Between 1980 and 2019, there were 185,000 unsolved homicides in the United States alone according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. That’s hundreds of thousands of families who have gone years, if not decades, without answers in their missing loved one’s case. With jurisdictions of all levels experiencing problems with both resources and labor, an independent eye on the case goes a long way to dislodging any roadblocks in case progression. That’s why many families of missing persons are turning to a private investigator for murder cases in order to finally bring about closure in disappearances.
Police departments of all levels and in all states experience difficulties with case closure for a myriad of reasons, including but never limited to: budgetary issues, labor shortages, lack of resources, or lack of experience. Sometimes, it may just be a matter of homicide detectives handling too many cases at once for them to give any individual case the attention it needs. In other cases, when a lead takes a homicide detective outside of their jurisdiction, they may be unable to follow that lead. This is how homicide cases go cold.
This is why many families, whether it be months or decades without answers, have turned to a private investigator for murder cases. In murder investigations conducted by private investigators, there is never any bureaucratic red tape involved when it comes to following leads. Private investigators are free to follow leads from state to state provided that they are licensed. This autonomy also affords the private investigator to handle only a few cases at a time, meaning that each case gets the attention it deserves.
When cold case detectives brush the dust off a long-stagnated case, they put fresh eyes to the case file. This can lead to new evidence being discovered, or a new lead to follow. The same principle is true of hiring a private investigator for murder cases. When private investigators review a cold case, they may notice significant details that previous investigators have missed, and finally dislodge any roadblocks in the case.
When hiring a private investigator for murder investigations, it’s imperative that families look for private investigators who specialize in homicide investigations. In the same way that police detectives can have blind spots if they do not have experience in murder cases, so can private investigators. When vetting candidates, be sure to always inquire about the private investigator’s experience with homicide investigations and what their success rate has been with finding solutions in those cases.
If you need a private investigator for murder investigations, please consider Lauth Investigations International for your intelligence needs. We carry an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and are constantly receiving glowing testimonials from our grateful clients. Call 317-951-1100 for a free quote or visit us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com for more information.
The heart-wrenching story of Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito’s disappearance and demise has captivated not only America, but the world. As billions around the globe have followed the unfolding story of the 22-year-old missing Long Island native, parents, siblings, and young adults have imagined facing such a devastating loss of their own daughter, sister, or friend. Gabby Petito and her fiance, Brian Laundrie have become the objects of fascination in the American media, leading to new conversations surrounding Missing White Woman Syndrome.
While the compassion evoked by the vast media coverage of the case has certainly created a powerful momentum and an outpouring of sympathy, for many families who are also missing loved ones, a raw sadness hangs in the air. Increasingly, an array of advocates are pointing out that—while, of course, a case such as Petito’s should be elevated, covered, and supported—countless missing persons of color disappear each year with little more than a murmur emerging from the media or the public at large.
The striking disparity is known as “missing white woman syndrome,” and while the response to Gabby Petito’s story may stand in the annals of time as a textbook example of the phenomena, conversation around the case has conversely provided space for examination of the complexities of race and equality issues within the media and society as a whole.
As Thomas Lauth—founder of Indianapolis-based and internationally operational Lauth Missing Persons—traces the pattern of missing white woman syndrome, while monitoring the evolution of the Petito case on the ground, we examine the many factors that propelled Petito’s case into the spotlight. Demand is growing for all missing persons to finally be given a voice in equal measure—with the hope that all of those left behind might experience a level playing field in terms of opportunity to seek the answers they long for.
Gabby Petito: A Singular Missing Persons Case
Gabby Petito was described in a Washington Post article as a “blue-eyed, blonde adventure-seeker”; a description that drew criticism from political science expert Hakeem Jefferson of Stanford University for its “unnecessary racializing.”
Having garnered a sizable social media following as she shared her adventures across several platforms, eyes were already turned towards the Gabby Petito when news of her disappearance emerged in the press and online. The young woman was on the road with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, 23, in a white Ford Transit Connect Van, making a cross-country trip. A “van life” blogger, Petito was documenting their journey when circumstances took a turn towards tragedy.
Speaking to USA Today, Lauth highlighted how the combination of factors in Petito’s case had made for headlines. Material entering the public sphere such as the couple’s own Instagram images and Youtube video footage, police body camera footage of a distressed Petito captured during a road-side stop in Utah on August 12th, and several witness sightings documented on TikTok that described Laundrie’s behavior as aggressive collectively created an intimate picture of a case that was ripe for public scrutiny.
On September 1st, Laundrie returned to the home he shared with Petito and his parents in North Port, Florida, without his fiancée. Growing increasingly concerned about their daughter and having received odd text messages from her phone, Petito’s own parents reported her missing on September 11th. On September 14th, the day before he would be named a person of interest in the case, Laundrie reportedly told his family he was going hiking in Carlton Reserve. He was not seen again, and his family maintain that they know nothing of his whereabouts.
On September 19th, Fox News described Petito as “America’s daughter,” transforming the tragic story of a missing woman into a symbol within the collective consciousness of countless Americans. On the same day, the FBI announced the discovery of a body in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, matching Petito’s description. Two days later, it was confirmed that Petito had been found, and that her case was now a homicide investigation. Meanwhile, police continued their search for Laundrie, who at time of writing remains at large.
The Darker Side of a Social Media Frenzy
Speaking to Indianapolis and Central Indiana news outlet WTHR, Lauth shared that in his decades of work, he can think of several cases of missing white women that have received exceptional national media attention—so-called missing white woman syndrome cases—alongside unusually substantial resource mobilization in the name of finding them. “Natalie Holloway, Elizabeth Smart, Lauren Spierer and now Gabby Petito,” said Lauth.
