Revealed: The Hidden Methods Private Investigators Use to Find Missing Persons
The true crime world is fascinated by tales of missing persons. Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services are always adding new documentaries and series about missing persons, which often detail the sophisticated methods that law enforcement uses to find missing persons. However, when law enforcement cannot close a missing person case, families will turn to the expertise of a private investigator to find a missing person—but without the resources and support of a law enforcement agency, how does a private investigator find a missing person?
Although private investigators do not have access to the same level of informational resources as law enforcement, they still have tools at their disposal to help find a missing person. Through their licensure by the state, private investigators have access to verified databases that allow them to conduct background checks on subjects in a case. When trying to find a missing person, these databases can be used to develop leads, find a subject’s last known address, look up criminal histories, and so much more.
Private investigators typically have diverse and comprehensive experience in surveillance operations. Surveillance is one of the covert ways that private investigators can find a missing person. Surveillance operations are a great way for private investigators to collect data, develop leads, and document the unseen factors in a missing person case. For example, when trying to find a missing person in a sex trafficking ring, private investigators may set up surveillance equipment around a suspected hub of operations in order to develop a concrete plan for recovery. Such recordings and pictures can also be used in criminal and civil court.
When trying to find a missing person, one of a private investigator’s best tools is their ability to identify potential witnesses and develop a rapport with them in order to extract information. This can be done overtly or covertly. Sometimes investigators attempt to develop a personal relationship with witnesses in order to extract information from them without suspicion. Within reason, investigators may also wear disguises and present alternative pretenses for speaking with the witness. Whatever the circumstances of the case demands, investigators have the ability to develop leads and corroborate previously received testimony regarding the relevant facts in the case.
In some circumstances, it might become necessary for an investigator to develop a ruse or undercover operation in order to find a missing person. Investigators have been known to go undercover as delivery drivers, party patrons, or in extreme circumstances, embedding themselves into criminal enterprise in order to get answers. Investigators can wear covert surveillance equipment on their person, such as hidden cameras and microphones, in order to document relevant facts in the case and use them to develop further leads in recovering or finding the missing person.
Keeping a missing person’s face out in the media is crucial to a continuing a flow of information and leads for investigators. Though it may sound harsh, the public has a very short memory. Cases of missing people, particularly women of color, are forgotten almost as soon as they’re heard. It typically falls to the families of missing persons to conduct missing person awareness campaigns on their own time, relentlessly sharing their picture and story so that it may increase the chances of their loved one being found. Law enforcement does not typically devote sources specifically to awareness campaigns, but private investigators sometimes offer online awareness campaigns as part of their services for finding missing persons. The more time the missing person’s face is in the public eye, the more leads investigators are likely to generate.
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.
Missing person investigators in Alabama have recently closed the search for a missing mother and her two children following initial reports that they might be in danger. Kadance Cierra Hooper, aged 29, was last seen with her two young sons last seen Tuesday, February 16, 2021.
Kadence and her children went missing after she had picked up her oldest son from school on Tuesday. An already disturbing disappearance was further exacerbated by medical complications related to Kadence’s illness of multiple sclerosis, which is known to cause anxiety and depression. An alert was released by the New Brockton Police Department about the disappearance, stating “Mrs. Hooper is a 29-year-old white female and may be living with a condition that may impair her judgement.” Investigators had additional concerns about Kadance following a report that she had taken possession of two handguns prior to disappearing with her two young sons, leading investigators to believe she was armed and may be a danger to herself or her others. Investigators believed Kadance to have disconnected her phone, making it impossible for law enforcement to track her. Law enforcement placed a BOLO, or statewide alert on her vehicle, and advised the public that she may be armed and her judgement may be impaired.
After eight long days of searching, New Brockton Police were able to report that Kadence and her children were finally located, alive and safe.
When a loved one goes missing, consider hiring a private investigator to conduct a concurrent missing person investigation with law enforcement. This ensures that no stone will be left unturned and your family can get answers fast. Call Lauth Investigations International today for a free quote on our missing person services. Call 317-951-1100 or visit us online at www.lauthmissingpersons.com.
Have you seen missing mother, Crystal Marie Fry? For months, her family has been searching for answers following Crystal’s disappearance amid distressing circumstances in her personal life. After 90 days with no case progression, the family has turned to the missing person investigators at Lauth Investigations International to join the search for Crystal.
Crystal Marie Fry, 31, was last heard from on November 11, 2020. At the time of her disappearance, Crystal was living in Baltimore, MD with her boyfriend, the father of her two youngest daughters. On November 11, Crystal contacted her mother, Teresa Silverman, to explain some of the details of what she called the “worst three days of her life.” Crystal claimed someone had kicked in her front door, damaging it in the process, so she would be staying with the father of her oldest daughter until it could be fixed. It was during this time that Crystal reportedly claimed to be “afraid for her life.” The following day when she was expected to turn up to her mother’s home to explain more about the break-in, Crystal never showed up.
