Three Stories of Mysterious Indiana Missing Persons Cases

Three Stories of Mysterious Indiana Missing Persons Cases

Commonly called America’s Corn Belt, southern Indiana is a fertile state where you can find hilly farmland that stretches into the states of Illinois and Iowa on up to the higher hills and majestic glacial kettle lakes. A place where families gather for holidays and traditional family values are still alive and well.

But Indiana also has a dark side where the light has been overshadowed by fear. A place where those who have vanished have left no trace. 

Denise Pflum

Missing women in Indiana
(Denise Pflum, 18, was last seen leaving her home March 28, 1986 from Connersville, Indiana.)   

The Disappearance 

Denise Pflum, 18, was last seen leaving her house on March 28, 1986, in Connersville, Indiana. An honors student, a brilliant artist, and a promising scientist, Denise was the apple of her father’s eye. 

“It was Good Friday. A beautiful Good Friday weather-wise,” said her father David Pflum. Now, 33 years later, she remains missing and still no answers as to what transpired that day.

It started with a house party she went to the night before her disappearance. Denise forgot her purse so the following day she told her family that she had plans to go search for it. It would be the last time anyone would ever see Denise again.

“We do not believe that she ever went back to that area—something or some person interrupted that opportunity to do that,” said David. “We knew right away that something was wrong because she had never been out without our knowledge about where she was going to be. When time unfolded into the next day and the subsequent next days then we knew we really had a problem and the problem has continued on now for 32 years,” David told WTHR 13 in 2018. 

The neverending nightmare continues for the Pflum family. 

A person posing for the camera

Description automatically generated
(An honor roll student and high achiever, Denise Pflum vanished one month before her highschool prom in 1986.)

A Rising Star

Active in track, volleyball, softball, and basketball, her activities included 4-H. She was also the top of her class at Connersville High School. She planned to go to Miami University in Ohio to major in microbiology, but the bright light of her future was suddenly snuffed out. 

With her prom dress already picked out, a month before her prom the highschool senior would vanish in broad daylight. 

A family left tormented. “There are days that go by and it is almost like you are floating because you are so consumed by the thought and the various thoughts about what has happened to your daughter, who is responsible, what kind of action took place,” said David.

Advancing Technology

The day after Denise’s disappearance her Buick Regal was found in a rural farm in the neighboring town of Greenwood. In 1986, the car was processed by police for fingerprints and other evidence but none was found. 

In recent years, with advancing technology, police collected DNA samples from the family, along with a DNA sample from Denise they were able to obtain through evidence. Those DNA samples were uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national database at the FBI. 

With the advancement in technology, evidence was resubmitted to the Indiana State Police lab to check for any new results but those tests produced no new results. 

A group of people posing for a photo

Description automatically generated
(David and Judy Pflum with family and law enforcement distributing fliers on what would have been Denise’s 51st birthday on January 14,2018.)

Now in their 70s, David and Judy Pflum fear they will pass without knowing what happened to their daughter.

“We feel compelled to keep looking. You don’t give up, you spend your life looking,” Judy said. 

Karena McClerkin

A person posing for the camera

Description automatically generated
(Karena McClerkin was last seen October 11, 2016, near her home in Kokomo, Indiana.)

Kokomo is a small city with a population of only 40,000. During 2017, there were only 6 reported homicides, that were all solved. A safe town where abductions of young girls just don’t happen. In fact, there are only three unsolved disappearances in Kokomo history.

On October 11, 2016, Karena McClerkin, 18, was last seen walking in the 1000 block of South Washington Street in Kokomo, Indiana. She left her wallet and identification behind and has never been seen or heard from again.

Police have executed search warrants and pursued several leads over the past three years but none have led them any closer to finding her.

The McClerkin family has hired four private investigators over the years to help follow up on leads, including a tip from an inmate who claimed to know where Karena was buried. However, that tip and so many others have gone nowhere. 

A person wearing glasses and smiling at the camera

Description automatically generated
(Karena McClerkin’s father, James McClerkin has been tirelessly searching for his daughter since the day she disappeared in October 2016. Photo courtesy of RTV6.) 

A Father’s Promise

Karena’s father, James McClerkin has been tirelessly searching for his daughter since her disappearance. James has handed out hundreds of fliers while canvassing the neighborhoods where his daughter went missing. 

