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The Last Place You'd LookTrue Stories of Missing Persons and the People Who Search for Them
By Carole Moore
ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2011 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLand of the Missing: It's a Big Ugly World Out There for Families of the Lost
One missing child is one too many.—John Walsh
As a sworn police officer and trained criminal investigator, I thought I knew all about missing persons. I had taken reports and worked a number of those cases, but as I started to write this book, I discovered I still had a lot to learn. And I decided to talk to the real experts on missing persons—their families. They were gracious, helpful, and generous with their time, even though they were often still immersed in enormous mental anguish. They shared their stories, their grief, their contacts, and the ways they cope with the uncertainty that colors their everyday lives.
Thanks to them, I learned that what I knew about this subject would fill a thimble—and there are great oceans of information out there. Media outlets tell these stories on a selective basis, using what they think will grab the most headlines; law enforcement either works these cases with great passion or not at all; dedicated agencies and nonprofits devote themselves to the cause or don't exist where they're needed; and civilians volunteer to fill in some of the gaps. The reactions, the resources, and the manpower are all over the map when it comes to missing persons investigations, but things are improving. And the impetus behind that change is due in great measure to the families of the missing: a small army of people determined that their own tragedies should count for something.
Each person started as an ordinary parent, spouse, child, or sibling whose life disintegrated when someone they loved did not come home one day. While I don't share with them the depth of their experiences, my own interest in the subject has a similar connection. It began when I learned that someone I knew had also vanished.
Her name was Jeannette Kamahele. She was pretty, with raven hair, dark eyes, and the kind of personality that made you want to know her better. And on April 25, 1972, when she was twenty years old, she put her thumb out to catch a ride near Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, California, and vanished forever.
Jeannette, a fellow military brat and college student, grew up on and around military bases. Like the rest of us, she moved many times. In 1970, Jeannette was a graduating senior at Nile C. Kinnick High School in Yokohama, Japan, where I also attended school.
The high school, known by students and faculty alike as Yo-Hi, served members of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps stationed in Yokohama and the nearby port of Yokosuka, home to both the navy's Seventh Fleet and a large military hospital. Many of the troops evacuated from Vietnam were brought first to Yokosuka to stabilize before the trip home. My dad was stationed there at the Naval Hospital.
Those of us who attended the dependents' high school existed in a kind of suspended animation. Although students living stateside were involved in war protests and the peace movement in a country divided over the military's role overseas, none of that encroached on our lives at Yo-Hi. We were as protected from reality as if cocooned in bubble wrap.
Yo-Hi students only heard popular music for an hour a day on the Far East Network (FEN) radio. We didn't have to worry about controversial numbers—songs like "Angel of the Morning" with its implicit sexuality were not allowed on FEN. Movies available at the base theaters and the newspaper—the ubiquitous Stars and Stripes—were squeaky clean. English-language television did not exist. Those of us who were the offspring of servicemen and civilians who attended Yo-Hi would emerge almost untouched by that era's popular culture.
Outside the base's gates, there was also little to fear: the Japanese at that time were an orderly and even formal society, just beginning to feel the effects of postwar cultural changes. Although everyone seemed to be learning to speak English, the more shocking aspects of the new American revolution of the 1960s and early '70s had not yet bled over into Japanese society. Students at Yo-Hi, like Jeannette Kamahele and me, were immersed in surroundings that were more associated with the 1950s than the late 1960s.
Although the school's classes were small, we did boast some serious overachievers in our ranks. Tina Lutz Chow, a fashion icon who before her death was often on the international best dressed list, graduated in 1968; actor Mark Hamill was student body president in 1969. Jeannette belonged to the class that graduated after Hamill.
With her long, dark hair parted down the middle and short-short skirts, Jeannette wore the uniform of the Yo-Hi girl. Her family had its roots in Hawaii, and she reflected her island heritage with her exotic good looks and almond eyes. Smart, popular, and well-liked, Jeannette had a steady boyfriend and longtime best friend with whom she would share an apartment in college. She had no enemies—who could dislike someone as cheerful and personable as Jeannette? After graduation, she would relocate to California and enroll in Santa Rosa.
The smiling Jeannette, whose raucous laugh echoed up and down the hallways at Yo-Hi, didn't have a suspicious bone in her body. Her graduating class of about one hundred was as close as family. Emerging from our vanilla childhoods in Japan, she saw no evil—not even in hitchhiking, which in the early '70s was in vogue for both young men and women.
Not quite two years after her high school graduation, Jeannette left home one warm spring day and caught a ride near the on-ramp leading to Highway 101, then vanished into the bright California sun. Although authorities found the bodies of several other young women from the community who disappeared around the same time as Jeannette, she has never been located, nor have those murders been solved.
Everyone who knew Jeannette Kamahele—from her high school classmates to her friends—says she would never, ever leave of her own accord. She had no reason to run away. I graduated from Yo-Hi one year ahead of Jeannette, but time scattered our classmates around and it wasn't until an all-school reunion held in 2000 that I found out she had vanished. The news threw me off balance: how could this happen to someone I knew?
