Couple vanishes while on vacation in Dominican Republic
A romantic trip to the Caribbean sounds just like what the doctor ordered as the warmer weather approaches. Unfortunately for one New York couple, a mysterious series of events on their vacation to the Dominican Republic culminated in tragedy, leaving their families searching for answers.
Orlando Moore and Portia Ravenelle documented their adventure
through SnapChat—photos in front of lush greenery, photos with wildlife. The gregarious
couple managed to make friends with other tourists who were staying at their
resort, the Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa. The couple was last seen sharing a
drink with this couple on their last night at the resort. Nothing was amiss
when they said their goodbyes and headed back to the airport in the rental car
they’d procured. Little else is known about the fate of Orlando and Portia, but
what we do know is that they did not board their scheduled flight in Santo
Domingo, and their rental car never made it back to the agency.
When their families did not hear from the couple, Orlando’s
sister Lashay Turner told the media she contacted the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican
Republic. Upon learning they Americans were missing, a police report was filed
and a search began, with a social media campaign urging anyone with information
to come forward.
After two weeks, authorities finally began to piece together
what had happened. National Police on the island announced they believed the
couple had been killed in a car crash along a stretch of Las Americas Highway,
which runs right along the coast. Portia Ravenelle was found on the side of the
road with injuries that would eventually end her life an estimated nine days
after the alleged car crash. Orlando Moore’s body was found almost 13 miles
from this crash site, and was found to be in state of advanced decomposition. Despite
this discovery and the fact that the body had an arm tattoo that matched one
Orlando had, police have not yet confirmed his identity. While authorities have
not released information on exactly where they were found or the nature of
their deaths, local fishermen reported seeing a vehicle in the water, but the
current had been too perilous to recover it. U.S. officials commented, “We are
closely monitoring local authorities’ investigation into the cause of death. We
stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. The U.S. Department
of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater responsibility
than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas. Out of respect to the family
during this difficult time, we have no further comment.”
When people go missing overseas, the family’s search for answers can be tricky. A quality initial investigation is dependent on a level of communication between departments oceans away. Missing person Investigator, Thomas Lauth, specializes in complex missing person cases and thoroughly recommends retaining a private investigator to conduct an investigation in tandem with federal and foreign authorities. “You just can’t get that level of autonomy from any investigative body supervised by government or a municipality. There is a chain of command and bureaucratic red tape that tends to get in the way of following a time-sensitive lead, or some jurisdictional boundaries that may prevent them from following that lead in the first place. A private investigator can follow any clue to a missing person’s trail without having to get permission first.”
When a family or friend fears that their loved one has gone
missing overseas, Lauth has a few suggestions of where to look before assuming
Check the hotel where the loved one stayed,
speak with hotel staff who serviced them.
Check hospitals on disembarking routes where
Speak to airport personnel and verify whether or
not they got on the flight.
Speak with the United States Department and the
Travel to their last confirmed location and immediately
engage the local authorities.
If one of your loved ones has gone missing overseas, contact Lauth Investigations International today to speak to a knowledgeable member of our investigative team and learn how we can help you. Thomas Lauth has over 20 years of experience specializing in complex missing person cases. Call 317-951-1100, or find us online at www.lauthmissingpersons.com
Last week, Tawana, the mother of Jabez Spann, received the closure she’d been chasing since September 4, 2017. That Labor Day weekend was the last time she saw her son alive. The Sarasota teen went missing from his own front yard after having attended a candlelight vigil being held two blocks from his home. After a torturous 18 months without answers, she finally received the news she dreaded. Two men were checking a fence in a pasture in Manatee County when they made a grisly discovery: A human skull. They called 911. The remains of Jabez Spann identified from dental records. Sarasota Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson said in a press conference, “Today, I am sad to report that we were not able to recover Mr. Spann living and return him to his family.”