 “I just need answers,” James said. “I just need people to talk. It’s not snitching — trying to help find a kid.” 

For James time has been the enemy. 

Kokomo Police Department has continued to investigate the case, even bringing in cadaver dogs to search portions of Howard County. They also offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to Karena’s whereabouts and arrest of the individual responsible for her disappearance,  all to no avail.

However, James didn’t want to stop there. The previous reward would have only been awarded if there was an arrest . . . now James just wants answers. James is now preparing to withdraw his 401k and use the $75,000 to create a reward that simply leads to her whereabouts. 

“It’s just to keep her alive, keep it going, and keep the information out there,” said James. “I’m just trying to get new details back in. Right now we don’t have anything . . . All it has to do is lead to my daughter. It doesn’t have to lead to an arrest or anything, just my daughter, her body, or herself. They can have the cash.” 

A person sitting in a garden

Description automatically generated
(Karena’s grandmother Gerry McClerkin holding her picture on the front stoop of her home.)

Grandmother’s Heart is Broken

Gerry McClerkin is Karena’s grandmother and when the two spent time together they would always hold hands. 

“I didn’t get to see her all the time, but when I did and we said goodbye, we’d both cry almost every time,” Gerry told Dateline.” When I think about the last time I said goodbye to her, it’s even more heartbreaking now.”

Things were rough for Karena prior to her disappearance.  Karena had been dealing with a number of substance abuse issues. Her grandmother recalls seeing her hanging out with an older crowd, and very concerned about her granddaughter’s future. 

“I told her not to go down that path. That there were other, bigger things she could do with her life,” Gerry said. “She had her whole life in front of her.”

Prior to the disappearance, Karena seemed to be listening, as she had talked about going into a rehabilitation facility in Florida. She began to fill out the paperwork.

Then she vanished.

Rumors began swirling around town right away and some of the stories continue to haunt Gerry. She heard Karena’s body had been thrown into a waterway to conceal the crime, and that her granddaughter had been killed and buried in a tarp in a wooded area. Those are not the worst Gerry has heard.

“It’s just a horrible mess, and the things you hear just make you sick,” said Gerry. “I didn’t want to believe she is dead. It took me a while to accept that idea.”

A sign on a pole

Description automatically generated
(Gerry McClerkin, Karena’s grandmother believes there should be more media interest in her daughter’s case.)

Lack of Media Interest

Another thing that bothers the McClerkin family is the lack of interest on behalf of the media and the authorities.

Gerry doesn’t believe Kokomo police have taken the disappearance seriously and failed to follow up on leads reported to them.

“Every and all leads are being investigated,” Captain Cockrell told Dateline. “The family has been updated on all searches. It’s not just leads we are following up on, it’s any and all avenues in relation to this case.” 

Gerry wishes her granddaughter’s case was all over the news like other cases in the state. “Because of her race and age and the situation, no one seems to care,” Gerry told Dateline. “None of it means she isn’t important. Every person is important and that includes my granddaughter.” 

“She may have been out there since October. All alone. But where?” said Gerry. We aren’t going to give up until we find her.” 

Lauren Spierer

A person smiling for the camera

Description automatically generated
(Lauren Spierer, 20, vanished from downtown Bloomington, Indiana on June 3, 2011).

Lauren Spierer, 20, a sophomore from New York was attending Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. On June 3, 2011, she went out on the town with friends and vanished from downtown Bloomington as she was walking home to her Smallwood Plaza apartment at approximately 4:30 a.m., in the vicinity of 11th Street and College Avenue. 

Lauren had left the bar without her shoes or cell phone and later seen on surveillance stumbling out of an elevator at her apartment. 

A person holding a sign

Description automatically generated
(Captain Joe Qualters of the Bloomington Police Department displays video surveillance photograph  of a vehicle seen in the area on the night Lauren Spierer vanished.)

Lauren’s case has received national attention and the Bloomington Police Department says the case is still a top priority.

As of May 24, 2013, investigators have received 3,060 tips on Lauren’s disappearance, 100 of them being received during the first half of 2013. 

