Last week, Tawana, the mother of Jabez Spann, received the closure she’d been chasing since September 4, 2017. That Labor Day weekend was the last time she saw her son alive. The Sarasota teen went missing from his own front yard after having attended a candlelight vigil being held two blocks from his home. After a torturous 18 months without answers, she finally received the news she dreaded. Two men were checking a fence in a pasture in Manatee County when they made a grisly discovery: A human skull. They called 911. The remains of Jabez Spann identified from dental records. Sarasota Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson said in a press conference, “Today, I am sad to report that we were not able to recover Mr. Spann living and return him to his family.”
To tell the full story of Jabez’s disappearance, you have to go all the way back to August, 2017, and the death of another man in Jabez’s life. In late August of 2017, Travis Combs, 31, was fatally shot and killed, with law enforcement investigating his death as a homicide. When the news broke about Jabez’s disappearance, one of the dominating bylines denoted him as a witness to a murder, having been named in a probable cause affidavit for a suspect. Reginald Parker, 55, claimed to have witnessed the shooting of Travis Combs, and allegedly told several individuals that he had witnessed it in November of 2017. These individuals were interviewed by police, corroborating what Parker had told them. Prior to Parker’s arrest on 2017, Jabez’s presence at the crime scene was merely a neighborhood rumor. The publishing of the arrest probable cause affidavit confirmed his presence at the crime scene that night.
Combs’ case eventually became overshadowed by the
disappearance of Jabez Spann in media coverage, as he went missing less than a
week later. The facts of the case as we know it read more like an edgy police
procedural—a teenage boy, having already allegedly witnessed a violent crime,
disappears without a trace, and police find themselves stymied. He disappeared
less than 200 yards away from where Combs’ body was discovered. After Jabez’s
remains were found, Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson claimed that “hundreds
upon hundreds” of hours have been logged in this investigation, citing that Jabez’s
family has been a valuable asset to investigators. He also noted in a
press conference that this case is personal for law enforcement, like many
cases involving teens or young children, “Many of our detectives…have children
of their own. I’m a father, as the sheriff. I can’t imagine having that
information broken to me about my son. There’s been highs and lows in this
investigation where there’ve been sightings and tips and things we’ve followed
up on. And every time it’s a peak and a valley, [the family] stood with us, and
our investigation team, every step of the way.” At that same press conference, police noted
that they did not believe Jabez left Sarasota of his own volition.
The two men who called 911 told the dispatcher they did not see signs of a weapon at the site—just the skull and “some bones.” It was the break that came after 18 months of following over 100 tips reported to law enforcement that proved to be dead ends. Members of the community have found the news of the discovery bittersweet, like activist Wayne Washington, “You can’t just hurt a child in our community and think that you can live life and everything is going to be sweet. The emotions are very high because I wish that he was alive, but by the family finally finding him they can get the closure they need as a family.” Over the course of the investigation, the reward sum for any information leading to the whereabouts of Jabez Spann had grown to $50,000. Police have yet to say if or how the funds will be disbursed.
Despite the heartbreaking news in her son’s case, his mother
remains steadfast in looking towards the future. Since the time her son
disappeared, she believed he witnessed a brutal murder, and the person
responsible had a hand in making him disappear. She now wants to see that
person answer for their actions, “We’re going to move forward in the hopes that
they can find whoever did this. Those last moments that you caused him, that
you did to him when he was helpless and couldn’t call on anybody…that’s what I
want to see justice for. We got some closure. We’re going to put him in peace
and lay him to rest. We’re not done.”
For over 30 years, Lauth Investigations International has been delivering proactive and diligent solutions to help corporations, attorneys and individuals find solutions to some of life’s most troubling conflicts, such as missing persons, theft, fraud, and corporate crises. Thomas Lauth founded this firm in 1995 in Indianapolis, Indiana, serving attorneys, corporations, and private citizens throughout the United States and beyond. His success has allowed him to expand his business, with offices in Tampa, Florida and Boulder, Colorado. His experience and prowess have allowed him to bring closure to grieving families who have lost a loved one, return lost or stolen assets to their rightful owners, and build a company with a culture of respect, innovation, and above all, teamwork. Lauth will be the first to admit no one achieves anything alone, and he attributes his success in large part to the wealth of qualified and integrated support from his investigative team.
