Polaroid found in parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe Florida in July 1989.
Tara Calico’s disappearance has baffled investigators for decades. In July 1989, a color Polaroid of an unidentified young woman and a little boy was found by a woman in a convenience store parking lot in Port St. Joe, a beach town approximately one hour south of Panama City, Florida.
The woman who found the photograph in a vacant parking space said she saw a man driving a windowless Toyota cargo van parked there when she arrived at the store. The man was described as being in his 30’s with a mustache. The photograph had recently been taken. Officials at Polaroid said the picture was taken after May 1989 because it was not available until then.
In the picture, the young woman glares at the camera, her mouth covered with black duct tape, hands bound behind her back, alongside a young boy who looks scared, his mouth taped and hands bound behind his back as well.
Pictured alongside the bound woman is a copy of V.C. Andrews book, My Sweet Audrina, a 1982 best-seller about a young girl who is haunted by her sister’s death. The thriller touches upon rape, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and autism.
The photograph made the national news and a “Current Affair” where family and friends of a young missing New Mexico woman saw a haunting resemblance. Tara Calico vanished in Belen, New Mexico, 10 months earlier on September 20, 1988. They contacted Tara’s mother, Patty Doel, who insisted she meet with investigators and see the photograph firsthand.
After viewing the photograph, Patty insisted the picture was her missing daughter, even noting a discoloration on the leg of the woman pictured being identical to a large scar on Tara’s leg she had sustained in a car accident. Not to be overlooked, V.C. Andrews was also Tara’s favorite author.
The photograph has been carefully analyzed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation who felt the photograph was not of Tara while Scotland Yard declared it was her.
On Tuesday, September 20, 1988, Tara left her home at approximately 9:30 a.m. to go on a daily bicycle ride along New Mexico State Rd. 47 in Belen, a route she took almost every morning. A small town, Belen only had a population of 7,152 in 2015.
Tara Calico missing from Belen, New Mexico since September 20, 1988
Sometimes accompanied by her mother, Patty had warned her daughter to carry mace with her when she rode but Tara rejected the suggestion. On the morning of Tara’s disappearance, she playfully told her mother to come and get her if she did not return by noon because she had plans to meet her boyfriend at 12:30 p.m. to play tennis.
When Tara did not return, anxiously Patty drove south along Tara’s usual bike route but could not find her. In the process of searching, she spotted a Boston cassette tape lying on the side of the rugged road. She immediately called the police.
Several witnesses told police they had witnessed an older light-colored pickup truck, about 1953, with a camper shell following close behind her as she rode along the highway. Quite possibly, Tara would not have even noticed if a vehicle was following behind her while she listened to Boston on her Walkman.
The boy in the disturbing photograph remains unidentified to this day. Initially, when the photograph was found, the mother of Michael Henley said she was “almost certain” the boy in the Polaroid was her missing son. Sadly, Michael Henley was found deceased in June 1990 in the Zuni Mountains near where his father and he were hunting when the child vanished in April of 1988. It was determined he died of exposure.
Another missing child case has caught the attention of law enforcement as the picture strongly resembles David Michael Borer missing since April 26, 1989, from Willow, Alaska, about five hours south of Fairbanks.
Resemblance between missing child David Borer and the unidentified boy in Polaroid
David was last seen walking along Parks Highway about 11 miles on his way to a friend’s home or to the Kashmitna River sandbar.
David once hitchhiked to Wasilla, approximately 30 miles from his home and described as a very independent young child,
Canine searches tracked his scent to Parks Highway, but the scent was lost at the road and there have been no signs of him since.
A missing lead
In 2008, the Sheriff of Valencia County claimed he had received information about what happened to Tara. A witness came forward telling law enforcement two teenagers had been following Tara in a Ford pickup truck, trying to talk to her and grabbing at her. Apparently, they accidentally hit Tara and panicked, then killed her. No further information surfaced from this allegation and no arrests were made.