On January  28, 2016, the FBI conducted a raid of a home in Martinsville, Indiana, approximately 20 miles north of Bloomington. Police said the raid was connected to a man suspected of exposing himself to women. 

Thousands of other leads have been followed throughout the years but none have led police any closer to deliver answers to the Spierers. 

A person standing next to a building

Description automatically generated
(Rob and Charlene Spierer commemorate the date of Lauren’s disappearance with a letter to her abductor.)

A Mother’s Letter

It has been eight years of not knowing for Lauren’s family, but they say they still hope someone will eventually reveal the “brutal truth.”

This year, on the eighth anniversary of Lauren’s disappearance, Lauren’s mother Charlene wrote a Facebook post to Lauren’s abductor just like she has done in the past. Her letters give a glimpse into the ambiguity and loss the parents of missing children experience and the never-ending roller coaster they ride. 

“Eight years after Lauren’s disappearance and we are no closer to finding her or getting answers. The expression, “the more things change the more they stay the same” seems apropos. We continue living in the past and in the present.

No one escapes this life unscathed. Everyone has struggles and somehow, we all survive but it is not without costs.

As every June 3rd approaches, I am faced with the dread of reliving all the horrific minutes of that day and the days which followed. I now know of course, despite how desperately I wanted to believe the words “we will find her, it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Our timeline has no end. It begins with a phone call from my husband who heard the news that Lauren was missing from our older daughter, Rebecca. In an instant, our family was irrevocably changed. The not knowing is almost unbearable. 

Over the course of these last 8 years we have tried our hardest to get answers but the brutal truth, the only truth, is that any resolution depends on someone willing to come forward with information.

Despite everything, something propels us forward. Of course, it is hope. Hope that today someone will have the courage, to tell the truth, or send an email or make a call or post a lead on social media.

We still have a PO box in Bloomington, just waiting to receive a letter with words that will lead us to the truth. It remains unfilled. Another dead end. No tips or leads have ever been sent which took us one step closer.

Logically you think…it’s anonymous…what you don’t realize is that the monster responsible for Lauren’s disappearance simply does not care.

Hope is a strange bedfellow. Some days you want to abandon all hope but our desire to bring Lauren home whether literally or figuratively is a strong motivator.

To those responsible, you’ve moved on, but we have not. We will never give up. There is always someone actively working to find you. SOMEONE IS ALWAYS LOOKING FOR YOU. 

How ironic, just as we are looking for Lauren, we are just as diligently looking for you. I have to believe that someday you will let your guard down. You will need to share your truth and it will just be too big for the person you’ve told to keep it to themselves. That is what we hope for.

Missing you Lauren. Loving you with all our hearts.

Eight years later…. Just as determined as day one.
Hoping today is the day.”
Charlene Spierer

Charlene works tirelessly to find her daughter and runs a website and the Official Lauren Spierer Updates from Her Family Facebook page. In the midst of the ambiguity, she is somehow able to function to help continue to raise awareness of her daughter’s disappearance.

The Spierer’s don’t believe their daughter is alive. It’s a potential reality that many parents can never bring themselves to. 

Robert Spierer told the Journal News that both parents are trying to be realistic. 

“We know that is she had the chance to reach out to us, she would have done it,” he said.

While parents of missing children await answers, as days and years drag on, one thing remains very clear. The light of their children’s hearts will forever shine bright in theirs. 

Top 10 Mysterious Missing Person Cases

Top 10 Mysterious Missing Person Cases

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.

karlie guse

10: Karlie Gusé

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

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.

cynthia anderson

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.

maura murray

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.

annette sagers

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 unsolved.

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.  

The Media and Missing White Woman Syndrome

The Media and Missing White Woman Syndrome

If you are a missing person, it helps to be white

(Jasmine Moody vanished in Detroit, Michigan on December 4, 2014.)

Jasmine Moody, a 22-year old Texas Women’s University student mysteriously vanished on December 4, 2014, while visiting a friend in Detroit, Michigan. Nearly four years later, police are no closer to figuring out what happened to her. News coverage of her disappearance has long since vanished from the scene too, folding into the phenomenon of what is known as Missing White Woman Syndrome.