Business Development Manager: Karl Buttenmiller
Marketing the services of an external investigations firm comes with its own challenges. If an individual is fortunate, they may never have cause to retain a private investigator for the substantial issues in their lives. Corporations often do not believe they require an independent investigator for their business, with policies in place to handle crises internally. That’s why it’s so important to have a top-notch business developer in any private investigation firm. For Lauth Investigations, that is Karl Buttenmiller, “It’s easy to become myopic when viewing internal problems – partnering with an experienced investigator allows for investigative techniques and range-of-motion usually not available to a corporation.” Karl’s work as Business Development Manager allows Lauth to build a strong network of businesses throughout the Indianapolis area and beyond—educating them on our services and how our expertise can prop them up in a time of crisis. While any budget manager may view a private investigator’s services as extraneous, Karl always assures clients that peace of mind is worth the price tag, “Every company and consumer pays for the effects of criminal or ethical wrong-doing; higher insurance rates, more expensive products and services, fear, etc. Investigators can lower the rates of fraud, theft, trafficking and more, which lessen the negative economic effects these entail while also creating safer companies and communities.”
Director of Client Relations: Kristen Justis
Kristen Justis is the Director of Client Relations for Lauth Investigations International. When individuals and corporations find themselves in need of our services, Justis is one of the first points of contact. “I handle the intake calls for all potential clients who contact us. During the intake, I listen to the details of the client’s situation and I offer them insight on what we, as private investigators, may provide them to find resolution to their situations.” Once Lauth has accepted the case, Justis plays a vital role in using the client’s information to set up case files and create narratives that allow Lauth’s researchers and field investigators to begin building a profile on all the principles in any given case. This gives the investigation a strong foundation in its earliest stages to ensure smooth case progression and an increased chance of reaching a solution. “During the case, I ensure the case file is being continuously updated, the investigations are completing their duties, and the clients are kept current on the status of their cases.” Being highly organized and efficient is a regular part of her position, but Justis also brings something else to the table in terms of maintaining good rapport with clients, “Many people are in a time of crisis when they reach out to private investigators. I ensure clients feel safe and comfortable talking with me and sharing their intimate details. I let them know they are not alone—their story isn’t the craziest story I’ve ever heard, and explain we are there to support them and find the answers they need. I love working with people and being there for them in their time of need.”
Research and Support: Carie McMichael
Once Justis has set up the files and created a strong foundation for the investigation, the fact-finding process begins. Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She runs the company’s social media, blog, and provides crucial research support for both Justis and other field investigators. “Once all of the principle information has been compiled, I assist Kristen in building backgrounds on all of the subjects in any particular investigation. We utilize confidential, authorized databases to gather any and all information on a subject that could serve as a valuable lead for our field investigators, like date of birth, addresses, and criminal records.” As the youngest member of the Lauth Team, McMichael’s proficiency and long-time use of social media platforms allows her to locate vital information in cases such as child custody, infidelity, and employee malingering. “Social media is so ubiquitous nowadays. Some people make a post to their Twitter before they even get out of bed in the morning. With a culture of over-sharing and constant social media visibility, it’s crucial that we pull that information in the interest of finding credible leads. I like to think of Kristen and I as teeing the case up for field investigators to knock it out of the park.”