Tara’s stepfather, John Doel, disputed the sheriff’s claims telling media the sheriff should not have released this information without enough circumstantial information to make an arrest.
More haunting photographs surface
In 2009, twenty years after the Polaroid was found, pictures of a young boy were mailed to the Port St. Joe police chief, David Barnes. The sheriff received two letters with photographs included, one postmarked June 10, 2009, and the other postmarked August 10, 2009, from Albuquerque New Mexico. One letter contained a photo copy of a young boy with very light brown hair with a band of black ink drawn over the boy’s mouth as if it were covered in the 1989 Polaroid.
The second letter contained the original picture. On August 12th, the Star Newspaper in Port St. Joe received a letter, also from Albuquerque, with the same picture, with the same hand-drawn mouth covering. Law enforcement has never been able to confirm the original Polaroid and the pictures received in 2009 are of the same boy. None of the three letters contained information indicating the child’s identity. Though there was not a reference to Tara’s case, police felt confident it was potentially connected.
Two other Polaroids have been found over the years some believe may be of Tara. The first was found near a construction site. It was a blurry photograph of a seemingly nude girl with tape over her mouth, light blue striped fabric behind her, similar to the fabric seen in the original Polaroid. It too was taken on film not available until 1989.
Copy of Polaroid found in Montecito, California.
The second photograph is of a terrified woman bound on an Amtrak train (possibly abandoned), her eyes covered with gauze and big black framed glasses, with a male passenger taunting her in the photograph.
Of the many photographs and unidentified remains Patty had to view to help police throughout the country rule out, these three could never be ruled out by her mother.
Sadly, Patti Doel passed away in 2006, never finding out what happened to her daughter. Tara’s father passed away in 2002. However, with advancement in technology, Tara’s remaining family and stepfather still hold out hope they will one day find out what happened to her.
Valencia County Sheriff’s Office is not actively pursuing any of the photographs as possible leads. Instead, they are working with the FBI analyzing local suspects given the information provided to the sheriff’s office years ago that Tara was killed by local residents of her small community. Supported by witness reports claiming Tara was followed prior to her disappearance and she was also receiving threatening notes placed on her vehicle prior to her disappearance.
Michele Doel, Tara’s stepsister, told People Magazine when asked if the Polaroid with the young unidentified boy is Tara she responds, “If I had to say yes or no, definitively, yes, that is her,” says Michele. However, she added “Does that make sense? No. That’s not the story that makes sense.”
Current lead investigator Sgt. Joseph Rowland at Valencia County Sheriff’s Department said the vehicle in the first polaroid was identified as a van and the sheriff’s department received many tips about vans that were not fruitful.
Mother never lost hope
Patty Doel died in 2006 after suffering several strokes after relocating from New Mexico to Florida with her husband John.
Friends and family say her daughter was always on her mind, never giving up hope she would one day find her.
She and her husband John even had a bedroom they kept for Tara, placing passing birthday and Christmas gifts there.
Even after the strokes, Patty would see a young girl on a bicycle and point and write her daughter’s name. Her husband would have to tell her it wasn’t Tara.
Tara’s older brother Chris told People Magazine he believed the stress of his sister’s disappearance and lack of resolution significantly shortened his mother’s life.
“The police would send photos of every possibility, including pictures of bodies, dismembered bodies, and every time mom got an envelope with the newest pictures, she had to look at them,” Chris told People. “She couldn’t not look , but it tore her up every time.”
The first Polaroid told Patty her daughter might still be alive, she survived whatever and whoever abducted her.
A case that is not exactly cold, Tara’s family holds onto hope; and many of the missing person investigators have taken the case into retirement with them. A case that happened long ago but is never forgotten.
At Lauth Missing Person Investigations, we specialize in complex missing person investigations of endangered missing children and adults.
The investigative team at Lauth Investigations has over 40 years combined experience working closely with the families of missing persons, local, state and federal law enforcement, along with national media and missing persons organizations throughout the country and internationally.
