Some people really need to keep their mouths shut

As a rule of thumb, people tend to be much more outspoken on the internet than they are in real life. I think it’s because they can’t see and usually don’t know who they’re talking to: it’s like shouting into a void. Hence the internet is a wonderful avenue for free expression and facilitates creativity. However, it also facilitates spitefulness, rudeness, crudity and gossip. I’ve seen a lot of that in discussions of crimes and missing people.

A lot of times, if a woman disappears, blog posters and web board commenters say a lot of nasty things about her husband or boyfriend and say he “must” have killed her, or they “have a feeling” he harmed her. Even if there is no evidence against the significant other. Even if the police have ruled him out as a suspect. The same happens to the parents of missing children. Many people will blame them for the child’s disappearance. If they don’t accuse them of actually killing the kid, they say negligent parenting lead to the child’s disappearance. For example: “I can’t believe she left her eight-year-old unattended in another room for a whole hour without checking on her. That’s just inexcusable.” Or: “I can’t believe he let his teen daughter leave the house without a cell phone.”

Worst of all, I think, are cruel posts criticizing the missing person themselves. Often these posters have no idea what they’re talking about, but that doesn’t stop them from saying nasty things about the MP and suggesting that he/she must have been up to no good. A real-life example: the missing woman Margaret Haddican-McEnroe occasionally used another name, Sherwood Haley, and articles about the case noted this. I saw one comment on an article saying something to the effect of, “She was using an alias name. Why? She must have been leading a double life of some kind. I bet she was a prostitute or something.” I was appalled to read that. Margaret had a perfectly innocent reason to use the name Sherwood Haley: she’d been adopted, and Sherwood Haley was her birth name. (A terrible, awful name to give a baby girl, but that’s beside the point.) So it’s not even really an alias. I can just imagine how horrible and angry her husband and family would have felt if they had come across that post. I don’t think the poster necessarily had any malicious intent; he/she may have been just thinking aloud and forgot that anyone in the world can read the post. But that’s no excuse. The poster was libeling a woman they didn’t know, a woman who in all likelihood was the victim of a heinous crime.

I try to be careful not to criticize the families of the missing unless there’s evidence that they deserve it. I’ve done several posts on Adam Herrman and his adoptive mother and father, but frankly, it’s obvious what happened there. In absence of actual evidence, I NEVER say I have a “feeling” that a specific person must have killed the MP. That kind of statement is baseless and unhelpful; all it can do is hurt.

That’s not to say I don’t get “feelings.” In one case of a missing toddler, Lucy Meadows, I had my suspicions of her mother for years. Mom claimed Lucy disappeared from a parking lot in the time it took her (Mom) to walk around the side of their car. That seemed unlikely to me, that an abductor could grab Lucy that quickly and get away without being seen. But I kept my thoughts to myself, because I could well have been mistaken about Mom, and if I was I didn’t want to inflict more pain on the family. It turned out I was probably right—a few years ago, an eyewitness came forward with a statement that strongly implicates the missing girl’s mother. Mom hasn’t been charged yet, but there is actual evidence now, and I feel comfortable stating my opinion in public.

Some people who talk about “feelings” get them for the stupidest reasons. In an interview with Shannon Tanner, the missing girl Bianca Piper‘s mom, Tanner said she met someone randomly who brought up the case. The other woman didn’t know she was speaking to Bianca’s mother. The woman said she thought Tanner must have killed Bianca, because “she didn’t cry hard enough on TV.” If I were Shannon Tanner, I would have punched that woman then and there. Even reading about this in the news gave me the urge to track that person down and give them a piece of my mind.

A lot of people base their “feelings” on reactions of the so-called suspect after the disappearance. As if all innocent loved ones of a missing person should act exactly the same, as if there’s a secret written code of behavior for that situation! You can never tell how you’re going to react under extreme circumstances, and when the time comes it may very well be not at all what you would expect. To give another example: a little over a year ago I accidentally ran my car into high water late at night in below freezing weather in a desolate area where I didn’t really know where I was. The car filled up with water and it looked like there was a good chance that I was going to drown or freeze to death. (Conditions were so bad that even after the rescue people found me, it took half an hour or so for them to actually get to my car and extract me. The nice policeman carried me piggy-back across the flooded zone.) What did I do when I realized the seriousness of my situation? I burst out laughing! I was practically doubled over, laughing fit to burst, and couldn’t stop for several minutes, as the water level in the car continued to rise. That experience has made me make a lot of allowances for people’s supposedly bizarre behavior in cases of crimes, disappearances, etc.

