Police vs. Private Investigation: The PI Advantage

Police vs. Private Investigation: The PI Advantage

For months, the family of 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez wondered if they would ever have answers in his mysterious disappearance. On the day he disappeared, he was left in the care of his father’s girlfriend, Emily Glass. In the missing persons report Glass gave to investigators, she said she saw Lucas playing in his room around three in the afternoon. She then took a shower and fell asleep. When she awoke around six in the evening, Lucas was nowhere to be found.

Law enforcement in Wichita investigated for months, unearthing no credible leads into Lucas’ disappearance. Months later, on May 24th, locals were shocked after a private investigator blew the case wide open by informing law enforcement Emily Glass had led them to the decomposing remains of little Lucas under a nearby bridge. Why would Glass, after dealing with law enforcement for months, only then break her silence regarding her knowledge of the little boy’s body? The answer is as simple as this: Private investigators have advantages law enforcement do not when it comes to conducting concurrent independent investigations in criminal and missing persons cases.

So how is a private investigator’s approach different from the approach of a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency? The first thing to consider is the caseload of most law enforcement agencies. From the moment an initial report is made, in both criminal and missing persons cases, law enforcement have the meticulous and overwhelming task of gathering evidence to build a case that will secure justice on behalf of the victims and the state. Crime scenes need to be mined for evidence by medical examiners and crime scene technicians. Detectives and other investigators need to canvass witnesses—sometimes dozens of people—in the area who might have seen or heard something. Now imagine the workload of one case multiplied by 40 or 50 times. An audit conducted in Portland Oregon in 2007 reviewed law enforcement data from Portland itself, and nine other surrounding cities, to conclude the average caseload for a detective in Portland was a median of 54. This is compared to a 5-year average of 56 cases. Knowing statistics like these are similar in law enforcement agencies all across the country, it’s easy to see how the progress of cases might slow to a crawl. Agencies are overwhelmed, and this is where private investigators have the advantage. Private investigators may only handle one or two cases at a time, giving them their full focus and attention. Wichita law enforcement might have faced similar challenges of an overwhelming caseload when it came to investigating Lucas Hernandez’s disappearance. An article released by the Wichita Eagle in mid-December of 2017 revealed, as of publication, there were still ten homicides from the year 2017 remaining unsolved as the new year approached.

Another compelling advantage for private investigators might initially sound like a disadvantage: Private investigators have no powers of arrest. It seems counter-intuitive that a private investigator may use the same tools as law enforcement, ask the same questions, and may even come to the same conclusion as law enforcement without the ability to arrest a suspect for the crime. However, the case of Hernandez showcased exactly why a private investigator—and their inability to arrest—broke the case wide open. Jim Murray of Star Investigations told KMBC News in Kansas, “We’re less of a threat sometimes to people that we’re talking to because we have no powers of arrest,” said Jim. “We can’t arrest them.” This could explain why Emily Glass finally led a private investigator to Lucas’s body, because she knew they could not put handcuffs on her in that moment.

Unfortunately, family members and locals will never have the truth about what happened to Lucas. In the wake of the private investigator’s discovery, autopsy reports were found to be inconsistent with what Glass told both police and the PI, but before the People could build a case against her, Glass was found dead from an apparent suicide. However, were it not for the efforts of the private investigator, Lucas’s father may never have had answers in his son’s disappearance.

Carie McMichael is the Communications and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, writing about investigative topics such as missing persons and corporate investigations. To learn more about what we do, please visit our website.

Hiring an Independent Missing Persons Investigator

Hiring an Independent Missing Persons Investigator

People go missing every day, and because of the complexity of a missing persons’ case under the eyes of the law sometimes it may be necessary to hire an independent missing persons investigator to get the job done. At times an independent missing persons investigator can step in on a case when law enforcement can help no further, since missing persons’ cases are often considered ‘cold’ by and sometimes not even classified as ‘missing’ by the police.

According to Todd Matthews from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems (NamUs), a national database for missing persons, on average, about 90,000 persons are missing in the United States of America at any given time. With the odds of one of your loved ones being in that number it’s important to know how to hire a missing persons investigator to assist in their safe return home. Luckily, if you are already in such an unfortunate situation yourself you can use this guide to make the right choice and hire a reliable independent missing persons investigator.

Chances are your first instinct may be to check the telephone directory. However, this may not be a good idea as there are a few distinct traits that a missing persons investigator must have, which you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at an ad. We suggest you look into a few other places instead, such as a clerk at your county’s police department, speaking with a criminal defense lawyer, the duty agency at your local FBI, or simply asking a friend or family member for a recommendation.

