How Missing Person Organizations Benefit Us All

How Missing Person Organizations Benefit Us All

Tragedies can affect communities and society as a whole. Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference that impacts us all.

Missing Person organizations support families in their time of crisis, and missing person investigators help them get the support they need.
(Morgan Nick vanished on June 9, 1995, in the small town of Alma, Ark.)

It was 24 years ago, on June 9, 1995, that a little girl vanished at a Little League baseball game in the small town of Alma, Ark., within the River Valley at the edge of the majestic Ozark Mountains. Beautiful Morgan Chauntel Nick, age 6, with long blonde hair and blue eyes has not been seen since.

Morgan Nick is the eldest of three other children. She loved cats and according to her mother Colleen Nick, she was a shy little girl. A Girl Scout, Morgan loved bubble gum and said she wanted to be a doctor or a circus performer when she grew up.

(The baseball park in Alma, Ark., where Morgan Nick vanished.)

The evening of her disappearance, a friend of the Nick family had invited them to a baseball game about 30 minutes away. Colleen told Dateline; the game started late at approximately 9:00 p.m. that night.

Morgan sat in the bleachers with her mom nearly the entirety of the game but towards the end, two kids, a boy and a girl, a few years older than Morgan, asked if Morgan could go catch fireflies with them.

Colleen recalls initially telling Morgan no, but other parents told the worried mother that the kids play in the parking lot all of the time and would be safe.

Colleen ended up telling Morgan she could go play with the other children. “She threw her arms around my neck, kissed my cheek, then the kids all ran out to the parking lot,” said Colleen. “I could turn my head and see she was right there in sight. I checked on them three or four times.”

At the end of the baseball game, Colleen watched as the team walked off the field, momentarily looking away from Morgan who was playing behind the bleachers. When she turned around, she could see the two other children, but Morgan was no longer with them.

Colleen asked the children where Morgan was, and they told her Morgan was at her car emptying sand out of her shoes. “Already, when I couldn’t see Morgan, my heart started beating really fast,” Colleen said in a Dateline interview. “We were somewhere we hadn’t been before. She wouldn’t go anywhere by herself, and there wasn’t even anywhere to go,” Colleen said. “There was no concession stands, no bathrooms.”

Confusion and panic set in for Colleen.

Within minutes a spectator called the police to report Morgan missing. Police responded within six minutes.

Chief Russell White of the Alma Police Department told Dateline that the initial officer on the scene immediately suspected “we might have a bigger problem.” “They did have a lot of manpower or resources, but they did a whole lot right that first night,” Colleen said.

“The other two kids that were playing with Morgan separately told the police about a creepy man in a red pick-up truck with a white camper shell on the back,” Colleen said.

Authorities immediately began an intensive investigation.

“We reached out for help from local agencies, the state police, the FBI,” Chief White said. “We were running a pretty big crew. The FBI brought in lots of extra people and resources and we did not have, like a computer system that could handle this kind of case, which helped tremendously.”

According to Colleen, Morgan’s case files fill up an entire room at the police department. “We have tons of tips coming in every week,” Chief White said. “It’s very unusual for a 24-year-old case to still have so many leads.”

Despite the thousands of leads received in Morgan’s case, she remains missing.

(Colleen Nick, mother of 6-year-old Morgan Nick who vanished June 9, 1995, from Alma, Ark.)

A Mother Fights Back

“She’s not a number. She’s not a statistic. She’s not a case file. She is a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a friend. And she is someone worth fighting for,” Colleen told Dateline. “If you’re not on the front line fighting for your daughter, no one else will. So, it is my job to make sure she never gets lost. Until someone can prove to me that Morgan is not coming home, then I am going to fight for her.”

In the years following Morgan’s disappearance, Colleen started the Morgan Nick Foundation to help prevent other families from going through what she has experienced, to raise awareness of other missing children, and educate the public on safety for children. The foundation also provides crucial support to other families of missing children.

Over the years Colleen has received a countless number of recognitions and awards from the FBI, state of Arkansas, to the International Homicide Investigator’s Association, for her work throughout the state of Arkansas throughout the country.

“When something so tragic happens to your child, there is a need to do something of great value,” said Colleen. “We are trying to fill the gap that wasn’t filled when we needed it the most.”

24 years later, Colleen continues to selflessly work within her community and nationwide to the benefit of families and children throughout the country.

The National Impact of John Walsh

(Adam Walsh, age 6, who was abducted from a Sears department store and murdered July 27, 1981, in Hollywood, Fla.)