Lauth Investigations International collaborates with investigators throughout the country. One of Lauth’s Investigators, known as CJ, brings a unique set of qualifications and methods to the table when it comes to developing solutions in any investigation. CJ’s combined ten years of experience in both law enforcement and private investigations has allowed her to build an impressive investigator’s tool chest, focusing on criminal investigations, fraud, and reported deception. Proficiency in investigative procedures has allowed CJ to navigate the course of any investigation efficiently and thoroughly. CJ has been decorated throughout their career with awards, medals, and commendations for the resolution of difficult situations, including Meritorious Service in 2014. CJ has collaborated in operations with United States Marshals and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, as well as local and state level tactical teams. But CJ says being a quality field investigator is more than just knowledge of procedure and decorated experience, “I believe the empathy I exhibit toward people makes me a great investigator. Often times it’s important to not show your emotions, but I have found that having and showing empathy for others is essential to be an overall good person. It makes you relatable and people see and appreciate that you recognize that we are all flawed in some way. People tend to open up to me and share intimate details of their lives.”
Whatever crises you have in your corporate or personal life, hiring a qualified and seasoned independent private investigator is the key to finding solutions for a better life. Whether it’s child custody, corporate fraud, or a missing persons case, Lauth Investigations International is here to help you, with a crack team of investigators, research support, and operation experts. Call us today for a free consultation to learn how we can help you.
Jayme Closs’s harrowing story of survival has captured the attention of the entire nation. The 13-year-old Wisconsin teen went missing almost three months ago on October 15,2018, after a cryptic phone call to 911 triggered a call from police to the Closs home where officers made a grisly discovery. Jayme’s parents, James and Denise Closs, were found shot dead and their 13-year-old daughter was nowhere to be found.
The slaying of her parents and evidence of a home invasion qualified the missing teenager for an Amber Alert by authorities, and search efforts immediately began for Jayme as investigators began to piece together what had happened in those fateful moments. 87 days passed as Jayme’s anxious family and concerned friends waited for updates in her case. Then on January 10, 2019, Jayme showed up on the street in the remote neighborhood of Gordon approximately 70 miles away, asking a passing dog walker for help. The woman grabbed Jayme and took her to a neighbor’s door, where she told the neighbor, “This is Jayme Closs, call 911!” Not too long after her reappearance, police were able to apprehend Jayme’s captor, 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson, who was found wandering the nearby neighborhood—likely searching for Jayme.
Investigators say Jayme’s escape was one of the luckiest breaks they’ve ever seen in a missing person case. Jayme’s case is already being analyzed as atypical, due to the surfacing information that has investigators completely floored. When Jayme reappeared last week and told law enforcement about the details of her abduction and escape, many officials were surprised. Investigators told NBC 26, “Most abductions are committed by perpetrators who live within a couple miles of the victim.” Despite the distance from the Closs home, Barron County Sheriff Christopher Fitzgerald said he does not believe her kidnapper took her across state lines. With over 88 days’ worth of evidence to comb through, investigators will be attempting to track their movements since Jayme’s disappearance.
When asked about this gigantic body of evidence, Fitzgerald told CNN, “…we’re looking for receipts, where the suspect may have been over the last 88 days. Did he take things with her? Did she go with him to the store? Did he buy clothes for her? Did he buy food?” Investigators also told NBC only about 1% of abductions are committed by someone who is not a member of the victim’s family, nor geographically located near the victim. Much of the most pertinent information in any missing persons case is collected within the first 48 hours of the investigation. Captain David Poteat of the Brown County Sheriff’s Department said when it comes to the abduction of children, the window of time is even smaller. Because of the atypicality of her case, investigators are already proffering Jayme’s case will be studied by current and future members of law enforcement for “years to come.”
As they continue to sort through evidence, Fitzgerald said Patterson likely hid her from friends and visitors, offering no further explanation. “All I know is that she was able to get out of that house and get help and the people recognized her as Jayme Closs right away.” What Jayme eventually described to investigators was a crudely constructed makeshift cell. When Patterson was expecting friends or relatives, he forced Jayme to hide under his twin-sized bed in his room. He would stack laundry baskets and plastic totes around the bed with barbells sitting against them so Jayme could not get out. He also left music blaring in his room so Jayme could not hear what was going on throughout the house. One of the people who made a number of visits while Jayme was being held captive in the Gordon cabin where Jayme was held was Patterson’s father, Patrick Patterson. He told Jean Casarez of CNN, “All I care about right now is Jayme’s family. I want to get them a note.”
