1. Approximately 2,300 children are reported missing each day in the United States, that one child
every 40 seconds.
2. Nearly 800,000 people are reported missing every year in the United States.
3. May 25 th is National Missing Children’s Day.
4. In 1983 National Missing Children’s Day was proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan and
commemorates the disappearance of Etan Patz who vanished in 1979.
5. After the abduction and murder of their son Adam, John and Reve’ Walsh helped create the
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 1984.
6. NCMEC’s Cyber Tipline began receiving reports in 1998.
7. The NCMEC Cyber Tipline has received 41 million reports since its inception.
8. Unfortunately, many children and adults are never reported missing making no reliable way to
determine the true number of missing persons in the country.
9. There is no federal mandate that requires law enforcement to wait 24 hours before accepting a
report of a missing person.
10. Missing Children Act of 1982 authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to enter and
maintain relevant information about missing children in the National Crime Information Center
11. In May of 2018, there were over 89,000 active missing person cases in the National Crime
Information Center at the FBI.
12. When a child is reported missing federal law requires law enforcement authorities to
immediately take a report and enter the missing child’s information into NCIC.
13. On Christmas Eve 1945, the Sodder family home was engulfed in flames. George Sodder, his wife
Jennie and four of the nine Sodder children escaped. The bodies of the other four children have
never been found.
14. Since 1984, the NCMEC’s National Hotline has received more than 4.8 million calls.
15. According to the FBI in 2017, there were 464,324 NCIC entries for missing children.
16. NCMEC has facilitated the training of more than 356,000 law enforcement, criminal justice,
juvenile justice, and healthcare professionals.
17. Of nearly 25,000 runaways reported to NCMEC in 2017, one in seven are victims of sex
18. In 2000, President William Clinton signed Kristen’s Law creating the first national clearinghouse
for missing adults; the National Center for Missing Adults (NCMA) was founded by Kym L.
19. Kristen’s Law, signed in 2000 by President William Clinton was named after North Carolina
resident Kristen Modafferi who vanished in 1997 while in San Francisco in a summer college
20. The AMBER Alert was created 1996 after the disappearance and murder of 9-year old Amber
Hagerman from Arlington, Texas.
21. The Silver Alert is a public notification system to broadcast information about individuals with
Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other mental disabilities.
22. There are 17,985 police agencies in the United States.
23. On average, over 83,000 people are missing at any given time to include approximately 50,000
missing adults and 30,000 missing children.
24. The first 12-24 hour the most critical in a missing person investigation.
25. For missing children the first 3 hour are especially critical as 76% of children abducted by strangers are
killed within that time-frame.
26. Most missing children are abducted by family members which does not ensure their safety.
27. As of May 31, 2018, there were 8,709 unidentified persons in the NCIC system.
28. The AMBER Alert is credited with safely recovering 868 missing children between 1997 and 2017.
29. The most famous missing child case is the 1932 kidnapping of 20-month old Charles Lindbergh Jr.,
abducted from his second-story nursery in Hopewell, New Jersey.
30. Charles Lindbergh’s mother released a statement detailing her son’s daily diet to newspapers in
hope the kidnappers would feed him properly.
31. From his prison cell, Al Capone offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture
of the kidnapper of Charles Lindbergh.
32. Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant with her first child when she was reported missing by
her husband Scott Peterson on December 24, 2002. In a highly publicized case, Scott Peterson
was convicted of first-degree murder of Laci and their unborn baby.
33. The FBI Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) was authorized in 1994 and cross-references
missing person DNA, familial missing person DNA and the DNA of unidentified persons.
34. NCMEC forensic artists have age-progressed more than 6,000 images of long-term missing
35. NCMEC has created more than 530 facial reconstructions for unidentified deceased unidentified
36. In the mid-1980’s milk carton with photographs of missing children were first used to help find
37. Those who suffer from mental disorders, minorities, and those who live high-risk lifestyles
engaging in substance abuse and/or prostitution are less likely to receive media attention than
other case of missing persons.
38. According to the NCIC, there were 353,243 women reported missing during 2010.
39. According to NCIC, there were 337,660 men were reported missing during 2010.
40. Of reports entered into NCIC during 2010, there were 532,000 under the age of eighteen.
41. In 1999, a NASCAR program called Racing for the Missing was created by driver Darrell LaMoure
in partnership with the founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization.
