Mackenzie “Kenzie” Lueck, 23, is a vanished Monday, June 17, 2019, from Salt Lake City, Utah. She last contacted her family during the early hours of June 17, to let them know her plane had arrived. No one has heard from her since.
During an intensive investigation of Lueck’s disappearance, police made a grisly discovery Friday, June 28.
On June 28, police announced they arrested Ayoola Ajayi, 31, in the kidnapping and murder of Mackenzie Lueck. Photo courtesy of Deseret News.
After scouring a digital trail, Salt Lake City police have arrested Ayoola A. Ajayi, 31, in the kidnapping and murder of Lueck after serving search warrants on his home and finding remains and other articles that had been burned in Ajayi’s backyard.
Mackenzie Lueck vanished after leaving Salt Lake City International Airport on June 17, 2018 after taking a ride from a Lyft driver.
Last week police released surveillance footage at Salt Lake City International Airport, showing Lueck had deplaned at approximately 2:09 a.m.
It does not appear that Lueck talked to anyone while at the airport. The footage shows she was at the airport for approximately 31 minutes, quickly stopping to pick up her luggage before leaving the jetway and getting into a Lyft rideshare at 2:40 a.m.
Salt Lake City Assistant Police Chief Tim Doubt told reporters that Lueck sent a text to her mother at 2:01 a.m. on June 17, shortly after landing in Salt Lake City. Lueck had been returning from California after visiting family for her grandmother’s funeral whom she was very close to.
From the airport, Lueck did not go home but instead took the Lyft to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake City. The park is nestled between restaurants and apartment complexes with a police department up the street. A hot spot for families and community events, the park is large with two playgrounds, basketball court, baseball diamond, and grassy field.
Lueck arrived at the park at 2:59 a.m., and according to the Lyft driver, a person was there waiting for her in a car.
The Lyft driver told police Lueck did not appear to be in any kind of distress when she was dropped off.
Police say they are not aware of Mackenzie Lueck having any mental health issues or a history of going off the grid.
Lueck was a part-time student at the University of Utah in her senior year majoring in kinesiology and pre-nursing, attending the college since 2014.
Since her disappearance, Lueck failed to show up at a laboratory where she is employed, missed her mid-term exam and failed to show up for her return scheduled flight to Los Angeles on June 23. There was also no social media activity raising concern. Despite numerous attempts to reach her, Lueck’s phone had been turned off since she vanished.
Lueck’s cat and car were still at her house.
At the time of her disappearance, Ashley Fine, one of Lueck’s friends told the Salt Lake City Tribune that Lueck was a dedicated student and said missing classes is not something she would ever do.
Police had canvassed the park numerous times to get surveillance video and knock on resident’s doors to inquire if anyone saw anything the evening she vanished.
Police had received several tips that Lueck may have been using dating apps and might have been interested in meeting older men and casually dating.
KSL TV reported that two comments to a social media post were sent anonymously to a private investigator and subsequently forwarded to a Utah cold cases podcast creator suggesting Lueck may have been seeking a “sugar daddy” type relationship with older men.
“Try Tinder and be blunt about it,” read one comment appearing to have been authored by an account belonging to a Kenzie Lueck.
The next comment reads, “Mine says ‘I want an SD/SB relationship with a real connection’ if don’t know what an SD/SB is, tell them, sugar daddy and sugar baby. But if they don’t know, they aren’t worth your time. Set (your) age preference to 35+. You’ll have the most luck there. Private message me, if you have more questions! I have experience.”
“I have some experience on seeking arrangements, online only, tinder, and currently have two lol,” the timestamp on the message indicates it was made 12 weeks ago.
The dating app noted the profile says the user is seeking a “mutually beneficial” relationship, from California, going to school in Utah and graduating kinesiology in Spring of 2020, along with what appears to be an image of Lueck.
Police have uncovered several other social media accounts including an Instagram account they continue to investigate.
Thomas Lauth, a private investigator based in Indianapolis, Ind., has worked on missing person cases for 25 years and watching the investigation closely. “One of the first things we do as private investigators is to investigate a missing person’s social and personal life,” said Lauth. “The information that can be extracted from social media accounts can be critical information that police can use to potentially move forward with the investigation and solid charges,” Lauth added. “I am sure even after the arrest they are scouring both Lueck’s and Ajayi’s social media accounts to determine how and when Mackenzie and Ajayi met.”
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown makes announcement they have found the charred remains of Mackenzie Lueck. Photo courtesy of Fox News.
At a press conference announcing the arrest, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said after Lueck disappeared, the suspect originally denied knowing what she looked like but several pictures of her were found on his phone, and the “digital footprint” has continued even after the arrest.
