The search for a six-year-old girl from South Carolina is
over after police identified the remains of missing Faye Swetlik, who
disappeared while she played in her family’s front yard. After viewing the
coroner’s report, authorities have announced that they are treating Faye’s
death as a homicide—no arrests have yet been made.
The Cayce Department of Public Safety’s director, Byron
told the media, “As this community has been working hard to find Faye and
bring her home safely, we wanted to let you know as soon as possible.
Snellgrove went on to say, “We also need to inform you that during the course
of our investigation, a deceased male was located in the Churchill Heights
neighborhood. That investigation has just begun.” It is unclear at this point
whether or not the aforementioned deceased male is in any way related to Faye
Swetlik’s missing persons case.
The investigation only began 5 days ago, when Faye disappeared from her family’s front yard shortly after returning home from school. Faye’s mother was home at the time of the disappearance. Friends and family were shocked to hear of Faye’s disappearance, and Ruth Collins, her grandmother, told the local television station WTVD, “I want my baby back. We gotta find her.”
An Amber Alert was never issued for Faye, because
authorities had no reason to believe the girl had been kidnapped, as opposed to
walking out of her yard of her own accord, or other circumstances. Investigators
assigned to Faye’s missing person case have released photos of two vehicles who
were in the area of the Churchill Heights neighborhood subdivision, denoting
that the drivers may have crucial information about the case.
The case has garnered national
media attention, with FBI officials going door to door to canvass the
neighborhood in search of answers. On the day Faye’s remains were discovered in
her neighborhood, Vice President Mike Pence was also in South Carolina, having
stopped in the Midlands. When he addressed cadets at The Citadel in Charleston,
he stated the following, “And as your Vice President, and as a father, let me
say, we were deeply saddened to receive word this afternoon that the remains of
Faye Swetlik, a six-year-old girl who went missing from her parents’ front
yard, just three days ago, has been found.”
Pence went on to say that he’d spoken with the FBI’s Director,
Christopher Wray, and the governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, to ensure
them that the full arsenal of resources held by the federal government would be
made available to investigators in pursuit of answers. “But I would just urge
everyone in South Carolina, “ Pence said, “hug your kids today. And keep this little
girl and her family and her community in your prayers.”
The case is not over for investigators and the Faye Swetlik
hotline is still open for anyone with information that could be useful in the homicide
investigation. Authorities are asking that anyone with information call (803)
Montana is a Rocky Mountain state that borders Canada and often referred to as “Big Sky Country” with numerous spectacular mountain ranges, western prairie terrain, and the badlands. Best known as the “Crown of the Planet,” Montana is the home of the majestic Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Beartooth Highway, and Big Sky Resort with tourism being the fastest growing sector.
Montana has changed little over time with an abundance of wildlife and breathtaking views. A place where Buffalo still roam the plains.
Crow Nation is located in south central Montana bordering Wyoming on the south, and its northwestern boundary approximately 10 miles from Billings. There lives a federally recognized tribe called the “Apsaalooke” which means “children of the large-beaked bird.” White men later misinterpreted the word as “crow.”
On the horizon, a highway sign is the only thing that one sees on the desolate strip of Interstate 90, that marks the entrance to the sovereign Native American Territory of the Crow Tribe. There are no gas stations, convenience stores or roadside attractions.
The Crow Nation is the largest of seven tribal lands, with the territory of 2.3 million acres. With a vast amount of ranch ground, the reservation has three enormous mountain ranges, two major rivers, and a dozen tributaries.
The Crow and Northern Cheyenne are both in close proximity to two major cities attracting crime, and bordering state and federal parks. Like each of the seven federally acknowledged Native American reservations in Montana and the nine tribes that call the land home, the Crow and Northern Cheyenne share centuries worth of challenges with a contentious history, including many strange disappearances and murders.
Problem of Indigenous Disappearances
Montana’s Indian Country is amid an epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people, mostly women, and girls. The Billings Gazette reported that more than a dozen indigenous women went missing during 2018, and indigenous women nationwide are being killed or trafficked at rates that are much higher than the national average of non-indigenous women.
According to the state Department of Justice (DOJ), more than 5,400 reports of missing people have been filed in Montana during the past three years. Most missing person cases are closed within a day or two.