Now, we mentioned that there are certain traits that a reliable independent missing persons investigator should have. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the most important traits that you should look out for when doing your research and interviewing prospective investigators.

Missing Persons Investigator Licence

Because of the varying laws in different states, it’s also important to know whether or not the investigator is licensed since some states don’t require an independent missing persons investigator to be licensed anyone could claim to be an investigator without actually being legitimate. Ensure that the person you are researching has a licence as it is further proof of their credibility.

Educated in Criminal Justice

It’s imperative that a missing persons investigator not only have some education in criminal justice but also possess a degree to prove it. According to PrivateInvestigatorEDU.org the best degrees to look out for are:

  • Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • Associates of Science in Legal Studies
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration – Human Services
  • Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice

Flawless Record

Another requirement is that an investigators’ background is clean, meaning that they have no criminal record, there hasn’t been any disciplinary actions filed against them, nor have they had any complaints with previous clients. This is important because most investigators would want to honor their good reputation and work extra hard on your case to make sure that their record remains intact.

Works from an Office

Working as an independent missing persons investigator requires a lot of energy, it involves dealing with panicky relatives and emotional loved ones. Because of this, the job can be very exhausting and must be done in a professional environment for maximum efficiency.

If an investigator is working out of his basement it’s hardly likely he can manage the stress of such a task. It’s also safe to assume that he or she has the necessary resources to handle the job. If the investigator was serious about finding missing persons they would have rented an office.

Accomplished

We also recommend that the investigator who you choose to hire has a history of solved cases and a good reputation in the field, as this could increase the chances of your case being solved since. There is a flip side to this, however, as there are some investigators who won’t take a case because just like the police they believe it’s a ‘cold’ one.

If possible, you should seek references and testimonials from other families and non-profit organizations for proof of their achievements. What’s even better is if one or more of their solved cases has made it to the news, then you’ll know that they’re serious about their job.

Good Personality Traits

A great way to tell if you have the right investigator is by their personality traits. Not only should a good independent missing persons investigator have the knowledge and know-how of the trade, but he or she should also have an excellent personality.

Things to look out for are trustworthiness, friendliness, honesty, creativity, passion, and persistence. There is no point in hiring a slimy investigator or one who doesn’t put his all into the job because then you’ll end up paying someone who helps you less than the police when often times the reason why you had to turn to an investigator was because the case was out of the authorities’ hands.

Some of these traits can be picked up during your interview with the investigator, while others would only be apparent by speaking with their previous clients or the person/s who recommended them to you.

Professional Habits

Finally, an independent missing persons investigator must show certain professional habits in order to be considered reliable. Simple things like returning calls promptly and updating you on the progress of the investigation is a just a couple things that are expected from a professional independent missing persons investigator.

Again, you could save yourself the trouble by asking these questions to the person who referred the investigator to you instead of finding out afterward that their working habits are unprofessional.

Another important thing to focus on is how specific the investigator is when it comes to billing. A trustworthy investigator will always make sure that a contract is drafted and that there is full transparency when discussing payment. Be sure to have a lawyer look over the contract if you must and make sure that there is nothing questionable in the fine print.

Conclusion

Hiring an independent missing persons investigator is an important decision, which is why it’s important that you get the right person for the job. If you’ve ever lost someone you loved then you know that emotional distress can be overwhelming. With these tips and suggestions, you should have no trouble making the correct choice and hiring an investigator who will ease some of your concerns.

Have you ever hired a missing persons investigator before? Do you still have any questions? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll be sure to get back to you.

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. 

How to Protect Yourself While Running

How to Protect Yourself While Running

Hundreds of thousands of Americans choose to run in order to stay active and healthy. However, for many women this average, daily routine can be deadly. Over the past few weeks, several women have disappeared while on a run and have been found dead hours later. These incidents remind us that we can be vulnerable even while doing the simplest of activities.

 

Karina Vetrano. August 2, 2016.karina-vetrano image
Karina left her house for her usual jog at about 5:30pm on August 2nd. Vetrano was jogging in a popular running destination in Queens, New York, known as Spring Creek Park when she was attacked, assaulted and strangled. A fewhours later, her father and local authorities discovered her body, but they have not been able to find her killer. Vetrano’s running routine was fairly well known in the area, according to several reports. She would often run with her father, but due to a back injury Mr. Vetrano could not accompany Karina on August 2nd.