42. If a person has been missing for 7-years, they can be legally declared deceased.
43. Jaycee Dugard was 11-years old when she was abducted by a stranger on June 10, 1991. Dugard
was located 18 years later in 2009 kept concealed in tents behind Phillip Garrido’s residence.
Garrido fathered two of Dugard’s children and was sentenced to 431 years to life for the
kidnapping and rape of Dugard.
44. All 50 states to include the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have AMBER
plans in place to help find missing children.
45. By definition, a “missing person” is someone who has vanished and whose welfare is not known;
and their disappearance may or may not be voluntary.
46. There are 6 categories in NCIC for missing persons to include Juvenile, Endangered, Involuntary,
Disability, Catastrophe and Other.
47. About 15% of overall disappearances are deemed involuntary by the FBI, designating urgent
48. The earliest known missing child case was of Virginia Dare who was the first baby born in the
New World. After her birth, her grandfather left for England and when he returned 3 years later,
Virginia and all the settlers were gone. One clue left was the word “Croatan” carved into a
49. In 1996, a family of German tourists visited Death Valley National Park in California, referred to as
the Death Valley Germans. In 2009, searchers located the remains of four individuals confirmed
to be that of the family.
50. Jimmy Hoffa was an American Labor Union leader and president of the International
Brotherhood of Teamsters who vanished in July 1975, and one of the most notorious missing
persons cases in United States history.
Several federal laws in the United States are focused on the plight of unresolved missing persons and unidentified remains. Each law, the result of families of missing persons who searched every dark corner for their missing child and tirelessly worked to ensure changes would be enacted to avoid the pitfalls they experienced in search of their missing or murdered child. The history of missing person law is always changing and evolving. Each law represents a victim, who in their name, would ensure another child would have a better chance.
As of May 31,2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). An additional 8,709 unidentified persons are listed as active cases in NCIC.
These numbers are staggering and reflect gaps in the response and procedure to missing and unidentified cases, as well as a lack of a federal mandate requiring all law enforcement within the United States to intake and respond to a missing person case.
The families of missing persons have dedicated, at times years, to addressing the lack of response to missing person cases reminding the public each missing person reflects the name of an individual who is a child, mother, father, grandparent or sibling.
Missing Children Act of 1982
Etan Kalil Patz was a 6-year old boy who vanished on his way to school. The morning of May 25, 1979, Etan left his SoHo apartment by himself planning to walk from his residence at 113 Prince Street to his school bus stop on Broadway. He never got on his bus.
When Etan did not return from school that afternoon, his mother Julie called police to report him missing. An intense police search ensued that evening with approximately 100 police officers and a team of bloodhounds conducting a thorough ground and door to door search for Etan.
Etan’s father Stanley Patz, a professional photographer, had recently taken many professional photographs of Etan and made flyers and posted them throughout the neighborhood where his son had vanished.
Etan has never been found but his disappearance spurred a movement that would affect missing children cases for years to come.
In the early 1980’s Etan’s photograph was the first child to be profiled on milk cartons. Etan’s case marks the massive use of flyers to search for missing persons and credited for creating more attention to missing child cases.
In 1982, the Missing Children Act was introduced to Congress and passed to authorize the FBI to enter missing children’s personal data into and maintain a national clearinghouse of information in the NCIC, making the information accessible to local, state, and federal law enforcement and providing a previously lacking resource to help find missing children up to age 18.
On May 25, 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the day National Missing Children’s Day.
The disappearance of 6-year old Adam Walsh would spearhead the most significant contribution to finding missing children to date.
On July 27, 1981, Reve’ Walsh took Adam to a Sears department store in the Hollywood Mall, in Hollywood, Florida. Only a few minutes out of his mother’s sight, Adam vanished. His severed head found in a drainage canal alongside Florida’s Turnpike in rural St. Lucie County.
Adams parents, Reve’ and John Walsh spearheaded the effort to create the first national clearinghouse for missing children to provide resources to law enforcement and families of missing children.
In 1984, The United States Congress passed the Missing Children Assistance Act creating the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
NCMEC’s “Code Adam” program for helping lost children in department stores is named in Adam’s memory.