“This is a digital forensic investigation,” Brown said. “This is covering computers, cell phones, IP addresses, URLs and texting apps.”
Investigators also found forensic evidence after searching Ajayi’s home and property police said. As they did, neighbors came forward and told police they saw Ajayi using gasoline to burn something in his backyard on June 17 and 18, Brown said.
“A forensic excavation of the burn area was conducted, which resulted in the finding of several charred items that were consistent with personal items of Mackenzie Lueck,” Brown added.
Police also discovered charred material that was determined to be female tissue consistent with Lueck’s DNA profile. A mattress police were searching for has been located but they did not offer additional details.
After Ajayi’s arrest, Brown contacted Lueck’s parents to give them the news. They were “devastated and heartbroken” by this news Brown Said. “This is one of the most difficult phone calls I’ve ever made,” he said.
According to Ajayi’s LinkedIn profile, he is a former information technology specialist for the US Army and recently worked for Dell and Goldman Sachs. He lived approximately 5 miles from the park where Lueck was last seen.
Brown told reporters they expect to charge Ajayi with aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body.
It is said, ambiguous loss is the most traumatic of human experiences, and when someone you love goes missing, it is a trauma unlike any other.
Ambiguous loss occurs without understanding or closure, leaving a person searching for answers. Ambiguous loss confounds the process of grieving, leaving a person with prolonged unresolved grief and deep emotional trauma.
Ambiguous loss can be classified in two categories, psychological and physical. Psychological and physical loss differ in terms of what and why exactly the person is grieving.
Physical ambiguous loss means the body of a loved is no longer present, such as a missing person or unrecovered body, resulting from war, a catastrophe such as 9/11 or kidnapping, but the person is still remembered psychologically because there is still a chance the person may return. Such is the case with a missing person. This type of loss results in trauma and can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Psychological Loss is a type of loss that is a result of a loved one still physically present, but psychologically absent. Psychological loss can occur when the brain of a loved one is affected, such as traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease.
When a person goes missing, loved ones are left with more questions than answers, leaving them searching, not only for the missing person but for answers.
Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Pauline Boss is a pioneer who has studied ambiguous loss since 1973, and her decades of research have revealed those who suffer from ambiguous loss without finality, face a particularly difficult burden. Whether it is the experience of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease, or someone awaiting the fate of a family member who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances or a disastrous event such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, the loss is magnified because it is linked to lack of closure.
Those experiencing ambiguous loss find it difficult to understand, cope and almost impossible to move forward with their lives without professional counseling, love and support.
Experiencing grief is a vital part of healing, but ambiguous loss stalls the process of grieving, sometimes indefinitely. With the possibility a missing person may be alive, individuals are confounded as to how to cope.
Parents and family members of missing persons say there is no such thing as closure. Dr. Pauline Boss says the idea of closure can lead us astray – it’s a myth that needs to be set aside, like accepting the idea grief has five linear stages and we simply come out the other side and done with it.
Five Stages of Grief
It is widely accepted there are five stages of grief:
While many helpful programs are focused on these various stages, they are not necessarily experienced on order, nor are they inclusive to other issues that commonly arise, and they certainly do not include what a family experiences when a loved one goes missing.
In my nearly 30 years working with families of missing persons and unsolved homicides, I have witnessed all stages of grief and ambiguity, finding the profound effects of a loved one going missing is multi-generational and all encompassing.
Family members of missing persons must live with people’s misconception that the individual or family must move on. Like PTSD flashbacks, a missing loved one is a traumatic event that does not end, and each life event is a reminder the individual, is gone without a trace.
Those of us who have never experienced having a loved one disappear, tend to react to situations using our own experiences and may relate the disappearance of an individual to the death of someone we have loved passing away. The problem is, with a missing person there is no place to grieve, to visit, no physical body to mourn.
Constant daily uncertainty is a major source of stress, emotionally, physically, psychologically and with a missing person, the uncertainty does not dissipate. When others expect one to move on, they commonly do not understand circumstances simply do not allow it.
It is not uncommon for families to experience all phases of ambiguous loss taking a toll both physically and mentally. While I was there to help, I often found myself the one who was thankful as I was blessed to see and meet, the most amazing, strong, and courageous individuals. Getting to know these families made me face my own vulnerability and the fact this can happen to any family.
The most moving of my recollections is of a young mother who had gone missing under suspicious circumstances. Her mother had contacted me and knew something terrible had happened to her daughter, insistent police needed to investigate more aggressively.
She had been missing a year during Christmas of 2002. Her mother called me to discuss her daughter’s case and told me that her granddaughter had written a letter to Santa and wanted to read it to me.
The little girl wrote:
“Dear Santa, I am not writing you for toys this year. The only thing I want for Christmas is for my Mommy to come home.”