However, while Native Americans make up only 6.7 percent of Montana’s population, an unbelievable 26 percent of Montana’s missing person reports are Native American’s who have been missing for over a month.
When missing person reports are taken by police, they enter the data into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a national database at the FBI that cross-references the missing person’s description with unidentified persons (alive and deceased). The database also makes the person’s information available to other law enforcement and Coroners nationwide.
Once entered into NCIC, if the missing person is determined to be in imminent danger, police can also issue a statewide alert, similar to the AMBER Alert that is distributed to local media and text messages to anyone in the region that has a mobile phone. Failing that criteria, police can also issue a Missing Endangered Person alert, which is similarly sent out to the public.
“One thousand plus missing person reports generated each year in Montana preclude the state from issuing alerts unless the person reasonably appears to be in danger,” said DOJ spokesman John Barnes.
The crisis is often exacerbated by several factors. Many reservations are in very rural areas with little access to the Internet or cell phone service. Tribal law enforcement is understaffed to oversee such large areas of land to initiate searches and properly investigate disappearances. Also, many of the missing are part of a marginal population so the cases don’t get much national attention.
When disappearances follow one after another, the Crow tribe is often forced to turn to outside law enforcement for help, but the help doesn’t appear to happen fast enough.
In 2008, the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse, within DOJ, implemented the first-ever searchable online database that is updated in real-time and includes a description of the missing person and photos.
Even with new statewide advancements in raising awareness of missing persons, for the families whose loved ones are missing, the law enforcement response can sometimes feel underwhelming.
The Disappearance of Freda Knows His Gun
In October 2016, down on her luck, Freda Knows His Gun, 34, was 740 miles away from home and needed money. She went to the Walmart in Kennewick, Washington, to call a friend to ask for an online money transfer to get home, and promised to return to the Montana Crow Tribe in time to take her children trick-or-treating for Halloween.
Despite an error in Freda’s name that caused a slight delay, within fifteen minutes the money arrived. However, Freda was nowhere to be found, even though she had been waiting at the Walmart customer service counter.
Aldean Good Luck, Freda’s cousin, told the Billings Gazette, “Her friend called and corrected the name and it wasn’t even fifteen minutes when she called Freda back and her phone was no longer working.”
It’s hard to determine what may have happened to Freda, but her family and three children continue to wait, overcome with the ambiguity of the loss.
It was hard to know who to turn to the family told the Billings Gazette. What complicated matters is she was last seen in Washington but a resident of Montana. The Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement within the Crow Agency registered Freda as a missing person.
The FBI eventually became involved in Freda’s case, but there have only been dead ends.
According to Freda’s sister Frances Knows His Gun, the FBI called and asked her if she had ever heard of the drug “hot shot” and explained that once you take it you forget who you are. She responded she had never heard of it and that was the last time she heard from them.
Freda’s mother Barbara Susan Stewart is now raising Freda’s three children with the help of other family members. One daughter is now in high school, another getting braces, and many life moments are passing without their mother.
Her forehead permanently creased with worry, “I would know in my womb if she was dead, Barbara told Aljazeera. “I don’t know if she is mad at me, but it doesn’t matter. She needs to come back. Her children need her. I can’t give them what they need.”
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) movement is big in Canada and the United States and working to raise awareness and change laws pertaining to missing indigenous women. However, critics wonder why missing men are not getting as much attention.
Truth is nobody knows how many indigenous men and women are truly missing and that is part of the larger problem.
Contributors stem from centuries of discrimination, the lack of accurate record-keeping, jurisdictional issues and historical laws that collide with demands of modern-day law enforcement.
To raise awareness, several protest marches, social media outreach, and community-building programs have been organized to ensure missing persons are never forgotten.
Not Invisible Act and Savannah’s Act
A bill addressing the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, the Not Invisible Act is now under consideration by the House and Senate. The legislation was introduced in the House on April 2, 2019, by Haaland, a member of the Pueblo Nation of Laguna, Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin; and Cole, a member of the Cherokee Nation. The bill is building steam.
According to CBS News, the bill would create an advisory committee comprised of law enforcement, tribal leaders, survivors, and family members of the victims, to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and of Justice on how to address this crisis. It would also designate an official within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to improve violent crime prevention efforts across federal agencies. It is expected to pass with no opposition.