In addition, Congress passed the “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act” on July 25, 2006 and President Bush signed it into law on July 27th, the day Adam had gone missing. Both John and Reve’ attended the signing ceremony held on the South Lawn of the White House. The law institutes a national database of convicted child molesters, while also increasing penalties for sexual and violent offenses against children.
Over the years, John Walsh has made a significant impact in the lives of missing children and their families with his advocacy, while also becoming internationally known for his hit television show “America’s Most Wanted” and the current hit show “The Hunt with John Walsh.”
In 1992, Jennifer Wilmer was a 21-year old living with her parents in Long Island, New York. She had received a full scholarship to St. John’s University in New York City but dropped out after one semester, planning to later enroll in College of the Redwoods in the small town of Eureka, California.
She moved to California in early 1993 and quickly found work but eventually fell on hard times, having to go on public assistance for a time. Her parents, Fred and Susan Wilmer promised to send an airline ticket to a local Eureka travel agency, so Jennifer could return to New York, but she never arrived to pick it up.
There are two conflicting accounts as to what happened the day Jennifer disappeared. One account was that Jennifer was last seen leaving her northern California residence on September 13, 1993, to go to the travel agency to pick up her ticket. Another account was Jennifer was last seen hitchhiking from the Hawkins Bar area to Willow Creek to inquire about a job opportunity at a farm. Jennifer remains missing.
In 1994, Fred and Susan Wilmer sought out help to find their missing adult daughter from the Nation’s Missing Children Organization (NMCO), founded by Kym Pasqualini, and located in Phoenix, Arizona. The group organized visits to the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), and members of Congress to raise awareness of Wilmer’s disappearance and thousands of other missing persons throughout the country. They also formed a group of families of missing persons to create a group called F.O.C.U.S. (Finding Our Children Under Stress) and invited experts in the field of psychology and law enforcement to participate in order to better understand the emotional and psychological effects of dealing with “ambiguous loss” when a person goes missing.
The Wilmer’s also began the years long effort to pass a federal law that would enable each state to enhance its efficiency with regard to the reporting system for unidentified and missing persons.
- Report to the National Crime Information Center and when possible, to law enforcement agencies throughout a state regarding every deceased unidentified person, regardless of age, found in the State’s jurisdiction;
- Enter a complete profile of an unidentified person in compliance with the guidelines established by the US Department of Justice for the NCIC Missing and Unidentified Persons files, to include dental, X-rays, fingerprints and DNA, if available;
- Enter the NCIC number or other appropriate case number assigned to each unidentified person on the death certificate of each; and
- Retain all such records pertaining to unidentified person until a person is identified.
The Wilmer’s early advocacy brought much needed attention to the correlating problem between identifying unidentified persons by cross-referencing the descriptive information of missing persons with unidentified remains.
In 1997, 18-year old Kristen Modafferi was an industrial design major at North Carolina University. She had been offered an opportunity to attend a summer photography course at University of California at Berkeley and left North Carolina on her birthday, June 1, 1997, to travel to San Francisco. It would be her first time away from home.
She would quickly get a job at Spinelli’s Coffee Shop (now called Tully’s) at the Crocker Galleria in San Francisco’s financial district, working weekdays. On weekends, Kristen worked at the Café Musee inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
On June 23, 1997 Kristen asked a Spinelli’s coworker for directions to Baker Beach, located next to the popular Land’s End Beach about a 20-minute bus ride from downtown San Francisco. That was the last time Kristen was ever seen.
Her parents, Robert and Deborah Modafferi immediately flew to San Francisco to file a missing person report for their daughter. A ground search was conducted with Bloodhounds and detected Kristen’s scent at an overlook at the beach, but no other evidence could be found.
Soon after Kristen’s disappearance, the Modafferi’s requested help from the Nation’s Missing Children Organization (NMCO) in Phoenix, one of the only groups in the country that would provide services to families of missing persons over the age of eighteen.
The founder, Kym Pasqualini, would again travel to Washington D.C., with the Modafferi’s to speak to the USDOJ and members of Congress to raise awareness of adult missing persons. In 1998, Representative Sue Myrick of North Carolina spearheaded the introduction of Kristen’s Law that would appropriate $1 million per year for 4-years to create the first national clearinghouse for missing adults.
