Author Silvia Pettem also provides families with information to better understand how law-enforcement and related agencies work to solve missing persons cases. Along the way, she takes her readers behind the scenes, while emphasizing that every unidentified person is a missing person to someone else. With real cases, both solved and unsolved, the book also illustrates the resources available and the actions that family members, civilians, and law enforcement agencies can take to search for long-term missing persons, to identify previously unknown remains, and to bring the missing persons home.
The Long Term Missing: Hope and Help for Families inspires hope and gives answers as it empowers family members of long term missing persons to be proactive and to become their missing persons’ advocates.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Long Term Missing
Hope and Help for Families
By Silvia Pettem
Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, IncCopyright © 2017 Silvia Pettem
All rights reserved.
Why Finding the Missing Is Important
In 2003, the author was present at a meeting of various law enforcement officials when the Boulder County sheriff was asked if the remains of a Jane Doe buried in a cemetery in Boulder, Colorado, in 1954, could be exhumed and identified. One of the first questions that came up was, why bother? After nearly fifty years, who would be around to care?
Six years later, with the support of the local community and the help of the sheriff's office and forensic specialists, as well as many dedicated individuals that grew to include the young woman's family, a DNA comparison identified the Jane Doe as Dorothy Gay Howard. In 2010, her surviving sister and more than thirty other family members traveled to Boulder from all over the country to hold a memorial service and place flowers on her grave — with her own name on it, at last.
Some long-term missing persons are found alive, while some are never found at all. Others may exist only as skeletal remains — the result of a natural death, a self-inflicted death, or even murder. When their remains are found, however, their discovery brings resolution. The uninformed will refer to this process as closure, but it is not. For most family members, the pain of the loss never goes away. At the same time, the discovery process often opens old wounds. Individuals react differently, and some family members find that the wounds are so deep that all they can do is to try to move on with their lives. Other family members, however, need to know what happened to their loved one, and they need tangible proof of their remains.
It is important to find missing persons (and, in this context, long-term missing persons) for the following reasons:
Provides resolution for families
Aids in the arrest and conviction of criminals (possibly preventing other deaths)
Gives dignity and justice to victims
PROVIDES RESOLUTION FOR FAMILIES
Richard DeWayne "Rick" Herren drowned in a boating accident in Flaming Gorge Reservoir, near Green River, Wyoming, on May 4, 1997. An initial search and rescue effort failed to locate his body, and local officials told his daughter Gina to learn to accept the fact that he would never be found. For them, the case was closed. For Gina, the enormity of her loss had only begun. Fifteen years later, a promise of hope and the results that followed changed Gina's life forever. The following is Gina's story, and her love for her father gives testimony to the human spirit.
Gina and Her Dad: Returned Identities
Gina's parents grew up as childhood sweethearts in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Deeply in love, they married, started a family, then moved to Green River, Wyoming, where Rick had a job. The Herrens, see figure 1.1, both inherited Native American ancestry — Rick was part Cherokee, and his wife Linda was part Navajo/Blackfoot. In email correspondence with the author, Gina Herren, now Gina Hoogendoorn, stated, "My dad always made a point to take time with my brother and me and tell us about nature and how important it is, and that we were just a piece of the puzzle in this world."
Rick was a mechanic by trade, but he loved the outdoors and to hunt and fish. The Herrens were fishing and camping with friends on the fateful day of Rick's drowning, in 1997. Ever since, according to Gina, her mother has been consumed with guilt that she had been unable to save him.
"Losing my dad was so hard," said Gina. "I was 18. I needed him for so many things in my life. I felt so alone. No one I knew had a loved one missing. I was Gina, the girl who lost her dad in a drowning." Indeed, Gina's loss had become a part of her identity. She said that it was glued to her and that was attached to her whenever she was introduced to someone. The conversation would go like this:
"This is Gina. Do you remember that guy who drowned at the lake? That was her dad." "Oh, that guy that fell in a few years ago? Do you think the fish have eaten him or what? Nice to meet you."
With her mother, Gina attended a grief support group, but the women ended up feeling somewhat resentful of the other survivors whose loved ones were tangible. Said Gina, "I felt like they didn't know how lucky they were that they could have kissed, held, hugged that dead person and cried at his grave or held his ashes."
Two weeks after the accident, Gina's aunt (her father's sister) led the family in a releasing ceremony that involved prayer, music, and symbolic acts that in Native American culture allow the spirit of the deceased to be released from limbo.
To Gina, though, time seemed to stand still. Eventually she married, started a family, and moved to Rock Springs, Wyoming. One night, in the spring of 2012, Gina and her husband were watching a television show about a drowning victim who, at a later date, was found and recovered. The concept of searching for longtime missing drowning victims was new to Gina. The next morning, she googled the topic and located the website of search and recovery specialists Gene and Sandy Ralston. Gina read of their work online, then summoned the courage to call them.
