International Travelers Who Go Missing

International Travelers Who Go Missing

In May 2009, New Jersey resident Joe Dunsavage vanished during his international trip to Honduras. He left his wallet, passport, and luggage in his hotel room and set sail on his Catamaran to go fishing – never to be heard from again.

The 49-year old mortgage company manager also had a business in the Central American country, so he was familiar with Honduras and its culture.

His family searched for him for months in Honduras. His brother Jeff Dunsavage maxed out his credit cards and even mortgaged his home paying for planes and helicopters to search Honduran waters and other Central American countries nearby.

(Jeff and his father Ed Dunsavage hold a picture of Joe Dunsavage.)

Each May 10th marks another year of not knowing. Not knowing if Joe is alive or dead. Joe’s father Ed Dunsavage told NJ.com, “It’s an anniversary for everyone else,” Ed said. “To us, it’s what we live with every day.”

It has also been a learning lesson for the Dunsavage family. Initially, the Dunsavages tried to get the US Military to assist in the search for the missing American. Then they contacted the State Department, Consulate, and federal representatives to no avail.

In addition to lacking assistance in the effort to find Joe, the family has faced other challenges because Joe was missing while traveling internationally. For example, even though the Dunsavage family believes Joe to be deceased, they were initially unable to collect Joe’s $150,000 life insurance for Joe’s two teen sons.

After experiencing unimaginable frustration and going into debt to find his brother, Jeff decided he wanted to ensure other families who have loved ones missing in other countries do not go through the same heartache his family has in their attempt to find assistance.

Jeff started an organization called the Missing Americans Project to advocate for families of missing persons while setting out to change the way the government deals with cases of missing persons. “It’s about getting the policy changed and getting a fair and humane interpretation that enables families who are in our situation to not have to wait many years or go through a third world corrupt court system,” Jeff said.

Much of the problem the Dunsavage faced could have been avoided if the State Department’s Foreign Affairs had issued a finding of a presumption of death. However, officials informed Jeff that he needed to go to Honduran authorities to obtain a declaration of death – something Jeff Dunsavage does not believe would be advantageous given the infamously corrupt judicial system in Honduras.

But according to the State Department’s own handbook, the department’s decision to issue a declaration of death is “discretionary” based up the circumstances of each case and “whether the government exercising jurisdiction over the place where the death is believed to have occurred lacks laws or procedures for making findings of presumptive death.” Yet, the State Department declined to help.

While the State Department’s own website concedes corruption exists within the Honduran judicial system in matters of business, it doesn’t acknowledge corruption in any other capacity.

The website states, “There are complaints that the Honduran judicial system exhibits favoritism and vulnerability to external pressure and bribes.”

“The real story is that the state Department won’t do what it is authorized to do by law, and our senators have given up on helping us.”

The State Department’s website reads, “Honduras Travel Advisory Level 3: Reconsider Travel.

“Reconsider travel to Honduras due to crime. Some areas have increased risk. Violent crime such as homicide and armed robbery is common. Violent gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, rape and narcotics and human trafficking, is widespread. Local police and emergency services lack the resources to respond effectively to serious crime.”

Sadly, the Dunsavage family is not alone when dealing with both American and foreign governmental entities that are unresponsive when a loved one goes missing across borders.

A Son Missing in Costa Rica

On August 11, 2009, Luda and Roma Gimelfarb said goodbye to their son David at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. David, a 28-year old graduate student of Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, was on his way to Costa Rica for a six-day vacation. They had no idea that would be the last time they would see their son.

Four days later, they found themselves going through the same customs line their son had encountered at Liberia Costa Rica Airport. The previous night they had received a call from the hotel manager where David had been staying notifying them their son had not slept in his room for the two previous nights. His rental car was found in the parking lot of nearby Rincon de la Vieja National Park.

(Hacienda Guachipelin, where David Gimelfarb stayed.)

David had been staying at the Hacienda Guachipelin, a 54-room motel-style compound located on a desolate road that leads to Rincon de la Vieja. This was his last adventure before starting his fourth year of graduate school.

David had been volunteering as a therapist for a mental health facility on the West Side of Chicago which he found rewarding but stressful. In fact, David’s parents were worried he was having a hard time coping with the recent loss of his Russian grandmother, whom he was very close.

As reported in Chicago Magazine, David was introverted, described as socially awkward at times. Before his departure to Costa Rica, he told his adviser at Adler that he thought the trip would be a way to build his confidence. “I told him I was worried about him,” recalls Janna Henning, a coordinator for the school’s traumatic stress psychology program. “But he said that he’d traveled alone before and would be fine.”

David had been a reserved and shy little boy whose English was broken. He had always felt like an outsider and the early experience had always stuck with him according to his father Roma, a chemical engineer at Morton Salt.

According to David’s friends, David adjusted in college and joining a fraternity Phi Kappa Psi. They describe him as having a dry sense of humor, never having had a serious relationship with a girl.

David was very introspective for his age and wrote in a private Facebook message 13 days before his trip, that he feared his own mortality and was struggling with how to confront his future. “Life is finite,” David wrote. “We must love it no matter what, so we can be satisfied with it when we look back on it.”

David seemed to be making life memorable and had traveled to Hawaii by himself to hike and in his apartment, he kept a copy of the book Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel which encourages readers take immerse themselves in the local cultures they are visiting.

David knew well of the risks of traveling alone. Ironically, just before his senior year one of his fraternity brothers disappeared in southern Ecuador while hiking alone in a national park.

On August 11th, David woke up and ate alone in the outdoor dining room at 9 a.m., then left the Hacienda to make the five-mile drive to the park in his rental car. One of the motel employees described David as appearing contemplative or sad that morning.

He talked to his parents every day and had called his mother Luda the day before telling her that he had met a girl and hoped to meet up with her again. His mother asked if she was local and David only responded that she “seemed very nice”. He told Luda he planned to hike the park the following day but complained the motel was too quiet and too far from beaches implying he might not stay at the motel the entire six-day visit. That was the last time she spoke with her son.

(Geothermal mud pits that line the path David Gimelsfarb took that fateful day.)

Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a vast area of beauty with ancient trees, waterfalls and bubbling geothermal mud pits that can reach upwards to 200 degrees. Visitors flock to the area to hike near the active volcano, which is often masked by cloud cover offering a mystique to the land. As legend has it an old witch inhabits the volcano’s peak and became a recluse after her father threw her lover into the crater in disapproval.

(Rincon de la Vieja National Park.)

David was excited to visit the lush tropical destination. However majestic the forest, locals will tell you the area is as wild as it comes with at least four varieties of poisonous snakes, pumas, jaguars prowling the dense rainforest.

The trails are like labyrinths and not well marked. In fact, drug traffickers are known to use them to smuggle narcotics into Nicaragua, only 25 miles to the north.

It is known approximately 300 visitors from all over the world were also there on August 11, 2009. We know he walked into the Visitors hut at approximately 10 a.m. and wrote his name in the visitor’s log.

David spoke to the ranger in Spanish telling him he intended to hike the easy almost two-mile loop called the Las Pailas or Cauldrons, named after the numerous steam holes along the path. David walked out of the hut, up a wobbly footbridge crossing the beautiful cool waters of the Colorado River, and was never seen again.

Luda had called the motel several times when she did not hear from David that evening. The following morning, panicked, she requested someone from the motel enter his room and conduct a welfare check.

That evening, the owner of the motel Jose Tomas Batalla called the Gimelfarbs to inform them David had not slept in his bed the evening before, his suitcase still in room 16. He also told Luda and Roma that David’s car had been found parked in the lot at the park.