My heart broke for this little girl. Little did I know, fast forward fifteen years later, I would be having a conversation with the same child. She had grown into a beautiful young lady and miraculously living a normal life despite growing up without her mother who remains missing. Not all are so fortunate.
Sometimes we forget how many people are impacted when a loved one goes missing. Children of missing persons, siblings, grandparents, parents, and other family and friends. The impact is immeasurable on the family structure and one needing to be studied further. What we do know, is the trauma of ambiguous loss affects everyone differently and a family can quickly spiral out of control without immediate intervention.
When a person goes missing, children are displaced, families can suffer financially due to loss of income or assets becoming tied up in the legal process, siblings of missing persons, children especially, face numerous obstacles when being raised in a household where ongoing trauma is occurring and they must live in the shadow of someone no longer there.
With missing children, parents are faced with the “not knowing” on a day to day basis. When an adult child goes missing, parents are not only left with the “not knowing”, they also face the possibility of raising their grandchildren.
As with the young girl who I watched grow up, her grandmother somehow found the courage to raise her granddaughter while continuing to search for anything leading to her missing daughter. She had found a balance providing a healthy and loving environment for her granddaughter, while facing she may never see her own daughter again.
Though not the product of abstract academic research, it was written by parents of missing children, with the assistance of law enforcement and youth professionals, containing critical information, guidance and tools parents need to help find their missing child while making every effort to focus on staying healthy. The guide contains much information to simply help families make it through a day.
Many of the parents who helped write the handbook, I had the honor of working with over the course of decades. Following, we will summarize the first 48 hours a family must make it through when a loved one goes missing. While it is focused on families who have missing children, this handbook is an important resource for anyone with a missing person in their life, regardless of age.
While the handbook contains steps to take to effectively work with law enforcement, media volunteers, how to disseminate fliers, and more – the most important part of the handbook is Chapter 7 focusing on maintaining health, preparing for the long term, the importance of not utilizing substances and medications to deal with the loss, and uniting with your remaining children focusing on their security and potential emotional issues.
“Hanging onto my sanity for a minute at a time often took all of my energy. I could not begin to look several days down the road,” said Colleen Nick, mother of Morgan who vanished June 9, 1995.
When your child is missing, you are overwhelmed with questions from police, neighbors, family and friends, and the media. At times, a parent may be faced with decisions they never thought they would have to make. One can begin to feel isolated, confused and utterly desperate with nowhere to go for support, but there is hope and it is found in the experience of other parents of missing persons who are courageous, and in my opinion, heroic.
The First 24 Hours (A Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide)
Request police issue a “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) message.
Limit access to your home until police have arrived to collect evidence. It is important not to touch or remove anything from your child’s room.
Ask for the contact information of the law enforcement officer assigned to your case. Keep in a safe place.
Provide law enforcement with facts related to the disappearance of your child, including what has already been done to find the child.
Have a good photograph available of your child and include a detailed description of your child and what your child was wearing.
Make a list of friends, family and acquaintances and contact information for anyone who may have information about your child’s whereabouts. Include anyone who has moved in or out of the neighborhood within the last year.
Make copies of photographs of your child in both black and white and color to provide to law enforcement, NCMEC, and media.
Ask your law enforcement agency to organize a search for your child both foot patrol and canine.
Ask law enforcement to issue an AMBER ALERT if your child’s disappearance meets the criteria.
Ask law enforcement for guidance when working with media. It is important not to divulge information law enforcement does not want released to media possibly compromising the recovery efforts of your child.
Designate one individual to answer your phone notating and summarizing each phone call, complete with contact information for each person who has called in one notebook.
In addition, keep a notebook with you at all times to write down thoughts, questions, and important information, such as names, dates and telephone numbers.
Take good care of yourself and your family because your child needs you to be strong. Force yourself to eat, rest and talk to others about your feelings.
The Next 24 Hours
Ask for a meeting with your investigator to discuss steps being taken to find your child. Ensure your investigator has a copy of Missing and Abducted Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management. They can call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST to obtain a copy. In addition, ask them to contact the Crimes Against Children Coordinator in their local FBI Field Office to obtain a copy of the FBI’s Child Abduction Response Plan.
Expand your list of friends, acquaintances, extended family members, landscapers, delivery persons, babysitters and anyone who may have seen your child during or following their disappearance or abduction.
Look at personal calendars, newspapers and community events calendars to see if there may be any clues as to who may have been in the area and provide this information to law enforcement.
Understand you will be asked to take a polygraph. This is standard procedure.
Ask your law enforcement agency to request NCMEC issue a Broadcast Fax to law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Work cooperatively with your law enforcement agency to issue press releases and media events.
Talk to law enforcement about the use of a reward.
