Missing persons around the world

DeOrr-KunzAt National Person Finder we are often asked to become involved in international missing persons cases. There can’t be anybody in the UK who isn’t familiar with the case of Madeleine McCann, but it’s both heartbreaking and heartwarming how many missing persons cases there are that end up being investigated by private detectives from a different country who have expertise in locating missing persons.

What happens when somebody goes missing?

Sometimes it’s the families who need to get a private investigation going into the disappearance of a loved one – for example when Katelin Akens left home to board a flight to Arizona, but never made it the Reagan National Airport in Washington, it was immediately classed as a missing persons case. When her luggage was discovered in a drainage ditch, and it contained her plane ticket and credit card, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that something bad had happened. But nearly seven months after her disappearance, the local Sheriff’s Office has no leads. As a result friends and family have set up a GoFundMe page to try and raise funds to hire a private detective to undertake an investigation so that her loved ones may learn where she is and why she disappeared.

Why pay for a private investigator into a missing persons case?

Sometimes it’s the work of a private investigator seeking for a missing person that turns a police case into something different. A private investigation team has been looking for evidence in the case of DeOrr Kunz, a two year old boy who disappeared in the Idaho Falls region a year ago almost to the day. The little boy was reported missing by his family on 10 July 2015 after camping with them, and in the end, the missing persons investigator brought in an expert dog team to seek further evidence, and based on their findings the police investigation has been transformed from an accidental death enquiry into an intentional homicide one. This is because the private detective team was able to turn over new evidence to the police which changed the nature of the investigation and led to the naming of the toddler’s parents as suspects in the case. This is an interesting situation because the private missing persons investigator was originally hired by the missing boy’s relatives, who then fired him in March. However an anonymous client came on board to pay the independent missing person’s team bills so that they cold continue work on the case which has led to this point. Without that, the family would be no closer to discovering what actually happened to little DeOrr, nearly a year ago.

What happens when a missing person isn’t found?

Missing woman found dead after police express confidence she is not at risk

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Two stories in the news reveal how difficult it can be for a daily when somebody goes missing, and what routes might need to be taken to resolve their concerns. The first is from the USA where up to 85,000 people may be classed as missing persons on any given day of the year.

A non-profit organisation the North Caroline Centre for Missing Persons (CUE) highlighted that police intervention can actually prevent public support for finding a missing person. The case in question involves a young woman, Jessica Rehfeld who was reported missing. The local police department issued a statement that Ms Rehfeld appeared to be ‘in no immediate harm’ to ‘prevent people going out and taking matters into their own hands and trying to find Jessica’. But at the same time the police statement was made, Ms Rehfeld had tragically already been murdered and buried in nearby woods.

CUE claims that if missing persons cases are downplayed, or authorities announce that a missing person is not in danger, ‘then the general public will not participate in searches and move on’ leaving families and friends without the public support such as search parties, that could make the difference between life and death.

At National Person Finder we have certainly come across cases where families have needed to hire a private detective to get a case moving when authorities have decided that the person in question is not at risk of harm or vulnerable and therefore does not need to be aggressively pursued.

Missing person reclassified as murder victim in Essex

In Essex, it has emerged that a missing persons case has been reclassified as murder without the family of the missing person being informed. Chris May went missing in May 2015 but it took a Freedom of Information request from the BBC to establish that Essex Police have been treating the case as unsolved homicide since February without announcing the fact. Reclassification of the case form from missing person to a criminal murder investigation was withheld from the public as part of the investigation, the police claimed.

Whilst most readers probably cannot imagine the pain and stress this kind of discovery must cause to the family of a missing person, it is a sad fact that we are often contacted by families who have realised that the police procedure, whilst valuable in itself, is designed to solve crime, not to restore a missing person to their loved ones.

High profile missing persons – the heartache for families never ends

As detectives hunting for Madeleine McCann stated that they hope she could still be found alive with Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Duthie claiming ‘there is work that needs to be done’, we know that many families with missing children will be wondering how hard the police are still looking for their own loved one. The McCann disappearance has been granted a further £95,000 from the Home Office to pay for investigation for another six months.

Of course child abductions are thankfully rare, and children as missing persons have a high profile with the police and volunteers out in force in the all important 72 hours after the child disappears. But many children aren’t found and for their families the pain of trying to discover what happened is endless.

Teenagers are the most common absconders and reasons for disappearing can range from school bullying, drug use and sexual predation through to the death of a family member or falling in love. At National Person Finder we know that children and young people have well-developed skills in the area of absconding, often using social networks to create second personas so that they can simply step into a new live with their families none the wiser. As a result, our missing person detectives use specific techniques to track online behaviours to identify such personas.