David’s parents went online and immediately booked a flight to Costa Rica.

On August 13th, the motel manager opened the room and let the Gimelfarbs inside. The found the bed made, his suitcase, a couple of books of poetry on the nightstand. The manager then opened the room safe where David’s parents found their son’s passport, $600 of the $800 David was known to have on hand, and his cell phone.

It is believed David took his Northface backpack, his wallet with driver’s license and a couple credit cards. Also missing was David’s journal and a camera.

In the months that followed David’s disappearance, the Red Cross, local police, dog teams, hunters, volunteers and even the U.S. Army Search and Rescue team stationed on a nearby air base in Honduras helped conduct intensive searches of the park and surrounding areas.

Thousands of flyers were distributed along with a $100,000 reward offered. The family still receives email and phone calls from people who claim to have seen David, who speaks fluent Spanish, around Costa Rica. Some describe seeing a person who cautiously speaks to people and doesn’t appear to know who he is, possibly suffering from amnesia.

When the Gimelfarbs called the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica, to request assistance, they were told it is not the embassy’s responsibility and that he had traveled there on his own. Basically, the Gimelfarbs found out they were on their own.

“We believe that when Abraham Lincoln said, “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities,” he was right, said Roma Gimelfarb, David’s father.

(Luda and Roma Gimelfarb sit on a park bench hoping to see their beloved son David again.)

The Gimelfarbs, both Russian emigrants, say they have suffered nine years not knowing if their only son is sick, hungry, cold, held hostage or abused, and feel utterly powerless.

One of the last sightings of a man with a slight build and red hair came in from Limon, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, about a five-hour drive from the park. Witnesses said the man was disoriented, dirty and unable to speak but gestured he needed something to drink to the owners of a small mini-mart. The witnesses recognized the man from news reports about David’s disappearance. They felt so strongly it was David they took the man to a police station where police conducted a short interview and released him without even taking a picture.

Some believed David may have gone to Costa Rica with the intention of “falling off the grid.” Sean Curran a detective at Chicago’s Highland Park Police Department told Chicago Magazine that after going through David’s belongings, financial situation, reading his journals and talking to relatives and friends there is little evidence that points to a conscious decision to disappear.

However, two clues did make Curran take notice: the copy of Vagabonding, a book about long-term travel in other countries and a series of maps he discovered on David’s laptop. On the night before his disappearance, he had studied maps of Honduras, Columbia, Peru, Chile, and Nicaragua, a baffling aspect since David had only planned to be gone for six days.

Curran, also a dad, told Chicago Magazine he still finds the case troubling. “I don’t think he intentionally did this to his parents.”

Exhausted and shattered, David parents believe their son may still be alive. They live the daily rollercoaster of despair and maintaining hope – and they know they are not alone.

Like Jeff Dunsavage, the Gimelfarbs decided to create the David Gimelfarb International Rescue Resources Foundation to help other families find their loved ones who have gone abroad – and gone missing.

How many?

As of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, statistics involving those who go missing overseas are not available. Experts estimate the number of individuals missing in foreign countries is in the thousands.

Family members of those who go missing while traveling internationally find police in other countries are less equipped to investigate missing person cases. Behind each missing person case is a shattered family.

American embassies do not have trained personnel or a budget to assist families. Despite funding billions in programs in foreign countries, not one penny is allocated to assist in the search for missing Americans abroad.

Most families have no idea where to start searching for their loved ones, nor the budget to hire a private investigator, helicopter pilots, canine search teams and other search-related expenses. They receive little to no guidance from their government.

In the years since David disappeared, at least 10 foreigners have gone missing in Costa Rica and over 20 US citizens have been murdered there since 2011, with several other countries issuing travel warnings citing the rising crime rate in the country.

The Gimelfarbs live every day wondering if maybe David had seen poachers or smugglers in the park and killed. They wonder if he may have headed back to the motel and been the victim of a con. Who was the “very nice” girl David had referred to?

What if he was robbed on the way back to the hotel? Maybe abducted and his organs harvested. Though that scenario might be unbelievable to most, the black market for donor organs is a growing problem in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The number of situations is never-ending.

To ensure every lead was followed the Gimelfarbs hired four private investigators. One private investigator and former military intelligence officer from Azerbaijan spent approximately a month in Central America searching for David. He concluded David had left the park and was killed near the motel (even though his vehicle was found still sitting in the lot at the park).

Another private investigator came to the conclusion David got lost after the sun went down and wandered onto private property at the edge of the park and killed after mistakenly being taken for a thief or poacher (even though David arrived at the park in the morning and only intended on staying a few hours).

The Organismo de Investigacion Judicial which is Costa Roca’s equal to the FBI conducted an investigation interviewing the motel employees but never talked to park rangers or visitors at the park.

The official never conducted an official search of David’s room at the motel yet closed its investigation without any inference. The report indicates “All out efforts have come up empty.”

Like the Dunsavage family who bankrolled their own search, Roma estimates they have spent over $300,000 on their search efforts. “We just want a complete and thorough investigation,” said Roma. “We’ve never had that.”

Thomas Lauth, owner of Lauth Investigations International has worked over 20 years on missing person cases both within the US and internationally says, “As all families of missing persons will agree, they have become a member of a club no one wants to join.”

 

 

 

Beyond Our Horizons: Americans Missing Overseas

Beyond Our Horizons: Americans Missing Overseas

Americans across the country have a bizarre fascination with all things foreign. When it comes to international travel and foreign countries, attitudes can range from a wanton Western wanderlust to a macabre fascination with the fear of the unknown.  Young people nearing a graduation often make plans to go backpacking through Europe in the hopes of broadening their horizons before taking the next step on life’s path. Many volunteer to assist in relief efforts overseas following a natural disaster. Others travel overseas to visit with family they might not have seen in decades.

On the reverse side of the coin, where some Americans might associate all things foreign with class or the exotic, there are others with a less favorable approach. American cinema, especially genres like action or horror, plays heavily on the American anxieties surrounding foreign countries and international travel. One of the most blatant examples of this is the Hostel film series, in which young backpackers trekking through the Slavic countries are kidnapped and held captive by a secret society with grisly motives. The American anxiety of being on one’s own in a foreign country—where you are a stranger to everyone and few strangers speak your language—is not lost on foreign filmmakers either. In 2008, when the English-language French action thriller Taken was released, it broke the record for best opening day ever for Super Bowl weekend. One of the unfortunate reasons Americans cling to the suspense and drama of films like these is because the horror is all too real. U.S. citizens go missing overseas and in North America every week, and with funding and resources for searches low, families are left with nothing but prayers for a Liam Neeson type to bring their loved ones home.

Despite the American anxiety surrounding international travel, the National Travel and Tourism Office saw an eight percent increase in international travel in 2016. In that year, 66,960,943 citizens utilized their passports to visit countries within North America and overseas. Many Americans have a Bucket List—a list of things they’d like to experience before shuffling off this mortal coil—and one of the most common items on bucket lists is travel, especially international travel. In 2009, David Gimelfarb was one of those millions of people travelling abroad. In the bustling hive of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Roma and Luda Gimelfarb said goodbye to their son before he departed for a week’s vacation in Costa Rica. “The last thing we know about our son,” they told the Chicago Tribune, “is that on August 11, 2009, he paid a $10 entry fee and signed up for a two-hour hike in Rincon de la Vieja National Park.” This month, it will have been nine years since David Gimelfarb went out for that hike and never came back. As recently as 2013, Roma and Luda were still fielding emails and phone calls from people who claim they have seen David wandering around Costa Rica. The reports described this person “spoke cautiously with people (David speaks Spanish fluently) and doesn’t appear to know who he is (possibly has amnesia).” Is it possible that David hit his head while on the hike and woke up with no memory of who he was?