The Not Invisible Act compliments Savanah’s Act introduced to Congress on January 25, 2019. The bill will direct DOJ to review, revise, and develop law enforcement protocols to address missing and murdered Indians to include: providing training to law enforcement; implement a system to notify citizen of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS); conduct outreach; develop guidelines specific to missing and murdered Indians; provide technical assistance to Indian tribes; and report statistics. Savannah’s act is also expected to pass without opposition.
However, with each agonizing day that passes, for families of the missing, it’s simple. Missing persons have become an epidemic and their loved ones need help sooner than later.
Most of us are aware of our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But for most American’s there is a lesser-known right . . . the right to go missing.
As of April 30, 2018, there were 86,927 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) at the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Of that number 14,411 are listed as endangered by authorities.
While most cases will resolve quickly, others date back decades.
“If you, as an adult, want to take off and need some time alone, you’re entitled to do that,” according to St. Cloud Police Assistant Chief Jeff Oxton. “That’s the right to go missing and can generate legitimate and sometimes illegitimate concerns from others.”
At the age of 18, going missing is not considered an offense. Unless the adult has been found to have significant issues with mental health, or if they are legally under the care of another person, it is not a crime to go missing and most resolve without incident.
“Most missing persons, we find them OK,” said Oxton. “We find there’s been a misunderstanding, or there was another reason they weren’t where they were supposed to be.”
However, that doesn’t always mean that all missing person cases are resolved with expediency.
Police in Scottsdale, Ariz., are searching for missing Marine veteran Jesse Conger who vanished without a trace on August 14, 2019. Loved ones fear he may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. Conger had served for 10 years and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during his military service.
Authorities say Conger was last seen at his apartment in Scottsdale by his girlfriend Natasha Harwell and may be driving a 2015 Toyota Camry with Nevada license plate number 696G03.
“I asked him to get help. He kept telling me, ‘No.’ but I feel like I should have insisted a little bit more,” Harwell said.
When Conger did not come home and never answered her calls or texts, she reported him missing. She noticed his gun was missing but all other personal belongings left at his home, including his wallet with identification, debit card, credit card, and all necessities. His service dog was also left behind.
“I feel like all the times before when he has done this, it was more like—you could know something was about to happen. He would talk to me about it, I could talk to him. This time he just picked up and left,” said Harwell.
The search has gone viral after a tweet from Pulte Group CEO Bill Pulte offered a $30,000 reward to help find Conger.
“I don’t know if I would be alive without my twin brother,” Patricia Conger said. “He’s always been with me. I want you to come home Jesse, please come home and I love you.”
Scottsdale Police Department is treating Jesse Conger’s case as an “endangered missing person” and added him to the NCIC system at the FBI.
What Happens When a Missing Person is Entered Into NCIC?
Once someone is entered into the NCIC database they are flagged as missing making their information available nationwide. For example, if they disappear from California and get pulled over or questioned by authorities in Arizona, police are quickly able to run their information through NCIC and make a determination if the individual is possibly a danger to themselves or others. This enables authorities to take them to the hospital.
There are five categories in NCIC that a missing person can be classified in.
When a person is added to NCIC, it makes their descriptive and automobile information available to all law enforcement agencies, medical examiners and Coroners in the country.
It is a common misconception that when an adult goes missing, a reporting party must wait 24 hours before making a report to police.
“There’s just not (a waiting period,)” Oxton said told the Sy. Cloud Times. “And I think that comes back to, you know, people see it on TV, or whatever, that they have to be missing for 24 hours. But that’s just not true.
In fact, there is no national mandate that requires one to wait before going to the police to report an adult missing.
However, when a child goes missing there is a national mandate requiring law enforcement to accept an immediate missing report, report it to the FBI and enter the person’s descriptive data into NCIC. This is due to the age and vulnerability. Though this national mandate does not apply to missing adults, there still exists no required waiting period to report them.
When there is a reporting delay for some reason, or something bad has happened, the first two hours are critical.
After receiving a missing person report, police will attempt to find the person in question, which may include contacting the person who made the report, along with friends and family, hospitals and jails.