In many cases though, the child abduction is historic. A new documentary about the disappearance of Mary Boyle reveals her family’s suffering. Mary was taken from her grandparents’ home in County Donegal when she was just six, and her twin sister Ann appears in the documentary, along with friends and neighbours. There is a widespread belief that Mary was raped and murdered, and a man was arrested in 2014 but released, supposedly after political intervention, and he was never charged.

For families where somebody has gone missing, there is a constant tension about why and whether they will ever be found. For us, as missing person investigators, we recognise the sensitivity of each family’s situation and we have specific liaison officers who communicate with each family on a regular basis and whenever we have anything significant to report, ensuring that they have up-to-date information.

Adult missing persons cases can be equally painful but usually for different reasons. When a grown up disappears there is often an underlying cause that creates its own problems: most commonly these cases involve clandestine relationships, debt or drug use although mental health problems such as depression can also mean that expert investigation requires full understanding of the likely mood and actions of the person involved.

After many hundreds of successful missing persons cases we know there is always hope and we appealed the families who keep searching for their loved ones. Our role in helping put their minds at rest is something we take very seriously and for every missing person we recognise that until they are found, there will always be unanswered questions.

We’re here to help.

When Missing Persons are Found – The Role of Private Detectives in Rebuilding Lives

Evidence Japanese abductionFamous Missing Persons

 The ongoing story about missing person Patrick McDermott, former boyfriend of Olivia Newton-John, has resurfaced again. The most recent claim is that he has been spotted in Mexico, more than a decade after he vanished. National news outlets have previously claimed that McDermott faked his own death by falling off a boat and allegedly drowning.

For years there have been claims that he has been seen in and around Mexico – and these regular reports, while they may or may not be true, cause immense suffering and distress to the friends and family members of missing persons because the are constantly asked for their opinions, ideas and thoughts on how to proceed in discovering the accuracy or not of the claims. This is where a private detective with extensive missing persons experience such as National Person Finder, can be of service by swiftly and efficiently undertaking investigations to discover if there is any truth to the rumours.

Family Members – Tracing a Missing Mother

A private investigator often has a complex set of considerations to bear in mind when hunting down a missing person. In Indiana, an apparently happy ending hasn’t been wonderful for the children involved. Lula Ann Gillespie-Miller disappeared at the age of 28, having signed away parental rights to her three children the youngest of which was a newborn baby.

A year later, in 1975, her parents received their final letter from her. For four decades her children had no idea where she was, and she sat on the police case files as a missing person. Then a cold case review began, following the discovery of a woman’s body buried in an unmarked grave in Indiana. Whilst conducting DNA tests on the body, an investigator uncovered the trail of a woman who had lived in Indiana, then Tennessee, then moved toTexas in the 1990s. He asked the Texas Rangers to speak to the woman and she admitted she was Lula Ann Gillespie-Miller, now aged 69. She gave police permission to pass her address details to her daughter so they can reconnect but her daughter, Ms Tammy Miller, aged 45 rejected the idea outright, saying ‘I’m angry … [and this] isn’t going to be one of those happy, made-for-TV movies.’

Abduction and Family Stress

In the past 48 hours police in Japan have detained a 23-year-old man on suspicion of abduction and keeping a teenage girl prisoner for two years. The girl is now 15 and managed to escape the Tokyo apartment where she’d been held and call the police. This story has ramifications that will disturb many who have had a child disappear, not least because the alleged abductor managed to persuade the girl to go with him by claiming to be a lawyer working on her parents’ divorce case. Her parents later found a note in their mailbox apparently written by the child, saying she didn’t want her parents to look for her.

Few other details are available at present although it seems the girl has not been physically harmed and the alleged abductor had traveled around a hundred miles from home and tried to kill himself before being picked up by the police.

In such cases, where there is no trail to follow and where there is no logical reason for a child to disappear, even the most accomplished private detective will struggle to find effective leads. In this case the young girl appears to have taken the first chance that presented itself, by her abductor forgetting to lock the door, to reach safety.

Missing Teens in The News

It’s been a month when the fate of missing teenagers has loomed large. When Gary Hewitt, 17, disappeared in Kirkdale, Merseyside, his family developed concerns about his welfare, particularly in light of his age. However he has been found safe and well by Merseyside Police.

For many families, the volatility of teenage life can cause a lot of heartache. It’s very common for teenagers to flex their muscles, experiment with alternative lifestyles and become rebellious and difficult for their parents to deal with. For some, bullying, drugs and mental health problems can complicate the issue, leading to circumstances where, in a moment of anger, the young person disappears. It’s a terrifying experience for any family but where the complicating factor of vulnerability is included, it can become a total nightmare.