The tragedy is that Roma and Luda Gimelfarb will likely never have that level of closure regarding their son’s disappearance. It’s important to remember that even in the United States missing adults are not a high priority for law enforcement. Adults have the liberty to go missing if they please, and police are not in the habit of pouring labor hours and resources into finding someone who might not want to be found. What’s worse is that once they’re out of the country, the American authorities are left with no jurisdiction and no recourse. The Gimelfarbs went on to say in the article, “American embassies have no budget or trained personnel to assist the families or local foreign governments in their search for missing Americans. Though the U.S. government provides funds for numerous programs abroad and spent $47.8 billion in 2012 to support them, none of these programs provides funds or personnel to search for missing Americans abroad.

An individual’s career can often take them overseas or beyond the United States, sometimes for an extended period of time. Such was the case with 41-year-old Robert Durbin, who went missing in Kingston, Jamaica. Robert was lecturing on law on the weekends on behalf of an international program run by the University of London. When asked about the reason for his visit to Jamaica, the West Hartford Town Councilman said he hoped to glean insight from learning about the culture of West Indian people, “I’m living and volunteering in a low-income development down here. It’s a very up-and-coming, low-income area, so it’s a nice opportunity to work with some social workers. Obviously, this area is a lot different from West Hartford… but my work here in the community will contribute to my service on the town council.”

Months later, Robert was charged with first-degree criminal trespass when he arrived on the scene of a domestic disturbance to offer his legal services to the persons involved. This led to him resigning from the Town Council while he was in the middle of a divorce. Arrested in development, he decided to return to Jamaica to continue the volunteer work he began during his initial visits. Following his return to Jamaica in May of 2012, all attempts to contact him proved fruitless. With so little information available at the time he was reported missing, his case still remains open as of 2018.

Natural disasters can have a devastating effect on a country’s tourism, but there a visible trend following these disasters: an influx of both American and other foreign individuals who travel to the effected area in hopes of volunteering for relief efforts. These “volun-tourists” are usually only in the country for a week or two, participating in a project that would serve underprivileged communities, such as building a school, or a clinic, or even a well so locals can have access to clean water. A website that serves as a guide to relief and volunteer programs overseas compared the data regarding where and what Americans are researching in order to seek out opportunities. The 2012 Annual Volunteer Report reveals that the top countries that are a point of interest for prospective volunteers are the Philippines, India, and Thailand. It makes sense, given that the same report showed that Asia is the top region for areas that receive droves of relief-volunteers. Over half the list of the top fifteen searched countries for prospective volunteers are located within the Asian region.

While backpacking through Southeast Asia, Dahlia Yehia decided to rest in the town of Pokhara, Nepal while she determined the next stop on her trip. She’d put together a modest sum of savings from her time as an art instructor in order to backpack across the pan-Asian continent. On August 5th, 2015, she arrived in Pokhara, only a few weeks after an earthquake that registered 7.8 on the Richter scale shook the whole of the Kathmandu Valley and nearby villages. In the interim, Dahlia decided she would be useful by volunteering for the relief effort. For lodging, she turned to the economy-travel site Couchsurfing, where she connected with a local by the name of Narayan Paudel. He had great reviews on the economy-travel website, so Dahlia decided to stay with him.

Despite inconsistent cell phone service at the foot of the mountains, Dahlia still found time to check in with friends and family when she could. She had nothing but nice things to say about her new Couchsurfing host, claiming she had dinner with him and his girlfriend. Then, when several days went by with no word from Dahlia, a friend became concerned and started reaching out to Dahlia’s family to see if anyone had heard from her. He also reached out to Couchsurfing support staff to tell them he was concerned for Dahlia, but that came to nothing. Her family had to turn to Apple, where an emergency support team advised that they might be able to track her movements using a unique 15-digit code assigned to all cellular hardware known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity, or IMEI.

Finally, the U.S. Embassy was notified that Dahlia was missing in Nepal, and the family provided them with her IMEI for the investigation. They told the embassy that the last person to see Dahlia was likely her Couchsurfing host, but the information obtained with Dahlia’s IMEI revealed that someone had put a new SIM card in the phone long after Dahlia was reported missing. The SIM card was purchased by Narayan Paudel. This led to Paudel’s arrest and subsequent confession to her murder.

Were it not for the intervention of Apple, who knows if the family might have ever received a modicum of closure in Dahlia’s disappearance? Sharing services like Couchsurfing are on the rise as more apps like Uber and Airbnb continue to grow in size and in revenue creating what has been referred to as a “sharing economy”. There is a legal gray area that attorneys would call “assumption of responsibility” when it comes to utilizing these services. When Generation X was young, there was no second thought when it came to getting into a stranger’s car for a ride. Now, placing your trust and safety in a complete stranger—especially a stranger you met through the internet—is considered one of the most dangerous decisions you can make. Businesses in the sharing economy are not insensitive to these anxieties, and most offer some form of a verification system. However, most companies take pains to distance themselves from the actions of their individual employees in order to avoid litigation. Couchsurfing, for example, offers user verification for $20 per year, but in the fine print, there is always a disclaimer that frees Couchsurfing from responsibility involved in any relations between host and guest. Users are urged to report “anyone through our services who you feel is acting or has acted inappropriately.” It emphasizes, however, “[W]e are not obligated to take any action.”

Unfortunately, Dahlia is not an isolated incident. It’s frightfully common for people to vanish while visiting Nepal. Until 2011, the U.S. State Department had an active travel warning in effect for Nepal. In addition to cautioning tourists about the civil unrest occurring in the country, the State Department also had a piece of advice for the tourists who travel to Nepal in hope hiking some of the most coveted treks on any backpacker’s list:

“Solo trekking can be dangerous, and the lack of available immediate assistance has contributed to injuries and deaths, while also making one more vulnerable to criminals. Although it is not prohibited by local law, the Government of Nepal has reiterated its strong recommendation against solo trekking. In separate incidents in the last several years, a number of foreign women (including U.S. citizens) on popular trails have been attacked and seriously injured while trekking alone.”

This warning did not shake 23-year-old Aubrey Sacco, who was dead-set on witnessing the beauty of the Himalayan Mountains up close and personal. She was nearing the end of her post-college adventure, maintaining nearly constant contact with her parents throughout. On the day Aubrey went missing, she told her mother she had decided to make the “tea-house trek” in Langtang National Park—the first Himalayan national park. Her mother was concerned because her father was having surgery that day, and was worried that she wouldn’t be able to contact her daughter if something went wrong, but Aubrey assured her, “Don’t worry. It’s teahouse trekking.” In the investigation following her disappearance, Aubrey’s parents learned that the day she went missing, she had an encounter with three men she met at the Sherpa Lodge on the hike. The men initiated a conversation, and at first things were cordial, but when Aubrey announced that she had to be moving on to the next village, Riverside, things took a tense turn. The men began repeatedly insisting that it was too long of a hike to start so late in the afternoon. Firm in her conviction, Aubrey said, “Riverside is only an hour from here, don’t lie to me.”

For all intents and purposes, there is no evidence that Aubrey made it to her next destination. No other witnesses could place her at any location beyond Riverside. Given the last witnessed encounter between Aubrey and the locals, it’s easy to assume that these aggressive men might have been the architects of her disappearance, but there are many other theories that exclude their encounter altogether. It’s important to remember the U.S. State Department’s warning regarding solo-trekking in the Himalayas, citing natural hazards and the implications of being injured on the hike with no immediate help nearby. It’s possible that Aubrey shared the fate of many who had attempted the trek alone, maybe slipping from a rain-soaked embankment, or toppling over a cliff.