On November 9, 2000, President William J. Clinton signed Kristen’s Law with the recipient of the funds going to the Phoenix-based NMCO to create the “National Center for Missing Adults,” (NCMA), the first national clearinghouse for missing adults. The group went on to serve thousands of families of missing adults, receiving up to 100 calls per day from families and law enforcement needing assistance.
In 2002, NCMA in cooperation with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) at the USDOJ, and Fox Valley Technical College created and implemented the first training program for law enforcement focused exclusively on the disappearances of those over the age of eighteen.
In 1998, Suzanne Lyall was a 20-year old undergraduate at the State University of New York at Albany. On March 2, 1998, at closing, Suzanne left her job at the Babbage’s in Crossgates Mall in a suburb of Guilderland, NY. It is believed Suzanne had taken the city bus from the mall to the University’s Uptown Campus, where a classmate of Suzanne’s told police they saw her getting off the bus at Collin’s Circle near her dorm. She has never been seen again.
The Lyall’s became outspoken activists on behalf of families of missing persons creating the “Center for Hope.”
In 2003 President Bush signed “Suzanne’s Law” requiring police to immediately enter the person’s descriptive information into NCIC when someone between 18-21 is reported missing. Previously police were only required to report missing persons under the age of 18. Now, anyone under the age of 21 is considered a missing child and qualifies to also receive assistance from NCMEC.
In 2007, Congress enacted the Campus Security Act, requiring all colleges across the country to maintain written plans on how they will work with local law enforcement agencies in the event a student is reported missing.
The Lyall’s have continued to make their mark in the lives of others, in the name of their daughter Suzanne. On the 20-year anniversary of Suzanne’s disappearance, her mother, Mary Lyall was presented with the Senate Liberty Medal for her work on behalf of other families of missing persons.
At approximately 7:00 p.m., on July 6, 2004, Molly Datillo dropped off an employment application off a Wendy’s fast food restaurant near 10th Street and Highway 465 in Indianapolis, Indiana. She then purchased personal hobby and school supplies for one of the three classes she was taking at Indiana University where she was taking a summer class while she was readying to graduate from Eastern Kentucky University later that year.
Molly had been taking private voice lessons and had planned on auditioning for the “American Idol” show in August. She had attended all of her classes up to the day she vanished.
At 11:00 p.m., Molly placed a call to a friend from a pay phone at a Thornton’s gas station on Crawfordsville Rd. the friend said the phone disconnected when they picked up the phone. Molly has never been seen again.
In October 2008. Police announced they were investigating Molly’s disappearance as a homicide and looking at John E. Shelton as a person of interest because he was the last person to have been with her when she placed a call from the gas station. Shelton had a lengthy criminal record for theft and traffic offenses, with his driver’s license being legally suspended for life.
Shelton had been the friend of a friend. Molly had met him the day of her disappearance. They went on a boat ride, then ate dinner together at a Taco Bell restaurant according to him.
In the aftermath of Molly’s disappearance, Molly’s sister Amy Datillo worked tirelessly to get a law enacted that would outline what makes a missing person “at risk” and how law enforcement should obtain information relevant to finding the missing adult.
The FBI defines an “At Risk” missing person to be someone who has a proven medical or physical disability such as someone with mental health issues, diminished mental capacity such as Alzheimer’s disease or other physical disability that compromises the health and safety of the individual without immediate intervention.
Though not a federal law, Molly’s Law was signed by Governor Mitch Daniels in 2007, requiring law enforcement to enter an “At Risk” missing person into the NCIC database within two-hours of their disappearance within the state of Indiana.
While Amy would still like to see Molly’s Law become a federal law, it will serve as a “model” for to her states to follow and Molly will always be remembered by the people she helped after she disappeared.
Americans across the country have a bizarre fascination with all things foreign. When it comes to international travel and foreign countries, attitudes can range from a wanton Western wanderlust to a macabre fascination with the fear of the unknown. Young people nearing a graduation often make plans to go backpacking through Europe in the hopes of broadening their horizons before taking the next step on life’s path. Many volunteer to assist in relief efforts overseas following a natural disaster. Others travel overseas to visit with family they might not have seen in decades.