If police discover the person went missing on their own accord, legally police cannot tell the reporting party where they are if the missing person does not wish friends and family to know. Police can let the reporting party know they are alive and well and do not wish contact.
Authorities are expected to make informed judgment calls about whether the missing person is at risk of death or injury. If the person is considered “endangered” it adds more urgency to the case, meaning law enforcement has received enough evidence that the person is at risk for personal injury or death due to one of the following:
the person is involuntarily missing or result of an abduction;
the person is missing under dangerous circumstances;
there is evidence the person is in need of medical attention or needed medication such as insulin, that would severely affect the person’s health;
the person does not have a history of disappearing;
the person is mentally impaired or has diminished mental capacity, such as someone with Alzheimer’s or Down Syndrome;
the person has been the subject of acts of violence or threats;
there is evidence the person may be lost in the wilderness or after a catastrophic natural event;
any other factor that law enforcement believes the person may be at risk of physical injury or death.
Once there is a report on a missing person, it then becomes crucial that law enforcement obtain dental records, fingerprints and have the family submit a DNA sample into the Family DNA database.
Records and samples are regularly cross-referenced with Unidentified Persons, alive and deceased for matches.
Jesse Conger is listed as “endangered” in NCIC due to his mental state when he went missing. But what happens when the trail goes cold?
Until a missing person is found, their entry in NCIC remains active. Once entered police do not stop investigating the case and following up on every lead that is provided by the public.
However, some cases, like Conger’s do not resolve right away and it becomes necessary and effective for police to ask for the public’s help to generate new leads.
Family and friends commonly try to engage the public and community to help find the missing person, including setting up Facebook Pages to generate leads and offer rewards for information.
Behind every missing person appeal, and every headline is an individual story and a family experiencing heartbreak.
“For law enforcement, at times searching for a missing person is like searching for a needle in a haystack,” says Thomas Lauth, a missing person expert, and CEO of Lauth Investigations International. “Often an effective investigation is a cooperative effort between law enforcement, the public, and the media.
Lauth has worked on missing person cases for over 25 years, working with local, state and federal law enforcement. “Generating that one lead that law enforcement needs to progress with the investigation becomes of utmost importance.”
Inevitably some cases go cold but that doesn’t mean the case is closed or impossible to solve.
“While missing persons have the right to go missing, the police still pour all of their resources into investigating the disappearance which should be reassuring to families who are experiencing the trauma of having a loved one missing,” says Lauth.
(With over 500,000 homeless in the United States, homeless cities are popping up at record numbers Photo courtesy Mercury News, San Jose, Calif.)
The numbers are staggering. According to the Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were approximately 554,000 homeless people living somewhere in the United States on any given night last year. Sadly, that number is rising.
According to Forbes, cities with the highest rate of homelessness are in one of the five states – California (129,972), New York (91,897), Florida (31,030), Texas (25,310), and Washington (22,304). Not surprising is the problem has become much more visible in urban areas and over half of all homeless people live in one of the country’s 50 largest cities.
Homelessness is an issue that permeates many societies throughout the world but seems to be a unique struggle in the United States. One might be surprised to know, the Big Apple has one of the lowest levels of unsheltered homeless at 5% while Los Angeles, 75% of people were found in unsheltered locations.
People who are homeless are often not able to secure and maintain regular, safe, and secure housing. Many become transient, never staying in one place for any length of time . . . wandering the streets, from city to city.
Who are the Homeless?
People often become homeless when the economic issues collide with their housing issues, to include other factors such as domestic violence, physical disability, mental illness, addiction, transitioning into adulthood and strains on relationships.
(Many homeless people start out with jobs and homes; then social and economic factors intervene.)
Something that we see more and more often these days is homelessness caused by untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), along with untreated depression and other serious mental illness.
According the Mental Illness Policy Org., in January 2015, the most extensive survey ever undertaken by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revealed 250,000 homeless individuals suffered from varying mental illness. That is 45% of the total homeless population.
At any given time, there are many more people with untreated severe psychiatric illnesses living on the streets than are receiving care in hospitals. Approximately 90,000 individuals with schizophrenia or manic-depressive illness are in hospitals receiving treatment for their disease.