Approximately 7:30 p.m., the evening of December 4th, Jasmine was last seen leaving her friend’s home in the vicinity of the 3700 block of Baldwin, in the Van Dyke and Mack area of Detroit. Her family, who lives in Texas, is convinced foul play is involved in Jasmine’s disappearance and disappointed in the police department’s response and ensuing investigation.

“My daughter was real popular. She had a lot of friends. She was very social and energetic,” Jasmine’s mother Lisa Kidd told Dateline. “She always had a smile on her face. Always, always.”

Jasmine had known she wanted to be a nurse since she was 16 and described as a well-rounded student at Texas Woman’s University. According to her stepfather Patrick Kidd, Jasmine was a straight-A student, danced, and was training to be part of the U.S. Armed Forces through her school’s ROTC program.

According to police, Jasmine had developed an online relationship with Brittany Gurley, a woman who lived in Detroit. Just a few months after meeting online, Jasmine and Brittany had developed a strong friendship and Jasmine flew to visit Brittany and her family for Thanksgiving.

On the evening of December 4th, the two women allegedly got into an argument about Jasmine’s social media posts. Brittany and her family would later tell police that Jasmine put on a hoodie and walked out of the house.

Little else is known about her disappearance. No major ground search was conducted, and ongoing media exposure on a national level has been minimal.

In contrast to Jasmine Moody’s case, Lauren Spierer, a 20-year old student at Indiana University, vanished June 3, 2011, after an evening out with friends in Bloomington, Indiana. Lauren, who grew up in Scarsdale, an affluent town in Westchester, New York. Her disappearance quickly garnered national press attention but remains unsolved.

“Lauren’s disappearance has been and continues to be the most heart-wrenching experience of our lives,” Lauren’s family posted on Facebook on June 4, 2018, seven years after her disappearance. “I remember writing a few short months after Lauren’s disappearance that I never thought I would see an October without answers. I could never have imagined we would still be searching for Lauren seven years later. I end this now as I start each morning, hoping today will be the day.”

After an evening out at Kilroy’s Sports Bar with friends, Lauren was last seen on 11th Street and College Avenue in Bloomington at approximately 4:15 a.m. She had left her cell phone and shoes at the bar, presumedly taking her shoes off in the beach-themed bar’s sand-filled courtyard.

National news quickly began covering Lauren’s disappearance while hundreds of volunteers assembled to distribute thousands of fliers and help conduct ground searches of the area. A billboard overlooking the Indiana State Fairgrounds, along Fall Creek Parkway, asks the public for any information that would lead to the whereabouts of Lauren.

 

 

(Thousands of flyers of missing person Lauren Spierer have been distributed throughout the country.)

Hundreds of volunteers continued to turn out daily to help the family in their search.

Lauren’s case was profiled on popular America’s Most Wanted in 2011, leading to dozens of leads but not that one the family needed. Over the years, dozens of news media outlets have covered Lauren’s story.

Early on, Lauren’s parents hired private investigators and today, maintain an active Facebook group.

In one very revealing and heartfelt post, Lauren’s mother writes, “I could not have imagined on June 3, 2011, that my life would ever have any semblance of normalcy. Unfortunately, that word will never be applied to our lives. You learn to live with routines which get you through your days, weeks, months, and years. We will never know normal. Some of the things taken for granted in ordinary families are so far removed from ours it’s difficult to fathom. They range from everyday life events, a wedding, a birth and yes sadly death. What I wouldn’t do to hear Lauren’s voice or even just to notice a text on my phone. Something so simple as a text. My heart breaks at the thought of it. Well, those responsible will never be able to imagine. I have said it before and I know it’s redundant but what could have been an accident in a few short hours became a crime. The worst nightmare any parent or sister could imagine.”

Every day Lauren’s family simply hopes for answers. That’s all any family of a missing person could ask for.

Two young women, one black, one white, both ambitious students couldn’t be treated more differently by the media. One becomes nearly a household name, the other nearly forgotten. With absolute certainty, no one can say exactly why.

 

What are the numbers?

As of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of the active missing person cases listed in NCIC, 40,108 cases are of missing women and 26,842 are black.

(National Crime Information Center Report)

Names like Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, Polly Klaas, Natalie Holloway and Lauren Spierer have become familiar household names. Their missing person cases have dominated the headlines over the years. Cases like Jasmine Moody’s are not rare and unfortunately rarely make the local news.