Investigators have also stated when it comes to questioning Jayme about her traumatic experience, they are taking it one day at a time, “When she wants information, we’ll give it to her; and when she wants to tell us things, we’ll take it from her.”
There were many theories about the circumstances behind Jayme’s disappearance in the weeks right after she went missing. Law enforcement and citizens alike proffered it might have been a home invasion gone terribly wrong, but as of this week, Fitzgerald has stated Jayme was the only target in this crime. Once questioned by police following his arrest, it became clear Patterson had been watching Jayme for a number of weeks before he took her, but was scared off on both prior occasions. Patterson targeted Jayme and took great pains to ensure he would not be found out. He shaved his head to avoid leaving his DNA at the crime scene. Once he abducted Jayme, he took her clothes and destroyed the evidence. The criminal complaint filed by the Barron County District Attorney said Patterson first saw Jayme getting on the bus to school when he was passing by on his way to work. Sections of the complaint are enough to make one’s arm hair stand at attention, “The defendant states when he saw (Jayme) he knew that was the girl he was going to take.” Jayme also told investigators after Patterson placed her in the trunk of his car, she heard police sirens close by not long after Patterson began driving. After Jayme was found alive, the responding officers noted on their way to the Closs home on October 15th, they passed only one vehicle.
The bottom line for investigators is this: If Jayme had not possessed the courage and fortitude to escape her captor, they would never have found her. On January 10th, she managed to push aside the totes and squeeze out of her makeshift cage. Jeanne Nutter was the dog walker she approached on the street, wearing no coat in the cold weather. Nutter took her to the door of her neighbors, Peter and Kristin Kasinskas. Law enforcement now has to decide what happens to the combined reward amount of $50,000—$25K from the FBI, and another $25K from the Jennie-O Turkey Store, where Jayme’s parents worked. Nutter helped Jayme to safety, and the Kasinskas called 911 to get her help, but they are saying they don’t want the reward. Peter Kasinskas was quoted in an interview by the Associated Press earlier this week saying the reward money should go to Jayme, “She got herself out.”
How easy would it be to kidnap a child in a crowded place? Maybe the park, walking home from school or even sleeping in their own bedroom. Over again, we see parents of missing children making pleas for the safe return of their children on the news. We see the Amber Alerts and Facebook posts and immediately picture our own children’s faces, thinking “What if it happened to me?” A common reaction to something so traumatic. This is the reaction child predators elicit from their victims families every day.
A young child becoming the victim of a predator is every parent’s worst nightmare, but the fact is, it is happening every day to parents throughout the country and our own fears do not wane just because our children are getting older.
I am a parent of four grown children and a mother who has worked in the field of missing persons for over 25 years. Every day I interacted with parents who were desperately searching for their missing child. Their pain unimaginable. Very quickly I realized the crime of abduction does not discriminate based upon a child’s age.
Commonly, we think of small children when we hear the word kidnapping and we think as our children age, they are safer, but the fact is, they can become even more vulnerable as they approach adulthood. The fact is that chlid predators can predate at any age.
While teenagers are venturing out, without the protective eye of a parent, there is even more chance they can cross paths with a potential kidnapper. It is our responsibility as parents to guide our children throughout their lives and hopefully provide them with some tools that will keep them safe.
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), approximately 800,000 children are reported missing each year in the United States. That number accounts for nearly 2,000 per day.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates a relatively small number, approximately 115 of those missing children are abducted by strangers and listed as an “involuntary” abduction in the national database of missing children. However, this number does not account for children (to include teens), who are listed in the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC) in various categories such as “Endangered Missing,” “Runaways” or “Other.” Many of these disappearances are considered “long-term” with more than a year having passed with no resolution or explanation as to how or why the child disappeared. The fact is, we just don’t know, therefor accurate statistics impossible.
One thing we all can do as parents is prepare our children. Much of the following information and tools have proven to save lives.
Communicate with your children
Predators do not look like the “Boogieman.” Strangers look like everyone else. Children need to understand that everyone is a stranger, even women and seniors. It is not about being unsociable, explaining this is about being cautious.