I was no stranger to missing persons in my police work. I remember early in my career sitting at the front desk at the department as a patrol officer, when a young man came in to report his wife missing. Not more than a couple of hours before, the county sheriff's office had responded to a call about a woman's body found on a nearby beach. I directed the man to the sheriff's department, and as it turned out, the woman was his missing wife.
The two incidents—Jeannette Kamahele's disappearance and the missing woman on the beach—combined to fuel my drive to learn what I could about missing persons in this country. When I began my research, I discovered a hidden network of families, organizations, civilians, and officials, all linked by one thing: their interest in the tide of people who have disappeared and in unidentified recovered human remains. And the first lesson I learned was that while the numbers don't lie, they also don't tell the whole story.
Each day in excess of two thousand individuals are reported missing in the United States, according to the National Crime Information Center. That total does not include Americans who have vanished in other countries or individuals who disappear and are never reported: the homeless and the children born to them, prostitutes, drug users, foster kids, individuals without families or who have lost touch with their families, and transients.
Most of those reported missing return home. Some turn up in the medical examiner's office. Others, like Jeannette Kamahele, vanish and are never seen again. Most of the families I have encountered while working on this book have spent their time turning over every rock, looking in every crevice. They never quit, as in the case of Dorothy "Dee" Scofield, whose disappearance many years ago set her parents on a lifelong quest to find their child. They lost her in the most ordinary of circumstances—the kind of thing that could happen to any family. In fact, the ordinariness of Dee's disappearance is what haunts me.
When Dee was twelve years old, she accompanied her mother to the Ocala, Florida, highway patrol office, where Mrs. Scofield was obtaining a new driver's license. Dee went to run an errand a few hundred feet away at a nearby department store. The preteen, her hair in pigtails, promised her mom she would return to the station once she finished her errand, but she never came back. Her mother went to the store to look for her.
Unable to find her daughter, Mrs. Scofield returned to the highway patrol office and reported her child missing. It was July 22, 1976. Later, a clerk at a nearby store told investigators that two men came into the store with an upset child matching Dee's description, but the clerk did not intervene and the men left with the girl.
The Scofields did what any parents in their position would do. They spent every penny they had looking for their missing child, but Dee, who would have been forty-six at the time this was written in 2010, has never been heard from again. It is a hard story to read, but the worst part is that it is not unique, demographically, generationally, or geographically.
Far away from the Scofield family, on the other side of the country, another set of parents also faced the unthinkable during an ordinary outing. Today they, too, keep the candles burning for their lost child.
On December 5, 1998, eight-year-old Derrick Engebretson was with his dad and grandfather looking for a Christmas tree in the Winema National Forest located in Klamath County, Oregon, when he became separated from the pair. A massive search was conducted once they discovered the child was missing, but it was called off when a blizzard struck that night, covering the search area in heavy new snow.
Later, evidence suggested Derrick could have found his way to a nearby highway, where he may have been forced into a car by a passerby. Despite his parents' efforts and subsequent searches of the forest and road, no trace of the little boy has ever been discovered. Like Jeannette and Dee, Derrick's disappearance was a tragedy that struck without warning or any type of foreshadowing: each simply vanished.
Jeannette Kamahele, Dee Scofield, and Derrick Engebretson are not household names like that of Natalee Holloway, the blond American teen who disappeared while on a high school graduation trip to Aruba, or Stacy Peterson, an Illinois woman who vanished in October 2007 under mysterious circumstances. I doubt the media was interested in Jeannette's disappearance since she was an adult at the time. I know from press clippings that local coverage following the disappearances of Dee and Derrick was intense; in the pre-Internet days, such cases would fade from the public radar over time, their causes resurrected on the anniversaries of their disappearances or on the rare occasions when a new development surfaced.
In fact, before the Internet, most disappearances not involving small children or celebrities received scant attention from all but their local news media. Families and friends had little help with publicity. They would raise rewards, make posters, run ads, and try to keep the media interested. Some helpful national initiatives emerged: in the mid-1980s milk cartons with photos of missing children on them made their debut, asking, "Have you seen me?" The first child to appear on one of those milk cartons, Etan Patz, a six-year-old from New York who disappeared walking to the bus stop in May 1975, has never been found.
For families like the Kamaheles, Scofields, and Engebretsons, publicizing their loved ones' disappearances proved much more difficult. It's still challenging, but the World Wide Web gives families of the missing additional tools to keep their stories alive and also grants access to more and better resources, one of which is also the resource of last resort.
* * *
The young woman who goes by Clark County, Nevada, coroner's case number 80-01221 could be asleep in the photograph, except that the background behind her head is not a pillow, but a metal tray—the kind where bodies are rolled out to be viewed or autopsied in a morgue.