I’m not really trying to say I’m any better than anyone else. The “be careful about what you say online” lesson was learned on my part through very bad experience. I look back on stuff I said online during my early to mid adolescence and just cringe. I only wish certain other people who post on the internet would give a thought to what their words might mean to all the others behind the screen.

(No recent event prompted this rant, btw, it’s just something that’s been on my mind.)

16 thoughts on “Some people really need to keep their mouths shut

  1. Aimee March 19, 2009 / 5:02 pm

    Stream of consciousness rambling from me here: this post reminded me of something I’d been meaning to ask you but kept not getting around to it. I was going to ask “Did Margaret Haddican-MacEnroe *really* use the name Sherwood Haley?” I mean, I was assumign it was a typo that kept getting repeated and that her birth name was really Haley Sherwood, which would be much more reasonable.
    Now apparently it *was* Sherwood Haley. Good Lord.

  2. Meaghan March 19, 2009 / 5:04 pm

    That honestly didn’t occur to me. But all the sources I’ve seen give her birth name as Sherwood Haley.

    Perhaps it was a family name.

  3. Anthony March 19, 2009 / 5:51 pm

    Excellent point on the outward display of grief thing. In true crime books one frequently reads of cops cluing in on what to them seem abnormal responses on the part of the bereaved, and, while intuition indeed can be a useful investigative tool, too often one can misread externals, in which case one is using not intuition, but superstition, and thus extending confusion instead of isolating it.

  4. Meaghan March 19, 2009 / 6:23 pm

    That’s why the perception of a suspect’s grief after the murder usually isn’t allowed into evidence. I mean, a witness can say, “So and so did not cry after we told him his wife died.” But the witness can’t say, “So and so did not cry after we told him his wife died, which I thought was really weird and suspicious.”

  5. Anthony March 19, 2009 / 6:42 pm

    But if the witness, after giving the first reply, is asked, “In your opinion as a professional, how did that reaction strike you?”, he or she can answer, “In light of my years of experience, it struck me as highly unusual.” It’s then up to opposing counsel on cross-x to attack that statement, and try to get it out of the jurors’s minds that an authority figure has fingered certain behavior as being quite suspicious.

  6. Meaghan March 20, 2009 / 12:38 am

    Actually, in several of the true crime books I’ve read, a witness can only answer a question like that if he is in fact a recognized professional who should be expected to know something about human behavior. Like, an EMT would have seen a lot of grief reactions, but he would not be considered a professional in this case.

  7. Anthony March 20, 2009 / 2:56 am

    But a police officer, of whom that sort of question would be asked, has been, perhaps, at many crime scenes and thus becomes, in the eyes of the court, a sort of expert, or at least one who can get his or her point across to a jury—it’s not like the cops take a trained psychologist to observe the reactions of a person they’re notifying of grievous circumstances. And, via a series of interlocking questions, this sort of information—from an authority figure—can be conveyed to a credulous jury:

    Prosectuor: “What was the defendant’s visible reaction when you
    explained what had happened?”
    Officer Blarney: “Very calm, stoic.”
    Prosecutor: “You’ve investigated 14 homicides and notified at least a
    dozen family members of the deaths. Is this the sort of
    reaction you generally have encountered?”
    Defense Attorney: “Objection. Calls for a conclusion.”
    Judge: “I’ll overrule, counsel. Prosecutor is merely asking a yes or
    no question here.”
    Officer Blarney: “Never seen it before, ma’am. They usually shriek
    and weep madly.”
    Jury (as one, silently): “A BIG POINT FOR THE PROSECUTION!”

  8. Meaghan March 20, 2009 / 3:48 pm

    It can get sneaked into evidence that way, yes. But it’s not necessarily as easy as that. I read in an Ann Rule book about a guy whose conviction was overturned and he got a whole new trial just because the EMT who responded to the scene of his wife’s death said he looked panicky when it appeared they might have resurrected her. (He had strangled her, and they bagged her and forced oxygen into her and it looked like she was breathing and he freaked because she might wake up and tell them what happened.) The defense successfully appealed on the grounds that the EMT was not an expert on human behavior and shouldn’t have given his opinion and it was prejudicial to the jury. They had to try (and convict) the man all over again.