Report all information and/or extortion attempts to law enforcement immediately.
Have a second telephone line installed with call forwarding, Caller ID and call waiting. If you do not have one, get a cell phone so you can receive calls when you are away from home and forward all calls to it.
Make a list of what volunteers can do for you and your family.
Contact your child’s doctor and dentist and request copies of medical records and x-rays to provide to police. Ask the doctor to expedite your request based upon the circumstances.
Take care of yourself and your family and do not be afraid to ask others to help take care of your physical and emotional needs. Your remaining children need to know you are also there for them while staying strong and healthy for them all.
The resounding message here is family members of missing persons must take care of themselves and include others in their journey to help them along when they are tiring.
It was June 9, 1995, on a beautiful evening in the small town of Alma, Arkansas. Alma is located along I-40 within the Arkansas River Valley at the edge of the Ozark Mountains with a population under 5,000 people.
That evening was the first time 6-year old Morgan Nick had gone to a baseball game. Her mother Colleen was attending the Rookie League game at the Alma ballpark and Morgan had whined about having to sit next to her mother in the bleachers. There was a nearby sand pile with other children playing and Morgan wanted to play. It was within eyesight and only seconds away, so Colleen consented.
Morgan Nick, age 6, vanished from Alma, Arkansas on June 9, 1995
Morgan ran to the sandpile, laughing with the other children while Colleen turned her head back to watch the Marlins and Pythons. A player whacked the ball and two runners tied the game, then a run was scored, and the Pythons won the game. The sound of the crowd cheering was deafening.
When Colleen stood up, she could see Morgan’s playmates walking down the hill away from the sandpile, but where was Morgan? It was approximately 10:30 p.m.
The children told Colleen, Morgan was pouring sand out of her shoe near her mother’s car parked nearby. Colleen frantically searched. Morgan was gone.
Later, the children would tell police they saw a man approach Morgan. Another abduction attempt had occurred in Alma the same day and police had a composite sketched based on witnesses of the other incident.
Thousands of leads later, numerous appearances on national news talk shows, even America’s Most Wanted, and Morgan’s mother is nowhere closer to knowing what happened to her daughter. Police have interviewed hundreds of persons of interest, searched homes and wells, and dug up slabs of concrete with backhoes, but Morgan remains missing 23 years later.
The stakes are high when a person vanishes involuntarily.
Morgan’s mother Colleen spent years keeping Morgan’s room the way it was when she vanished. She bought Christmas presents and a birthday present each year, hoping Morgan would someday return to open them.
The emotional toll is beyond words.
On Morgan’s Birthday, September 12, 2014, Colleen wrote an Open Letter to Morgan, posted on the NCMEC blog.
A Letter to Our Missing Daughter Morgan Nick
Today is your 26th birthday. Today marks twenty birthdays without you here. We miss you so desperately and our hearts are ragged with grief. We have searched for you every single day since the day you were kidnapped from us at the Little League Baseball field in Alma, Arkansas.
You were only 6 years old. We went with our friends to watch one of their children play in the game. You threw your arms around my neck in a bear hug, planted a kiss on my cheek, and ran to catch fireflies with your friends.
It is the last time that I saw you. There have been so many days since then of emptiness and heartache.
On this birthday I choose to think about your laughter, your smile, the twinkle in your sparkling blue eyes. I celebrate who you are and the deep and lasting joy that you bring to our family.
I smile today as I think about your 5th birthday. For that birthday, we took you to the Humane Society with the promise of adopting a kitten. You, my precious little girl with your big heart, took one look around the cat room and picked out the ugliest, scrawniest, most pitiful looking kitten in the entire place. Such a tiny little thing, that it was mostly all eyes.
Dad and I used our best parental powers of persuasion to get you to pick a different kitten, to look at the older cats, to choose any other feline besides that poor ugly kitty. It looked like someone had taken the worst leftover colors of mud, stirred them together, and used them to design a kitten.
You planted your five-year-old feet, looked us straight in the eye and declared that this was the kitten you were taking home. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. You would not budge, and you resolutely refused to take a second look at any other cat or kitten in the room. You had a fire of conviction in your heart.
The unexpected obstacle we faced was we were not able to adopt on that Saturday but had to wait until Monday to finalize. For the rest of the weekend and all-day Monday, you fretted and pouted and worried someone else would take “your” kitten home with them. We tried to assure you that no one else would want that cat. We didn’t want to say it was because it was so tiny, or so ugly, or so-nothing-at-all-but-eyes. You could see only beauty and you were in love.
Finally, Monday afternoon came, and dad brought it home with him after work. In that moment, your daddy was your biggest hero because he had saved your kitten.