No vision haunts America’s conscience more than the sight of the street people . . . the irrationality and anguish that grip so many of these individuals leap out during any encounter, whether in Washington or Albuquerque.” ~ Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM)
To further complicate any understanding of the numbers, homeless shelters and service providers ride a very delicate line.
Due to privacy-related HIPPA regulations, tracking a person that is navigating the hodgepodge of homeless services can be nearly impossible.
Providers do not report entry logs with missing person systems because of HIPPA. Also, there is no training to use the counts to collect information and data that can help identify known missing persons.
As the law stands, adult persons can come and go as they please. Unlike with missing children, there is no statute requiring law enforcement to even take a report, though in some state’s legislation has been passed to change that and improvements being made.
Organizations like Missing and Homeless are urging communities to work collaboratively with the homeless with direct outreach efforts beyond that system that is in place. Small providers, nonprofits and homeless individuals themselves are more successful in assisting with the search efforts of other missing people.
What Happens When a Loved One is Homeless and Goes Missing?
(Bridget Pendell vanished April 2003 and despite hundreds of leads she has never been seen again. Photo courtesy of SF Gate/Flier courtesy Kym Pasqualini – National Center for Missing Adults.)
There is nothing more intense and emotional than not knowing where someone you love is. The ambiguity alone can cause extreme emotional turmoil. Families are left frantically searching, hanging fliers, begging for media exposure, and talking to anyone who will listen in an attempt to find their missing loved one.
Bridget Pendell may look like a wasted-thin drug addict and could be wandering the streets of San Francisco or turning tricks in Portland or Phoenix. Or she could be dead, just another unidentified missing person buried in the city’s Potter’s Field.
Her sister Jackie Horne wants to know what happened to her sister. She has spent the last 15 years searching for Pendell, traveling from New York to San Francisco to scour the city for her missing sister.
(Jackie Horne leaves missing person posters on mailboxes in the Haight district of San Francisco. Photo courtesy of SF Gate/Flier courtesy Kym Pasqualini – National Center for Missing Adults.)
Pendell would be 46 now and shows just how easily homeless can disappear. Horne travels the hard-core sections of the city where women sell their bodies for sex and drugs, leaving missing person posters on mailboxes, giving out her missing person posters and scanning the worn-out faces. Horne quietly asks for help from anyone who will listen.
(Bridget Pendell was a former Barbizon model with her life in front of her.)
Pendell was a beautiful young girl who grew up in Plattsburg, New York and graduated high school before becoming a former Barbizon model student. She eventually became a nurse and met the “man of her dreams” married and had a baby girl they named Sasha. Pendell had met some friends who followed the Grateful Dead, and she joined them and began following the band throughout the country.
(Followers of the Grateful Dead followed the band to different locations throughout the country.)
Pendell’s new lifestyle broke the marriage apart as her husband would have no part in the lifestyle, she was dabbling in. Following their divorce, Pendell began wandering between New York, Kansas, and Florida, sometimes with Sasha. There she began using heroin and cocaine and by 1996, she had succumbed to drugs and prostitution.
Pendell’s mother took Sasha while Pendell continued to live in California.
Her last chance . . . the family decided the only way to save Pendell was to have her enter a two-month drug rehabilitation program. If she refused, no one was certain what would happen to her.
She accepted the help and entered into Seton Health System rehab center. A doctor’s report explaining Pendell’s condition read: “Above average intelligence.” She was released from rehab two days early and immediately left to San Francisco.
From the answers Horne receives while out searching, it seems Pendell is known everywhere, yet a phantom in a dark world few can imagine.
“I saw her a couple of days ago, I swear,” a prostitute named Crystal said as she brushed on mascara, getting ready to hit the chaos of Mission Street. “She works this street. Shoots up heavy.” Another man said he believed Pendell went by the nickname Butterfly.
Now joining in the search is Pendell’s daughter Sasha who despite her mother vanishing, has maintained Straight A’s at school. Growing up without her mother she did know her mother was on drugs. “Maybe she feels bad . . . maybe she doesn’t want to come back into my life while she’s on drugs . . . but if I could see her, I would tell her I wasn’t mad.”