Founded in 1995, Thomas Lauth is a nationally recognized Missing Persons and Human Trafficking Investigator and graduate of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, who initially served as Senior Criminal Investigator for Marion County Public Defender Agency located in Indiana.
Lauth has served as both a prosecution and defense witness on numerous missing persons and homicides at the federal and state levels, including being appointed by state and federal courts to conduct independent investigations of homicides, robberies, and other serious felony matters.
In addition, Thomas has attended various U.S. Department of Justice conferences on missing persons, human trafficking, and child abduction. He served as a volunteer Advisor to the Nation’s Missing Children Organization and the National Center for Missing Adults for nearly twenty years.
In addition to working with local and state law enforcement, Lauth has worked cooperatively with Interpol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. State Department, the U.S. Consulate and various foreign embassies.
Lauth is considered an expert in missing persons by national media and has appeared in publications like Essence Magazine, USA Today, Los Angeles Daily News, San Diego Tribune, New York Times and more.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the United States.
Missing persons are entered into various categories such as Juvenile, Endangered, Involuntary or Non-family Abductions, Disability, Catastrophe and Other. Though it is not mandated for law enforcement to enter missing persons into NCIC, it is beneficial to both the missing person and the private investigation. Lauth Investigations verifies all missing persons investigated are entered into NCIC making the missing person’s information available to all law enforcement throughout the country to include, medical examiners and Coroners.
By creating more public awareness, it increases the potential for generating leads. Lauth is one of the few private investigators in the country who works every day in locating missing persons, focusing on creating a collaborative effort between various victim assistance organizations, media, and law enforcement to create a successful public awareness campaign.
Lauth Investigations success rate is averaged at approximately 85% over 20 years working with families of missing persons. Every case is unique based on the circumstances of the disappearance and discovery based upon the private investigator’s fact-finding.
When hired, Lauth exclusively focuses on the specific missing person case, ensuring full attention is given to each case. Lauth is experienced in searching for missing persons between the ages of approximately 12-years old to seniors.
Circumstances of disappearances include at-risk children, teens, at-risk adults missing due to foul play, human trafficking, custodial and non-custodial abduction, (including Hague and non-compliant Hague countries), homeless, and those suffering from disabilities such as mental illness or missing persons suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
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Erin Bruno, National Center for Missing Adults
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Liz Mallin, mother of Brandon
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David Thelen, CEO of Committee for Missing Children, Inc.
I wanted to take this opportunity to formally commend and recommend the services provided by Thomas Lauth at Lauth Investigations. My family and I recently worked with Thomas regarding my sister and nephew who had been missing for almost two years.
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From the desk of Kym Pasqualini, Feature Crime Writer for Lauth Investigations
15.8 million tourist visited Dubai during 2017 and considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), is where you will find nightclubs on the same street as mosques. Some describe residing in Dubai as “living in a bubble” where there as is an attitude of “live and let live.”
Dubai is one of the main and most populous cities in the UAE where islands have been built with beautiful luxury hotels and extravagant shopping centers that are attractive tourist destinations. Located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf, Dubai is the capital of the Emirate of Dubai and considered one of the most fascinating and developed cities in the Middle East.
Sprouting up out of the desert, Gulf News reports a whopping 15.8 million tourists visited Dubai during 2017, making it one of the most happening tourist meccas in the world. Mega-malls, 5-star hotels, a thriving art and design ecosystem, and a constantly evolving food scene, something is always happening.
Home to the Burj Khalifa (the tallest man-made structure on earth), as well as the Marina where the tallest residential buildings in the world were built, the many skyscrapers offer an amazing skyline view.
One of the main draws for visitors is the more than 300 days of sunshine and over 600 miles of white sand coastline, one can simply relax and lay in the sun, skydive, or hang glide over the gulf for an adventurous time. A place where you have the city, desert, and sea in one place.
The country is described as transient. Many come, stay, and leave. However, 97% of Dubai’s population say they feel safe in the UAE, with most having had little to no experience with crime.
Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and Allegations of Abuse
Sheikh MohammedSheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 68, is the billionaire Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. Since his accession in 2006, after the death of his brother, Maktoum has been credited with the growth of Dubai into a global city.
Named one of the “richest royalty” in the world by Forbes, the Sheikh’s personal life is a well-guarded secret, though he is widely known for his love of horse-racing. In fact, he shares his passion for horse-racing with the Queen of England and meets her at the Royal Ascot each year.
Despite the accolades, in March 2018, allegations of abuse were made via video by Princess Latifa bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, a daughter of the Sheikh. The princess alleged being incarcerated for more than three years in a family-owned compound where she was also tortured.
Daily Mail has reported Princess Latifah claims she was drugged in a hospital to stop her from rebelling and escaping. Though Daily Mail has not been able to verify her claims of abuse and incarceration, Mail Online has reported the princess fled Dubai in an attempt to live a normal life, leading some to believe Princess Latifa may be the richest runaway in the world.
Reports recenly Princess skydiving surfaced indicating Princess Latifa received help escaping by a former French spy and was hiding on a yacht off the coast of southern India. She expected to seek asylum in the United States where she had made contact with an attorney.
What may seem like something straight out of a best-selling spy novel, becomes all the more real after watching an emotional video she made prior to leaving that explains, in shocking detail, her reasons for wanting to escape. But has she?
Princess Latifah, 33, is one of 30 children the wealthy Ruler of Dubai has between six of his wives. In an Emirates Woman magazine article, the Princess is described as a daredevil skydiver with an undying enthusiasm for adventure and longing for a normal life.
In her YouTube video, she sits humbly with no makeup, her hair tied back, wearing a simple blue t-shirt, speaking calmly as she explains her reason for fleeing Dubai.
“I do not have the freedom that people have. Freedom of choice is not something we have,” the Princess says. “I am very restricted and cannot even go to another emirate without permission. I have not left Dubai since 2000.”
The Princess says she is not allowed to keep her own passport and if she goes out in Dubai she is assigned a driver.
It has been reported she gave the video to her UK-based attorney Radha Stirling in case of her disappearance or death.
NDTV reported the princess sent her last WhatsApp message to her attorney on Sunday, March 4th from a U.S. registered boat at least 50 miles from India’s coastline.
During a distressed call, the princess told Stirling they were hiding below deck and said, “Radha, please help me, there are men outside,” then frantically claimed to hear gunshots. Stirling asked the princess to record the gunshots but received no reply. That was the last time anyone heard from Princess Latifah.
Stirling says the princess first got in touch with her firm “Detained in Dubai” on February 26th, claiming she had escaped Dubai where she had been tortured for helping another sibling run away. She told Stirling her older sister had also fled because she was denied choices some people take for granted, such as returning home at a certain time or driving a car.
After giving a harrowing account of her life in the video, she warns by the time people watch, she could be either dead or in a really bad situation.
Herve Jaubert, author of “Escape from Dubai.”
Princess Latifah was last known to be with Herve Jaubert, an American who served as a French Navy Officer, marine engineer, and spy who operated for the General Directorate for External Security, France’s external intelligence agency and equivalent to the United Kingdom’s MI6 and the United States CIA.
Ironically, Jaubert has been wanted by the Dubai authorities for alleged embezzlement during the time Jaubert owned a submarine design and manufacturing company in Dubai. Now a resident of Florida, those allegations have been widely discredited. He is also an author of “Escape from Dubai,” a book recounting his own escape from Dubai.
According to Stirling, Jaubert and the princess were on his yacht called the Nostromo. Finnish woman, Tiina Jauhiainen, 41, was also aboard the Nostromo, all three disappearing in the Indian ocean, while closing in on Goa, India, known to be where they were headed to execute their escape.
According to UK police, information about the trio’s disappearance was sent to international liaison officers at the National Crime Agency and Interpol so they could proceed with the missing person investigation.