Another theory inculpating harm at the hands of another person is the predatory culture surrounding the military bases that are scattered throughout the Himalayas. Tracy Ross, a journalist digging into the mystery surrounding Aubrey’s disappearance, detailed some of the incidents involving soldiers that had been reported in the past, “In July 2010, three French girls reported being sexually assaulted by the soldiers manning a check post called Ghora Tabela, not far from where Aubrey vanished. Later, two more Western women were attacked in the same region in separate incidents, one in 2011 and the other in 2012.” Ross goes on to illuminate just how difficult it was to get information about this American woman’s disappearance. “If the Nepali police keep records of exactly how many female trekkers have been the victims of violent crime, they won’t say (the police didn’t respond to repeated requests for information for this story). For that matter, it’s hard to determine how many trekkers, male or female, have gone missing over the years, whatever the reason.”

This is not surprising, as police departments in developing countries like Nepal are woefully underfunded and often do not have the resources to properly investigate missing persons cases. Given Aubrey’s age at the time of her disappearance, if she had gone missing within the United States, the investigation would still have had significant roadblocks because she was not a minor. But Aubrey didn’t go missing in America. She went missing over 8,000 miles away. Search efforts conducted by U.S. Embassy, the Nepali Army, and Aubrey’s own father turned up nothing, but continued for more than two years after her disappearance. It is the longest, most expensive search in Nepal’s history.

During the more frustrating phases of the investigation, when it was impossible to get any information from Nepali law enforcement, Aubrey’s parents hired a private investigator. According to The Daily Camera, it was one of the factors that kept the case alive long after Nepali authorities stopped looking for Aubrey. The issues in Nepal that American law enforcement often encounters when investigating a missing adult that were only compounded by the distance and the jurisdiction. There are many cases like Aubrey’s in which underfunded, underequipped, disorganized law enforcement in countries overseas cannot connect with United States embassies or refuse to release information outright. However, with a private investigator chasing leads in an overseas disappearance, there are no jurisdictional issues, no red tape preventing them from contacting agencies, governing bodies, or law enforcement. There is no issue of paperwork, such as warrants to track individuals that might sit on a superior’s desk for days while precious time and leads are lost. Private investigators are beholden only to the client, and thus their search for the truth is unbridled and in-depth.

In America, there are rights and laws that protect private citizens from persecution on behalf of law enforcement without cause. As a country, Americans have only recently begun to cultivate a suspicious attitude towards law enforcement, but abroad, distrust of law enforcement is ubiquitous depending on longitude. In countries where citizens live in fear of a corrupt system and retaliation from the police, it can be impossible for investigators to pull valuable information from witnesses. This is where private investigators truly have an advantage over law enforcement. Because they have no powers of arrest—in the United States or anywhere—witnesses feel more at ease providing details to someone who cannot arrest them. Considering that police interrogations can take hours just to get a simple answer, private investigators can use that time to pursue leads and garner more case progression.

Even though private investigators have no powers of arrest, it can still be difficult to interview witnesses who know they’re being interrogated, or even witnesses who are—at best—uncooperative. When Tracy Ross traveled to Nepal for background on the story she was writing about Aubrey, the locals were less than enthusiastic about talking to her, “Over and over, villagers told me that they knew nothing about Aubrey and they wished people would stop asking. Two young girls giggled, then turned bitter, saying they didn’t care anymore that this girl had vanished.” Soldiers who assisted in the search for Aubrey told Ross that they had done their due-diligence and there was nothing left to talk about. When this is the case, private investigators have the necessary skill and experience to go undercover and blend in with tourists and locals. From this inconspicuous position, they can conduct surveillance, pull information from unsuspecting witnesses or suspects, and document it every step of the way.

When loved ones vanish into thin air, everyone who would miss them feels helpless, and everyone feels as if there could be no cause more pressing than finding that loved one again. The reality is that Americans go missing every day, both children and adults, and it is nearly impossible for law enforcement to treat every single case with the attention it ultimately deserves. It usually comes down to simple facts when law enforcement is triaging their case load: Is this person in immediate danger? Are they over the age of 18? Could they have disappeared of their own accord? These are questions that bear little weight in the minds of loved ones when it comes to their diligence in getting answers. However, regardless of your circumstances, the universal truth behind hiring a private investigator to locate your missing loved one overseas is that their expertise is applied to the specifics of your case. They are beholden to you and only you. They have very similar expertise and resources to law enforcement with the added peace of mind that your child or loved one will never just become a file laying idly on a desk.

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

The Media and Missing White Woman Syndrome

The Media and Missing White Woman Syndrome

If you are a missing person, it helps to be white

(Jasmine Moody vanished in Detroit, Michigan on December 4, 2014.)

Jasmine Moody, a 22-year old Texas Women’s University student mysteriously vanished on December 4, 2014, while visiting a friend in Detroit, Michigan. Nearly four years later, police are no closer to figuring out what happened to her. News coverage of her disappearance has long since vanished from the scene too, folding into the phenomenon of what is known as Missing White Woman Syndrome.

Approximately 7:30 p.m., the evening of December 4th, Jasmine was last seen leaving her friend’s home in the vicinity of the 3700 block of Baldwin, in the Van Dyke and Mack area of Detroit. Her family, who lives in Texas, is convinced foul play is involved in Jasmine’s disappearance and disappointed in the police department’s response and ensuing investigation.

“My daughter was real popular. She had a lot of friends. She was very social and energetic,” Jasmine’s mother Lisa Kidd told Dateline. “She always had a smile on her face. Always, always.”

Jasmine had known she wanted to be a nurse since she was 16 and described as a well-rounded student at Texas Woman’s University. According to her stepfather Patrick Kidd, Jasmine was a straight-A student, danced, and was training to be part of the U.S. Armed Forces through her school’s ROTC program.

According to police, Jasmine had developed an online relationship with Brittany Gurley, a woman who lived in Detroit. Just a few months after meeting online, Jasmine and Brittany had developed a strong friendship and Jasmine flew to visit Brittany and her family for Thanksgiving.

On the evening of December 4th, the two women allegedly got into an argument about Jasmine’s social media posts. Brittany and her family would later tell police that Jasmine put on a hoodie and walked out of the house.

Little else is known about her disappearance. No major ground search was conducted, and ongoing media exposure on a national level has been minimal.

In contrast to Jasmine Moody’s case, Lauren Spierer, a 20-year old student at Indiana University, vanished June 3, 2011, after an evening out with friends in Bloomington, Indiana. Lauren, who grew up in Scarsdale, an affluent town in Westchester, New York. Her disappearance quickly garnered national press attention but remains unsolved.

“Lauren’s disappearance has been and continues to be the most heart-wrenching experience of our lives,” Lauren’s family posted on Facebook on June 4, 2018, seven years after her disappearance. “I remember writing a few short months after Lauren’s disappearance that I never thought I would see an October without answers. I could never have imagined we would still be searching for Lauren seven years later. I end this now as I start each morning, hoping today will be the day.”

After an evening out at Kilroy’s Sports Bar with friends, Lauren was last seen on 11th Street and College Avenue in Bloomington at approximately 4:15 a.m. She had left her cell phone and shoes at the bar, presumedly taking her shoes off in the beach-themed bar’s sand-filled courtyard.