On the reverse side of the coin, where some Americans might associate all things foreign with class or the exotic, there are others with a less favorable approach. American cinema, especially genres like action or horror, plays heavily on the American anxieties surrounding foreign countries and international travel. One of the most blatant examples of this is the Hostel film series, in which young backpackers trekking through the Slavic countries are kidnapped and held captive by a secret society with grisly motives. The American anxiety of being on one’s own in a foreign country—where you are a stranger to everyone and few strangers speak your language—is not lost on foreign filmmakers either. In 2008, when the English-language French action thriller Taken was released, it broke the record for best opening day ever for Super Bowl weekend. One of the unfortunate reasons Americans cling to the suspense and drama of films like these is because the horror is all too real. U.S. citizens go missing overseas and in North America every week, and with funding and resources for searches low, families are left with nothing but prayers for a Liam Neeson type to bring their loved ones home.
Despite the American anxiety surrounding international travel, the National Travel and Tourism Office saw an eight percent increase in international travel in 2016. In that year, 66,960,943 citizens utilized their passports to visit countries within North America and overseas. Many Americans have a Bucket List—a list of things they’d like to experience before shuffling off this mortal coil—and one of the most common items on bucket lists is travel, especially international travel. In 2009, David Gimelfarb was one of those millions of people travelling abroad. In the bustling hive of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Roma and Luda Gimelfarb said goodbye to their son before he departed for a week’s vacation in Costa Rica. “The last thing we know about our son,” they told the Chicago Tribune, “is that on August 11, 2009, he paid a $10 entry fee and signed up for a two-hour hike in Rincon de la Vieja National Park.” This month, it will have been nine years since David Gimelfarb went out for that hike and never came back. As recently as 2013, Roma and Luda were still fielding emails and phone calls from people who claim they have seen David wandering around Costa Rica. The reports described this person “spoke cautiously with people (David speaks Spanish fluently) and doesn’t appear to know who he is (possibly has amnesia).” Is it possible that David hit his head while on the hike and woke up with no memory of who he was?
The tragedy is that Roma and Luda Gimelfarb will likely never have that level of closure regarding their son’s disappearance. It’s important to remember that even in the United States missing adults are not a high priority for law enforcement. Adults have the liberty to go missing if they please, and police are not in the habit of pouring labor hours and resources into finding someone who might not want to be found. What’s worse is that once they’re out of the country, the American authorities are left with no jurisdiction and no recourse. The Gimelfarbs went on to say in the article, “American embassies have no budget or trained personnel to assist the families or local foreign governments in their search for missing Americans. Though the U.S. government provides funds for numerous programs abroad and spent $47.8 billion in 2012 to support them, none of these programs provides funds or personnel to search for missing Americans abroad.
An individual’s career can often take them overseas or beyond the United States, sometimes for an extended period of time. Such was the case with 41-year-old Robert Durbin, who went missing in Kingston, Jamaica. Robert was lecturing on law on the weekends on behalf of an international program run by the University of London. When asked about the reason for his visit to Jamaica, the West Hartford Town Councilman said he hoped to glean insight from learning about the culture of West Indian people, “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.”
Months later, Robert was charged with first-degree criminal trespass when he arrived on the scene of a domestic disturbance to offer his legal services to the persons involved. This led to him resigning from the Town Council while he was in the middle of a divorce. Arrested in development, he decided to return to Jamaica to continue the volunteer work he began during his initial visits. Following his return to Jamaica in May of 2012, all attempts to contact him proved fruitless. With so little information available at the time he was reported missing, his case still remains open as of 2018.
Natural disasters can have a devastating effect on a country’s tourism, but there a visible trend following these disasters: an influx of both American and other foreign individuals who travel to the effected area in hopes of volunteering for relief efforts. These “volun-tourists” are usually only in the country for a week or two, participating in a project that would serve underprivileged communities, such as building a school, or a clinic, or even a well so locals can have access to clean water. A website that serves as a guide to relief and volunteer programs overseas compared the data regarding where and what Americans are researching in order to seek out opportunities. The 2012 Annual Volunteer Report reveals that the top countries that are a point of interest for prospective volunteers are the Philippines, India, and Thailand. It makes sense, given that the same report showed that Asia is the top region for areas that receive droves of relief-volunteers. Over half the list of the top fifteen searched countries for prospective volunteers are located within the Asian region.