The three had maintained regular contact with Stirling until March 4th and had told the attorney they were 50 miles off the Indian shore, with plans to disembark the yacht and fly to the U.S from Mumbai. Seven hours later, Stirling received the distress call from the princess saying she was hiding inside the yacht, and men were outside. The princess then reported hearing gunshots. Directly after, their communication stops permanently.
Princess Latifa and Tiina Jauhianinen had become good friends prior to the princesses’ disappearance.
According to the Jauhianinen family, Tiina and the princess had met each other through their passion for skydiving and over the years became close friends. Princess Latifa referred to Tiina as “my angel” and the only person “I can talk to about anything.” Tiina was also the princesses’ martial arts instructor and personal trainer.
After learning of Princess Latifa’s tortuous life, Tiina and the princess set out to find Jaubert, now a public figure and famous for his book. Tiina needed help getting the princess out of Dubai and Jaubert was a logical choice to ask for help.
Tiina had maintained regular contact with her family, but the last time Tiina was seen online was the day before the princess’s distress call to Stirling. The following day, one of Tiina’s friends told the family they had heard there was a possible raid on the yacht. The family immediately contacted Finnish Police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and filed a missing person report.
After weeks of being reported missing, in April 2018, Jaubert and Tiina suddenly surfaced.
They both claimed to have been blindfolded and beaten after a hostile boarding. They were both in jail and told they had broken “Islamic Law” by assisting Princess Latifah in her quest to escape Dubai because she is the property of her father.
Herve Jaubert and Tiina Jauhianinen surface to tell their own harrowing stories of being detained by Dubai authorities.
Speaking to Pakistan Defense News from London, Jaubert claims he had attempted to bring the princess to a western country. He confirmed Tiina was on board, along with Princess Latifah and three Filipino nationals who were part of the crew.
Jaubert indicated he was en route to Mumbai and planned to fly everyone to the US from there. However, near Goa, the Nostromo was intercepted in a joint operation by India and the UAE, an act Jaubert considers a criminal conspiracy.
Jaubert tells how he noticed three vessels ghosting him on radar and he knew he was being followed. Then, two speed boats containing six to eight men carrying laser pointed assault rifles, faces covered in helmets and masks rushed the yacht. They proceeded to use stun guns and smoke grenades to neutralize the crew.
He was ordered to raise his hands above his head or they would kill him. With an assault rifle in Jaubert’s face, he complied and the men proceeded to handcuff him and beat him.
“No warning, no warrant, no charges, no explanations, no questions, nothing, just unnecessary brutal force by thugs,” said Jaubert.
The men proceeded to go to Princess Latifa’s cabin and said, “Come on Latifah, let’s go home.” Jaubert described how they forcefully grabbed her while she was screaming she would rather be killed right there on the boat than go back to the UAE. She repeatedly claimed political asylum but was ignored.
Next, at least ten people from the UAE boarded the vessel, some crew, and a captain, the others were special forces, not a private contractor Jaubert recalls. They were surrounded by the men on speedboats, and three coast guard warships. Later it would be reported there was a minimum of five Indian and Emirate warships, two military airplanes and a helicopter taking part in the attack on the Nostromo.
The authorities transported Jaubert to a secret prison where he lived in constant fear he would be executed for stealing a daughter away from their father, the ruler of a country nonetheless.
Once freed, Jaubert sailed for 13 days to Galle, Sri Lanka, abandoned his boat and flew to London. “I was in fear all day we would not make it, as it is easier for the UAE to blow up the yacht with a missile strike to eliminate witnesses and destroy evidence,” says Jaubert.
He claims they let him go due to Princess Latifa’s video, and scandalous stories released in the news. “They also let me go because I was filed as a missing person and the U.S. was looking for me, “ Jaubert said.
While the Indian authorities have denied any paramilitary mission occurred, the UAE has refused to comment. Concerns are growing, the Princess of Dubai is the victim of an “enforced disappearance” after attempting her dramatic escape. Jaubert believes she is being held captive and drugged in isolation for repeatedly misbehaving according to her father, the Sheikh.
