Vanished in Broad Daylight: Children Are the Future Never Forget

Vanished in Broad Daylight: Children Are the Future Never Forget

by Mark a. Bingaman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781481743716
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 05/08/2013
Pages: 462
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.03(d)

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Copyright © 2013 Mark A. Bingaman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4817-4371-6


One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.

—Arnold Glasgow

Inside a cold, sterile, dingy autopsy room, unveiled on a metal examining table, the aftermath of unimaginable cruelty, beyond any parent's worst nightmare.

Fixated from the start, spellbound, my fascination grew. Lying there, a child of God, kidnapped and brutally murdered. With heightened senses, an inexplicable presence radiated from this lifeless little girl like a protective shield. Instantaneously, an overwhelming commitment and devotion, an indelible connection bound us—withstanding even the bands of death.

Innocence and virtue, defiled, a life stolen, cried out for justice. She had been missing far too long. Drawing near, this slain child came with a tremendous weight and burden. Carried from this point forward, would feel like a backpack crammed with a hundred pounds of jagged pointed rocks.

A ruthless cold-blooded killer passing through, vile and loathsome left his permanent stain and mark. Hunting defenseless little children, an evil satanic force that never quits, openly mocks and jeers the lives he destroys.

Left up to my own choosing, squaring off against vicious sexual predators—parasites, lowest on the food chain of the human cesspool—would have never been my destiny.

But destiny, by master design, has its own unique way of calling up your number.

* * *

March 27, 1995—nothing stood out, ordinary by day and seemingly uneventful by night. Spring, a beautiful time of year, blanketing the verdant productive land with the promise of new life.

Kings County, largely a rural farming community, home to many generational families, founded upon longstanding traditional values. The ripening crops of pistachios, almonds, kiwis, nectarines, peaches and plums brought transient workers in mass, adding greatly to the populace filling the valley floor. Broccoli and lettuce workers pouring in from Salinas, California—predictable as the sparrows returning each year to San Juan Capistrano. Cotton farming and cattle dairies, three California State Prisons and a U.S. Naval Air Station embraces multiethnic diversity.

Hanford, the county seat, its historic Courthouse Square is reminiscent of Hill Valley, a fictional town that served as the backdrop of Back to the Future. Annually, this region attracts encampments of Renaissance guilds from all over the state, offering authentic ambiance filled with entertainment. Armored knights engage in real hand-to-hand combat and historic buildings transformed into "Once upon a time" are set upon beautiful grounds.

For decades, Superior Dairy has been a legendary landmark. Placing Hanford on the map, a traditional ice-cream parlor straight out of the 1950s, filled with sentimental nostalgia. Returning year after year, loyal and satisfied customers generate universal appeal.

The California San Joaquin Valley, free from the congestion and the trappings of big urban cities, largely regarded as a safe haven to rear children. Community events take center stage, especially high school and college sports. The Hanford Sentinel, a local newspaper widely read for its opinion column, obituaries, and postings of classified ads represent the voice of the community.

The Pancake House played host to law enforcement regulars, downing mass amounts of coffee on the swing and graveyard shift. A slower pace of life, permeating every neighborhood, based on predictable outcomes, yielded an undeniable innocence.

In the worst of times, civilized societies turn to law enforcement personnel and expect them to right terrible wrongs. Like watchful sheepdogs, peace officers stand vigil, and rightly so, protecting its flock from those who would cause them the greatest harm. The greatest at risk, are always the young and defenseless.

* * *

March 31, 1995—Friday, with the workweek winding down, Sheriff's Captain Bill Landis ducked his head inside my office. In typical fashion, "Mark, I need you to go over to Lemoore PD at 1600 hours and attend a briefing."

"What's the problem?" I inquired.

"I'm not sure," replied the boss. "Something about a child missing and the sheriff wants an update."

Arriving at the Lemoore Police Department, filling the upstairs room, surprisingly, investigators gathered from surrounding areas. Had I known the meeting to be this high-powered, I would have brought along a few members of the team.

Law enforcement representatives from Hanford and Corcoran, California Highway Patrol, Kings County District Attorney's Office, Gang Task Force, probation and state parole officers, detectives from Tulare County Sheriff's Office and investigators as far south as Bakersfield.

With standing room only, I shuffled towards the back and started jotting down notes.

March 27, 1995—Maria Joanna Piceno, eight-years-old, had disappeared. Described as Hispanic, four-feet, five-inches, sixty-five pounds, brown eyes, she had long dark hair and bangs. The child last wore a long-sleeve pink shirt, green pants, black polka dot design, and black shoes.