We often forget there is a personal story behind many monumental efforts in this nation and John Walsh is certainly the epitome.

Adam Walsh, age 6, was a little boy whose disappearance and murder changed the way society looked at missing children.

On the afternoon of July 27, 1981, Adam’s mother took him shopping at a local mall in Hollywood, Fla. Reve Walsh had wanted to inquire about the price of a lamp at the Sears department store.

Momentarily, Reve left Adam at an Atari video game display where several other little boys were taking turns playing on the display. When Reve returned, she couldn’t find Adam or the other boys and was told by the store manager that the security guard had asked them all to leave the store.

Adam was paged over the intercom as his mother searched the store and mall for about an hour. She then called the Hollywood Police Department at approximately 1:55 p.m. to report Adam missing.

Tragically, on August 10, 1981, a severed head of a child was found in a drainage canal alongside the Florida Turnpike in Vero Beach, about 130 miles from Hollywood. It was confirmed it was Adam. His body has never been found.

(John Walsh, creator and host of America’s Most Wanted which first aired in 1988. Photo courtesy of Fox 5 News.)

A Legacy

Early on, Adam’s parents John and Reve Walsh were critical of the police investigation which led to John’s anti-crime activism and the creation of America’s Most Wanted which he is well known for.

Lesser known is his impact on laws and organizations for missing children. During the 1980s, John and other child advocates lobbied Congress to pass a law that would protect missing children and educate the public on the importance of child safety resulting in the Missing Children’s Assistance Act and the first national clearinghouse of information for missing children.

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan creating the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and a 24-hour hotline 1-800-THE-LOST.

Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, NCMEC has regional office in California, Florida, New York and Texas.

According to NCMEC, in 2018 there were 424,066 entries of missing children in the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

35 years later, NCMEC provides support to thousands of families of missing children each year, missing children’s case management, provides training to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and offers numerous educational programs that fight child exploitation, sex trafficking, and provides critical information to keep our children safe.

Black & Missing Foundation

Tamika Huston vanished into thin air on or around May 27, 2004, from Spartanburg, S.C. and subsequently found murdered.

Spartanburg was Derrica Wilson’s hometown and she recalls watching as Tamika’s family struggled to gain any media coverage on a local or national level while Tamika was missing. A few months later, Natalee Holloway – a white woman – went missing and dominated news headlines, becoming a household name.

“It was heartbreaking to see the difference in the media attention these two cases were getting,” Derrica told Jet Magazine.

(Natalie (left) and Derrica Wilson, co-founders of Black and Missing Foundation. Photo courtesy of Jet Magazine.)

Derrica and her sister-in-law Natalie decided to team up to ensure other families did not face the obscurity that Tamika’s family had experienced. “We combined our professional backgrounds – mine in law enforcement and Natalie’s in media – to create an organization that joins the very important elements in the field of missing persons,” said Derrica.

Founded in 2008, a veteran law enforcement official and a public relations specialist began channeling their skills for a greater good.

Eleven years later, Black and Missing Foundation has become the primary voice for minority missing providing a platform of hope for the overwhelming number of missing persons of color.

AMBER Alert

(Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered on January 13, 1996, in Arlington, Texas.)

On the afternoon of January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was last seen riding her bike in a parking lot near her home in Arlington, Texas. A witness reported seeing a man in a black, flat-bed truck snatch Amber from her bicycle.

Four days later, Amber’s body was found in a creek approximately 3.2 miles from her home. Her murder remains unsolved.

Area residents were outraged and began calling radio and television stations to vent their anger and to also offer suggestions to prevent such crimes in the future. One resident, Diana Simone suggested utilizing the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to notify the public when a child has been abducted so the public could also assist in the search. Simone followed up with a letter, with her only request to ensure the program would be dedicated to Amber Hagerman.

The program was eventually taken to NCMEC with a request to implement a national initiative that would eventually become known as the AMBER Alert. What began as a local effort in the area of the Dallas-Fort Worth area has grown into a seamless system used by every state in the country. Since the inception of the program in 1996, through December 31, 2018, 956 children have been safely recovered specifically as a result of an AMBER Alert being issued.

 “When something so tragic happens to your child, there is a need to do something of great value,” as Colleen said. “We are trying to fill the gap that wasn’t filled when we needed it the most.” Most certainly, the advancements made in the last 35 years are proof the efforts of one person can make a difference.