While backpacking through Southeast Asia, Dahlia Yehia decided to rest in the town of Pokhara, Nepal while she determined the next stop on her trip. She’d put together a modest sum of savings from her time as an art instructor in order to backpack across the pan-Asian continent. On August 5th, 2015, she arrived in Pokhara, only a few weeks after an earthquake that registered 7.8 on the Richter scale shook the whole of the Kathmandu Valley and nearby villages. In the interim, Dahlia decided she would be useful by volunteering for the relief effort. For lodging, she turned to the economy-travel site Couchsurfing, where she connected with a local by the name of Narayan Paudel. He had great reviews on the economy-travel website, so Dahlia decided to stay with him.
Despite inconsistent cell phone service at the foot of the mountains, Dahlia still found time to check in with friends and family when she could. She had nothing but nice things to say about her new Couchsurfing host, claiming she had dinner with him and his girlfriend. Then, when several days went by with no word from Dahlia, a friend became concerned and started reaching out to Dahlia’s family to see if anyone had heard from her. He also reached out to Couchsurfing support staff to tell them he was concerned for Dahlia, but that came to nothing. Her family had to turn to Apple, where an emergency support team advised that they might be able to track her movements using a unique 15-digit code assigned to all cellular hardware known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity, or IMEI.
Finally, the U.S. Embassy was notified that Dahlia was missing in Nepal, and the family provided them with her IMEI for the investigation. They told the embassy that the last person to see Dahlia was likely her Couchsurfing host, but the information obtained with Dahlia’s IMEI revealed that someone had put a new SIM card in the phone long after Dahlia was reported missing. The SIM card was purchased by Narayan Paudel. This led to Paudel’s arrest and subsequent confession to her murder.
Were it not for the intervention of Apple, who knows if the family might have ever received a modicum of closure in Dahlia’s disappearance? Sharing services like Couchsurfing are on the rise as more apps like Uber and Airbnb continue to grow in size and in revenue creating what has been referred to as a “sharing economy”. There is a legal gray area that attorneys would call “assumption of responsibility” when it comes to utilizing these services. When Generation X was young, there was no second thought when it came to getting into a stranger’s car for a ride. Now, placing your trust and safety in a complete stranger—especially a stranger you met through the internet—is considered one of the most dangerous decisions you can make. Businesses in the sharing economy are not insensitive to these anxieties, and most offer some form of a verification system. However, most companies take pains to distance themselves from the actions of their individual employees in order to avoid litigation. Couchsurfing, for example, offers user verification for $20 per year, but in the fine print, there is always a disclaimer that frees Couchsurfing from responsibility involved in any relations between host and guest. Users are urged to report “anyone through our services who you feel is acting or has acted inappropriately.” It emphasizes, however, “[W]e are not obligated to take any action.”
Unfortunately, Dahlia is not an isolated incident. It’s frightfully common for people to vanish while visiting Nepal. Until 2011, the U.S. State Department had an active travel warning in effect for Nepal. In addition to cautioning tourists about the civil unrest occurring in the country, the State Department also had a piece of advice for the tourists who travel to Nepal in hope hiking some of the most coveted treks on any backpacker’s list:
“Solo trekking can be dangerous, and the lack of available immediate assistance has contributed to injuries and deaths, while also making one more vulnerable to criminals. Although it is not prohibited by local law, the Government of Nepal has reiterated its strong recommendation against solo trekking. In separate incidents in the last several years, a number of foreign women (including U.S. citizens) on popular trails have been attacked and seriously injured while trekking alone.”
This warning did not shake 23-year-old Aubrey Sacco, who was dead-set on witnessing the beauty of the Himalayan Mountains up close and personal. She was nearing the end of her post-college adventure, maintaining nearly constant contact with her parents throughout. On the day Aubrey went missing, she told her mother she had decided to make the “tea-house trek” in Langtang National Park—the first Himalayan national park. Her mother was concerned because her father was having surgery that day, and was worried that she wouldn’t be able to contact her daughter if something went wrong, but Aubrey assured her, “Don’t worry. It’s teahouse trekking.” In the investigation following her disappearance, Aubrey’s parents learned that the day she went missing, she had an encounter with three men she met at the Sherpa Lodge on the hike. The men initiated a conversation, and at first things were cordial, but when Aubrey announced that she had to be moving on to the next village, Riverside, things took a tense turn. The men began repeatedly insisting that it was too long of a hike to start so late in the afternoon. Firm in her conviction, Aubrey said, “Riverside is only an hour from here, don’t lie to me.”