Reportedly, Maria asked her mother if she could walk down to the neighborhood grocery store and purchase a can of tuna for an afternoon snack. Within twenty to twenty-five minutes, having terrible misgivings, her mother set out on foot in search of her eldest daughter. From witness verification, Maria made it to the Food King grocery store.

Never seen or heard from again—the child vanished.

Naturally, investigators raised specific concerns over the mother's credibility. They questioned the original story of allowing a young child to set out alone without adult supervision. In Kings County, on any given day, often unattended, small children in every community could be seen running and playing.

Focusing on the mother's story would certainly take top priority. Until specific events checked out, she would remain a person of strong interest.

When a child is missing, the mortal enemy is time. Unfortunately, the Lemoore child had been missing for four days.

Tragically, the child's fate may have already been decided.

* * *

Running a sheriff's investigative unit, detectives kept up with reports of missing children in nearby counties. Adjacent to Kings County, to the east, Tulare County, its majestic backyard embraces the Grand Sierra Mountains, home to Giant Redwood Trees.

One year earlier, March of '94, at a Visalia swap meet, ten-year-old Angelica Ramirez disappeared. Near the farming community of Pixley, about twenty-five miles away, Angelica's body discovered dumped in a canal.

Dating back to 1987, other valley children had disappeared. Three-year-old Deisy Herrera, near the city of Bakersfield, California, had been playing outside her home in the front yard. She disappeared and never heard from again.

May 10, 1990—outside her family's Bakersfield apartment, four-year-old Jessica Martinez played. Eleven days later, in a cotton field some fifteen miles away, a field worker unearthed her tiny body.

* * *

October 1, 1993—extremely disturbing for Californians, involved the abduction and murder of Polly Klaas. Convicted murderer Richard Allen Davis smiled when sentenced to death for murdering the Klaas child. Polly's father, Marc Klaas, declared, "The smile proved that the man who embodies the boogeyman of every parent's worst nightmare is a real-life monster. It's sad that someone would be so emotionally bankrupt that they would be smirking as their own death sentence was being read to them. The justice system did not fail my daughter again ... It doesn't bring our daughter back into our lives, but it gets one monster off the streets."

January 13, 1996—in Arlington, Texas, nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, abducted while riding her bicycle.

Instead of proactively taking the fight to the perverted and demented, the bodies of murdered children stacked up before U. S. government officials engaged. Not until February 2002, did the Federal Communications Commission finally endorse the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children campaign promoting the "Amber Alert."

But for Maria Piceno, the year, 1995, and the Amber Alert for missing children didn't exist. The best known law enforcement practices of the day involved sending out BOLOs (Be On Look Out) to nearby surrounding areas.

* * *

The law enforcement briefing ended Friday afternoon without resolution. Returning to the office, quizzed over the child's disappearance from the sheriff, the session left more questions than answers.

With rising public concern for the missing Lemoore child, the sheriff interceded and committed detectives along with available patrol deputies to aid in the search.

April 1, 1995—Saturday morning, five days since Maria Piceno vanished.

As a team, sheriff's detectives arrived early and proceeded to the Lemoore Fire Department being manned by community volunteers.

Kings County Probation officers, gang task force members, narcotics officers, patrolmen, sheriff's deputies, representatives from Kings County Child Protection Services, social case workers, counselors, victim-witness coordinators, even state parole agents, had been summoned. Members of California Highway Patrol, state prison officials, and criminal investigators representing both northern and southern California added to the mix.

The law enforcement gathering, among local, county, and statewide agencies, became a regular "Who's Who". It wouldn't be complete until members of the FBI came marching through the door with a show of force. The feds brought with them around fifteen to twenty agents and more would be called up if needed.

In spite of the impressive organizational gathering, off balance and thwarted from the onset—law enforcement personnel struggled. Stymied by power seekers within the ranks, the quest for supremacy interfered with the tasking of dedicated law enforcement foot soldiers.

The county sheriff, like the captain of a ship, offered senior leadership and direction. Not to be outdone, local politicians making their rounds, glad-handing and garnering public support under the guise of community solidarity.

Commanding the largest army of field agents, it wasn't long before the FBI stepped up to the podium and took charge. If the disappearance of Maria Piceno involved a stranger abduction, it only made sense having the feds take the lead. After all, they had the resources and presumably the expertise to provide effective leadership and direction.

The magnitude of this investigation quickly exceeded any small town type of policing. With each passing hour, the massing of one of California's largest manhunts steadily grew. Captivating the news and every media outlet within several hundred miles featured the search for a missing Lemoore child.