Gary’s story has ended happily, but for many families the torment of waiting to hear from a teenage runaway can be unbearable. At this point organisations like National Person Finder have the edge –  established processes that help identify the likely location of a missing person, allied to swift and dedicated investigators who are in the ground within a couple of hours of being hired, mean that NPF personnel can move much faster than the police who have to release both manpower and resources to deal with a missing person case.

Backpacker Missing in Thailand

missing in ThailandGrace Taylor’s ongoing case is an example of what can happen when young people lose contact. 21-year-old Grace, who was travelling in Thailand, contacted her family saying she was stressed and then went off the radar. Her panicked mother launched a Facebook appeal and after her daughter had been found, purchased a flight to bring her home from Krabi Airport. Sadly, Grace didn’t board the flight and while she’s been pictured with the staff of a local tourist help centre, their still isn’t clear where she is or when she’ll be home, although it appears she’s been taken into custody by Thai police for her own wellbeing after other travellers reported that she was ‘disorientated’ and not ‘in a good mental state’

Because local police abroad may have different priorities, and even different attitudes to individual welfare, it can often be helpful to contact an organisation like NPF that has links around the world and is able to call on international resources as long as a long history of successful missing persons work, to support the work of the police and other service organisations

Over-protective Parents

On the other hand, it’s easy for parents to become too protective, as is evidenced by the claim that Madonna hired a private detective to spy on her son when he was with his father!

Found and Lost – Missing Persons and Private Detective Involvement

At National Person Finder we recognise that we have chosen to work in an often difficult field of private investigation. This has been thrown into focus after the discovery of a fragment of bone on the Scottish coast in January.

Scottish families informed of discovery of human remains

The human remains appear to be a small piece of jawbone with teeth attached and were found at Lunan Bay between Arbroath and Montrose. For the families and friends of people who have gone missing in that areas, this is a time of intense fear and uncertainty. It isn’t know if any DNA can be extracted from the bone fragment, nor how long it had been in the area, nor even whether the remains belong to somebody local because the tidal currents of the East Coast of Scotland mean the fragment could have come from anywhere in the UK, or Scandinavia or even Belgium or the Netherlands. Nonetheless, the Angus police have informed families of local missing persons of progress, in case the remains prove to belong to a local person.

The process is slow and those with a missing person in their lives can find it difficult to wait for results because there is not yet a missing persons case to which to attach this evidence, and the police procedure is to coordinate the dissemination of results through the National Crime Agency UK Missing Persons Bureau which will then report to police forces across the UK. This can take months.

Missing persons statistics from the UK

The number of missing persons is on the increase – at National Person Finder we recognise that police forces are often overstretched and the latest evidence from Essex Police backs up this view. New statistics from the National Crime Agency reveal that the Essex force received around nine missing persons calls a day the year April 2014- April 2015, many of which related to repeat disappearances by people with mental health issues or experiencing domestic abuse. 75% of these cases are resolved within 24 hours, and 85% within 48 hours, a fantastic result with 96% of those reported missing being located safe and well. But with 3,343 calls received by Essex Police in the year that means 137 missing persons were either not safe and well when they were found, or haven’t been found at all. For their families and friends, that’s a continuing nightmare that is unlikely to be ended unless the individual comes forward.

Just conducting a 24 hour missing persons investigation costs Essex Police around £2,000, so there are few resources to conduct intensive enquires into missing persons unless there is evidence of foul play or the missing person is vulnerable or a minor. As a result, many people turn to National Person Finder to help them discover what has happened to their loved one.

An experienced private investigator who specialises in finding missing persons can conduct more on the ground research than the police have resources for, and at National Person Finder we are able to assist many worried families to locate loved ones, even those who have been missing for a considerable period of time.

What happens when a loved one disappears?

madeleine-mccannJanuary is a strange month for missing persons – people get over the influx of family members at Christmas, take a long sad look at the amount of debt they’ve got into and remember, or wish they could forget, the antics they got into at New Year. But for a few people, the turn of the year can have a more miserable significance – it’s a common time for a loved one or family member to disappear.

This makes a recent article in the Irish Journal even more compelling. It talks about the number of people who go missing in Ireland every year and explains how the Irish police divide missing persons into three categories: high, medium and low and the ‘low category’ boils down to people who go missing on purpose, or as the report puts it, there is “no apparent threat of danger” and the person may have simply decided to start a new life. In Ireland there are around 1000 people every year who cut themselves off from their families in this way.