Leads have been received from across the country, but most have led back to San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Another possibility is that known rapist, Jack Bokin killed Pendell. Horne reached out to him and he never denied killing her. It is unknown what happened to Pendell and if she is still alive out there somewhere.
(Horrified seeing the numbers of other missing, San Francisco authorities explained to Horne that ever year, hundreds of homeless die in the city, most identified.)
Nobody knows exactly how may chronically homeless are missing. Losing touch with family and friends they are joining a steady stream of panhandlers and those sleeping on the sidewalk.
Going under the radar, with no identification, no address, no welfare checks they are impossible to follow.
According to the California Department of Justice, more than 17,000 women like Pendell are reported missing in California every year, but no records are kept about how many are homeless. Nearly 300 are found deceased, and although most are found safe, approximately 100 remain missing – whereabouts unknown.
Morgues throughout California maintain remains of over 2,000 people, dating back 45 years, who have never been identified.
“We have about two bodies per year we can’t identify, and we cremate another 160 because we make an identification but can’t find relatives to claim them.,” said Herb Hawley, administrator at the San Francisco medical examiner’s office. It is a similar story throughout the country.
It’s just like she vanished off the face of the earth,” said Horne as she walks up and down a line of homeless men and women waiting for lunch at a local church. “These guys in line, all those homeless people around downtown – they have relatives, too, and hopefully some of those relatives know where they are. But Bridget? Nothing.”
Mysterious missing person cases are not hard to come by, and high profile missing person cases stay with us as a nation. Despite lapses in coverage, when we see their photo again, we are reminded of the details we know about the case, our personal feelings based entirely in speculation, and remember all over again that there is still a family waiting for them to come home. The more mysterious the circumstances, the more we stare in horror, watching their family’s world fall apart. Here are ten of the most fascinating and mysterious missing persons cases in recent history.
The night before she disappeared, Karlie Gusé
was seen at a party with friends in a neighborhood not far from her home in Chalfant
Valley, CA. She called her stepmother in a panic, saying she needed to be
picked up from the party. Melissa Gusé
picked Karlie up from the party, and later stated that she seemed disoriented
and exhibited paranoid behavior. Once home, it took hours to get Karlie calmed
down enough to sleep. When Melissa awoke the next morning, October 13, 2018,
Karlie was asleep in bed, but when she checked on her a second time around 7AM,
Karlie was nowhere to be found. Law enforcement canvassed the neighborhood and
turned up two witnesses who said they saw Karlie walking towards Highway 6 with
a piece of paper in her hand. All of Karlie’s belongings, including her cell
phone, were found at her home. Karlie had been experiencing problems prior to
disappearing. Her father and stepmother acknowledged Karlie’s history of
experimenting with drugs and attending alternative education in order to
improve her grades. Despite these factors, there appeared to be nothing that would
have prompted Karlie to leave the house that morning. Investigators, both in
law enforcement and independent firms continue to search for Karlie, while her father,
stepmother, biological mother, and the rest of her family wait anxiously for
Karlie to come home.
9: Teresa Butler
Teresa Butler’s husband came home on January 25, 2006 to
find his wife gone, their two young children unsupervised. At the time, the
family was living in Risco, Missouri. There were no signs of a struggle, nor
forced entry, but there were a series of valuable items missing from the home
such as a gaming console, camcorder, stereo, and Teresa’s cell phone and purse.
Her car was still in the driveway, and her wedding bands were also at the
residence. Investigators were stymied by this mixed bag of a scene. Was it a
crime scene? Or had Teresa simply left of her own accord—and if so, for what
reason? More whirlwind revelations came when investigators realized that Teresa’s
cell phone made two calls after she had vanished. Both calls were to unfamiliar
numbers, in two different Missouri towns. The owners of those numbers both
claimed that they had no idea who Teresa was, and did not speak to her. Thirteen
years later, there are still no answers in her disappearance.