To tell the full story of Jabez’s disappearance, you have to go all the way back to August, 2017, and the death of another man in Jabez’s life. In late August of 2017, Travis Combs, 31, was fatally shot and killed, with law enforcement investigating his death as a homicide. When the news broke about Jabez’s disappearance, one of the dominating bylines denoted him as a witness to a murder, having been named in a probable cause affidavit for a suspect. Reginald Parker, 55, claimed to have witnessed the shooting of Travis Combs, and allegedly told several individuals that he had witnessed it in November of 2017. These individuals were interviewed by police, corroborating what Parker had told them. Prior to Parker’s arrest on 2017, Jabez’s presence at the crime scene was merely a neighborhood rumor. The publishing of the arrest probable cause affidavit confirmed his presence at the crime scene that night.
Combs’ case eventually became overshadowed by the
disappearance of Jabez Spann in media coverage, as he went missing less than a
week later. The facts of the case as we know it read more like an edgy police
procedural—a teenage boy, having already allegedly witnessed a violent crime,
disappears without a trace, and police find themselves stymied. He disappeared
less than 200 yards away from where Combs’ body was discovered. After Jabez’s
remains were found, Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson claimed that “hundreds
upon hundreds” of hours have been logged in this investigation, citing that Jabez’s
family has been a valuable asset to investigators. He also noted in a
press conference that this case is personal for law enforcement, like many
cases involving teens or young children, “Many of our detectives…have children
of their own. I’m a father, as the sheriff. I can’t imagine having that
information broken to me about my son. There’s been highs and lows in this
investigation where there’ve been sightings and tips and things we’ve followed
up on. And every time it’s a peak and a valley, [the family] stood with us, and
our investigation team, every step of the way.” At that same press conference, police noted
that they did not believe Jabez left Sarasota of his own volition.
The two men who called 911 told the dispatcher they did not see signs of a weapon at the site—just the skull and “some bones.” It was the break that came after 18 months of following over 100 tips reported to law enforcement that proved to be dead ends. Members of the community have found the news of the discovery bittersweet, like activist Wayne Washington, “You can’t just hurt a child in our community and think that you can live life and everything is going to be sweet. The emotions are very high because I wish that he was alive, but by the family finally finding him they can get the closure they need as a family.” Over the course of the investigation, the reward sum for any information leading to the whereabouts of Jabez Spann had grown to $50,000. Police have yet to say if or how the funds will be disbursed.
Despite the heartbreaking news in her son’s case, his mother
remains steadfast in looking towards the future. Since the time her son
disappeared, she believed he witnessed a brutal murder, and the person
responsible had a hand in making him disappear. She now wants to see that
person answer for their actions, “We’re going to move forward in the hopes that
they can find whoever did this. Those last moments that you caused him, that
you did to him when he was helpless and couldn’t call on anybody…that’s what I
want to see justice for. We got some closure. We’re going to put him in peace
and lay him to rest. We’re not done.”
The search for Savannah Spurlock is entering its 6th
week, as law enforcement continue to reconstruct the events that led up to her
disappearance. On January 4th, after spending some time with her
mother, the 23-year-old had decided to go out with friends. It would be her
first return to her social life since recently giving birth to twins. Her
mother, Ellen Spurlock, was glad to see her daughter getting out to have fun
again. She told the Lexington
Herald-Leader, “I thought she needed a little break. She hadn’t done
anything for months since she just had the twins.” The next time Ellen heard
from her daughter was 2:30 AM on January 5th, when she FaceTimed her.
“…she said, ‘Everything was fine. I’m just having fun with friends. I promise I
will be home later this morning.” Six hours later, Savannah’s phone was turned
off, and her mother has not heard from her since.
The first news of Savannah’s disappearance came on Monday through the Richmond Police Department. In a tremendous investigative find, law enforcement obtained a surveillance video of the young mother, dressed in a black, sleeveless top, a maroon skirt, and high heels, leaving The Other Bar in Lexington in the company of two men. “Savannah Spurlockwas last seen leaving the bar with an unknown black male and an unknown white male. The Richmond Police Department is seeking the identity and whereabouts of these two individuals. The white male was seen leaving the area in a black, Chevy S-10 pickup” Police broadcast the surveillance footage, asking the public to help identify them. The footage is a crucial find for investigators, not only because it contextualizes Savannah’s movements in the moments before she went missing, but it contains other vital information, such as an accurate physical description and manner of dress for missing person bulletins, a description of the last people to have contact with her, a time stamp for her last known whereabouts, and a description of the vehicle they left in.