In the UK the statistics are even more stark – one missing person was reported every two minutes in the year 2012/13, the most recent year for which we have full statistics.The good news is that 89% of those reported missing are found within 48 hours and overall 97% of missing persons are discovered safe and well. But what about the remaining 3%?

In most cases, the final 3% of missing persons fall into three categories: those who have been abducted, those who have committed suicide and those who have made a deliberate decision to go missing. It is the third category that occupies much of the case load of National Person Finder.

Why hire a private investigator to find a missing person?

There are two key reasons to hire a specialist investigator to discover why somebody has gone missing and possibly, to track them down.

  • First, if there is no specific reason or evidence for the authorities to follow up on a disappearance, there may be little or nothing for them to do: fit and healthy adults can disappear and there is nothing for the police to do because there is no evidence of harm. The frightened and grieving family might beg to differ – they feel lost and very much harmed by the unexpected disappearance of a loved one!
  • Second, a friend for family member may have hinted at a difficult personal situation that is outside the scope of the police enquiry e.g. an emotional issue (depression, self-harming) or a history of family abuse, concealing an aspect of personality (homosexuality is common but there are many personality traits that people feel may be rejected by society) or involvement in a difficult situation (anything from loan sharks to religious cults or secret affairs) that could cause them to vanish. Such information may not be concrete enough for the police to proceed.

For some, such as Madeleine McCann’s parents, the journey to discovering what happened to a missing loved one can be an intense and expensive task. They have just announced a new privately funded search for their daughter, using the £750,000 remaining in the appeal fund set up to find Madeleine who disappeared in 2007.

For most families though, the process is swifter and much less expensive – even if the missing person does not want to be contacted, an experienced investigator can reassure the family that their loved one is safe and well.

Tips on How to Trace Your Biological Mother

trace my parentWe’ve been reading about a heart-warming Christmas story that’s reminded the National Person Finder team of many of our own successful cases. Bev Freeman-Fletcher gave birth at the age of 16 and gave up her baby for adoption. She was later told the baby had died.

However, 46 years later, she received a phone call at work from Kim Gouws, a 45 year old South African, who was the adopted daughter she’d been told had died! Now mother and daughter will meet for the first time when they spend Christmas together in South Africa. Bev will also meet her three grandchildren and one great-grandchild – quite a Christmas!

Kim Gouws is just like many of our clients, people who arrive asking us how to trace a biological mother or father. Changes in legislation have made it more difficult for parents to track down missing children but conversely, it’s more likely that an adopted child or even a child born through sperm donation, can be helped to locate a parent. Just like Kim, many of these children hire a private detective to track down family members. Kim’s private detectives had to work across international borders and deal with different legal systems to complete their task, which is why working with a missing persons investigator who has specialist skills can be vital to success.

Three tips to trace your biological parents

  1. Gather all the information you can before you begin the process. You may have documents, rumours, family stories, photographs … rather than deciding for yourself what is relevant, collate all the data you can find and have it to hand. An experienced private investigator with missing person’s expertise will be able to sift through such details much quicker and more effectively than you can.
  1. Research your detective – a good agency will have a great track record, recent testimonials and excellent communication skills. They will also maintain the confidentiality of their clients with absolute integrity, so don’t be surprised if they avoid giving you names and dates of successful cases – you wouldn’t want them to share your personal details with the world, so don’t expect them to give you confidential information about other clients.
  1. Let your person finder team do their job – you have a huge emotional investment in the process, and your private investigator will understand that, but you need to give them scope to do their work. One thing that can slow down an investigation is the constant questioning by the client on how things are going! It’s better to set a regular ‘update schedule’ when your private detective will be able to tell you about progress and for you to get on with your life between those appointments.

Finally, it’s important to understand that for some people there will be no closure – even the most accomplished detective may not be able to produce a happy ending. Even successfully tracing a biological mother can be a risk, and children often feel a resentment of the parent and cannot understand how they could be separated from their own child. For some people it’s important to have a counsellor or therapist to speak to as they go through this process and bearing this in mind can help you establish a happy and solid future, regardless of the outcome of your missing person’s enquiry.

“Missing Person” found after twenty years

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In a very strange case, a Spanish doctor has apparently be found living in an Italian forest, 14 years after he was declared dead.

The doctor, Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar, went missing in 1995 during a bout of severe depression. Fourteen years later his family had him declared dead and moved on with their lives. Then, a few days ago, mushroom hunters in Tuscany bumped into a man with ‘a dirty face and large beard’ who showed them a passport and university library card in the name of Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar.