National news quickly began covering Lauren’s disappearance while hundreds of volunteers assembled to distribute thousands of fliers and help conduct ground searches of the area. A billboard overlooking the Indiana State Fairgrounds, along Fall Creek Parkway, asks the public for any information that would lead to the whereabouts of Lauren.

 

 

(Thousands of flyers of missing person Lauren Spierer have been distributed throughout the country.)

Hundreds of volunteers continued to turn out daily to help the family in their search.

Lauren’s case was profiled on popular America’s Most Wanted in 2011, leading to dozens of leads but not that one the family needed. Over the years, dozens of news media outlets have covered Lauren’s story.

Early on, Lauren’s parents hired private investigators and today, maintain an active Facebook group.

In one very revealing and heartfelt post, Lauren’s mother writes, “I could not have imagined on June 3, 2011, that my life would ever have any semblance of normalcy. Unfortunately, that word will never be applied to our lives. You learn to live with routines which get you through your days, weeks, months, and years. We will never know normal. Some of the things taken for granted in ordinary families are so far removed from ours it’s difficult to fathom. They range from everyday life events, a wedding, a birth and yes sadly death. What I wouldn’t do to hear Lauren’s voice or even just to notice a text on my phone. Something so simple as a text. My heart breaks at the thought of it. Well, those responsible will never be able to imagine. I have said it before and I know it’s redundant but what could have been an accident in a few short hours became a crime. The worst nightmare any parent or sister could imagine.”

Every day Lauren’s family simply hopes for answers. That’s all any family of a missing person could ask for.

Two young women, one black, one white, both ambitious students couldn’t be treated more differently by the media. One becomes nearly a household name, the other nearly forgotten. With absolute certainty, no one can say exactly why.

 

What are the numbers?

As of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of the active missing person cases listed in NCIC, 40,108 cases are of missing women and 26,842 are black.

(National Crime Information Center Report)

Names like Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, Polly Klaas, Natalie Holloway and Lauren Spierer have become familiar household names. Their missing person cases have dominated the headlines over the years. Cases like Jasmine Moody’s are not rare and unfortunately rarely make the local news.

Historically, whenever a female missing person becomes a national headline, she is almost certain to be a pretty, young white woman.

When was the last time you heard of a missing black female on CNN or other national news outlets?

In an NBC news story “Damsels in Distress” Roy Peter Clark, head of Poynter Institute for Media Studies is quoted, “It’s all about sex,” said Clark. “Young white women give editors and television producers what they want.”

“There are several common threads,” said Clark. “The victims that get the most coverage are female rather than male. They are white, in general, rather than young people of color. They are at least middle class, if not upper middle class.”

Some say the cases fit a narrative pattern that storytellers have used for more than a century, a pattern who design still incorporates remnants of an outmoded view of women and black people and their roles in society.

When it comes to popular stories, Clark said, “there is this perverted, racist view of the world. White is good; black is bad. Blonde is good; dark is bad. Young is good; old is bad. And I think we can find versions of this story going back to the tabloid wars of more than a hundred years ago.”

Regardless of class, color or age, it is clear that there is disproportionate coverage of black missing person cases. Referred to as “Missing White Woman Syndrome” and has led to a number of tough on crime measures named after white women who disappeared such as Suzanne’s Law, Kristen’s Law, Jennifer’s Law, Amber Alert and others.

In a study conducted by Baylor University, “The Invisible Damsel: Differences in How National Media Outlets Framed the Coverage of Missing Black and White Women in the Mid-2000s,” Professors Moody, Dorris and Blackwell concluded that in addition to race and class, factors such as supposed attractiveness, body size, and youthfulness function as unfair criteria in determining newsworthiness in the national news coverage of missing women. In addition, news coverage of missing black women was more likely to focus on the victim’s problems, such as abusive relationships, a troubled past, while coverage of white women tends to focus on roles as mothers or daughters.

Zach Somers, a sociologist at Northwestern University, noted that while there has been extensive research that shows that white people are more likely than people of color to appear in news coverage as victims of violent crime, there is relatively none when it comes to missing person cases.

Victim blaming appears to be compounding the unequal coverage and reinforces the view that black female victims are not only less innocent, but less worthy of rescue relative to white women. Thus, the term “Damsels in Distress.”

Others have blamed “police brutality” for the lack of publicity given to black female missing persons, attributing the silence to a habit of “sexism and patriarchy” in American society.

One group is fighting the imbalance of national media exposure that exists. The Black and Missing Foundation’s mission is to draw more attention to missing African Americans by providing an outlet for spreading the word through technology and print – and their work is making a difference.

By creating relationships with the media, government agencies, and the public, they are increasing the chances of missing black women being covered in the news and ultimately, to bring them home.

Derica and Natalie Wilson, two sisters-in-law, and founders of the Black and Missing Foundation have been profiled in People Magazine, Essence, Ebony, Huffington Post, Washington Post and developed a partnership with TV One. This year they celebrate ten years, helping thousands of families of missing persons and finding nearly 300 people.

“Many times, we are a family’s last resort – their last hope., says co-founder Natalie Wilson. This platform allows us to open our doors for families searching for their missing loved ones and not restrict access to help.”

Black and Missing Foundation have set the example for other groups to follow, especially the media.

Thomas Lauth of Lauth Missing Persons: an Expert in Missing Children and Adults noted, “In the 17 years of conducting missing persons cases for families and non-profit organizations, there is certainly a media and public bias against a missing person of color. When the general public and the media see a blonde 18 year-old on CNN that is missing–as opposed to an African American female on CNN–there is immediate attention to the blonde. Luckily there are non profit organizations such as Black and Missing to help bring more exposure to advocacy to the families for persons of color.”

Finding missing persons is a cooperative effort between the police, media, social service agencies and especially the public. With every news story, the coverage generates leads and increases the chance of that one lead being reported that will assist law enforcement in the investigation, and even close a case.

When it comes to missing persons there is no black and white, there are only families who are missing their daughters, siblings missing their sisters, children who are missing their mothers. There is no rich or poor, only families, human beings experiencing the most traumatic experience of their lifetimes.

People . . . who need our help.

For more of Kym Pasqualini’s work in missing persons, please visit her website, Missing Leads , or log on to Facebook and join the conversation on the Missing Leads Discusssion page!

The Scope of the Missing Persons Phenomenon

The Scope of the Missing Persons Phenomenon

When we hear the word “missing” we often think of missing children. When we walk into Walmart the faces of missing children stare back at us and the missing child cases that receive public and media attention are often the most extreme examples, such as the case of Ayla Reynolds.

One-year-old Ayla Reynolds vanished from her home on December 16, 2011, in Waterville, Maine. Her arm in a sling, Ayla was last seen wearing green pajamas with “Daddy’s Princess” on the front. Six years later, Ayla’s disappearance remains a mystery.

(Poster of Ayla Reynolds distributed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com.)

It is quite common there is less concern for adult missing, further obfuscating an already complex issue.

The most reliable overall missing person statistics are maintained at the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to include all ages of missing persons to include age, race, gender, and category of disappearance.

What is NCIC?

Called the lifeline of law enforcement, NCIC is a clearinghouse of crime data that can be accessed by every criminal justice agency in the country. It assists criminal justice professionals to locate missing persons, apprehend fugitives, recover stolen property, and even identify terrorists.

Launched in 1967, with five file categories and 356,784 records, by 2015, NCIC contained 21 file categories and 12 million records, averaging 12.6 million transactions per day.

The NCIC Missing Person File was implemented in 1975. Records entered in the Missing Person File are retained indefinitely, until the person is located, or the record is canceled by the entering investigating law enforcement agency.

According to the NCIC, as of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the United States, some cases dating back decades. Juveniles 18-years old and under accounted for 31,580 active cases in NCIC.