8: Laureen Rahn
In 1980, Laureen Rahn was living with her mother in an
apartment in Manchester, New Hampshire. She was last seen on April 26 at that apartment
in the company of two friends. When her mother returned home that evening, she
had to grope for the door because all of the lightbulbs in the hallway had been
unscrewed. When she entered the apartment, she checked Laureen’s room, and she
appeared to be asleep in her bed. The next morning, she realized the body she’d
seen asleep in the bed was actually one of Laureen’s friends, and that friend was
clueless as to Laureen’s whereabouts. Authorities treated Laureen’s case as a
runaway, but details that emerged in October of that year cast a different
light on the case. Her mother, Judith, noticed three calls to a California
number on her phone bill that she knew she didn’t make. One was to a sexual
assistance call line for teenagers, helmed by a doctor’s wife who took in
runaways—could Laureen be with her? The second number was to a motel run by a child
pornographer by the pseudonym “Dr. Z.” But unfortunately authorities were
unable to connect the 14-year-old’s disappearance to either of these persons of
interest. To this day, what became of Laureen Rahn remains a mystery.
7: Lauren Spierer
The Lauren Spierer case is one of the most mysterious missing person cases. Many Hoosiers are familiar with the cautionary tale of Lauren Spierer, an Indiana University Student who disappeared on June 3, 2011 after a night out partying with friends in Bloomington, Indiana. After leaving her apartment around 2:30 in the morning, she walked around the corner and was never seen again. It wasn’t until her boyfriend, Jesse Wolf, realized that Lauren had been separated from her phone that something was wrong. When he sent her a text message two hours later, one of the employees at Kilroy’s bar responded. Wolf reported Lauren missing. Witnesses who had seen Lauren that night reported that she was highly intoxicated, which might explain why she left both her cell phone and shoes behind at Kilroy’s. Her observed level of inebriation has led to speculation that Lauren might have been drugged while at the bar, possibly with a drug like GHB, also known as “the date-rape drug.” Her family has remained suspicious of the men she was reportedly hanging out with that night, claiming that they know something about their daughter’s disappearance. That being said, investigators also spoke to friends of Lauren’s who informed them she was known to use drugs when she partied as well as alcohol. As of January 28, 2016—when FBI and other investigating bodies searched a property in Martinsville for signs of Lauren with no success—Lauren still remains missing.
6: Cynthia Anderson
The disappearance of Cynthia Anderson is regarded as
stranger than fiction. She vanished on August 4, 1981 from the law office where
she worked as a secretary. Her personal belongings were missing, but her
vehicle remained parked in the lot. While investigating her disappearance, authorities
discovered an open romance novel. In an eerie coincidence, Cynthia had stopped
reading during a scene in which the main character is abducted. Police were
already investigating Cynthia’s disappearance with the possibility of foul
play, but this gave them pause. Could she have faked her own abduction to
disappear and start over? There were anonymous tips months after her
disappearance that she was being held captive in the basement of a remote
residence, but authorities were unable to corroborate this statement. The wildest
theory about her whereabouts came when a lawyer from her firm was arrested for
drug trafficking. There was speculation that Cynthia might have known too much
about some illegal dealings going through the law firm, and met a violent end
as a consequence. But that’s all it is: a theory.
5: Maura Murray
Some mysterious missing person cases get so big they invite a great deal of media attention. Mara Murray is perhaps one of the most famous mysterious missing person cases in recent history. The University of Massachusetts Amherst student disappeared on February 9, 2004. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Maura told university staff and her professors that she would be taking a week’s hiatus from school to handle a family emergency. Around 7:30 that night, a car crash on Route 112 was reported to 911. When first responders arrived, the driver, Maura, was nowhere to be found. During the investigation, law enforcement turned up a witness who had passed Maura following the crash. When asked if she needed help, she said no, that she had called roadside assistance. In a window of less than 15 minutes, something happened to Maura Murray. What’s most puzzling about Maura’s disappearance is that her story about a family emergency could not be corroborated by her family. So the question remains: Why was Maura taking a week off from her education? What could have been so important? Maura Murray’s disappearance is regarded as the first missing person case of the social media age, having disappeared the week that Facebook launched. Her story has spawned many true-crime specials, documentaries, and a highly popular podcast called Missing Maura Murray.
4: Asha Degree
Asha degree was just nine years old when she left her house
on the morning she disappeared, Valentine’s Day, 2000. Inexplicably, she had
packed her school backpack and left the house in the early morning hours, after
which she was sighed walking along North Carolina Highway 18, just a little
over a mile from her home. When approached by passing motorists who noticed
her, Asha reportedly ran into a wooded area just off the highway. At first, it
appeared to investigators that Asha had run away from home. After interviewing
family members, they learned that the child had bene reading a fantasy series
about children who have spectacular adventures while the adults are asleep.