In addition to law enforcement and other investigators, the Cajun Coast Search and Rescue Team joined the search for Savanna Spurlock on January 27th. They’re K-9 unit specializes in missing person investigations and assists in missing person investigations all over the country. Despite their best efforts, having covered miles in their search, as of February 3rd, they had not uncovered a trace of Savannah. Just when it seemed the trail might go cold, police announced a break in the case. They confirmed that they knew the identities of the men Savannah left The Other Bar with, but did not release any names. They also confirmed that she was driven to the residence of one of these men in nearby Garrad County. They secured the vehicle she left in for forensic testing, but will not be releasing those results to the public. One of the most compelling details released by police was that there was no indication Savannah knew the men before that evening. Police were unable to corroborate an account of one of the men, who claimed Savannah left the home later that morning, but could not explain how. The Cajun Coast Search and Rescue team searched an area near the residence where they knew Savannah Spurlockhad been taken. The K-9 unit lead investigators to some discarded clothing items, “We found some jeans and a t-shirt that somebody tried to burn,” team leader, Tony Wade, told Radar. The damaged clothing was turned over to law enforcement, who were quick to point out that the clothing did not match the description. Wade further explained of the K-9 unit, “They’ll hit on clothing with blood. A month or so out, it gets hard. So much of the evidence is gone.”
Concerned pleas for information leading to Savannah’s safe return continue pouring out from friends and family. After the first 11 days of the search, Ellen Spurlock said of her daughter’s disappearance, “I’m lost.” The overwhelming support from the community and the rest of the public garnered appreciation from the family, but the fear and worry grows for them daily. In a video posted to the Missing Savannah Facebook page, her aunt, Lisa Thoma said, “Waiting is hard, not knowing answers to questions is hard…when you’re living it and breathing it, it can be crippling. If you know anything, we beg you, come forward and call the Richmond, Kentucky Police Department. If you heard something, if you saw something, I don’t care how small it was—what if that one thing is the piece of the puzzle that they’re missing? What if you hold the key to bringing her home?”
Jayme Closs’s harrowing story of survival has captured the attention of the entire nation. The 13-year-old Wisconsin teen went missing almost three months ago on October 15,2018, after a cryptic phone call to 911 triggered a call from police to the Closs home where officers made a grisly discovery. Jayme’s parents, James and Denise Closs, were found shot dead and their 13-year-old daughter was nowhere to be found.
The slaying of her parents and evidence of a home invasion qualified the missing teenager for an Amber Alert by authorities, and search efforts immediately began for Jayme as investigators began to piece together what had happened in those fateful moments. 87 days passed as Jayme’s anxious family and concerned friends waited for updates in her case. Then on January 10, 2019, Jayme showed up on the street in the remote neighborhood of Gordon approximately 70 miles away, asking a passing dog walker for help. The woman grabbed Jayme and took her to a neighbor’s door, where she told the neighbor, “This is Jayme Closs, call 911!” Not too long after her reappearance, police were able to apprehend Jayme’s captor, 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson, who was found wandering the nearby neighborhood—likely searching for Jayme.
Investigators say Jayme’s escape was one of the luckiest breaks they’ve ever seen in a missing person case. Jayme’s case is already being analyzed as atypical, due to the surfacing information that has investigators completely floored. When Jayme reappeared last week and told law enforcement about the details of her abduction and escape, many officials were surprised. Investigators told NBC 26, “Most abductions are committed by perpetrators who live within a couple miles of the victim.” Despite the distance from the Closs home, Barron County Sheriff Christopher Fitzgerald said he does not believe her kidnapper took her across state lines. With over 88 days’ worth of evidence to comb through, investigators will be attempting to track their movements since Jayme’s disappearance.