Missing man lived rough

He left the passport in their hands and claimed that he would now need to disappear again because he did not wish to be ‘found’. The mushroom foragers were scouring the Maremma region of Tuscany, which is largely wooded and has native deer and wild pigs when they came across Dr Salazar and his campsite where he kept three jerry cans in which he stored rain water and a had rigged up a tarpaulin for shelter from the elements. What he did for food is not clear, but because the areas is largely a national park and almost uninhabited he had been able to walk to the Tuscan beaches, about an hour away, and scavenge items cast up by the waves.

The foragers gave the passport to an Italian charity that helps find runaways and missing people and they in turn tracked down Dr Salazar’s family who have now flown to Italy in the hope of relocating him.

Questions about a missing person’s identity

So far, so good. But as professional missing persons investigators, National Person Finder has a number of unanswered questions about this discovery:

  1. First and foremost, there is no evidence to date that the person found in the woods is Dr Salazar – possession of a passport and library card are no proof of identity and without the input of a trained missing person’s investigator it’s impossible to have any confidence in this story. One of the most common routes that runaways take is to claim the identity of a third party – this passing off one person as another is very common and requires excellent investigative skills to discover the reality.
  2. Second, it’s extremely difficult for people to live rough for long periods of time without help – we have a strong suspicion that Dr Salazar has been getting assistance from somebody, whether it’s squatting in an abandoned house or visiting a local garage to buy milk and use the bathroom.
  3. Finally, because this missing person case crosses national boundaries it is quite likely that some of what Dr Salazar said has been misunderstood or misreported. Either that, or he has learned to speak fluent Italian whilst living as a hermit … which clearly doesn’t add up.

Local reports also suggest that Dr Salazar has been seen by people in this forest over the previous six years. This also leads us to suspect that this person may have moved to Tuscany much more recently than twenty years ago, and that he may not have been living rough for the entire period.

In all such cases, extreme care needs to be taken with tracking a missing person and identifying them. There is nothing worse than getting a family’s hopes up only to disappoint them again. While we hope that Dr Salazar’s parents will manage to make contact with their missing son, we also hope that they have appointed a professional pirate investigator who specialises in missing persons to help them establish the real facts about this case.

A true story about a missing person and her discovery

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction – in a startling true life missing persons case, a woman thought to be dead for 31 years has been found alive… years after a man admitted to killing her!

It’s not a British missing persons case, although it’s the kind of thing that happens from time to time, Instead the supposed murder victim Petra Pazsitka, from Braunschweig in Germany, created an elaborate plan to disappear. She was 24 years old in 1984 when she vanished and in 1985 a nineteen year old who can’t be named under Germany’s privacy laws, admitted to killing a fourteen year old girl in the area where Ms Pazsitka went missing. Two years later he said he’d killed her too and she was declared dead.

Then, in 2015, after a burglary in a flat in Dusseldorf, the occupant admitted the name on the flat bell wasn’t hers and revealed she was the missing girl, Petra Pazsitka. Why she chose to save up more than 4,000 Deutschmarks and security rent a flat before “vanishing” still isn’t clear, but there are a few questions that National Person Finder can answer straight away.

1. Why would a man admit to killing a woman he didn’t murder?

One of the issues with police investigations is that the interview process can involve questioning a suspect about similar events in the vicinity. If a young man was led to believe that his murder enquiry was going to end with a shorter sentence if he “owned up to a second murder” than if he denied it and had to be tried in court for it, he may easily have accepted responsibility for something he didn’t do to get the lighter jail term.

2. How can a missing person stay hidden?

As in Petra Pazsitka’s case, it requires a very simple decision – to become unrecorded. The private investigators who spend their time tracking down missing loved ones for National Person Finder’s clients know that the easiest way to disappear is to leave no records. Ms Pazsitka was discovered as soon as the police were alerted to the burglary because she had no ID cards, no bank account, no driving licence, no way, in fact of proving who she was or of being traced through traditional enquiries. This is why our missing persons cases require on the ground investigators – it is often possible through legwork and interview skills to pick up a physical trail and find somebody who is working cash in hand (or not working at all), paying rent in cash and not using banks. But if the police rely on finding evidence of a missing person through their paper or electronic trails, they will not find such missing persons.

3. Is a missing person breaking the law?

That depends. In this case, no because Ms Pazsitka did not commit a criminal act as she never deceived anybody by claiming to be anybody else. However, there is a question about whether she worked and paid taxes which will need to be resolved. Most missing persons have no case to answer in criminal law and one thing we often find in our missing persons investigations is that once we can get this information to the missing relative or friend, they will often make contact even if they don’t return, as part of the reason for continued silence is fear they may be prosecuted for “running away from home”.

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/petra-pazsitka-german-woman-comes-back-from-the-dead-after-disappearance-31-years-ago-a6677561.html