In the case of Gabby Petito, alongside around-the-clock media coverage, another type of phenomena was taking hold. A vast number of members of the public had put on their detective’s hats and taken to social media in order to form their own investigations, and share their own conclusions. TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram users scoured every capture they could find looking for clues, while use of the TikTok hashtag #gabbypetito crept towards and then exceeded 1 billion views. Experts speculated that the swell of amateur sleuthing may coincide with the rise of true crime podcasts and documentaries in recent years.
Speaking to the New York Times, criminal justice and media researcher Danielle Slakoff of California State University expressed a worrying concern that this kind of coverage threatens to turn active cases into “entertainment.” Insensitive or monetized posts can lead to the spread of misinformation, or worse yet, derail police investigations as those responsible for finding authentic clues are left scrambling as they try to sift through such swathes of information. Adding further to the sense of hysteria, television personality Duane Chapman, known as “Dog the Bounty Hunter” announced that he was joining the search for Brian Laundrie, although police have so far dismissed his tips.
The Roots of Missing White Woman Syndrome
In his conversation with WTHR, Lauth shared a sad observation: “The general public and the media have really been attracted to what’s called, “The Missing White Woman Syndrome,” better known as “Damsel in Distress Syndrome.”
Lauth describes the phenomena first coined by late American news anchor Gwen Ifill at a journalism conference in 2004. Since adopted by social scientists, the term “missing white woman syndrome” refers to a tendency towards heightened media coverage of young, attractive, white, upper-middle-class women who are missing when compared to women of color, women of lower social class, older women, men, boys, and LGBTQ missing persons.
On the phenomena, Ifill said, “If there’s a missing white woman, we are going to cover that, every day.” When asked if the response would have been the same had Petito been a woman of color, speaking once again to WTHR, Lauth said, “We wouldn’t be having this interview.”
Another aspect of missing white woman syndrome recently placed under the spotlight is the way in which missing person cases are framed. Research indicates that coverage of missing white women tends to emphasize their roles as mothers or daughters—and fundamentally as innocents—while coverage of missing women of color tends to place focus on the victim’s problems, implying a level of complicity in their disappearance.
Lauth laments the role that harmful stereotypes play in the profiling of victims of color. “They’re missing because they’re doing drugs somewhere or they’re missing because they’re in prostitution,” he said, giving examples of the bias seen within missing persons narratives. “Instead, a lot of these cases are people of color who are endangered.”
Pushing Back Against a Broken Pattern
To give context to the disproportion seen in the Petito case, we can turn to the statistics shared by nonprofit organization the Black and Missing Foundation. In 2020 alone, 543,018 people were reported missing in the United States. Of those, nearly 40% were people of color. Meanwhile, a report issued by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center revealed that at least 710 Indigenous people vanished from the state of Wyoming—where Petito’s body was found—between 2011 and 2020, most of whom were women and girls.
Writing for USA Today, Suzette Hackney posed a powerful thought on behalf of those who are under-represented: “They aren’t all pretty and blonde. They don’t have a social media following. But their families deserve America’s sympathy and news coverage; their stories are no less important.”
Earlier this year, the FBI compiled a list of active missing persons cases of people under the age of 21, each in need of fresh leads. Scrolling through the many faces of those whose families still wait in hope of answers, the aware will likely find themselves reminded of the 2016 study that revealed missing persons of color to be “significantly underrepresented” in local and national news reporting when set against their tally among the FBI’s open missing persons case list.
Offering a silver lining to the dark cloud of tragedy that has fallen over the Petito case, a jump in awareness of such disparities is beginning to spread through the public sphere. While missing white woman syndrome may lead those motivated by profit to leverage its effect in the name of engagement and revenue, a push-back has emerged on social media. A number of TikTok users are using their platforms to increase awareness of minority missing persons cases that had previously remained largely unseen.
Lauth is poignantly aware that wealth and class can further compound the difference in resources that are mobilized between the spectra of missing persons cases. With this in mind, he encourages clients and followers alike of the Lauth Missing Persons’ investigative team to create GoFundMe pages, hold vigils, contact the media, and be available for interviews in order to drive awareness and interest in their loved ones’ cases.
Speaking on Tuesday 29th September at their first press conference since the discovery of Gabby Petito’s body, the Petito family stressed that while they are grateful for all of the attention that has fallen on Gabby’s case, they want every other family to get the same treatment. Having announced the founding of the Gabby Petito Foundation, the family outlined their desire to provide resources and guidance to others who were searching for a family member. “We’re hoping that through our tragedy, in the future, some good can come out of it,” Gabby’s father Joe explained.
The Petito Case Continues as Awareness Grows for the Previously Unseen
Authorities hope that Petito’s fiancé will soon come forwards and shed light on the events that led to Gabby Petito’s death. While considered a person of interest, Brian Laundrie has not been named as a suspect by the FBI. A warrant has, however, been issued for his arrest in relation to the “use of unauthorized devices.”
According to a federal indictment, Laundrie is alleged to have used a debit card and PIN number for charges exceeding $1,000 from an account that is not his own following Petito’s death, between the dates of August 30th and September 1st. Two separate rewards totaling $30,000 have been offered to anyone who provides a lead that reveals Laundrie’s whereabouts to law enforcement officials. Meanwhile, public discourse around the phenomena of missing white woman syndrome continues to surge, giving hope that a shift in the way missing persons cases are reported and received may be on the horizon. For the many who are still holding on to hope following the disappearance of a loved one or family member, private investigations firm Lauth Missing Persons provide an array of free resources to help forge vital search momentum, as well as expert advice drawing on their decades of experience investigating missing persons cases in the field. While the bias of missing white woman syndrome may still remain prevalent, the self-driven nature of today’s information sharing means that the scales can tip just as quickly as an idea might spread. Lets hope that a tipping point has been reached, and this is only the beginning.
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.