You tenderly snuggled that little bit of fur into your arms and declared that her name was Emily. You adored your new kitten and she loved you right back. Emily gained some weight and filled out a bit. Her colors started to take shape. We began to see the same beauty in her that you had seen in that very first moment.
Where you went, Emily went. You played together. You ate together. You watched Barney together. You slept together.
Which brings me to the photo. It captures everything we love about you. I would slip into your room late at night and stand there, watching the two of you sleeping together, in awe of your sweetness, and my heart would squeeze a little tighter.
So many birthdays have passed since then. So many days since a stranger ripped you from our hearts.
My sweet girl, if you should happen to read this, we want you to know how very important and special you are to us. You are a blessing we cannot live without. We feel cheated by every day that goes by and we do not see your smile, hear your bubbly laughter, or listen to your thoughts and ideas. We have never stopped believing that we will find you. We are saving all our hugs and kisses for you.
Please be strong and brave, with a fire of conviction in your heart, just like the day you picked out your kitten!
On this birthday we promise you that we will always fight for you. We will bring you back home to our family where you belong. We will always love you! We will never give up.
Love Mom (Colleen Nick) & Dad
One cannot help but feel the Nick family’s loss. So many birthdays, so many Christmases, so many days wondering if Morgan is alive. How on earth have they done it?
Hope is incredibly important in life for health, happiness, success and coping. Research shows optimistic people are more likely to live fulfilling lives and to enjoy life. In addition, hope relieves stress reducing the risk of many leading causes of death such as high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Having hope takes a special kind of courage I have found so many families of missing persons have mustered during the most difficult time of their lives . . . not just one season but many Seasons of Hope.
What does it mean for a child to fall through the cracks? It’s a phrase we often hear following a tragedy involving children, like the one that killed six members of the Hart family in March of this year. Their family SUV was found in the water after having plummeted from a cliff’s edge in Northern California. While the remains of the parents, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, and four of their six children were pulled from the wreckage, two of the children, Hannah Hart, 16, and Devonte Hart, 15, are still missing, yet presumed deceased. In the weeks following, the investigation of the crash and the home life lived by the Hart family has law enforcement and social service agencies shaking their heads. When asked how something like this could happen to these beautiful children, many lament with dissatisfaction, “They fell through the cracks in the system.”
What was initially regarded as an accident has recently been declared by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s department in California to be a homicide. Investigators have since learned at the time of the crash Jennifer Hart, the driver of the vehicle, was legally intoxicated. While that fact alone is heartbreaking, the tragedy deepened when an examination of the road near the cliff determined the vehicle may have come to a complete stop before speeding over the edge into the Pacific Ocean. Both Sarah Hart, Jennifer’s wife, and the three youngest children were found to have substances resembling Benadryl in their systems. This evidence was just the beginning of a series of confusing discoveries by investigators painting a larger picture of six children trapped in an isolated world of strict rules, rigorous punishment, and a functional façade that had friends, neighbors, and social service agencies stymied in their efforts to save the Hart children.
A truck drives by the pullout where the SUV of Jennifer and Sarah Hart was recovered off the Pacific Coast Highway, near Westport, Calif., Wednesday, March 28, 2018. The bodies of the two women and three of their adopted children were recovered after the vehicle plunged over the cliff Monday, while three more of their children, Devonte Hart, 15, Hannah Hart, 16, and Sierra Hart, 12, have not been found. (Alvin Jornada/The Press Democrat via AP)
Their neighbors in Woodlawn, Washington had called social services a few days before the crash after weeks of 15-year-old Devonte approaching their door up to three times in a single day to ask for food because Devonte claimed his mothers were not feeding him or his siblings. These are the same neighbors who played host to the much-covered incident in which Devonte’s sister Hannah, 16, jumped out a window of the Hart home and ran next door to hide from her mothers. Social services knocked on the Harts’ door two days before the crashed. Despite having observed their SUV in the driveway, there was no answer. They returned the next day, but this time no one appeared to be home.
The agent left their card on the door, but it was already too late for the Hart children. The baffling fact is this was the third time it had been too late for state social services to intervene. The children were adopted in Texas, and the family moved to Minnesota not too long after. Social service agencies there received six claims of abuse/neglect during the Hart’s time living there, two of which they were able to confirm. The first claim was from an anonymous party who claimed the children appeared malnourished. This claim was easily verified by the sight of them, particularly Hannah Hart. Although Hannah was sixteen at the time of the crash, she was one of the smallest children, possessing the frame of an eight or nine-year-old. The second was a 2010 case that began with the parents discovering a penny in the pocket of one of the children, Abigail. Convinced the child had lied about how she got the penny, Sarah disciplined Abigail, describing it in court documents as a spanking that “got out of control.” The reported misdemeanor assault conviction on Sarah’s record was filed around this time. Sarah had admitted to using corporal punishment to discipline a child identified as “A.H.” According to The New York Times, the school system stopped making calls home in order to spare the children any disciplinary action at the hands of their mothers. Not too long after Sarah’s domestic assault conviction, the children were pulled from public school.