Once on the phone with Gene, she blurted out how she had come to contact him and quickly ran through her story. Then she hesitantly asked if finding her father's remains was something he and his wife could do. According to Gene's correspondence with the author, his reply was, "I don't know, that has been a long time, but we are more than willing to try." He remembers a brief silence when Gina was overcome with emotion, adding that it was also a very powerful moment for him.
"I immediately felt this HUGE black something pull up from the pit of my stomach and fly up through the top of my head," said Gina. "I KNEW then and there, my life would never be the same." Two weeks later — on April 28, the Herrens' 39th wedding anniversary — the Ralstons, with their side-scan sonar, located Rick's remains.
The Ralstons are an Idaho couple in their sixties who have assisted with underwater searches and recoveries of more than 103 sets of remains. They do not charge families for their services, asking only for reimbursement for the expenses of pulling their boat and equipment behind their motor home. Once they reach a body of water where a search is to be performed, they drag their six-foot sonar device behind their boat, then map the area and record images in real-time on a computer screen.
Assisting in the search and recovery was John Linn, of Tip Top Search and Rescue in Sublette County, Wyoming. He took Gina's mother out in his boat and asked her to show him where Rick had fallen into the water. The GPS coordinates were noted, then given to the Ralstons who searched the area and found what they believed to be a body in only eight minutes. Then, a remote-operated vehicle (called an ROV) was lowered into the water, which allowed them to live video the reservoir's floor.
By this time, Gina and her mother were in a boat with Linn. He had helped with the initial search, and the women were unable to contain their excitement. "Finally," Gina said, "we saw what we had waited to see for fifteen years. There was my dad's jacket sleeve! My dad's pants! My heart leaped out of my chest and flew in the air! My mom and I were holding hands so tightly! We looked at each other, and we both knew it was him!"
Rick's remains were only 75 feet from their estimated location, remarkable in a 91-mile-long body of water. A local dive team brought the remains to the surface a few weeks later, while also unleashing a myriad of emotions for Gina and her family. "I was scared of what I was going to see, what would happen, if the scuba divers would be okay, and what condition my dad would be in," said Gina, adding that "those were some crazy, awful, scary, anxiety-ridden weeks."
Gina thought the actual recovery would be easy, but she was not prepared for the flood of emotions that came back. "I was so excited to hold him again, but I knew it would be fleeting and that I would have to let him go ... again," she said. "I felt as if his death was fresh and new."
As the sheriff's boat slowly pulled Rick's remains in a large mesh bag (with a protective frame to hold the bag open), Gina waited on shore, shaking nearly out of her skin. With her mother and brother, she watched as the coroner and the local search and rescue team transferred Rick's remains to a black body bag. At the time, Gina's dad was the longest underwater victim the Ralstons had ever found. According to Gene Ralston, Rick's heavy clothing and the cold water temperature had aided in his preservation.
"As they laid him down on the dock," said Gina, "my mom, brother, and I ran to hug him. He felt like him. He still had form to him. Then the coroner put him in the truck. I looked up at the sky and saw a big circle rainbow around the sun. It had been there the whole time since he emerged from the water and stayed until the truck holding him drove out of sight."
Later, at the funeral home, Gina and her mother had some time alone with Rick's remains, still inside the black body bag. Gina poured out her grief, but also her anger, an emotion she did not know she had buried deep inside.
Instead of burying Rick in a cold grave, the family decided to have him cremated. Gina, particularly, wanted him nearby. Now, like the family members in grief support groups, she, too, has a tangible part of him she can hold in her hand, that is, the piece of the puzzle lost so many years ago. Gina keeps her dad's ashes in a china hutch in her kitchen, alongside Rick's wallet and identification that were recovered in his clothing.
Gina also has something else that was returned to her. No longer is she "Gina, the girl who lost her dad in a drowning." Thanks to her determination to reach out to the Ralstons, their skill and response, and the work of the search and rescue team, Gina has reclaimed her own identity, as well.
"In the end, there was an answer and a light at the end of this tunnel," said Gina. "It gave me even more certainty that there are bigger things out there than us and that this truly is a miracle. I do miss him terribly still, but I also know I will see him again."
AIDS IN ARREST AND CONVICTION OF CRIMINALS
When unidentified remains reveal that a John or Jane Doe was a victim of homicide, the identity of his or her remains often leads to the prosecution of the person's killer. The identification of a woman known only as "Jane Doe" (1989–2005) is a good example. Now, her murderer is behind bars, possibly other deaths were prevented, and Lisa Kay Kelly has been given back her name.
Lisa Kay Kelly and Her Killer
Sightseers on Lookout Mountain, in unincorporated Jefferson County, Colorado, stumbled upon a woman's body on March 24, 1989. Seven months later, in the same geographical area, college students panning for gold in Clear Creek Canyon found the body of a second woman. Both had been murdered. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office identified the first victim as twenty-eight-year-old Lanell Williams and returned her remains to her family.