But, what exactly does this mean? And, who are all of these missing persons?

Missing persons entered into NCIC range from birth to age 99-years old and can include children to a senior with Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, there are no statistics available to narrow down the contributors specific to an individual’s disappearance such as a history of domestic violence, mental illness, diminished mental capacity such as Alzheimer’s, those living a high-risk lifestyle, etc. However, missing persons are entered into six categories within NCIC.

Within NCIC, the Missing Person file includes the following six categories of missing person entries and defined by the FBI as follows:

Juvenile: Person under the age of eighteen who is missing and does not meet any of the entry criteria set forth in the other categories.

Endangered: Person of any age who is missing under circumstances indicating physical safety may be in danger.

Involuntary or Nonfamily Abduction: Person of any age who is missing under circumstances indicating the disappearance may not be voluntary (abduction or kidnapping).

Disability: Person of any age who is missing under proven physical or mental disability or is senile with the potential of subjecting him/herself or others to personal and immediate danger.

Catastrophe Victim: A person of any age who is missing after a catastrophe such as a flood, avalanche, fire, or other disasters.

Other: Person over the age of 18 not meeting the criteria for entry in any a category who is missing and there is reasonable concern for safety.

(Source: NCIC Missing Person Analysis as of May 31, 2018)

When an individual is reported missing to a law enforcement agency, the missing person’s descriptive data is entered into the NCIC computer to include full description, age, race, gender, clothing, jewelry, scars, tattoos, past surgeries, vehicle description, and any other related descriptive data is entered into the computer database and placed into a specific category based upon an initial determination by the investigating law enforcement agency if the person may be endangered due to circumstances surrounding the person’s disappearance, possible foul play, or a disability.

Unfortunately, with missing persons, the cause of the disappearance may not always be clear. Unlike a homicide, where evidence may be collected to help the investigation progress, many times, there is no scene of a crime for police to analyze – a person simply vanishes.

Missing Child Act of 1985

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act, which established a national resource center and clearinghouse for missing children. In 1984, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) was created by President Ronald Reagan.

Primarily funded by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), NCMEC acts as an information clearinghouse and resource for families of missing children, law enforcement, and communities to assist in locating missing children and to raise awareness about way to prevent child abduction, child sexual abuse, child pornography and child sex trafficking.

On April 6, 2018 it was announced in Forbes Magazine that the United States Department of Justice, in a joint effort with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service had seized and shut-down Backpage.com, considered a constant opponent of NCMEC due to it’s facilitation of child sex trafficking. In the battle against child sex trafficking, the world waits to see what happens with the case against Backpage.com.

NCMEC and the OJJDP utilizes enhanced definitions of missing children as follows:

  • Family Abduction is defined as a member of the child’s family or someone acting on behalf of a family member takes or fails to return a child in violation of a custody order or other legitimate custodial rights and conceals the child, transports the child out of state with the intent to prevent contact, or expresses the intent to deprive the caretaker of custodial rights permanently or indefinitely.
  • Nonfamily Abduction is defined as a nonfamily perpetrator, without lawful authority or parental permission, uses force or threat to take a child (at least 20 feet or into a vehicle or building), or detains a child in a place where the child cannot leave or appeal for help for at least one hour, conceals the child’s whereabouts, demands ransom, or expresses the intent to keep the child permanently.
  • Stereotypical kidnapping (nonfamily abduction subtype) is defined as a nonfamily abduction perpetrated by a stranger, person of unknown identity, or slight acquaintance in which the perpetrator kills the child, detains the child overnight, transports the child at least 50 miles, demands ransom or expresses to keep the child permanently.
  • Runaway is defined as a child who leaves home without permission and stays away overnight.
  • Thrownaway is a defined as a child whom an adult household member tells to leave or prevents them from returning home and does not arrange for alternative and adequate care.
  • Missing Involuntary (lost, stranded, or injured), is defined as a child whose whereabouts are unknown to the caretaker, causing the caretaker to contact law enforcement or a missing child agency to locate missing child.
  • Missing (benign explanation) is defined a child whose whereabouts are unknown to the caretaker, causing the caretaker to become alarmed for at least one hour, try to locate child, contact police about the episode for any reason, as long as the child does not fit any of the above episode types.

(National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART) comparison of NIMART-3 2013 study and NISMART-2 1999 study.)

What Determines Entry in NCIC

Public Safety Telecommunications personnel are responsible for first response to incident of missing persons and entrusted with the critical task of gathering, organizing, and entering identifying information into the NCIC database. They also play a crucial role in making queries as well as executing record updates, modifications, and cancellations.

Missing persons are entered into an NCIC category based upon information gathered from family members, friends and potential witnesses, while detectives respond and investigate the last known whereabouts of the missing individual.

Entry into a specific category is determined by information that is collected at the scene and based upon the initial information collected. As information is collected, an initial determination is made that can be modified later based upon any new information that is obtained.

For example, a family comes home to find their 13-year old daughter is gone. Recently, she has been threatening to run away and the parents first assume that is what happened. They call police who respond to the house. At that point, she may initially be entered in NCIC as Endangered. However, upon further questioning, the family soon discovers she did not pack anything and her cell phone is found on the living room floor. Police investigate further and discover the screen to the back door is cut and it appears the house was entered by someone other than family. Very quickly, an Endangered Missing Person case can become an investigation of a critical Involuntary Missing Person.  

At that point, in the case of the most serious cases of missing children, an immediate notification is made to the FBI and NCMEC to enable them to arrange resources. If given permission by the investigating law enforcement agency, NCMEC may also issue an AMBER Alert.

Each case if different, circumstances vary. Whether an individual may have vanished on their own, to one who may have schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease, entry into NCIC will depend upon the determination made by law enforcement based upon their initial response and ongoing investigation

Nonfamily Abduction

It was June 9, 1995, on a beautiful evening in the small town of Alma, Arkansas. Alma is located along I-40 within the Arkansas River Valley at the edge of the Ozark Mountains with a population under 5,000 people.

That evening was the first time 6-year old Morgan Nick had gone to a baseball game. Her mother Colleen was attending the Rookie League game at the Alma ballpark and Morgan had whined about having to sit next to her mother in the bleachers. There was a nearby sand pile with other children playing and Morgan wanted to play. It was within eyesight and only seconds away, so Colleen consented.

(Morgan Nick, age 6, vanished from Alma, Arkansas on June 9, 1995.)

Morgan ran to the sandpile, laughing with the other children while Colleen turned her head back to watch the Marlins and Pythons. A player whacked the ball and two runners tied the game, then a run was scored, and the Pythons won the game. The sound of the crowd cheering was deafening.

When Colleen stood up she could see Morgan’s playmates walking down the hill away from the sandpile, but where was Morgan? It was approximately 10:30 p.m.

The children told Colleen that Morgan was pouring sand out of her shoe near her mother’s car parked nearby. Colleen frantically searched. Morgan was gone.

Later, the children would tell police they saw a man approach Morgan. Another abduction attempt had occurred in Alma that day and police had a composite sketched based on witnesses of the other incident.

Thousands of leads later, numerous appearances on national news talk shows, even America’s Most Wanted, and Morgan’s mother is nowhere closer to knowing what happened to her daughter that evening. Police have interviewed hundreds of persons of interest, searched homes and wells, and dug up slabs of concrete with backhoes, but Morgan remains missing 23 years later.

The stakes are high when a person vanishes involuntarily and the search.

Missing with disabilities

Patty Mosley is a 66-year old woman with dementia who had been placed in a Maple Heights medical center in Cleveland, Ohio and went missing on April 21, 2018.