When asked about this gigantic body of evidence, Fitzgerald told CNN, “…we’re looking for receipts, where the suspect may have been over the last 88 days. Did he take things with her? Did she go with him to the store? Did he buy clothes for her? Did he buy food?” Investigators also told NBC only about 1% of abductions are committed by someone who is not a member of the victim’s family, nor geographically located near the victim. Much of the most pertinent information in any missing persons case is collected within the first 48 hours of the investigation. Captain David Poteat of the Brown County Sheriff’s Department said when it comes to the abduction of children, the window of time is even smaller. Because of the atypicality of her case, investigators are already proffering Jayme’s case will be studied by current and future members of law enforcement for “years to come.”
As they continue to sort through evidence, Fitzgerald said Patterson likely hid her from friends and visitors, offering no further explanation. “All I know is that she was able to get out of that house and get help and the people recognized her as Jayme Closs right away.” What Jayme eventually described to investigators was a crudely constructed makeshift cell. When Patterson was expecting friends or relatives, he forced Jayme to hide under his twin-sized bed in his room. He would stack laundry baskets and plastic totes around the bed with barbells sitting against them so Jayme could not get out. He also left music blaring in his room so Jayme could not hear what was going on throughout the house. One of the people who made a number of visits while Jayme was being held captive in the Gordon cabin where Jayme was held was Patterson’s father, Patrick Patterson. He told Jean Casarez of CNN, “All I care about right now is Jayme’s family. I want to get them a note.”
Investigators have also stated when it comes to questioning Jayme about her traumatic experience, they are taking it one day at a time, “When she wants information, we’ll give it to her; and when she wants to tell us things, we’ll take it from her.”
There were many theories about the circumstances behind Jayme’s disappearance in the weeks right after she went missing. Law enforcement and citizens alike proffered it might have been a home invasion gone terribly wrong, but as of this week, Fitzgerald has stated Jayme was the only target in this crime. Once questioned by police following his arrest, it became clear Patterson had been watching Jayme for a number of weeks before he took her, but was scared off on both prior occasions. Patterson targeted Jayme and took great pains to ensure he would not be found out. He shaved his head to avoid leaving his DNA at the crime scene. Once he abducted Jayme, he took her clothes and destroyed the evidence. The criminal complaint filed by the Barron County District Attorney said Patterson first saw Jayme getting on the bus to school when he was passing by on his way to work. Sections of the complaint are enough to make one’s arm hair stand at attention, “The defendant states when he saw (Jayme) he knew that was the girl he was going to take.” Jayme also told investigators after Patterson placed her in the trunk of his car, she heard police sirens close by not long after Patterson began driving. After Jayme was found alive, the responding officers noted on their way to the Closs home on October 15th, they passed only one vehicle.
The bottom line for investigators is this: If Jayme had not possessed the courage and fortitude to escape her captor, they would never have found her. On January 10th, she managed to push aside the totes and squeeze out of her makeshift cage. Jeanne Nutter was the dog walker she approached on the street, wearing no coat in the cold weather. Nutter took her to the door of her neighbors, Peter and Kristin Kasinskas. Law enforcement now has to decide what happens to the combined reward amount of $50,000—$25K from the FBI, and another $25K from the Jennie-O Turkey Store, where Jayme’s parents worked. Nutter helped Jayme to safety, and the Kasinskas called 911 to get her help, but they are saying they don’t want the reward. Peter Kasinskas was quoted in an interview by the Associated Press earlier this week saying the reward money should go to Jayme, “She got herself out.”
For many families across North America, the holiday season has begun—a season for spending time with family and reflecting on the blessings in your life. For Hania Aguilar’s family however, this joyous time of year has already been marred by her disappearance. On November 5th, 2018, a man dressed in black with a yellow bandana abducted the 13-year-old while she was outside her home at the Rosewood Mobile Home Park in Lumberton, North Carolina
The incident has caused a fresh surge of panic in a town already pockmarked by cases of other missing women, with the Aguilar’s neighbors keeping their children on a much shorter leash. Parents with anxieties of their children becoming vulnerable to local predators have had their every fear validated by a man in black with terrible motives. Teresa Lauderback is one of these hypervigilant parents, “I’m on top of them at the bus stop every morning and make sure they get on the bus before I walk away.” The mayor of Lumberton, Bruce Davis, also commented on the heightened anxiety in his community, citing the multiple inquiries he’s received about the case, “Everybody is concerned and they’re on edge…They ask all the time, and I have to tell them the FBI does not talk to the mayor. In fact, the FBI doesn’t talk to anybody.”