While it’s unclear whether or not Asha intended to return home, early search
efforts for her proved fruitless. Belongings of hers, including a pencil,
marker, and Mickey Mouse hair bow were found near a shed behind a business that
sat parallel to the highway. About 18 months later, Asha’s bookbag also turned
up at a construction site, curiously double-bagged, leading investigators to
think someone other than Asha had left it there. In October 2018, investigators were appealing to
the public for information regarding two key pieces of evidence—a children’s
book that was borrowed from the Fallston Middle School library in 2000, and a
New Kids on the Block shirt. Asha Degree remains missing to this day.
3: Annette Sagers
Eight-year-old Annette Sagers went missing on her way to
school in October of 1988. Less than a year earlier, her mother, Korinna Lynne
Sagers Malinoski had gone missing. There was little evidence to paint a picture
for investigators, except that her car was found parked in front of their home.
When Korinna’s daughter went missing as well, they searched the bus stop where
she should have been picked up for school. Investigators found a cryptic note
that placed her mother’s disappearance in a whole new context: “Dad, momma come
back. Give the boys a hug.” Authorities weren’t sure what to make of the note
at first, as they suspected someone may have forced Annette to write. After
careful examination, handwriting experts did determine that Annette likely
wrote the note. This looks like Korinna could have disappeared of her own
accord a year prior, and had returned to reclaim her daughter before vanishing
again. What could not be explained was that Korinna had left behind two boys
when she disappeared in 1987. Despite anonymous tips that claimed burial locations
for Annette’s remains, the mystery of the missing mother and daughter remains
2: Tara Calico
The case of Tara Calico continues to haunt the true-crime world, with both investigators and armchair detectives alike speculate to the circumstances surrounding this bizarre case and its sensational clues. Like Annette Sagers, Tara Calico disappeared in 1988 after leaving her home in Belen New Mexico to being a bike ride along Highway 47. Tara was never seen again. In the search for Tara, pieces of her Walkman were found along Highway 47. The bike was never recovered. Leads in the case dried up and it went cold until a year later when a disturbing piece of evidence emerged that has become famous throughout the internet. In Port St. Joe, Florida, a woman reported that she had found a Polaroid outside in the parking lot of a local convenience store. The Poloaroid featured a boy and a young woman, both bound and gagged, propped up against pillows in what appears to be the cargo area of a panel van. The witness told authorities that a white van had previously been parked in that spot, driven by a white man with a mustache. There is still speculation to this day about whether or not the woman in the photo is actually Tara Calico. The book lying next to the young woman in the photo is V.C. Andrews’ My Sweet Audrina, which was allegedly one of Tara’s favorite books. While no official cause for Tara’s disappearance has ever been established, the sheriff of Valencia County offered his theory: He claimed that boys who knew Tara were involved in some kind of accident along Highway 47, involving Tara’s bicycle and the boys’ truck. However, without a body, law enforcement were unable to make a case.
1: Diane Augat
In 1998, 30-year-old Diane Augat of Odessa, Florida walked out of her home and vanished without a trace. About ten years prior to her disappearance, Diane received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a mental illness that causes massive mood swings between periods of intense emotional euphoria, or highs, and deep depressive lows. Her case was so severe that it led to losing custody of her children and her husband divorcing her in 1991. She self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. On April 10, 1998, Diane left her home and was never seen again. What followed was a series of strange events that amount to the plot of a Hollywood movie. Just three days after she vanished, her answering machine received a chilling message, “Help, help, let me out,” followed by “Hey, gimme that.” It sounded as though there was a struggle over the phone in the background. The caller ID said Starlight, but when Diane’s mother called back, there was no answer. Two days after that, the severed tip of Diane’s right middle finger was found. Two weeks later, in perhaps one of the most bizarre events in any missing person case, a bag of her clothing was found in the freezer of a local convenience store. Despite the details reflecting that of a Hollywood blockbuster thriller, there has never been any satisfying resolution in her case.