grandbaby. It would be closure to know my baby is safe and home,” said Joseph Coles. That would be a blessing of a lifetime. The way the situation is now, I am keeping hope. Because there are young women who have been missing for longer than Kierra has, and they’ve been found safely. So, I am keeping hope.”
As Cole’s due date passed on April 23, she remains missing.
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Kierra Coles is asked to call the Chicago Police Department at 312-746-6000.
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.”
Jayme Closs’s harrowing story of survival has captured the attention of the entire nation. The 13-year-old Wisconsin teen went missing almost three months ago on October 15,2018, after a cryptic phone call to 911 triggered a call from police to the Closs home where officers made a grisly discovery. Jayme’s parents, James and Denise Closs, were found shot dead and their 13-year-old daughter was nowhere to be found.
The slaying of her parents and evidence of a home invasion qualified the missing teenager for an Amber Alert by authorities, and search efforts immediately began for Jayme as investigators began to piece together what had happened in those fateful moments. 87 days passed as Jayme’s anxious family and concerned friends waited for updates in her case. Then on January 10, 2019, Jayme showed up on the street in the remote neighborhood of Gordon approximately 70 miles away, asking a passing dog walker for help. The woman grabbed Jayme and took her to a neighbor’s door, where she told the neighbor, “This is Jayme Closs, call 911!” Not too long after her reappearance, police were able to apprehend Jayme’s captor, 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson, who was found wandering the nearby neighborhood—likely searching for Jayme.
Investigators say Jayme’s escape was one of the luckiest breaks they’ve ever seen in a missing person case. Jayme’s case is already being analyzed as atypical, due to the surfacing information that has investigators completely floored. When Jayme reappeared last week and told law enforcement about the details of her abduction and escape, many officials were surprised. Investigators told NBC 26, “Most abductions are committed by perpetrators who live within a couple miles of the victim.” Despite the distance from the Closs home, Barron County Sheriff Christopher Fitzgerald said he does not believe her kidnapper took her across state lines. With over 88 days’ worth of evidence to comb through, investigators will be attempting to track their movements since Jayme’s disappearance.
When asked about this gigantic body of evidence, Fitzgerald told CNN, “…we’re looking for receipts, where the suspect may have been over the last 88 days. Did he take things with her? Did she go with him to the store? Did he buy clothes for her? Did he buy food?” Investigators also told NBC only about 1% of abductions are committed by someone who is not a member of the victim’s family, nor geographically located near the victim. Much of the most pertinent information in any missing persons case is collected within the first 48 hours of the investigation. Captain David Poteat of the Brown County Sheriff’s Department said when it comes to the abduction of children, the window of time is even smaller. Because of the atypicality of her case, investigators are already proffering Jayme’s case will be studied by current and future members of law enforcement for “years to come.”
As they continue to sort through evidence, Fitzgerald said Patterson likely hid her from friends and visitors, offering no further explanation. “All I know is that she was able to get out of that house and get help and the people recognized her as Jayme Closs right away.” What Jayme eventually described to investigators was a crudely constructed makeshift cell. When Patterson was expecting friends or relatives, he forced Jayme to hide under his twin-sized bed in his room. He would stack laundry baskets and plastic totes around the bed with barbells sitting against them so Jayme could not get out. He also left music blaring in his room so Jayme could not hear what was going on throughout the house. One of the people who made a number of visits while Jayme was being held captive in the Gordon cabin where Jayme was held was Patterson’s father, Patrick Patterson. He told Jean Casarez of CNN, “All I care about right now is Jayme’s family. I want to get them a note.”
Investigators have also stated when it comes to questioning Jayme about her traumatic experience, they are taking it one day at a time, “When she wants information, we’ll give it to her; and when she wants to tell us things, we’ll take it from her.”
There were many theories about the circumstances behind Jayme’s disappearance in the weeks right after she went missing. Law enforcement and citizens alike proffered it might have been a home invasion gone terribly wrong, but as of this week, Fitzgerald has stated Jayme was the only target in this crime. Once questioned by police following his arrest, it became clear Patterson had been watching Jayme for a number of weeks before he took her, but was scared off on both prior occasions. Patterson targeted Jayme and took great pains to ensure he would not be found out. He shaved his head to avoid leaving his DNA at the crime scene. Once he abducted Jayme, he took her clothes and destroyed the evidence. The criminal complaint filed by the Barron County District Attorney said Patterson first saw Jayme getting on the bus to school when he was passing by on his way to work. Sections of the complaint are enough to make one’s arm hair stand at attention, “The defendant states when he saw (Jayme) he knew that was the girl he was going to take.” Jayme also told investigators after Patterson placed her in the trunk of his car, she heard police sirens close by not long after Patterson began driving. After Jayme was found alive, the responding officers noted on their way to the Closs home on October 15th, they passed only one vehicle.
The bottom line for investigators is this: If Jayme had not possessed the courage and fortitude to escape her captor, they would never have found her. On January 10th, she managed to push aside the totes and squeeze out of her makeshift cage. Jeanne Nutter was the dog walker she approached on the street, wearing no coat in the cold weather. Nutter took her to the door of her neighbors, Peter and Kristin Kasinskas. Law enforcement now has to decide what happens to the combined reward amount of $50,000—$25K from the FBI, and another $25K from the Jennie-O Turkey Store, where Jayme’s parents worked. Nutter helped Jayme to safety, and the Kasinskas called 911 to get her help, but they are saying they don’t want the reward. Peter Kasinskas was quoted in an interview by the Associated Press earlier this week saying the reward money should go to Jayme, “She got herself out.”