When she spoke to Lauth investigators, Teresa described her daughter as a beautiful mother who was always stepping up to help out, “She’s caring. If anything’s wrong, she steps right in and tries to help take care of people. She loves her girls to death.” Teresa advised Lauth Investigators that Crystal would never have gone this long without contacting her children, claiming that holidays and special occasions were very important to her. Crystal also shared passions for baking and cooking with her girls, who have been missing their mother for over three months.
The last person she was known to have contact with was the father of her oldest daughter, when she told him she got a flat tire on the way to his residence. In the weeks following their last communication, Teresa Silverman hit the streets, trying to find the location of her daughter’s last residence when she didn’t respond to messages. After days of searching, they were finally able to locate the townhouse where she had been staying in Baltimore where her car was parked out front—one of the tires still flat.
Since she reported her daughter missing, Teresa says her perception of law enforcement’s efforts to investigate Crystal’s case have been beyond disappointing, reporting difficulties getting updates on the case and a general feeling of apathy from police. Now she has contracted Lauth Investigations International to conduct an independent investigation concurrent with law enforcement to ensure that no lead is unexplored in her daughter’s disappearance. “The circumstances under which Crystal went missing are troubling, and our team is exploring multiple leads in her disappearance,” said lead investigator, Thomas Lauth. Lauth has over 30 years of experience investigating missing person cases of all types and is considered one of the country’s foremost experts in missing persons.
Crystal Marie Fry is 31 years old, is 5 feet 7 inches tall, weights approximately 135lbs and, has blue eyes and brown hair. You can donate to the GoFundMe for the independent investigation here.
Anyone with information please contact the Baltimore Police Department at 410-396-2221 or call 911.
In Chicago, Illinois, the search is still underway for a missing United Airlines executive who went disappeared on August 6, 2020. Jake Cefolia, 49, is the senior vice president of United Airlines worldwide sales. He was last seen on August 6 before plans to go for a run in his neighborhood. Even after twenty days missing, police have declared they still have no leads in his disappearance.
After he was reported missing on August 8, a search campaign was immediately launched to find the airline executive, including law enforcement, citizen volunteers, and a Facebook group that continues to grow every day. As of August 24, Elmhurst Police Chief, Michael Ruth, informed the press that authorities had yet to find any reason to suspect foul play in Cefolia’s disappearance. One of the scant clues in Cefolia’s disappearance was his abandoned vehicle. After two days of searching, the vehicle was finally located in a Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve parking lot.
Law enforcement circled resources, including over 100 volunteers and K-9 dog units to search the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. Chief David Peterson of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County told ABC7 Chicago said that they knew Cefolia commonly ran a 10-mile loop in the preserve, “We don’t know for sure he’s still at the forest preserve, but at this point there’s been no contact with family or friends.” The area law enforcement have been searching for the missing United Airlines executive spans 2,500 acres, and required additional deployment of foot patrol, K-9 units, drones, boats, and all-terrain vehicles. “We are hoping to find him. Every time our phone is ringing, I’m wondering, is this the call where we find him.” Peterson told ABC7. In addition to his car, the Elmhurst Police also had a chance to review surveillance footage from a gas station nearby after Cefolia was seen at his home the day he went missing. Chief Michael Ruth pointed out that although the footage is low-quality, Jake Cefolia’s manner of dress was not consistent with a person who was going on a run.
His employer also took notice when Cefolia did not report for work on August 7, and has released a statement pertaining to the missing United Airlines executive, “Our friend and colleague, Jake Cefolia, SVP of Worldwide Sales, was last seen Thursday evening, August 6th. We are concerned about his well-being and have been in touch with Jake’s family over the last couple of days to offer them our support. At the request of the family, we won’t be releasing any additional details at this time.”
Independently of law enforcement, Jake Celfolia’s family has organized their own search efforts, including a Facebook page with over 1000 members where people can compare information and intelligence on their own searches. The police report on Cefolia’s disappearance states that he “had been stressed out lately” due to work pressures, and that his ex-wife had told police her former husband had sometimes fantasized about “going off the grid.” There were also reports that Cefolia might have been feeling despondent recently due to a breakup with a girlfriend.
In a recent article published by CrimeOnline, journalist Ellen Killoran reported that prior to the onset of Cefolia’s missing person case, the missing United Airlines executive was the subject of a criminal probe. Chief Ruth was unable to provide further details, but stated that “a criminal investigation was underway” prior to Cefolia’s disappearance. It should be noted that Cefolia has not been charged with any crimes, and that there are no warrants for his arrest. “We would like to find him and reunite him with his family, and [continue with] the other aspect that we have going on.”
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.