For all intents and purposes, there is no evidence that Aubrey made it to her next destination. No other witnesses could place her at any location beyond Riverside. Given the last witnessed encounter between Aubrey and the locals, it’s easy to assume that these aggressive men might have been the architects of her disappearance, but there are many other theories that exclude their encounter altogether. It’s important to remember the U.S. State Department’s warning regarding solo-trekking in the Himalayas, citing natural hazards and the implications of being injured on the hike with no immediate help nearby. It’s possible that Aubrey shared the fate of many who had attempted the trek alone, maybe slipping from a rain-soaked embankment, or toppling over a cliff.
Another theory inculpating harm at the hands of another person is the predatory culture surrounding the military bases that are scattered throughout the Himalayas. Tracy Ross, a journalist digging into the mystery surrounding Aubrey’s disappearance, detailed some of the incidents involving soldiers that had been reported in the past, “In July 2010, three French girls reported being sexually assaulted by the soldiers manning a check post called Ghora Tabela, not far from where Aubrey vanished. Later, two more Western women were attacked in the same region in separate incidents, one in 2011 and the other in 2012.” Ross goes on to illuminate just how difficult it was to get information about this American woman’s disappearance. “If the Nepali police keep records of exactly how many female trekkers have been the victims of violent crime, they won’t say (the police didn’t respond to repeated requests for information for this story). For that matter, it’s hard to determine how many trekkers, male or female, have gone missing over the years, whatever the reason.”
This is not surprising, as police departments in developing countries like Nepal are woefully underfunded and often do not have the resources to properly investigate missing persons cases. Given Aubrey’s age at the time of her disappearance, if she had gone missing within the United States, the investigation would still have had significant roadblocks because she was not a minor. But Aubrey didn’t go missing in America. She went missing over 8,000 miles away. Search efforts conducted by U.S. Embassy, the Nepali Army, and Aubrey’s own father turned up nothing, but continued for more than two years after her disappearance. It is the longest, most expensive search in Nepal’s history.
During the more frustrating phases of the investigation, when it was impossible to get any information from Nepali law enforcement, Aubrey’s parents hired a private investigator. According to The Daily Camera, it was one of the factors that kept the case alive long after Nepali authorities stopped looking for Aubrey. The issues in Nepal that American law enforcement often encounters when investigating a missing adult that were only compounded by the distance and the jurisdiction. There are many cases like Aubrey’s in which underfunded, underequipped, disorganized law enforcement in countries overseas cannot connect with United States embassies or refuse to release information outright. However, with a private investigator chasing leads in an overseas disappearance, there are no jurisdictional issues, no red tape preventing them from contacting agencies, governing bodies, or law enforcement. There is no issue of paperwork, such as warrants to track individuals that might sit on a superior’s desk for days while precious time and leads are lost. Private investigators are beholden only to the client, and thus their search for the truth is unbridled and in-depth.
In America, there are rights and laws that protect private citizens from persecution on behalf of law enforcement without cause. As a country, Americans have only recently begun to cultivate a suspicious attitude towards law enforcement, but abroad, distrust of law enforcement is ubiquitous depending on longitude. In countries where citizens live in fear of a corrupt system and retaliation from the police, it can be impossible for investigators to pull valuable information from witnesses. This is where private investigators truly have an advantage over law enforcement. Because they have no powers of arrest—in the United States or anywhere—witnesses feel more at ease providing details to someone who cannot arrest them. Considering that police interrogations can take hours just to get a simple answer, private investigators can use that time to pursue leads and garner more case progression.
Even though private investigators have no powers of arrest, it can still be difficult to interview witnesses who know they’re being interrogated, or even witnesses who are—at best—uncooperative. When Tracy Ross traveled to Nepal for background on the story she was writing about Aubrey, the locals were less than enthusiastic about talking to her, “Over and over, villagers told me that they knew nothing about Aubrey and they wished people would stop asking. Two young girls giggled, then turned bitter, saying they didn’t care anymore that this girl had vanished.” Soldiers who assisted in the search for Aubrey told Ross that they had done their due-diligence and there was nothing left to talk about. When this is the case, private investigators have the necessary skill and experience to go undercover and blend in with tourists and locals. From this inconspicuous position, they can conduct surveillance, pull information from unsuspecting witnesses or suspects, and document it every step of the way.