The family moved to Oregon, where law enforcement and child welfare agencies were eventually made aware of the allegations against the Harts in Minnesota. If the children had fallen through the cracks in Minnesota, Oregon was making efforts to ensure they wouldn’t fall through another. While there was no direct evidence of abuse discovered, they did hear some disturbing anecdotes from friends and acquaintances of the family. One person reported the Harts had stayed at their residence for a few days. After ordering a pizza, Jennifer only permitted the children to have one small piece. The children obeyed, but the next day, the pizza was gone. When none of the children would admit to eating the pizza, an enraged Jennifer forced them to lie still on their beds for hours as a form of punishment. Unfortunately, despite these disturbing accounts, Oregon child services was “unable to determine” whether or not the children were victims of neglect, and having found no evidence of a safety threat, their hands were tied. And just like that, the Hart children tumbled through another crack in the system.
In documents published after the crash, a Minnesota welfare employee commented the investigation into the Harts was tricky because they “look normal.” And look normal, they did. Appearances were apparently very important to the Harts, who allegedly forced the children to pose happily for Facebook photos. According to People, multiple women spoke with Oregonian child welfare representatives who commented Jennifer Hart “does this thing for her Facebook page, where the kids pose, and are made to look like one big happy family, but after the photo event, they go back to looking lifeless.” If that’s true, it would be a compelling testament to the proposed notion that these children were often thought of as accessories in the women’s lives. A quick google search of “the hart family” in images will kick back at least a half dozen image results of the family in matching or coordinated outfits for a variety of events, including matching blue Bernie Sanders shirts at a Ferguson demonstration–the same event where 15 year-old Devonte would become famous on the internet when a photo of his tearful embrace with a police officer went viral. An investigation into the Hart’s family home following the crash turned up further contradictions to the Facebook life cultivated by the parents. The Hart mothers proudly proclaimed their vegetarian lifestyle on social media, as well as publicly denouncing television in favor of more productive activities, such as reading and outdoor play. A search of the home turned up a large-screen television, as well as a fridge stocked heavily with ham, hot dogs, and frozen chicken breasts. There were also allegations both mothers favored Devonte, the child who was famously photographed hugging a police officer during a northwestern Ferguson demonstration. These facts presented together certainly give credence to allegations the children were often treated as accessories for the lifestyle these women wanted to portray.
Facebook pictures, staged or otherwise, are certainly not smoking guns for abuse. So what were the red flags? Child welfare experts have stated, in addition to the bruises discovered on Abigail, the extraction of children from public school might as well have been a flaming comet—a beacon something was amiss in the Hart household. Nicol Stolar-Peterson, a licensed clinical social worker and child abuse expert says the circumstances of a child’s presence at school can be very telling to school teachers and other mandated reporters, “Are they wearing the same clothes for three days? Have they been fed? Are they always hungry when they get here? Do they eat breakfast and lunch and they’re starving and they say that’s the only two meals they get?” When children are pulled from public school, it narrows the number of mandated reporters (teachers, doctors, etc.) they are exposed to everyday. An approximate 1.7 million children are currently homeschooled in the United States for a variety of reasons, receiving a personalized education to further their academic success. However, without regular access to other adults, it liberates caregivers to abuse children without fear of being discovered.
These children did not trip and fall into an opaque field where the signs of abuse were invisible to the outside world. Rather they were pulled through the cracks by two women who wished to isolate them from the outside world. And the consensus among child welfare professionals is there is something to be learned from this case. In a letter accompanying the release of all child welfare documents pertaining to the Hart children, Caroline Burnell of the Oregon Department of Human Services said, “We believe the release of these records may help avoid future tragedies.” She also noted the department, “continues to strive to improve.”
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.
In Western media coverage, she’s denoted as “the Chinese Angelina Jolie,” with an adoring fan-base that knows no borders. Last year, there were only four other actresses in the world who made more money per project than she. She’s considered one of the most influential public figures in China, who is also speculated to be an enemy of their government. Her name is Fan BingBing, and she has not been seen in public since June of 2018.
Western filmgoers will recognize her from popular film franchises from the Marvel Studios universe, such as X-Men: Days of Future Past in which she portrayed Blink, a portal-jumping mutant who made an impression on American audiences. But on the other side of the world, Fan Bingbing had been cultivating a celebrity image since her teen years, starring in Chinese film and television. In 2017, TIME Magazine placed her on their list of 100 Most Influential People. She’s also slated to star alongside Jessica Chastain in an upcoming Western spy thriller called 355. There’s just one problem: No one can find her.