That is where the young girl found in Henderson, Nevada, "sleeps" in this photograph. Her picture, as well as many others, appears on the Web site of the Clark County Coroner's Office.
It is a Web site not for the morbidly curious, but rather it was established to help authorities unite this young girl and the other unidentified dead on the site with their identities. The problem of unidentified remains is not unique to Clark County, but Clark authorities are on the leading edge of finding a solution.
Clark County, the fifteenth-largest county in the nation, is home to the city of Las Vegas and has a population of two million that derives much of its commerce from the tourism industry. Thousands flock from all over the world to visit the area's casinos. Some of them die there, and not all are identified.
I heard Clark County Coroner P. Michael Murphy speak at a conference entitled, "Responding to Missing and Unidentified Persons," which is held each year by Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin. Murphy says his county has 8,060 square miles of territory, and each year, on average, his office deals with about fourteen thousand deaths. Sometimes the bodies are bones or even bone fragments. Murphy and other staff members work hard to identify the unknown dead that turn up in his jurisdiction because, as he puts it, "they're all somebody's children."
In the case mentioned earlier, number 80-01221, the victim died as the result of a homicide. Five feet, two inches tall and 103 pounds at her death, the girl had fair skin, red hair, and green eyes, as well as a tattoo of the letter S on her right forearm. Her body was found on October 5, 1980, with lacerations to her scalp and puncture wounds on her back. She wore no clothes.
The coroner estimates her age at somewhere between fourteen and twenty years. I chose her from among the many who fill the Web site's pages because I found it hard to understand how this girl could remain unidentified and unclaimed for three decades. Someone, somewhere, misses this young woman, but until very recently there was no organized method of sharing this information with the public, law enforcement, or even other medical examiners. Today that is changing: coroners and medical examiners across the nation are not only posting the likenesses and descriptions of unidentified bodies that are found in their jurisdictions, but they are also taking part in a new initiative designed to link civilian and official resources in an effort to identify the more than forty thousand bodies retained by authorities that remain unclaimed in this country.
Called the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), the program allows law enforcement, medical examiners, and families to input information and grants access to the public, except for some investigatory details not released by the police. This unique, citizen-centric approach has already helped officials make several identifications.
"The government finally woke up," says Todd Matthews, a civilian who works with NamUs.
I first heard Matthews speak at the same Wisconsin conference as the Nevada coroner. Later, we talked about his involvement with NamUs, as well as his unique take on working with missing persons and unidentified human remains.
Matthews has a deep and abiding personal interest in both subjects, and he is one of the more interesting individuals I encountered while writing this book. One of the founding members of the Doe Network, a civilian, Internet-based enterprise that works to match human remains to missing persons, his obsession with missing persons began in 1968, when a man named Wilbur Riddle discovered the body of a woman wrapped in a green tarp discarded near a dirt road in the area of Georgetown, Kentucky. A local newspaper dubbed the young woman—thought to be between sixteen and nineteen years old—the "Tent Girl."
Excerpted from The Last Place You'd Look by Carole Moore Copyright © 2011 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents1 Chapter One: Land of the Missing: It's a Big Ugly World Out There for Families of the Lost
2 Chapter Two: Two Brothers: A Federal Marshal Confront the Unthinkable
3 Chapter Three: The Police: A Report Card on Police and Missing Persons Cases
4 Chapter Four: Yesterday and Today: DNA, Dental Records and Other Forensic Tools
5 Chapter Five: Running Away From It All: Missing By Design
6 Chapter Six: Parental Abduction: Stories of the Parents Left Behind
7 Chapter Seven: The Mentally Ill and Substance Abuse: The Forgotten Missing
8 Chapter Eight: Far and Away: Disappearances Abroad
9 Chapter Nine: A Story of Rumors, Gossip and Innuendo: A Family's Tragedy Feeds for the Gossip Mill
10 Chapter Ten: Foul Play Suspected: What Happens When All Hope Is Gone
11 Chapter Eleven: The Searchers: NCMEC, Project Jason, Search and Rescue, Private Eyes and Others
12 Chapter Twelve: Happy Endings: These Loved Ones Came Home
What People are Saying About This
A remarkable book that offers encouragement to families of the missing.
An easy to digest narrative of a very difficult subject. Carole Moore has a way of immersing you into story without letting you drown in detail. A highly recommended read for those who desire a realistic look into the world of the missing and unidentified. A much needed nudge in the right direction for those most effected.
Carole Moore's book, The Last Place You'd Look is an A to Z primer about the world of the missing. From abductions, to the history of forensic dentistry, to the realities of CSI against an entertainment industry that takes too many liberties, we get a full picture of the awful tragedy of the many stories about those who get lost, are victimized, or are "just gone" one day. It is impossible to know how the people who are left behind feel, but Moore takes us inside, sharing the family situations as well as the burden on the police-all the folks who dedicate their lives to finding them. This is a well-researched, important read.