Historically, whenever a female missing person becomes a national headline, she is almost certain to be a pretty, young white woman.

When was the last time you heard of a missing black female on CNN or other national news outlets?

In an NBC news story “Damsels in Distress” Roy Peter Clark, head of Poynter Institute for Media Studies is quoted, “It’s all about sex,” said Clark. “Young white women give editors and television producers what they want.”

“There are several common threads,” said Clark. “The victims that get the most coverage are female rather than male. They are white, in general, rather than young people of color. They are at least middle class, if not upper middle class.”

Some say the cases fit a narrative pattern that storytellers have used for more than a century, a pattern who design still incorporates remnants of an outmoded view of women and black people and their roles in society.

When it comes to popular stories, Clark said, “there is this perverted, racist view of the world. White is good; black is bad. Blonde is good; dark is bad. Young is good; old is bad. And I think we can find versions of this story going back to the tabloid wars of more than a hundred years ago.”

Regardless of class, color or age, it is clear that there is disproportionate coverage of black missing person cases. Referred to as “Missing White Woman Syndrome” and has led to a number of tough on crime measures named after white women who disappeared such as Suzanne’s Law, Kristen’s Law, Jennifer’s Law, Amber Alert and others.

In a study conducted by Baylor University, “The Invisible Damsel: Differences in How National Media Outlets Framed the Coverage of Missing Black and White Women in the Mid-2000s,” Professors Moody, Dorris and Blackwell concluded that in addition to race and class, factors such as supposed attractiveness, body size, and youthfulness function as unfair criteria in determining newsworthiness in the national news coverage of missing women. In addition, news coverage of missing black women was more likely to focus on the victim’s problems, such as abusive relationships, a troubled past, while coverage of white women tends to focus on roles as mothers or daughters.

Zach Somers, a sociologist at Northwestern University, noted that while there has been extensive research that shows that white people are more likely than people of color to appear in news coverage as victims of violent crime, there is relatively none when it comes to missing person cases.

Victim blaming appears to be compounding the unequal coverage and reinforces the view that black female victims are not only less innocent, but less worthy of rescue relative to white women. Thus, the term “Damsels in Distress.”

Others have blamed “police brutality” for the lack of publicity given to black female missing persons, attributing the silence to a habit of “sexism and patriarchy” in American society.

One group is fighting the imbalance of national media exposure that exists. The Black and Missing Foundation’s mission is to draw more attention to missing African Americans by providing an outlet for spreading the word through technology and print – and their work is making a difference.

By creating relationships with the media, government agencies, and the public, they are increasing the chances of missing black women being covered in the news and ultimately, to bring them home.

Derica and Natalie Wilson, two sisters-in-law, and founders of the Black and Missing Foundation have been profiled in People Magazine, Essence, Ebony, Huffington Post, Washington Post and developed a partnership with TV One. This year they celebrate ten years, helping thousands of families of missing persons and finding nearly 300 people.

“Many times, we are a family’s last resort – their last hope., says co-founder Natalie Wilson. This platform allows us to open our doors for families searching for their missing loved ones and not restrict access to help.”

Black and Missing Foundation have set the example for other groups to follow, especially the media.

Thomas Lauth of Lauth Missing Persons: an Expert in Missing Children and Adults noted, “In the 17 years of conducting missing persons cases for families and non-profit organizations, there is certainly a media and public bias against a missing person of color. When the general public and the media see a blonde 18 year-old on CNN that is missing–as opposed to an African American female on CNN–there is immediate attention to the blonde. Luckily there are non profit organizations such as Black and Missing to help bring more exposure to advocacy to the families for persons of color.”

Finding missing persons is a cooperative effort between the police, media, social service agencies and especially the public. With every news story, the coverage generates leads and increases the chance of that one lead being reported that will assist law enforcement in the investigation, and even close a case.

When it comes to missing persons there is no black and white, there are only families who are missing their daughters, siblings missing their sisters, children who are missing their mothers. There is no rich or poor, only families, human beings experiencing the most traumatic experience of their lifetimes.

People . . . who need our help.

For more of Kym Pasqualini’s work in missing persons, please visit her website, Missing Leads , or log on to Facebook and join the conversation on the Missing Leads Discusssion page!