No one has laid eyes on Fan since June, and the last public statement made by the actress came from a social media platform akin to Twitter—her Weibo account. A comment in a Chinese securities newspaper following that post said Fan Bingbing had been “placed under control and will accept legal judgement.” The article was not on the website long. It was taken down, and its existence scrubbed from the site and all the site’s social media.
Fan BingBing’s disappearance has created a conversation in the Western world about how a Chinese national’s involvement with the American entertainment industry can make them an enemy of the socialist state. One of the widely-propagated stories about the actress’s disappearance is that she is flying under the radar amid accusations of tax-evasion. But how exactly does someone, whose fame is equated to that of Angelina Jolie, manage to disappear completely from public life? Many theorize that the answer lies within the Chinese government.
China’s film industry is heavily regulated by the government, as they consider the industry to have a direct effect on its people and their morals. “The entire entertainment industry, and its rise and fall are determined by the politics, ideology, and the likes and dislikes of [China’s] leaders. This has become more obvious in recent years,” said Qiao Mu, an independent political and media analyst based in Washington, DC. Just recently, the film Crazy Rich Asians was denied release in China, with officials citing the film’s glorification of “money worship” and the negative effect it would have on the country’s youth. Consequently, if film is believed to heavily influence the public, so do the actors involved. According to Stanley Rosen, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies the Chinese film industry, control is key for the government, ““The basic point is to intimidate celebrities with large followings so that they are not too independent and serve as an alternative voice on issues of public import.”
If Fan Bingbing is indeed guilty of tax-evasion, it’s no mystery why the Chinese government would be interested in her whereabouts; however, there are many who believe her disappearance has nothing to do with tax-evasion, and that Fan Bingbing is likely in the confines of what is known as a “black jail.” Peter Dahlin, a Swedish human rights attorney who was detained for almost a month in a black jail in 2016, was quoted in TIME, “The world has never known the numbers of disappearances that we see today in China.” TIME also reported that national security and local law enforcement are now authorized to detain individuals at undisclosed locations for a period of up to six months. This is a familiar scenario to those familiar with the work of Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, who was also detained for three months by government officials. His supposed crime? Tax-evasion.
Just as supporters turned out for Ai Weiwei when he disappeared in 2011, Fan Bingbing’s droves of adoring fans continue to cry out for answers. Last Sunday, a birthday hashtag for Fan reached an audience of 64 million, a testament to her continued influence and impact throughout the globe. It was reposted more than 30,000 times, bearing a message of hope from her beloved fans, “We will wait for you.”
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.
Investigators in Tennessee have tied a missing Indiana woman to their murder investigation 33 years after her disappearance.
New Year’s Day in 1985, a young woman was found dead near Jellico, along Interstate 75, in Campbell County, Tenn. Police believed the woman had been murdered several days prior to being located along the highway. Campbell County is on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky.
In 1985, investigators were unable to identify the young woman until decades later Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI) agents saw a post about 21-year old Tina Marie McKenney Farmer’s 1984 disappearance posted on a missing person’s blog. TBI investigators then cross-referenced Farmer’s fingerprints with the unidentified homicide victim and got a match. Her identification was announced September 6, 2018.
Farmer’s family last saw her on Thanksgiving Day in 1984.
Farmer is believed to be the victim of the still unsolved “Redhead Murders” committed by an unidentified serial killer also known as the Bible Belt Strangler who operated in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Independent private investigators believe the serial killer is a truck driver based out of Knoxville and that he could still be out there, having moved locations, possibly changing modus operandi, going undetected.
It is presumed the murders began in approximately 1978, continuing through the 1980’s until 1992. The victims, many who have never been identified, predominately have reddish hair and thought to be engaged in prostitution or hitchhiking, their bodies dumped along major highways. Farmer had been bound and strangled and was 2-5 months pregnant at the time of her death. She was found fully clothed.
Of the six to eleven victims of the Bible Belt Strangler, only two have ever been identified.
It is believed most of the victims who remain unidentified is due to being estranged from their families due living “high risk” lifestyles and may not be native to the state their remains were located.
Some were found nude and some partially or fully clothed. There were also some variations in the methods the serial killer used to murder his victims.
Lisa Nichols, 28, was found on September 16, 1984, along Interstate 40 near West Memphis, Arkansas. She had been a resident of West Virginia. It is thought Lisa may have been hitchhiking away from a truck stop. Lisa was identified in 1985 by a couple who had let her stay with them for a period of time. Lisa had been strangled and left alongside the freeway wearing only a sweater. Lisa is thought to have been the serial killer’s second victim.