Hania had gone outside that chilly morning to start her aunt’s green SUV when the man in black appeared and snatched her from her own front yard. In the weeks after Hania’s disappearance, local law enforcement and the FBI held press conferences where they implored the community to come forward with any information they might have about the Lumberton teen. Those press briefings slowed to a staccato rhythm that eventually went quiet. As citizen inquiries in the case remain steady, law enforcement has recently suspended all future press-conferences, barring significant developments in the case.
In an effort to kick up further leads, the FBI and law enforcement implored the local deer hunters of Robeson County to check their video devices for any sign of the SUV, a stolen Ford Expedition, used to abduct Hania. “We are at a critical phase in our investigation and need the public’s help,” the press release said. “If we do not reach everyone with video soon, that video could be lost, as many systems will purge the older footage automatically.” The SUV was eventually located off of Quincy Drive, approximately ten miles from Hania’s home. In addition to deer hunters, homeowners were also asked to check any home security systems with video in order to track the SUV’s movements. Police are seeking a man seen in one such surveillance video, who was walking in the area about an hour before Hania was abducted. He was seen walking on Lambeth Street, headed towards the mobile home park in the minutes leading up to Hania’s disappearance. The search for this possible witness has only grown more desperate, as the investigation took a bleak turn.
In the fourth week of the search for Hania, a body was found by law enforcement while searching for the missing teen. The body was discovered off of Wiregrass Road, approximately ten miles from Hania’s home. At that time, there were at least four investigative bodies searching: The FBI, Lumberton PD, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, and the SBI. A press release from the superintendent of Robeson County Schools read, “The body is believed to be Hania, but the identity has not yet been confirmed. This is an unfortunate end to an extensive search and we are committed to supporting all students and staff as they cope with the heartbreaking tragedy.” The superintendent also assured the district that they would be increasing all available resources to support the students and staff at Hania’s school, Lumberton Junior High School. Law enforcement have stated that the remains have been sent to a North Carolina state crime lab located in Raleigh for autopsy and identification.
Unfortunately, Hania’s disappearance is another in a series of disappearances and killings that have haunted Lumberton for almost two years. In 2016, an FBI report revealed that there were 393 violent crimes in Lumberton, more than there are days in the year. The FBI’s analysts determined that a single resident of Lumberton has a 1 in 55 chance of being raped, assaulted, or killed. On April 18th, 2017, Christina Bennett, 32, and Rhonda Jones, 36 were both found dead within 100 yards of each other. Bennett’s body was discovered in an abandoned house, and the body of Jones was recovered from a trash can just across the alley. Both bodies were in an advanced stage of composition when they were found. A few months later in June, the remains of missing woman Megan Oxendine were found in another abandoned house within a two-mile radius of Bennett and Jones. Other women, like Cynthia Jacobs, 41, and Abby Lynn Patterson, 20, have also gone missing from this neighborhood, but were never found. The disappearance of Hania Aguilar has reignited community suspicion that there is a singular apex predator in their midst, targeting women for motives unknown. Community member Robert Norris told the media, “The first thing that comes to mind is that she had to have been watched or someone knew her routine. There’s a lot of possibilities…but nobody really knows until she is found and everything can be investigated. You hear these stories on TV, like in California or New York, and never think it could be right in your own backyard. It makes you get a sense of security and awareness about you that you’ve never had before.”