The scandal has raised questions about women’s treatment in Dubai. In a seemingly idyllic place, there are clearly still some women who are treated inhumanely, only creating more concern for Princess Latifah’s safety at the hands of her father.
There has been no activity on Princess Latifah’s Instagram account or other social media platforms since her disappearance at sea.
To raise awareness, according to the Helsinki Times, social media users are using hashtags #FindLatifa #WhereisLatifa? #WhereisNostromo #EscapefromDubai
Unlike the ending of a tragic spy novel, friends of Princess Latifah are hoping for a happy-ending.
Rarely do you hear on the news of an American missing in Jamaica. Most missing person cases usually involve tourists who come to visit the island on a cruise, typically docked in Ocho Rios or Montego Bay, and never make it back to the ship once it’s time to depart. Typically, at the end of the investigation, the missing persons are normally found visiting a relative or staying in a nearby resort, claiming they simply wanted to spend more time on the island.
A recent example of such a case happened this past February. Three U.S. nationals, 24-year-old Tricia Forrester, 35-year-old Glen Triston, and 42-year-old Clinton Hill, boarded the Carnival Sensation Cruise in Miami, Florida. They were reported missing on the February 28th after the cruise docked in Ocho Rios. According to Nationwide Radio Jamaica, all three nationals were accounted for three days later, safe and sound, the last one being found in Montego Bay. According to the Head of the St. Ann police, Senior Superintendent Michael Smith, the three were visiting family members when they were reported missing. The passengers stated they were going to deliver luggage to their family members who were to meet them in Ocho Rios. However, when it was time for the cruise to leave it was discovered their rooms were empty and so they were reported missing.
Another similar case occurred on Tuesday, December 5, 2017, when an American woman, 41-year-old Marjan Ehsani, was reported missing in Kingston. Reports from the Half-Way-Tree police station state, “She checked into a hotel in Kingston on the 4th and was last seen at a gas station in the area. All attempts to get in touch with her were fruitless.” In a surprising twist, she was located only days after in a guest house in Kingston. She was reported to be in good health and returned to The United States shortly after being found.
Desiree Gibbon, 26
Although there are the above scenarios with positive outcomes, there have been a couple unsolved cases over the past decade. The most recent case: A twenty-six-year-old aspiring model and documentary filmmaker, Desiree Hyacinth Gibbon, from Queens, New York, went missing in Jamaica in late 2017. According to the local police, Desiree went to Jamaica on the 20th of October and was given three months to stay on the island. Investigators say she was looking for employment. However, her mother, Andrea Cali-Gibbon, has been reported saying Desiree went to Jamaica with the intention of shooting a documentary. “She wanted to travel to different countries, try new things and experience cultures,” her mom said. Desiree’s father is Jamaican and her grandmother owns a hotel on the island, where she stayed during her visit. At the time of her disappearance, Desiree was visiting Jamaica for possibly her eighth time.
Unfortunately, in December 2017, Desiree’s body was found with her throat slit and her legs, torso, and wrists covered with bruises. She was discovered in the bushes along the roadway of Anchovy, St. James. Local authorities identified her body after taking a photograph of her to the same hotel which her grandmother owns, where she was identified by her Uncle Claude.
Claude said the police officers told him they were looking for two women who they believe may be connected to the crime. The mother insists Desiree would never go out alone and believes this wasn’t a random senseless act, but a crime of passion. “My belief is it was a cold, calculated, planned out murder… It wasn’t a random act of violence. It is somebody she knew, somebody she trusted, and somebody who betrayed her,” Andrea Gibbon, the distraught mother, said. As the case stands, no one has been arrested or charged.
Another unsolved missing persons case dates as far back as May 2012 and involves forty-one-year-old Robert Durbin of Lemay Street, Hartford, who went missing in Kingston. According to the Matilda’s Corner police station, Mr. Durbin was last seen in Jones Town, Kingston 12, carrying out charity work in the community.