Agree to a code word
Strangers have no business asking a child for directions or a lost pet. Many times, a predator will try to coerce a child into coming with them voluntarily without causing a scene by telling them they were sent by their parents to pick the child up. Agree to a simple “code word” like “Giraffe” or “Cheetos” that your child can remember and tell them to only trust an adult who knows the code word.
Children should be taught to trust their instincts and walk away if a stranger approaches them. Though not all people are dangerous, it is always more important to be safe than being polite.
Don’t put your child’s name on personal items
Children will tend to trust others who know their name. Never put your child’s name on personal items such as clothing or backpacks.
If approached, children should be taught to scream and run. This will scare away child predators. Reassure your child the likelihood of being approached by a stranger is minimal but should it happen, to scream “This is not my dad” or “Fire” while running away.
The stakes are high when a child becomes the target of a predator. It really is a matter of life or death. According to the FBI, statistically when a child is abducted by a stranger, the likelihood of recovering them alive diminishes with each hour that passes.
When a predator has targeted its prey, survival depends upon fighting back. For example, if approached with a knife or gun and told to get in a car, statistically the child or teen have more of a chance surviving if they fight back at the initial crime scene. Survival rates drop when a child is transported to a second crime scene.
As children get older and spend more time away from parents, it is important to communicate openly with them. They need to know the dangers and reality of abduction without feeling fear which can be paralyzing.
Children should never answer the door when home alone or answer the phone and tell the caller their parent is not home.
Use the “Buddy System” and teens should always inform their parents where they are going and with who. No compromises.
Children should avoid shortcuts through empty parks, fields, and alleys. It is better to always remain in a well populated area to be safe.
Use a GPS on their phone. There are free Apps such as Life 360. The App can be loaded on both the child’s phone and the parent’s phone and track location. Personally, my children are all grown with their own families now but my daughter and I both use Life 360 to keep tabs on each other. Though teens may demand their space, their safety trumps the right to privacy.
Remember, promote a home atmosphere that is open so kids can let you know what is going on in their lives. Child predators have been known to use distrust between parents and children in order to manipulate them. It is important to help them to have an understanding and confidence you want the best for them. Thomas Lauth has been in the private investigation industry for over 30 years, and in the cases of missing children, he stresses the importance of communication between parent and child, “We often get calls for missing children and teens. Once located and reunited with their families, we often educate parents or caregivers on tenets that would prevent this from occurring again. Regardless of circumstances, the most important thing is communication. Not only open and honest communication between parent and child, but communication safety concerning things like social media. In a world where young people are glued to their devices, it’s paramount that they remember to have awareness of their surroundings. Communicate, Educate, Communicate.”
Teaching children techniques to avoid an abduction and child predators
The window of opportunity to save oneself from danger might be seconds and children need to feel confident enough to make a split-second decision. Child predators are depending on a child’s fear to overpower and subdue them. In addition to coercion, abductors use intimidation. There are some techniques you can practice at home to build their self-confidence should they ever be face to face with a kidnapper.
Practice yelling “Stop, Stranger” or “Fire” to draw attention and yell as loud as they can.
Practice the Windmill technique which means rotating arms in a big circle so a potential attacker can’t get a good grip.
Practice the Velcro technique by having your child grab and hold onto something, not letting go. They should also learn to scream while doing this.
If a child is abducted and somehow placed in a vehicle, they should know they need to take any opportunity they can to escape while trying to keep a cool head. Child predators depend on hysteria to allow them to escape.
Children should be taught not to be passive but proactive.
Try to open the passenger side door quickly or jump in the back seat and try to escape through the rear doors.
If placed in a trunk, they should be taught not to panic but to look for the “release” that opens the trunk upon pulling on it. Tear all the wires to the tail lights and brakes if possible.
I know this is a very serious and scary topic and just the thought of having to explain to an innocent child that some people are out to hurt them is incredibly uncomfortable, but when teaching others about fire safety, Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It applies throughout life.