Kathy Deperi and Diane Harrison from the Adam Walsh Center representing America's Most Wanted Missing Children answered the call.

Volunteers from church groups, school officials, youth organizations, nonprofit organizations, military personnel, and other community programs overnight, had formed a small army. Operationally, it became a logistical nightmare simply to feed and provide basic creature comforts of life.

Overwhelmed by calls, the Veteran's Hall building in Lemoore became an ideal place for the command center. Neighborhood watch captains wasted little time setting up, and soon busy at their workstations organizing and directing search activities. Volunteers of every age paired up and began combing surrounding fields and ditches.

K-9 dog units, including a bloodhound, patrolled nearby fields and waterways. Expanding the foot search to over 480-square miles became a massive undertaking.

Soon, Maria's disappearance expanded into a nation-wide manhunt and then went internationally. FBI agents travelled south of the border to Penjamo, Guanajuato, Mexico, questioning relatives.

With the outpouring of support Deperi said, "I have never seen anything like this."

Anticipating that community support would eventually begin suffering emotionally, Pam Tejada from Charter Behavioral Health Systems in Lemoore advised that counselors would be accessible. Lemoore Elementary School officials reassured Lemoore residents that counselors would be provided to any child showing signs of distress.

Adam Walsh Center Safety Expert, Peter Caruso, told Lemoore residents, "Communication is the single most important element in keeping kids safe." Addressing a group of Lemoore children, Caruso said, "The biggest thing you can do is talk to Mom and Dad. Never go any place without stopping and thinking—will Dad and Mom know where I'm at?"

Caruso reminded parents that even the most intelligent youngster can be tricked by a clever adult. "Strangers use tricks. They'll tell you they've got candy, ask you if you want to pet a dog or a cat ... It's so easy to trick a child," Caruso said. "The toughest job—if it's done right—is being a parent. If you do it right, it's the most rewarding job in the world."

The strain of this crisis marked only the beginning, a foreshadowing of looming storms of incalculable proportion. Dark and ominous clouds, pushing their way inland from the Pacific Ocean, filled the skies with fits of anger. Forces of nature swelled and swirled with increasing velocity and strength.

The universe may have already been mourning the loss of innocent life.


The abduction of a child is a tragedy. No one can fully understand or appreciate what a parent goes through at such a time, unless they have faced a similar tragedy. Every parent responds differently. Each parent copes with this nightmare in the best way he or she knows how.

—John Walsh

Lemoore's police chief, Bob Carden, his rite of passage as the new top cop, must have felt like baptism under fire. Often huddled in backroom strategy sessions with Sheriff Marvin, quelling community unrest proved increasingly difficult—especially when a child is missing.

Inside the command center, a room set off to the side—the think tank. Joining a small group of local and federal investigators, compulsory placement had me confined to a reactionary process in place. Coordinating the search effort for Maria Piceno, a top-down-driven management system, dictated the pulse and direction.

With leads pouring in, arranging stacks of information into some form of recognizable order, the FBI knew how to decipher organizational chaos. Brought in to aid in the search, state-of-the-art computers utilized in the nationally acclaimed Unabomber case. Generating vast amounts of information, in the shortest amount of time—is the name of the game in kidnapping cases.

Every lead coming into the think tank would be evaluated, prioritized, and then color coded. With a tonnage of new information, like shades of a rainbow, FBI's colors started brightening the room. Hot leads, important leads, medium leads, less significant leads, separated much of the paperwork.

File categories for sex registrants and parolees living within a hundred mile radius, began taking on a life of its own. Within surrounding and outlying areas, in excess of 1500 sex offenders with differing degrees of sophistication and intelligence posed endless possibilities.

Activating the hotline number, phones started ringing off the hook. Beyond the state of California, a nationwide media blitz now aired Maria Piceno's picture. Inside the think tank, secretaries rushed back and forth with stacks of lead sheets. Quickly, investigators reviewed incoming tips, assigned a color code distinction to the message, and never looked back.

Before long, declared psychics started calling into the taskforce center, demanding equal consideration. Reports of Maria taken by family members, gypsies, even witches, added to the growing stacks. Told to look underneath a specific bridge, a canal, in another state, self-appointed seers and revelators loved dialing in, hoping to get lucky.

Investigators, at all times of the day and night, flooded Maria's mother, Arcelia Ferrel, with endless questions. The poor woman had lost her child, couldn't speak English, intimidated, and obviously frightened from all the drama.

Excerpted from VANISHED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT by MARK A. BINGAMAN. Copyright © 2013 Mark A. Bingaman. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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