When loved ones vanish into thin air, everyone who would miss them feels helpless, and everyone feels as if there could be no cause more pressing than finding that loved one again. The reality is that Americans go missing every day, both children and adults, and it is nearly impossible for law enforcement to treat every single case with the attention it ultimately deserves. It usually comes down to simple facts when law enforcement is triaging their case load: Is this person in immediate danger? Are they over the age of 18? Could they have disappeared of their own accord? These are questions that bear little weight in the minds of loved ones when it comes to their diligence in getting answers. However, regardless of your circumstances, the universal truth behind hiring a private investigator to locate your missing loved one overseas is that their expertise is applied to the specifics of your case. They are beholden to you and only you. They have very similar expertise and resources to law enforcement with the added peace of mind that your child or loved one will never just become a file laying idly on a desk.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.
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.
Following are a few excerpts from letters Thomas Lauth has received throughout the years:
Mr. Lauth’s credentials indicate he has a high success rate of locating individuals and we have also found this to be true. He not only utilizes various resources to help locate individuals, but he frequently follows up with them after they are located to see how they are transitioning.
We will continue to utilize Thomas Lauth’s services in the future. His assistance with this organization and the many families of missing person we refer him to give hope to the possibility these families will once again be able to hold their loved ones in their arms. We highly recommend the services he provides to the families of missing persons.
Erin Bruno, National Center for Missing Adults
At a highly emotional time, I found the contact with Mr. Lauth to be quite reassuring. His experience in investigations of missing persons is quite impressive and without pressure, he outlined the stages of his proposed investigation costs and projected number of days to successfully locate my son.
As Tom predicted, my son was located a day later and was brought to the hospital in very bad shape. I am convinced without his intervention, my son was at extreme risk of death, or trafficked to other major cities around the world.
I am honored to provide a letter of reference for this remarkable man who is such a strong advocate for missing persons. My experience is such that I do not recommend relying solely on a local police department to locate a missing person, particularly with mental illness. The risk of exploitation or other harm is simply too great and hiring an experienced private investigator is more likely to bring a loved one home again.
Liz Mallin, mother of Brandon
Thomas Lauth, an investigator who specializes in missing children and adults, has been one of the most reliable and imaginative investigators we have found to date. Mr. Lauth’s experience with our organization, as well as the work he has done for the National Center for Missing Adults, has proven to be invaluable in the locating of abductors and bringing missing children and adults home.
Mr. Lauth’s impressive list of successes as well as his passion for the “left behind parent” makes him more than qualified to work in the area of child abduction. I would not hesitate to recommend Mr. Lauth to any parent who has lost a child. I personally feel that it is Mr. Lauth’s feelings for the children that separate him from so many other investigators.
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.
Tom was the second investigator that worked the case. Based on the excellent service we experienced, I sincerely regret that we did not work with him initially.
I found Thomas to be extremely knowledgeable, professional and emphatic. I immediately felt comfortable confiding in him. In response, Thomas offered a complete plan, with accurate cost disclosures and regular substantive updates.
Most importantly, Thomas did exactly what he promised to do, on time and within the estimated budget we initially discussed. Thanks to his efforts, we were able to speak with both missing parties for the first time since 2003.
Tom is an absolute gem. I strongly recommend him to anyone who may find him or herself in the unfortunate circumstance of losing contact with a loved one.
Andrea D. Townsend, Attorney at Law
Recently, my son was missing, and we had nowhere to turn until we found you. He had taken off for work and never got there. No one knew where he was, and police couldn’t help because he was of age.
If any parent is in our situation, I highly recommend they call you. You were so helpful and kind to us. You understood just how worried we were.
You met my husband in Massachusetts, where we finally figured out where he was. You stayed there until he was found and let us contact him. Your kindness and professional manner were of great comfort to us in our time of need. It is so hard not knowing where your child is. Anyone going through these hard times needs to know there is an organization out there that cares and handles the problem for you.
You don’t know what you gave back to us. My son means the world to me and getting him back made my world complete again.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and hope that anyone else missing a child will call you. You are the best!
Donna Post, mother of a formerly missing son