The Los Angeles Times ran a lovely editorial on the Michelle Pulsifer case. Her mother, Donna Prentice, was able to conceal her 1969 disappearance for decades. Prentice was finally brought to trial for Michelle’s murder, but the case went through two mistrials and then a dismissal. But, as the editorial points out, there is some nobility in trying. I think in To Kill a Mockingbird, someone asks Atticus Finch why he’s taking the case because he’s sure to lose, and he answers something like, “Knowing you will fail is no reason not to try.” Prentice did, at least, spend over four years in jail awaiting her two trials for her daughter’s murder, and now everyone knows what a horrible excuse for a mother she was. Another prosecutor who cared more for his conviction record than for trying to get justice might not have touched this case at all.
Michelle’s case terrifies me because I’m sure she’s only one of scores, perhaps hundreds, of children who slip into the void and aren’t even missed. And cases like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one and this one show that it can happen today just as easily as it did in 1969. I’m sure these children are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. After all, the reason they’re on Charley is because eventually the disappearances were discovered and reported. How many have never been reported, never will be?
When you think about it, it could be shockingly easy to conceal your child’s disappearance, particularly with very young children who aren’t old enough to be enrolled in school (or who, like Garnell Moore, were never registered for school even when they got old enough). Families move away and lose touch. Kids are sent to live with relatives and aren’t seen anymore. If it was a single parent with one child and not much of an extended family, or if two parents collaborated and kept it a secret among themselves, and they kept their story straight, the lie could hold indefinitely. I read a book once about a scheme where parents would send their more troublesome teenage offspring to a rural “boarding school,” when in fact they were knowingly sending them to a facility that killed them and hid their bodies. Obviously that’s taking it a little bit far, but only a little bit.
This is part of the reason why I, like the editorial’s author, praise the prosecutor in the Pulsifer case. Perhaps hearing of this case — Donna’s past catching up with her some 35 years later — might deter some people from trying to “disappear” their own children. Perhaps it might cause neighbors and family friends to look a little closer, or ask a few questions, when a small child quietly disappears. Every child, every person, should have someone who loves them and cares enough to want to know where they’re at.