Robert visited Jamaica to teach law, lecturing part-time on the weekends through a University of London international program. According to the Hartford Courant, he was a councilman of the West Hartford Town Council and the reason for his visits to the island was to learn about the heritage of Jamaican and West Indian constituents. Durbin said he got a close view of how local services work in Kingston.
“I’m living and volunteering in a low-income development down here. It’s a very up-and-coming, low-income area, so it’s a nice opportunity to work with some social workers. Obviously, this area is a lot different from West Hartford… but my work here in the community will contribute to my service on the town council.”
Some months after, Robert resigned from town council following controversy due to his part-time move to Jamaica and an arrest on charges of interfering with an officer. According to the Hartford Courant, Robert had followed police to a distress call of a domestic disturbance and persistently offered his services as a criminal lawyer to the residents whom he claimed to know. The residents, however, stated they hadn’t known Mr. Durbin, nor had they summoned anyone for legal aid. Durbin was charged with interfering with an investigation and first-degree criminal trespass.
With his political career finished and his divorce processing, Robert decided to go back to Jamaica to do charity work in Jones Town, a peculiar destination as their reputation hasn’t been the best, and can actually be considered a dangerous part on the island. Fast forward to 2018 and Robert Durbin has yet to be found.
In closing, there aren’t many reports of Americans going missing in Jamaica because it is not a regular occurrence. Tourism is one of Jamaica’s main sources of foreign exchange, accounting for over 50% of the total amount. The tourism industry is responsible for about one-fourth of all jobs on the island. As such, the locals treat foreigners like royalty, but just like everything in life, there are a few exceptions.
You receive a phone call and hear the voice of someone you don’t recognize. They tell you they have your child and will kill them unless you pay a ransom. They direct you not to call police or you will never see your child again.
What would you do?
You tell the person on the other end of the phone not to hang up. You don’t want to disconnect with the one person that can reunite you with your child. You plead for your child’s safe return. “Please don’t hurt her. I will do whatever you want,” you cry.
They demand you go to the bank and wire a ransom of several thousand dollars. Do you call the police? Do you pay the ransom and hope some thug will return your child to you safe?
A child going missing is every parent’s worst nightmare. For those who do have a missing child, living with such ambiguity is said to be the most traumatic of human experiences.
Sounds like a situation that only happens in the movies, right? Or, something only happening to the wealthy.
According to Newsweek, the Seattle Police Department is issuing warnings to parents advising scammers are targeting parents and demanding a ransom in exchange for the safe return of children they kidnapped . . . well, virtually kidnapped. Police throughout the country are following suit.
On March 8, 2017, in Ravensdale, Kings County, approximately 30 miles southeast of Seattle, a mother drops her children off at the school bus. Shortly thereafter, she receives a phone call from a man who threatened to kill her child if she didn’t pay a ransom.
The mother was able to reach out to the school to make sure her children were there. The school confirmed they were safe.
King’s County Sheriff’s Office told ABC News, this was the first reported incident in their jurisdiction.
In another case, a woman called a father “hysterically crying” claiming to be his daughter and stating she had been kidnapped. A man then got on the phone and told the dad if he didn’t pay a ransom, he would hurt his daughter.
Officers in Denver have responded to several reports of kidnappings. In a press release issued by the Denver Police Department, police say the caller demands a monetary payment in exchange for the release of the victim’s child. The caller dials the parents in the afternoon and demands the ransom to be wired to a bank.
After investigating the recent incidents in Denver, they determined the kidnappings were false and all children involved in the incidents were found safe.
Virtually Kidnapped Daughter
On Monday, April 16th, Sean Hollister was at his residence in Longmont, Colorado, about 15 miles northeast of Boulder, and received a frightening call from his 11-year old daughter who he thought was at school.
“My daughter was in tears, sobbing,” Hollister told the Times-Call. “I thought she was in trouble or something. She said, ‘Dad, I’m sorry I let this happen,’ which is exactly what she would say,” Hollister said.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong,’ and I offered up her name, so he knew my kid’s name,” Hollister said a man got on the phone and told him, “I got your daughter in a truck. She is on her way to Mexico.”