Kym Pasqualini is the founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization and the National Center for Missing Adults and worked with law enforcement and families of missing persons for over 25 years. Kym continues to work with media nationwide to raise awareness of missing children and adults.
Missing and mentally ill persons are some of the most vulnerable in our society. When a loved one goes missing, those closest to them become law enforcement’s greatest asset. One of the tenets of any quality investigation is research and close examination of the subject’s habits. Clues to a person’s whereabouts or fate can often be found in their regular daily routine. However, when the missing person suffers from mental health issues, families and law enforcement are often without recourse.
A person vanishing without a trace or without warning is terrifying enough; one day they’re there, walking, talking, laughing, doing the things they love. Then one day, they’re not. The void left by that person creates shock waves in a community. Their families are rocked by their disappearance, sick with worry. Their friends do whatever they can to help with the search efforts—handing out fliers, talking to locals, giving law enforcement any relevant information. When the missing person has a mental illness, all of that anxiety is exacerbated to the nth degree. Erratic behavior and lack of routine can leave law enforcement without a place to start. And of course, the families still wring their hands while they wait for answers.
Because mental illness can often be a Rubix cube of complexity, there is a great need of resources for the families and communities of missing mentally ill. While it’s not uncommon for mentally ill persons to go missing, there is a disproportionate number of resources available for families and communities affected by the absence of a missing mentally ill person. Families need roadmaps with special focus on their loved one’s mental illness; checklists of crucial steps to take once it’s apparent they’ve vanished. One of the largest champions of mental health awareness is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. Their online resources offer detailed but straightforward instructions for the caregivers of the mentally ill after they go missing. Steps like contacting law enforcement immediately, reaching out to the missing person’s friends, registering them with the National and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS).
Once their loved ones are registered, NAMI educates their users on how they can do their part in assisting in the investigation. They educate families on how to make a flyer—what information, what sort of picture, how to get it noticed on the street. There’s also a detailed guide on creating a social media page or website so families can work towards getting your loved one’s face to go viral.
While media coverage of the disappearance is ideal, organizations like NAMI place a heavy emphasis on the use of social media as a tool. It is the world-wide web, after all. Constant sharing and re-sharing of the missing person’s poster online can drive a loved one’s name and face to trending status. In our social media-saturated culture, that kind of visibility is priceless. As long as sharing remains steady, someone will eventually recognize the missing person. People like Christopher Moreland, who walked away from their familiar environments while experiencing mental health symptoms, were eventually located due to the diligent use of social media. Constantly sharing Chris’s story on various social media platforms, his mother, Elise Cash reiterated again and again, “All it takes is ONE person to recognize Chris.” Her words proved true when she was contacted by a woman who lived 240 miles away, claiming she’d seen Chris in her town, living on the street.
A majority of missing persons with mental illness who disappear are older teens and young adults. As a result, there is no guarantee locating the missing person will end in a happy reunion. When Elise Cash saw her son again after all those years searching for him, he did not recognize her, and refused to return home with her. No authority in the land could compel him to return. Once law enforcement has located a missing mentally ill person, they cannot detain them for any reason unless they have broken the law, or are a danger to themselves or others. When loved ones choose not to come home—whether in their right mind or not—it can be very emotional for their friends and family. These affected parties should seek out their local NAMI branch by going online where they can find a wealth of resources and support groups for those with no other recourse. Caring for a person with mental illness is one of the most difficult things a person can do—even more difficult when you can’t care for them—so finding a well of support is paramount.
Ultimately, the internet is one of our greatest tools. Not only can its potential for being an information superhighway be utilized to spread a missing mentally ill person’s story, but it can also connect you to some of the best resources in North America. The most important thing, however, is communicating with one another—educating our communities on mental illness so they will be better equipped to assist in search efforts for mentally ill persons. Families of missing persons need stacked support from the circles around them while they search, and the internet helps connect those people together through Facebook groups, message boards, and instant messaging. A bonding agent for fragmented families to share their experiences and remind one another there is a vast network of people who can relate to what they’re going through.