According to Police Detective Lieutenant Grossmyer, it appears Patty just walked away from the facility. Broadway Care Center, a nursing and rehabilitation center, has not made a statement regarding how Patty was able to get out of the facility. “They weren’t sure how she had gotten out of the facility,” Grossmyer said.

(Patty Mosley, age 66 with early onset of dementia, vanished from a care facility in Ohio on April 21, 2018.)

Patty had been diagnosed with major depression, dementia, alcoholism and other brain disorders.

Police issued a public “Missing Endangered Adult” alert, searched all local hospitals, RTA stations, and women’s shelters, even calling in their search team. All local media covered the story.

“We went into individual businesses, establishments, we checked people up and down the streets. We have checked everywhere we can and the information was put out throughout Northeast Ohio,” Grossmyer said.

Sadly, Patty is not the only individual to have disappeared from Broadway Care Center. In June 2017, 52-year old Francis Kish “walked out” of the facility and vanished. A paranoid schizophrenic dependent upon medication was later found safe at an RTA station.

Patty was also found safe and the NCIC entry cancelled by Maple Heights Police Department. A happy ending.

However, these are not isolated incidents. Mark Billiter who suffered from Alzheimer’s walked out of Glenwood Care & Rehabilitation in Canton and was later found deceased near a gas station having died from exposure to the cold.

There are 5,731 individuals entered into NCIC with disabilities that include physical disabilities, those needing medications, missing persons with schizophrenia, bipolar, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other incapacitating disabilities.

When an individual who has disabilities, especially diminished mental capacity, goes missing, it is vital the search is initiated quickly.

Endangered Missing – Few Clues

It has been 21-years since Kristen Modafferi has been seen.

Kristen, 18, was an honor roll design student at North Carolina State University. She planned to spend her summer in San Francisco studying photography at U.C. Berkeley with classes scheduled to begin on June 24. She waved goodbye to her parents on her birthday June 1, 1997 and boarded the plane to San Francisco. It was the first time she had been on her own.

(Kristen Modefferi vanished in San Francisco on June 23, 1997.)

Kristen quickly found employment at Spinelli’s Coffee Shop in the Crocker Galleria and worked there during the week and weekends at the Café Museo, located inside the Museum of Modern Art. The adventurous young lady was in her element.

On June 23, the day before classes were to begin, Kristen asked a coworker at Spinelli’s for directions to Baker Beach, next to the popular Land’s End Beach. She proceeded to clock out at 3 p.m. and was last seen by a coworker at approximately 3:45 p.m. on the second floor of the Crocker Galleria with an unidentified blonde woman. The coworker thought it strange because Kristen normally left the mall immediately after shift’s end. That was the last time Kristen was seen. She never returned for her $400 paycheck.

Upon learning of Kristen’s disappearance, her parents Bob and Deborah immediately flew to San Francisco and met with police.

(Baker Beach, near Land’s End beach is approximately 6 miles from the Crocker Galleria where Kristen was last seen.)

Kristen’s scent would be tracked by bloodhounds from the Crocker Galleria to a nearby bus stop that leads to Sutro Park Beach, next to Land’s End. Bloodhounds picked up her scent again at the beach but lost it at a high cliff. Police feared she may have fallen to her death at the beach.

(Land’s End Beach where bloodhounds search for Kristen Modafferi.)

Police then found a personal ad that read, “Friends: Female seeking friends to share activities, who enjoy music, photography, working out, walks, coffee, or simply the beach, and exploring the Bay area. Interested, call me.” Authorities believed Kristen had responded to or placed the ad in the local paper.

Authorities suspected the person who answered or placed the ad was the unidentified blonde seen at the mall with Kristen and somehow, she may be involved in Kristen’s disappearance.

On July 10, 1997, local news station KGO, an ABC affiliate, received an anonymous phone call from a man who claimed two lesbians had kidnapped Kristen, murdered her and dumped her body under a bridge at Point Reyes in Marin County. When police interviewed the two women Jon had identified they told detectives Jon was angry with them spurring the phone call. Jon then claimed he had learned about the case from television.

Shortly thereafter, three women came forward claiming Jon liked to abuse and torture women and often targeted women using personal ads while using other women to lure his victims.

One of the women who came forward told police Jon had mentioned Kristen by name, threatening her, “the same thing that happened to her could happen to you.”

Police searched Jon’s girlfriend’s residence and found a diary that had pages ripped out that correlated with the dates Kristen went missing. She told them that Jon had ripped the pages out because they may have contained incriminating information.

Though they polygraphed Jon, there was never enough evidence to make an arrest.

Private investigators hired by Kristen’s family believe Kristen was murdered in the basement of her residence though there has never been any information or DNA evidence to substantiate those claims.

21 years later, Kristen remains missing.

Other – At Risk Missing

(Corinna Slusser vanished in NYC on September 20, 2017.)

Life was different two years ago for Sabina Tuorto, mother of 19-year old Corinna Slusser who has been missing since September 20, 2017.

“Only two years ago, so much was different then. My daughter was a great student, a cheerleader. She had many friends and lived her life as a normal teenager,” said Sabina. “I need her home and I can’t bear any more days like this. I fear the worst, but I pray for the best and her return home . . . waiting for an Angel to hear my prayer.”

Corinna was last seen at Haven Motel in Queens, New York on Woodhaven Boulevard, approximately 5 miles from LaGuardia Airport.

According to online Yelp reviews of the budget hotel, the consensus is the place needs to be shut down.

“I live right by the place and feel compelled to review it. It’s a motel mostly for prostitutes – seriously. The cops are constantly out investigating it and there’s always an issue. Parking lot is generally full of minivans (vom). It goes on an hourly rate. The windows are tinted 100% black. Repulsive. This place should seriously be shut down,” wrote one reviewer.

Corinna was last seen leaving the hotel during the early morning hours of September 20th.

Before the bright and cheery high school cheerleader’s disappearance, Corinna lived in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, and dreamed of becoming a makeup artist. On her Instagram account, which she updated almost daily, she is often dressed in bohemian type clothing showing peace signs, photographed hugging her friends and enjoying the outdoors.

However, one can see a transition occurring in the photographs she posted. Corinna goes from a bright and bubbly teen to showing less modest photographs.

An Instagram post uploaded on September 11, 2017, is thought to have been taken in the Bronx. The caption reads “cyphin mid day mid road is always good for the soul.”

There has been no activity on any of her social profiles since her disappearance.

While living in Bloomsburg, Corinna had become depressed and landed in the hospital where she met an older man that persuaded her to move to New York City. He offered a place to stay for the adventurous teen. Little did she know, the 32-year old man was a suspected “pimp” from Harlem. She took with her only her cell phone, identification and what she was wearing and moved to the bustling city where police believe she was coerced into prostitution.

Initially, Corinna kept in touch with family and friends and posted to her social media accounts.

With multiple arrests for “promoting prostitution, the man she left with was known by police in New York City. NYPD detectives now theorize Corinna has been moved from pimp to pimp and no longer in the city. Her name has been mentioned in various vice investigations and they fear she has been kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring.

One month prior to her disappearance, her mother received a copy of an order of protection revealing her daughter had been an assault victim on August 25, 2017.

Corinna had made a 911 call from the Harlem Vista Hotel in Northern Manhattan telling police she had been assaulted by her pimp. She accused him of grabbing her around the neck, smashing her head against the wall and strangling her after she confronted him of stealing $300 from her. The document named the man she had left with as Yovanny Peguero. When confronted by her mother she tried to downplay the incident.