When Hollister told the man he was calling the police, the girl came back on the phone screaming. “Daddy, they are cutting me. Don’t call 911.”
Hollister was able to call police on his cell phone. “The caller told Hollister to get his wallet and identification and promptly leave the house.
Victims of “virtual kidnapping” describe the incident as traumatic.
Hollister’s postman was in the yard when he walked outside. “I’m mouthing ‘Help me,’ and he is freaking out,” said Hollister.
Longmont police showed up at his home fast and they took over from there and the caller hung up. Officers quickly determined Hollister’s daughter was safe.
The traumatized father would later find out the callers were trying to pull off a “virtual kidnapping” scam.
“The gap between the cops getting there and finding out my daughter is okay was terrifying,” said Hollister. “Who would think someone would be that cruel?”
Hollister’s caller had a Mexico number, but police say it is possible the caller was local and hijacked the number to appear like the call was made from out of the country.
In yet another case, a woman received a frantic call her brother had been kidnapped, injured and bleeding out, demanding thousands of dollars through a wire to return him safely. She was able to reach her brother on another phone and never paid any money, but a clear sign anyone can be a victim of this type of horrific scam.
According to FBI kidnapping expert, Agent Eric Arbuthnot, several organizations use these scams regularly to make money.
“Thousands of dollars in ransom,” said Arbuthnot. “And you’re talking about a criminal organization that is capable of doing more than one kidnapping at a time.”
According to Arbuthnot many of the cases have been happening on the West coast and along the border involving criminal organizations from Mexico, some claiming to be members of the cartel.
The FBI has seen recent increases in California, Nevada, New York, and Texas.
Monroe Police Department in Connecticut said by using social media, scammers can identify a victim, look up relatives, and reference names of family members and friends to make the call appear legitimate.
FBI Supervisory Agent Christopher Johnson said his office in St. Louis, Missouri deals with these types of crimes. “Scammers will often mention specific facts about the parent or victim, likely from information they were able to obtain online.”
Authorities say about one in five kidnapping cases are successful resulting in the criminal getting their ransom and not getting caught. While extortion has been around for decades, virtual ransom kidnapping calls are increasing around the country.
FBI Special Agent Glenn Milnor warns parents about virtual kidnapping.
With this emerging scam, the FBI has launched a nationwide campaign to warn parents to fight back against “virtual kidnapping.”
If you receive a virtual kidnapping ransom call…
Unlike traditional kidnapping schemes, a “virtual kidnapper” has not actually kidnapped anyone. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if you receive a call from an individual demanding a ransom for the safe return of a kidnap victim, it is suggested you quickly evaluate the following to determine if you are receiving a legitimate ransom call:
- Caller insists you stay on the phone.
- Call does not come from your child’s cell phone.
- Caller tries to stop you from contacting the kidnap victim.
- Call includes demand for ransom to be paid via wire transfer.
- Ransom amounts may decrease quickly.
Knowing what to do
Police say it is best to hang up the phone; however, if you continue the conversation pay attention to the following:
- If you engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
- Deliberately try to slow the situation down and ask to speak to your child directly.
- Ask “proof of life” questions like, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- To gain confirmation if your child is an actual kidnapping victim, ask questions only your child would know such as the name of a pet.
- Listen very closely to the voice of the person speaking. If possible record the call.
- Have someone else try to call your child’s cell phone, school, text, social media, etc., to confirm their safety.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand or tell the caller you need time to make arrangements.
- Don’t agree to pay a ransom: by wire or in person.
- Don’t deliver money in person.
- Immediately call your local FBI office and police.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), as of March 31, 2017, there were 86,618 active missing person cases in the FBI database, with 8,792 entered as involuntary.
Experts agree an actual kidnapping with a ransom demand is quite rare but all experts urge parents to be vigilant.
To read the FBI warning, please click here.