On a sunny summer day in 1990, the Jefferson County Coroner's Office buried the second victim, still unidentified. The woman's remains, in a blue body bag in a donated casket, were lowered into a donated plot at the Golden Cemetery. A jail chaplain officiated at the graveside service, where a deputy sang the "Lord's Prayer," with members of the sheriff's and coroner's offices in attendance. At the time, only a small bronze-colored marker pointed out her grave. But the county's victims' compensation fund later donated a gravestone with the inscription, "Jane Doe 1989, Known Only to God, May Her Soul Rest in Peace."
No one knew who had killed the women, and there was no indication, at the time, that their murders were related. In 1989, DNA technology was not sufficient to produce the evidence needed to determine a suspect, let alone file charges. The women's cases simply went cold.
In the early days of the investigation, a composite drawing, with some distinctive damage to the woman's front teeth had been circulated, and all responses had been systematically eliminated. A search based on one available partial fingerprint had not produced any results. In 2005, after new advances in technology, it was time to look at the Jane Doe case again. The Sheriff's Office assigned Investigator Cheryl Moore to the job.
Investigator Moore sent the Jane Doe's fingerprint to her agency's lab to be resubmitted to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). At the lab, a diligent technician manipulated the parameters in order to enter the fingerprint into the system in three different ways. In just four hours, the technician had a hit and excitedly called the investigator to tell her that she had a match. The previously unidentified fingerprint had belonged to a woman named Lisa Kay Kelly. The victim, determined to have been thirty-three years old when she was murdered, had been fingerprinted following arrests for shoplifting and prostitution.
"We used good old-fashioned police work to identify Lisa," said Investigator Moore, who demonstrated that she would rather "think outside the box" than prioritize cases based solely on DNA evidence. The victim's identity then opened up new possibilities in investigating her murder. As Investigator Moore worked on Lisa's case, she began to see similarities in the circumstances of Lisa's murder and that of Lanell, the other woman whose body had been found the same year. Like Lisa, Lanell also was black, they were of similar age, and both had been involved with crack cocaine.
Investigator Moore submitted clothing and other items found with Lisa and Lanell to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for DNA analysis. Lisa's had little-to-no physical evidence and did not produce results, but Lanell's came back with matches to Billy Edwin Reid. His criminal record showed that in 1987 he had been paroled to Colorado on a Kansas sex assault case. Subsequently, he was rearrested for various offenses, but his DNA profile did not get into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database until 2002, when he was released from prison in Kansas.
In May 2006, Investigator Moore was ready to arrest the alleged perpetrator for the murder of Lanell when Reid was pulled in on a traffic warrant in Denver. When the investigator questioned him about the victims, he denied even knowing them, but in the Denver County Jail he began talking with a fellow inmate who took detailed notes. Eventually, those notes, along with Reid's own writings, played a key role in getting him off of the streets for good.
Investigator Moore and the prosecution team from the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office then began to build their case. In September 2008, Reid was convicted of "first degree murder after deliberation," "first degree murder — felony murder," and "first degree sexual assault" in the murders of both Lanell and Lisa. Reid also was linked to the murder of a third woman, in Denver, although no additional charges were filed. His sentencing followed, three months later, with grateful members of all three families in attendance.
In 2008, when District Attorney Scott Storey of Colorado's First Judicial District was asked about Reid's prosecution, he told a Denver Post reporter, "These are as tough as it gets. The bottom line is that without Jefferson County Sheriff's Cold Case Unit, we would never have brought justice to the families of these two young women." After sixteen years, Lisa's siblings saw her killer convicted. And, as shown in figure 1.2, they were finally able to dignify her grave with her name.
GIVES DIGNITY AND JUSTICE TO THE VICTIMS
Former sheriff Blythe Bloemendaal is the type of law enforcement official who likes to get things done. In a telephone interview with the author he stated, "I was the kind who wanted to kick in the door." It is not surprising that, in 2001, when he first was elected sheriff of Lyon County, Iowa, and inherited a Jane Doe cold case file, he picked it up and ran with it. Identifying a murder victim the agency affectionately called "Our Girl," and then solving her homicide became his passion. Wilma June Nissen now has her own name on her grave, and Bloemendaal is optimistic that, one day, her killer will be behind bars. Although this sheriff is retired, he still has his foot in the door.
Excerpted from The Long Term Missing by Silvia Pettem. Copyright © 2017 Silvia Pettem. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
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Table of ContentsChapter 1. Why Finding the Missing is Important
Chapter 2. Categories of Long-term Missing Adults
Chapter 3. Children: Helping to Bring Them Home
Chapter 4. Proactive Police
Chapter 5. Civilian Searchers
Chapter 6. Celeste’s Sister Sara: Found Alive in Mexico
Chapter 7. NamUs: An Investigative Tool
Chapter 8. Become Your Long-term Missing Person’s Advocate
Chapter 9. Gather Information, Document, and Do the Research
Chapter 10. Pitfalls and Legalities
Chapter 11. Retrospect –– Inside a (Previously) Cold Case
Chapter 12. Final Words