  9. Anthony March 21, 2009 / 6:11 pm

    I can see where evidence from an EMT might get tossed, but generally cops get the benefit of the doubt in re: being behavioral whizzes. Which Rule book is that? Your description of the scene caused me to see an involuntary picture of the strangler-person’s hair standing straight up as his murdered missus appeared briefly to come back to life!

  10. Meaghan March 22, 2009 / 10:15 am

    The book was In the Name of Love. The guy murdered his wife AND the infant daughter, simply because the wife had been cheating and he thought maybe the little girl wasn’t his. In a macabre touch, he strangled the baby with a ribbon he took off one of her stuffed teddy bears.

  11. Anthony March 22, 2009 / 3:03 pm

    Macabre, indeed. I’ve read so much true crime in this lifetime that it’s rarely I’m gobsmacked by detail—but a ribbon off a stuffed teddy bear? Egad. That just might be the epitome of evil.

  12. orla March 23, 2009 / 7:55 pm

    I agree with Meaghan’s approach in the Lucy Meadow case – I don’t think public speculation is particularly helpful although one will always have private suspicions sometimes gleaned from the media reporting from the case .

    Which leads me to my next comment – media reporting of a disappearnace can spark/perpetuate comment and speculation over the circumstances leading to the disappearance.

    I’m thinking particularly of situations where parents and or husbands “lawyer up”or “spokesperson up” or decline to co operate with law enforcement.

    Also certain tell tale lines in news reports “X’s husband SAYS that Y drove away from the family home on whatever date” or “the parent of X remains a person of interest in this case”.

    When I was in my last year in school a girl in my year , X, vanished – literally into thin air (profiled in the Barry Cummins book reviewed on the Charley site).She has never been seen or heard from since. Anyway, another friend of mine was questioned becuase she and X had attended a party togther some days before hand and the friend commented to me that she would hate to ever go missing as quite aside from the obvious she would had the inevitable trawl through her private life and the thoughts of that private life being laid bare for public scrutiny and comment would be too much to bear. I thought of that comment when I read about Margaret Haddican-MacEnroe and her use of what now appears to be her birth name.

  13. Tina April 26, 2013 / 4:58 pm

    Sherwood Haley was a combination of the birth mother’s last name and birth father’s last name.

  14. paleblueeyes24 August 1, 2013 / 8:58 pm

    I disagree with the thought of not expecting foul play in cases like these. One thing you failed to mention is the fact that a missing spouse (especially female spouse) that is never found has more than likely been murdered by their spouse. The statistics back it up. If its not the spouse then maybe another intimate acquaintance or someone known to the victim; not a stranger. Margaret was/is a dedicated mother of 3, a military veteran, and a firefighter. There is NO previous history of just disappearing for years. Why would her husband wait 2 days to report her missing if he found the kids at home alone and his wife missing?!?! It’s called common sense backed up by statistical history. We can make an educated guess here. I would be floored if this case turned out to be anything other than the husband murdered his wife. She was too dedicated to her kids, family, community, and country to just runaway!!!!

    • Meaghan August 2, 2013 / 1:22 am

      My point is more like this: you can “suspect” anything you want. I had a gut feeling about another case, a mother and her child who disappeared. The police did not call her mother a suspect, and there was no hard evidence to indicate the disappearance had NOT been an abduction by a stranger like she claimed, but I had a feeling, a suspicion. Like you, I had some reasons for my suspicion, reasons regarding the circumstances of the child’s disappearance, but there was no blood, no witnesses, nothing concrete. I kept my mouth shut.

      Because a feeling can be wrong, especially when there’s no actual evidence to back it up. And if you (I don’t mean you specifically, I just mean people in general) go around talking about their “feeling” that the MP’s spouse or boyfriend or parent or whoever was involved in the disappearance, and it turns out that “feeling” was totally wrong, imagine how hurtful it would be for the target of that “feeling” to read or hear about that sort of thing.

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