 

Vanessa Marcotte. August 7, 2016.Vanessa Marcotte Image

Vanessa was last seen in the early afternoon on August 7th when she left for a run. Marcotte was visiting her mother for the weekend in Princeton, Massachusetts when she was attacked and killed. According to the Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Marcotte most likely fought back leaving her attacker with cuts and bruises. The police canine unit found Marcotte’s body late Sunday evening, only about half of a mile away from where she was staying.

 

Potential Serial Killer: Similar Modus Operand

Both of the homicide cases share commonalities in the attacker or attackers modus operandi or mode of operation (MO). Both of the victims were young, Karina was 30 years old and Vanessa was 27; both also shared physical feature like brown hair and light brown/hazel eyes. The women were both attacked while jogging, and both of their bodies were found the same day as the attack suggesting the attacker wanted to work quickly and did not spend time hiding the body. One major difference between the two cases is that Karina was known to have jogged the same area fairly regularly and it is possible she was targeted, whereas Vanessa was only in town visiting for the weekend suggesting she was just at the wrong place and the wrong time. According to CNN, once the DNA from Vanessa’s body is back from analysis, the police will be able to determine whether or not the same person committed the two murders.

 

For more information visit: http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2016/08/12/john-walsh-on-joggers-murder-newday.cnn

 Crime Scene Image

 

How to Stay Safe on a Run

Following the consecutive murders of Karina Vetrano and Vanessa Marcotte, many runners are wondering what techniques they can use to stay safe. Some basic safety tips include: running with others, running without headphones, change up your route, run against oncoming traffic, take self defense classes and carry mace (when legally allowed to do so).

  1. Running with others makes you less vulnerable to attackers. If there are multiple people capable of fighting back, an attacker will most likely go for someone more defenseless.
  2. Running with headphones distracts you. You can’t hear someone come up behind you or start following you. Staying aware of your surroundings is necessary when out for a run.
  3. Making changes to your routine can help you from being attacked by someone who knows your route. If you never stick to the same route, an attacker will have to improvise or find someone else making your chances of survival greater.
  4. Running against traffic helps you stay aware of cars driving by. It is more difficult for an attacker to drive up to you and grab you when you can see them slowing down or opening their door.
  5. Self-defense classes will help you stay calm and alert in order to resist an attacker. Knowing how to fight back is vital because in many cases an attacker will give up if you are not easy prey.
  6. Carry mace to blind and disorient your attacker.

Remember to trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable or nervous, no matter how crazy you may think you are, trust those feelings because they could save your life. Your subconscious and nervous system trigger those survival instincts for a reason, and you should listen and act accordingly.

 

If you have any information regarding Karina Vetrano’s murder call: NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782)

If you have any information regarding Vanessa Marcotte’s murder call: (508) 453-7589

The Importance of External Investigations: Molly Miller and Colt Haynes

The Importance of External Investigations: Molly Miller and Colt Haynes

The Facts of the Case

Molly Miller was last seen on July 8, 2013, from Wilson, Oklahoma. Molly’s disappearance has been classified as endangered missing. Molly is currently twenty years old, but at the time of her disappearance she was seventeen years old. Molly is five feet five inches, with brown hair and blue eyes. She has a piercing on her lower lip on the right side as well as a tattoo of a star on her hip

.Molly Miller Image

Early on July 8, 2013 Molly Miller and Colt Haynes disappeared from Wilson, Oklahoma. The night of the disappearance, both Molly and Colt were in a 2012 Honda Accord with James Conn Nipp, according to various reports James was driving recklessly and they were throwing stones at police cars. They were pursued by police, but eventually made it away.

Molly called 911 early July 8 at 12:47 a.m., but she did not say anything to the dispatcher. There are conflicting reports James Nipp Arrest Image
about whether or not the dispatcher attempted to call Molly back a few moments later.   According to Molly’s friends and family, she placed several calls saying she was somewhere in a field and needed someone to pick her up. Colt, according to reports, also called his friends pleading for help; he told his friends that he was lying in a creek with a broken ankle. Colt’s friends were not able to find him. Molly and Colt were never heard from again.

Weeks later, on July 22, the car both were supposedly last seen in was found in a field near the end of the police chase. The car had tens of thousands worth of damage; James Conn Nipp’s girlfriend, Sabrina Graham, who owned the Honda, initially told Police that Nipp had stolen her car, but later stated that she allowed him to borrow her car. Nipp and Graham were never strongly linked to the disappearances of Molly and Colt by police due to lack of evidence.