Mother of 5, Jennifer Dulos, Still Missing

Mother of 5, Jennifer Dulos, Still Missing

Police arrest estranged husband and his girlfriend in connection with her disappearance…

Jennifer Dulous, 50, was last seen on May 24, 2019. The last time anyone heard from her, she was dropping off her five children at school in her black Chevrolet Suburban. Following that last point of contact, police investigating her disappearance have been following a trail of tangible and circumstantial evidence that paints a picture of a marriage fraught with control and intimidation, followed by an ugly custody battle that may have been the motive for a grisly, violent act. 

On June 1st, police arrested Jennifer’s estranged husband, Fotis Dulos, and his girlfriend, Michelle Troconis, charging them with tampering/fabricating physical evidence and hindering prosecution. The evidence cited in the arrest warrants includes blood spatter found in Jennifer’s garage, where police believe she was violently attacked. In nearby Hartford, police found Jennifer’s blood on clothes and sponges in multiple trash cans. Surveillance footage shows a man and woman arriving in a car, then the man dumping the clothes and other items into different bins. The description of both the man and woman match descriptions of Fotis Dulos and Michelle Troconis. 

As far back as May 2017, police were able to confirm through court documents that Jennifer and her husband were in the grips of an ugly custody battle at the time of her disappearance. During those custody proceedings, Jennifer alleged that her husband had presented with growing “irrational, unsafe, bullying, threatening and controlling behavior,” and raised a concern for the physical safety of both herself and her children. This fear was only compounded by the fact that as early as June 2017, Fotis Dulos made threats that if Jennifer did not adhere to his terms of their divorce, he would kidnap the children. Fotis now denies that he ever said those things to Jennifer. Jennifer also added that Fotis had bought a gun, which he now claims was purchased legally and only for the purpose of home security. On June 3, 2017, Jennifer Dulous said, “I am afraid of my husband. I know that filing for divorce and filing this motion will enrage him. I know he will retaliate by trying to harm me in some way.” 

More court transcripts with quotes from Fotis Dulos seem to corroborate that perceived rage. During one of the divorce proceedings, he is on the record saying to the judge, “Your Honor, I am sorry, but why do I always get the raw end of the stick? I really want to see my children. I have spent 2 percent of the time with them since January. I’m not Charles Manson.” That proceeding was in March, just months before Jennifer disappeared. Initially, Jennifer and Fotis were sharing custody of their children, alternating weekends and complying with other orders in the agreement, such as an order to not expose the children to any romantic partners of either parent. When Fotis Dulos violated that order by allowing the children to spend time with his girlfriend, sole custody was transferred to Jennifer. While some supervised visitation with his children was eventually restored, the children were still not to have contact with Traconis. 

There was another factor in the Dulous’ rapidly deteriorating situation that might bring new context to these charges. In addition to the emotional toll Fotis Dulos cited after prolonged separation from his children, there was also a mounting pile of debt accumulating to facilitate the costs of waging the custody battle. In addition to legal fees for personal counsel, Fotis was also staring down the barrel of costs for a court-appointed guardian for all five children ($175,000), a child psychaiatrist that wrote the report entered into evidence ($40,000), a family therapist, three psychologists, and court-approved monitors who supervise Fotis’ visits with the children. 

Both Dulos and his girlfriend have been released on bond. Norm Pattis is the defense attorney of record for Dulos seems to be playing his cards close to the vest—so close in fact that both he and his client failed to appear at several official proceedings, such as a deposition last month, and another court appearance earlier in June. Pattis commented that the description of the evidence recovered from the trash cans in Hartford “was a very awkward set of facts,” and has yet to reveal his client’s alibi for the time frame in question when his estranged wife disappeared. “There is an explanation, but we’re not going to give it,” Pattis said, going on to say that they would wait until it was time to present the case to a jury before releasing that information to the public. Pattis further incurred public outrage by stating publicly that Jennifer has likely pulled a “Gone Girl,” making reference to the Gillian Flynn novel  and film of the same name, in which a wife deliberately stages her own disappearance with the intent to implicate her husband. Author Flynn responded to the theory, “It absolutely sickens me that a work of fiction written by me would be used by Fotis Dulos’ lawyer as a defense and as a hypothetical, sensationalized motive behind Jennifer’s very real and very tragic disappearance.”  

Elizabeth Shelley: Missing 5-Year-Old’s Uncle Charged With Murder

Elizabeth Shelley: Missing 5-Year-Old’s Uncle Charged With Murder

Logan City authorities are still searching for 5-year-old Elizabeth Shelley in Utah, following reports that the chief suspect in her disappearance is both under arrest and has been charged with murder. Despite the fact that a body has not been recovered, authorities have released statements characterizing the evidence in the case as solid.