The community gathered on Wednesday to support Hania’s family. Hania’s mother has appeared in media coverage throughout the search, often with her priest at her side, telling the cameras, “I don’t have words to describe how I feel.” Despite the fear and confusion surrounding her daughter’s disappearance, she is a rock as she delivers a message to the abductor, in Spanish, “Return my daughter. I need her. I am suffering for her. Her sisters are, too.” Further commenting on this investigation’s ‘tragic end,’ the superintendent of Robeson County Schools declared, “We are keeping Hania in our thoughts and will continue to pray for her family and each other as the investigation continues.”
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations. She regularly writes on missing person and investigation topics. For more information, please visit our website.
The news cycles this week have been dominated by another missing persons case in middle America, where a familiar refrain is ringing out across the media: “This does not happen here.” It’s a repeated sound byte from law enforcement and Barron, Wisconsin citizens alike as search efforts continue for 13-year-old Jayme Closs, who remains missing following the murder of her parents in their home on October 15th, 2018.
A mysterious 911 call led law enforcement to the Closs home that evening. The dispatcher could not reach the person on the end of the line; however, a commotion could be heard in the background. The 911 call log later revealed the call made from Denise Closs’ cell phone came from inside the Closs home. The call log does not offer useful information about who made the call, the nature of the disturbance, or the content of what was said—if anything. The dispatcher characterized the commotion as “a lot of yelling.” Responding officers noticed signs of forced entry when they arrived at the scene, their description quoted across media claims the door appeared to have been “kicked in.” Inside the house, they discovered James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, shot to death around 1 AM on October 15th. Their 13-year-old daughter, Jayme, was nowhere to be found on the premises.
Law enforcement officials have fielded more than 1,000 tips from citizens hoping to help find Jayme, but no solid leads have emerged from the tip line. In recent decades, developments in technology used by law enforcement have closed mile-wide gaps in missing persons investigations, especially those of minors, where every second counts. One of these developments is the growing ubiquity of surveillance cameras and CCTV footage in public places and on private property. Jayme Closs’s disappearance has caused many online armchair detectives to draw parallels between her case and that of Mollie Tibbetts, another Midwestern young woman who went missing from sleepy Brooklyn, Iowa over the summer. The major break in her case came from a surveillance camera in which the suspect’s car was seen driving back and forth on the stretch of road where Mollie was known to regularly jog. Private investigator, Thomas Lauth, notes while Jayme disappeared from a town comparable to Brooklyn, the lack of surveillance cameras in comparison to larger municipalities will likely hinder the investigation. In addition, Lauth told Vice, although law enforcement released an Amber Alert, it likely did not unearth credible leads because authorities did not release information about any vehicles associated with Jayme’s disappearance. “Amber Alerts are effective when there is a vehicle description that goes with it. The public is very important in a case like this if there was a vehicle on the actual Amber Alert.”
Now as the search enters its second week, Chris Fitzgerald of the Barron County Sheriff’s Department is turning to the public for more help. In a press release on Monday, the department expressed a need for droves of volunteers to continue the expanding search for Jayme on Tuesday, October 23rd. “Two thousand volunteers are needed and should report to the staging area at 1883 Hwy 25, Barron, WI…Jayme remains missing and endangered and has been added to the top of the FBI’s Missing Persons list, and is currently on digital billboards nationwide,” said Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald in the press release.
Barron is a town of around 3,300 people, so two thousand volunteers? That’s more than half the town turning up to search, but it could serve as a coping mechanism for some who cannot wrap their heads around Jayme’s disappearance. Many in the community say not knowing her fate is the worst part, leaving them in a stagnate stasis of fear, where they don’t forget to lock their doors or fail to be vigilant of their children. But the Barron County Sheriff’s Department just might meet their requirement of 2,000 as support for Jayme and her family only continues to grow and expand. On Monday, the Barron Area School District held “A Gathering of Hope” as a chance for the community to gather in solidarity for Jayme and to connect the community with support resources, such as counseling services. It’s a familiar atmosphere, the kind felt in the community Brooklyn, Iowa, following the death of Mollie Tibbetts. Mollie and Jayme were both young women who vanished from small towns under peculiar or perilous circumstances—their absence disrupting their entire communities as citizens begin shaking their heads, “This does not happen here.”
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.