 

Potential Small Town Cover Up

James Conn Nipp is related to the Love County’s Sheriff, Joe Russell, who has been charged with “corruption while in office, habitual or willful neglect of duty, and willful maladministration” according to KXII-TV reports. Molly Miller’s LII - PHoto | FBIfamily strongly believes that Sheriff Russell never thoroughly investigated the disappearances of Molly and Colt in order to protect Nipp, his cousin. Paula Fielder, Miller’s cousin, told The Daily Beast “Sheriff Russell… refused to allow her family to file a missing person report within days of Miller’s disappearance. The Love County dispatcher told relatives they needed to file a report with the Wilson Police Department because it was not Russell’s ‘problem’.” Fortunately, a grand jury has since filed charges against Sheriff Russell in order to remove him from office. However, since the Sheriff was released from jail he has returned to work. Miller’s family hopes that Sheriff Russell’s pending arrest will finally bring them answers.

 

The Importance of External Investigations

Molly and Colt’s disappearance demonstrates that police can actively and passively influence a criminal investigation, which can leave families waiting for answers for years. While corruption in United States law enforcement is not rampant, there are still cases of criminal investigations being conducted improperly. Private investigators can be a useful tool for families feeling that their loved one’s case is not getting enough attention. Private investigators can conduct their own investigation ensuring families’ get all the information they can. Moreover, private investigators can collect evidence and information to provide to prosecutors in a criminal trial. If you feel your loved ones case is being handled improperly, contact a private investigations firm in order to get the answers your family deserves.

 

 

Scammers Target Families of the Missing

Scammers Target Families of the Missing

The alarming rate at which people disappear in this country is without a doubt troubling, and the numbers don’t appear to be improving. During 2014, 635,155 missing person records were entered into NCIC, an increase of 1.2% from the 627,911 records entered in 2013—according to the most recent FBI stats.

What’s perhaps is even more troubling is when scammers try to take advantage of the family of a missing person. However, that’s exactly what happened recently to an Alabama mother, Vickie Metcalf. On her daughter’s 18th birthday, she disappeared while taking out the trash. That was December 13th, 2015. Nearly five months later, Metcalf is desperate to find Myra Alissia Freeman.

missing person

Missing Persons Scams Via Social Media

Shortly after her daughter’s disappearance, Metcalf stated that she received a Facebook message from a woman claiming to have seen a girl resembling her daughter in Atlanta working as a prostitute.

Through a series of messages, Metcalf was told her daughter was being trafficked, and that she could buy her back for $70,000. Unfortunately, this was all just a cruel lie. When the community Metcalf calls home learned of this unfortunate incident, they were outraged:

“Unbelievable that this scum of the earth would actually try to scam money from parents that are in this unspeakable pain! Just pure evil!” stated Rachel Summitt.

“I cannot imagine the pain in this mother’s heart,” stated Wendy Grant Waters.

“This story breaks my heart! I have prayed over it since day one! This poor mother, I can’t imagine! Sending prayers!” stated Heather Good Taggart.

According to the FBI, the messages sent to Metcalf were actually from scammers attempting to extort money. Authorities say they appeared to be part of a Russian ring who created fake Facebook accounts in the hopes of making an easy buck at the expense of the victim.

Missing Persons Scams Via The U.S. Postal Service

Sadly, Metcalf is neither the first nor the last person to become a target of a missing persons scam. They’ve become quite frequent. In fact, the United States Postal Service has warned of similar scams through the mail.

In fact, postal inspectors once investigated a promoter who was running a “recovery bureau.” The bureau attempted to collect $20,000 on the basis of fraudulent claims that it knew the whereabouts of a California man’s missing former wife and children.

The Californian traveled to Michigan based on the promoter’s promises that he could find and reclaim his family in that state. The man became suspicious when the contact he was sent to see in Michigan demanded a $20,000 payment before he would provide any information about the missing former wife and children.

Subsequent investigation by Postal Inspectors revealed that the ex-wife and children had never been in Michigan. The promoter had no information about the missing family members. In reality, he had only received a routine notice from a private investigator who was seeking assistance in finding the ex-wife and children.

The Bottom Line

Law enforcement officials are warning families with missing children, spouses or other relatives, or friends, to be cautious about persons who demand money for information leading to the whereabouts of a missing person. When such information is made available for sale, police should be contacted to assure the validity of the claims being made about the whereabouts of missing persons.

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.