The Cache County Attorney’s Office also recently released a grateful statement from the family, “As a family, we are overwhelmed, scared and sad at the recent tragic events that have touched our lives.” The desperate and miserable circumstances of little Elizabeth’s disappearance have been further compounded by the alleged involvement of her uncle, Alex Whipple.

Elizabeth Shelley was last seen at home by her mother in their Logan City home around 2AM on Saturday, May 25. This is also the time Whipple was last seen, because he was spending the night at the house. What followed was a crucial and narrow window of seven hours (2AM – 9AM) in which police have stated they believe Whipple left the house with the missing child. Around 10AM that morning, Elizabeth Shelley is reported missing by her family. Multiple investigating entities were brought in to find both Elizabeth Shelley and her uncle, including the FBI, the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force and Violent Crimes Task Force, Homeland Security, Cache County Sheriff’s Office, North Park Police Department, Smithfield Police Department, Utah Highway Patrol, Adult Probation and Parole and Great Basin K9.

This missing child investigation is another in a string of recent cases in which police have attempted to utilize private home footage from external CCTV systems and smart doorbells in order to fill in the gaps in a case’s timeline. In recent weeks, Houston law enforcement has employed similar investigative methods to find answers in the disappearance of Maleah Davis. Evidence obtained from the locals’ security systems and public CCTV surveillance cameras led police to investigating the girl’s mother’s former boyfriend. Authorities searching for Elizabeth Shelley continue to ask the community to review their own footage in the hopes that they might see something informative to their investigation.

When Whipple was located around 3PM that Saturday afternoon, the police took him into custody on the basis there was a warrant out for his arrest for failure to comply with the terms of his parole. Police recovered evidence in the vicinity of Elizabeth’s home and surrounding areas that are linked to both Whipple and the missing child. DNA obtained from some of Elizabeth’s personal items allowed police to test these items for matches to her genetic profile. Local media has reported on the grizzly list of items investigators have found related to the case. On May 28th, Chief Gary Jensen of the Logan City Police Department said in a press conference, “we have strong evidence connecting Alex to Lizzy’s disappearance.” As of Wednesday, he continues to exercise his right to remain silent.

As of May 29th, Alex Whipple is formally charged with aggravated murder, child kidnapping, desecration of a body, and two counts of obstruction of justice for his continued lack of cooperation with the investigation.

Update: Late on Wednesday, May 29th, reports came in that a body believed to be 5-year-old Elizabeth Shelley was found less than a block from her home after Whipple told his lawyer where he had hidden her. According to reports, Whipple provided the location of the child’s body in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table.

Mollie Tibbetts: The Case Heard ‘Round the World

Mollie Tibbetts: The Case Heard ‘Round the World

Mollie and Rob Tibbetts

Mollie Tibbetts with her father, Rob Tibbetts.

In central Iowa, off of Interstate 80, there is a little town called Brooklyn. Eight weeks ago, if you googled, ‘Brooklyn, Iowa,’ you would probably get results from the regional newspapers, a community Facebook page not updated since 2016, and a few Google Maps results. Now the results are very different as the town name dominates news coverage of the man charged with the first-degree murder of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts. The month-long search came to a grisly end when law enforcement discovered remains they believed to be the missing University of Iowa sophomore. Reports from the autopsy indicate she died from “multiple sharp force injuries.”

Mollie was reported missing after she did not show up to work on July 19, 2018. The night before, she had been dog-sitting for her boyfriend, Dalton Jack. Jack was in Dubuque, Montana for work—an alibi quickly removing him from the list of usual suspects when a young woman goes missing—when he opened a SnapChat from Mollie sent a few hours prior. When co-workers contacted him the next day to tell him Mollie never arrived for work, Jack was immediately concerned. It was not in Mollie’s nature to be unreliable, or flighty. She was reported missing, with the search party growing from a few dozen to hundreds, as an entire community felt the loss of this well-loved student. Locals tweeted Mollie’s name and missing poster to famous Iowans in the interest of getting her face out there in the media.