Wetzel County Victim is thought to be the first of the Bible Belt Strangler’s victims, although some law enforcement is skeptical her death is connected to the Bible Belt Strangler. On February 13, 1983, two senior citizens reported to police that they thought they saw a mannequin before discovering it was a human corpse alongside Route 250 in Wetzel County, near Littleton West Virginia. It was determined the body had been dumped in the area fairly recently because the body was void of snow that covered the ground. It is presumed the victim had died approximately two days prior, however cause of death has never been determined, and one of the old victims being between 35-45 years old. She was well groomed, not consistent with someone being transient.
Campbell County Victim was found April 3, 1985. It is believed she had died one to four years prior to being located. She was one of the younger victims, estimated to be between 9 and 15 years old. She was located by a passerby near a strip mine, approximately 200 yards off Big Wheel Gap Road, in Campbell County, 4 miles southwest of Jellico near Interstate 75. Thirty-two bones including her skull were recovered, along with scraps of clothing, size 5 boots, and a necklace and bracelet made of plastic clothing buttons.
Cheatham County Victim was located March 31, 1985 in Cheatham County, in Pleasant View, Tennessee. Believed to be between 31-40, her skeletonized remains we found clothed, along with a hat with a Palm tree graphic. Her body was found on the side of Interstate 75, between mile markers 29-30.
An examination of her teeth indicates some crowding and overlapping of her teeth.
Knox County Victim was found in a white Admiral refrigerator alongside Route 25 in Knox County near Gray, Kentucky. The refrigerator has a decal of the words “Super Woman” on the front. The victim, who died of suffocation and had been deceased for several days.
She was found nude with the exception of two distinctive necklace with one heart pendant, the other a gold Eagle and two different socks, one white, the other green and yellow stripes. There were reports the victim may have been on a CB radio prior to her death soliciting a ride to North Carolina. Forensic examination indicates she was between 24-35 years old and had previously given birth to a child.
Greene County Victim was found on April 14, 1985 in Green County, in Greeneville, Tennessee. Despite being in advanced decomposition, the autopsy determined the victim had died due to blunt force trauma and possibly a stab wound, approximately 3-6 weeks before being found. Investigators were able to obtain her fingerprints, dental information and DNA in an effort to identify her.
The victim is estimated to be between 14-20 years old. It was also determined the victim had been 6-8 weeks pregnant but had recently miscarried prior to her death.
As of May 31, 2018, there were 8,709 case of unidentified persons in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In addition, the number of active missing person cases in NCIC was 87,608 as of May 31st.
When unidentified remains are located, a forensic examination is conducted, and information is collected that will assist in locating the individual such as age range, race, physical description, dental records, fingerprints and most importantly – DNA. In addition, a facial composite is typically made depicting how the person “may look” when the were alive. At times, even post-mortem photographs are used to try to engage the public to help identify the individual.
Records containing physical descriptors, such as height, weight, eye color, hair color, scars, marks, and tattoos, to include clothing and jewelry is regularly cross-referenced within NCIC with the Missing Person files to potentially get a match, positively identifying the subject.
What did not exist in the 1980’s to help identify those who have no names, and remain unidentified, now gives investigating law enforcement agencies and families of missing persons hope their case or loved one’s disappearance will be solved through the use of DNA.
The use of DNA technology and creation of a national database to help identify missing and unidentified persons emerged in the early 1990’s with pilot program in 14 state and local laboratories. CODIS is the acronym for the Combined DNA Index System.
The FBI administers the National Missing Person DNA Database (NMPDD) as part of the National DNA Index System (NDIS). The NMPDD and NDIS cross references DNA records stored in the Missing Person, Relatives of Missing Person, and Unidentified Remains Indexes of NDIS.
During a missing person investigation, it is recommended that DNA be collected from several family members, to include mitochondrial DNA from maternal relative, to help maximize the potential for such associations.
Despite these efforts, when limited or no genetic information is available, associations may not be possible through database searches.
That’s when investigators commonly use other methods in an attempt to give an identity to an unidentified person and turn to the public.
It is often said, solving cases requires the cooperative effort between law enforcement, the media, advocates, and especially the public.
Thomas Lauth, private investigator and owner of Lauth Missing Persons has worked missing person cases throughout the United States for over 20 years. “First, in the 1980’s police reports of missing persons were treated differently, not with the urgency they are treated now, and many cases presumably not even reported,” said Lauth. “Tina Farmer, who was identified by a TBI detective going above and beyond and finding a public post online – the needle in the haystack, gives other families and other investigators hope and obviously the public can play a key role.”
For more information on missing persons, please visit our website.
For more of Kym Pasqualini’s work and expertise on missing persons, visit her website, Missing Leads.