When Corinna failed to show up for her grandfather’s funeral in Florida she was reported missing.

There is a $10,000 reward offered for information that leads to the safe recovery of Corinna Slusser.

Experts in the Field of Missing Persons and Sex Trafficking

These are typical cases that populate NCIC and each vastly different from the other.

Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations has worked over 20 years throughout the country and internationally on endangered missing person cases.

“The most important thing a family can do when a loved one is missing is pull in as many resources as possible,” says Lauth. “Finding missing persons is a cooperative effort between police, media, missing person experts and advocates, private investigators and especially the public.”

According to missing person experts, the more time that goes by, the less likely the person will be found alive. However, with cases like Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped by a stranger on June 10, 1991 at age 11, and found alive in 2009, there still remains hope for every family.

The Importance of a National Missing Persons Database: NamUs

The Importance of a National Missing Persons Database: NamUs

Joseph Spears, 1973.

A teen from Mississippi escaped from the Harrison County Youth Detention Center on July 31, 1973 at the age of 17 Joseph Norman Spears Imagaccording to Associated Press. The young man, Joseph Spears, was never seen or heard from again by his family. A month later, an unidentified teenager was killed in Texas City, Texas while trying to cross a freeway on August 23, 1973. The community of Texas City raised money to give the unidentified teenager a funeral and grave.

Cemetery worker, Chelsea Davidson, began to search for the young man’s family. Chelsea Davidson is an employee of
Hayes Grace Memorial Park in Hitchcock, Texas, which led her to look into the young man’s background in hopes of finding his identity and loved ones. Decades later, Davidson found Joseph Spears’ information on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), which led authorities to exhume the unidentified teenager’s body. Joseph’s mother, Mary Raskin, positively identified the body through photographs.

 

David Riddick, 1994.

Maryland police officials found a deceased male in 1994 with no identification and severe injuries to his face complicating positive identification. In 2008, Carla Tippie Proudfoot, the Director of the Maryland Missing Persons Clearinghouse, was helping the Maryland state medical examiner’s office load cold cases into the NamUs database and entered the information regarding the unidentified male with a forensic artist’s sketch of the man’s believed appearance. Later that year, a new image of the unidentified man’s appearance was uploaded to the NamUs profile. A local newspaper published a story about the unidentified man’s case with the inclusion of the new photo. Two weeks later, a woman came forward claiming that the unidentified man in the paper is her missing nephew, David Riddick. Authorities later confirmed the man’s identity and his body was finally sent home. Mr. Riddick’s family was able to bury their loved one after fourteen years.

 

The Importance and Effectiveness of NamUs

According to the National Institute of Justice, NamUs has helped government agencies to solved missing persons cases all across the country. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System helped to improve upon the local and statewide websites dedicated to providing information on missing persons. “Before NamUS”, as Mike Murphy points out, “it was more of a haphazard, disjointed, localized effort.” Mr. Murphy works for the Clark County Coroner’s Office in Nevada.NamUs Image

There was often incomplete data or information, or the search for information could lead one through dozens of different websites and databases before providing the needed information. According to a report by Beth Pearsall and Danielle Weiss, there are estimated 4,400 unidentified persons cases each year. NamUs helps provide necessary information to officials involved in solving missing persons cases.

NamUs is under the control of the United States Department of State with a budget of $3.5 million. The organization works with local and national law enforcement, non-profit organizations and medical examiners. NamUs employs a wide range of experts involved in solving missing persons cases including dad analysts, fingerprint experts and forensic dentists to help identify the unidentified. Since the debut of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, over 700 missing persons cases have been solved. Unfortunately while these cases are finally being solved, most of the missing persons are found to be deceased, very few are found alive.

 

How You Can Help

NamUs provides information about how average citizens can help find missing persons through the database, “NamUs is only as strong as the cases within it and those who use it.” NamUs urges anyone who believes they have information Emergency vehicle lightingregarding a missing or unidentified person to report the information to local law enforcement immediately. The organization emphasizes that individuals should not put themselves in potentially dangerous situations and to leave the investigations to law enforcement or the appropriate authorities.

Other ways to help:

  • Visit NamUs’s news room for media updates
  • Reach out to local officials to raise awareness of NamUs and make sure they are using the NamUs database
  • Urge your state’s medical examiner or coroner to enter all the unidentified remains from your area into NamUs

 

For more information visit: http://namus.gov

Author Tiffany Walker, Lauth Investigations. 

Mental Illness And The Missing: The Connection

Mental Illness And The Missing: The Connection

Mental illness is a much bigger problem than many people realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year. This equates to approximately 61.5 million Americans.

Here’s how the other numbers break down:

  • 2.4 million people live with Schizophrenia
  • 14.8 million people live with major depression
  • 42 million people live with anxiety disorders
  • 6.1 million people live with bipolar disorder
  • 9.2 million people live with co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders

One Women’s Personal Encounter with Mental Illness

Pictured: Diana Kim (Via homelessparadise.com)

Pictured: Diana Kim (Via homelessparadise.com)

Those statistics hit very close to home for Diana Kim, a Hawaii-based photographer who documented her homeless dad’s life through a series of special photos several years ago.

Growing up, her own father’s mental health dramatically declined.  Diagnosed with Schizophrenia, overtime he refused to bathe, eat, or take his medication. He would also see things that did not really exist.

At 5-years-old, her dad left her and her mom. He walked away from his family and opted for a=a nomadic life of living on the streets.

Years later, fate would reunite Kim with her father once again. While shooting a photography project on the streets of Honolulu in 2012, Kim surprisingly located her father among the homeless she was documenting.

Pictured: Kim's father (Via homelessparadise.com)

Pictured: Kim’s father (Via homelessparadise.com)

In an interview with NBC news, Kim stated, “Some days I would literally just stand there and stare downwards because I couldn’t get myself to see him in the condition he was in. My own flesh and blood, but still such a stranger to me…Many of the photographs were shot haphazardly. The photographer in me knew that these images needed to be created, that I needed to have them as a record for myself — a reminder that this was real even after I walked away.”

Pictured: Kim and her father (Via homelessparadise.com)

Pictured: Kim and her father (Via homelessparadise.com)

As she documented her father’s life as a homeless man, their relationship began to blossom. He eventually got the help he needed in order to begin leading a normal life.

Unfortunately, for many people with mental illnesses — it often goes unnoticed by loved ones. For some people, it can be triggered by a job loss, death of a family member, a bad relationship, imbalance in the brain, etc.

Mental Illness and the Missing: The Connection

Has someone close to you with a mental illness gone missing? If so, you are not alone.

On average, 90,000 people are missing in the USA at any given time, according to Todd Matthews from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, a national database for missing people.

It’s thought that many have a mental illness. Mental illness can affect someone’s ability to cope with life, which may lead them to decide to go away without telling anyone.

They may vanish to a life of homelessness, as was the case of Kim’s father–or something far, far worse.

Don’t let this happen to you or your loved one.

Know the Warning Signs

Most people believe that mental disorders are rare and “happen to someone else.”  In fact, mental disorders are common and widespread. In adults, young adults and adolescents–it’s important to know the signs:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Strange thoughts (delusions)
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance abuse

If you or someone you know is in crisis now, seek help immediately. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24 hour crisis center or dial 911 for immediate assistance.

Need Help? 

Lauth Investigations and Thomas Lauth are experts in helping families  locate missing loved ones.

While each missing persons case is different and results will vary, Lauth has been helping families for more than 20 years and boasts nearly an 85% success rate.

If you or someone you know need assistance, call them today at 1.800.889.FIND or 317.951.1100.