The FBI soon joined the search, working in conjunction with local law enforcement, to extract data from Mollie’s Fitbit in order to piece together the last hours before she went missing. It did not take long for the community to raise over $300,000 as a reward for her safe return, “the biggest figure Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa has ever collected.” However, law enforcement soon transparently declared in a press conference they were no closer to finding Mollie than before. “I understand this is frustrating for many in the public and the media, but feel this is necessary for our investigation. As far as suspects go, we continue to look at all possibilities. I’m not in a position right now to say, we have suspects, we don’t have suspects, persons of interest or anything else.”

Mere days after that press conference, a woman’s body was found an hour outside of Brooklyn, and briefly, the locals believed the search might be over. However, state police soon negated the rumors by declaring the remains found were not those of Mollie Tibbetts. As coverage of the investigation ensued, Mollie’s father, Rob Tibbetts, offered a hopeful perspective on his daughter’s disappearance, “It’s totally speculation on my part, but I think Mollie is with someone she knows, that is in over their head,” Rob says. “That there was some kind of misunderstanding about the nature of their relationship and at this point they don’t know how to get out from under this.”

As of August 9, 2018, Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa reported the organization had fielded more than 830 tips for law enforcement on Mollie’s case. One of those tips came from an Iowan resident by the name of Devin Riley, who claimed he might have been the last person to see Mollie alive. She regularly ran by his house between three and four times per week. “She’d kind of jog down the street and towards the hill. I thought nothing of it until I heard somebody was missing, and it really hit me that I hadn’t seen that runner since then.” Around this time, the record-breaking reward sum had swelled to nearly $400,000 following the authorities launching a website about Mollie’s case.

Mollie Tibbetts and Cristhian Bahena River

Mollie Tibbetts (left) and Cristhian Bahena River, the man charged with her murder (right).

Finally, on August 21, 2018, more than a month since Mollie disappeared, authorities had the break in the case they needed. Mollie’s remains were found in a field, covered by corn stalks. ‘Found’ may not be the word. In fact, they were led there by a man named Cristhian Bahena Rivera. He worked on a farm near the location of the body, and had confessed to police he hid Mollie there. He was described by former classmates as “a very good person, a simple guy with no vices,” and he was liked by his co-workers for his efficient, albeit silent, work ethic. Rivera was charged with murder last Wednesday, after he confessed to following Mollie on her run. In his arrest affidavit, Rivera’s memory of his altercation with Mollie is spotty. He claimed he remembered growing angry with her, because Tibbetts had her hands on the phone, threatening to call police, but the rest is a blur. The next thing he remembered was putting a bleeding young woman in his trunk, and driving her to the field where he would conceal her body. Since his arrest, Rivera has hired a new lawyer and is being held on a $5 million bond, despite his lack of criminal record and steady employment. He has not yet entered a plea to his charge of first-degree murder.

Mollie TibbettsThough the search for Mollie is over, the community has not relented in showing their support for the Tibbetts family. In addition to the record-breaking reward raised by Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa, locals and people around the country have offered their support via the hashtag #MilesforMollie, in which runners are dedicating their jogging miles to Mollie’s memory with the added sentiment they had to “keep going.” Only days after his sister’s body had been found, Scott Tibbetts—a quarterback at Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom High School in Iowa—led his team to victory in honor of Mollie. The Des Moines Register reported, “Scott Tibbetts decided last night to play today and led the Bears to a 35-24 win at Lisbon. The coaches tried to keep things as normal as possible but could see the strain on their players’ faces this week. Tonight, there were plenty of smiles and hugs after the game. A big B-G-M contingent on hand. Nice moment for that community.” One of the biggest testaments to Mollie’s impact on her community was the fact, in a town of a little over 1500 people, 1200 mourners turned out for her funeral. Mollie’s other brother, Jake, spoke at her service, delivering a beautiful message about Mollie’s spirit:

“I can see her dancing with joy in her heart,” he said. “Mollie’s best life here would be spent helping others, helping everyone in this room … And now she’s in a place where she can watch over everyone in here and everyone in the country and help them reach their goals, solve their problems and make their lives better, because that’s what Mollie was all about.”

 

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.

The Disappearance of Tara Calico

The Disappearance of Tara Calico

Polaroid found in parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe Florida in July 1989

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.

vc andrewsPictured 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.

The Disappearance

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

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.

Later police would find pieces of Tara’s Sony Walkman alongside the road. A pink Huffy bike would later be found in a ditch at a secluded campground approximately 20 miles from Tara’s home.

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.

Unidentified Boy

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

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

boy picIn 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.

girl polaroid

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.

Photograph found, taken with film not available until February 1990 of a woman bound and gagged on an Amtrak with unidentified man

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.

Tara flyer

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.