I have thought of adding a new page to Charley, explaining why my site is different from all the others out there. Of course it is still the biggest one online in terms of number of open MP cases (though NamUs is quickly catching up, and if you included their unidentified listings it would be almost double Charley’s size), and unlike many sites that only cover one particular state, it covers the whole US including territories. (It would cover the world if I only had the time and linguistic ability.) And I make an effort to refer families of the missing to appropriate resources, namely Project Jason but other places too. Of course I have a lot of theoretical knowledge, but without having a close friend or relative vanish like the people on my website do, I can’t come even close to understanding the left-behind loved ones’ pain. So I try to get them in touch with people who do understand.
But mainly, my site is the only one that makes an effort to tell ALL the publicly available information about a missing person, and include as many photos as I can as well. That’s my niche — no other MP website that I know of does that, either because there are rules against it (typically government-run sites) or the people administering the site have not the time, the ability and/or the inclination. Taking all the information I can find and synthesizing it and summarizing it into one essay that provides as thorough an overview of the case as is possible — that is Charley’s niche.
Peter Kema’s case is a great example of this. I had to read probably dozens of articles about him, and also his Hawaiian Department of Human Services casefile, which amounted to two or three thousand pages. (It wasn’t quite as long as it sounds — a lot of the pages were in very large double-spaced type, or had very little text on them, or were duplicates — but thousands of pages are thousands of pages.) It took like twelve hours to read the DHS files alone, never mind all the articles I had to locate and read as well. And I took these huge chunks of info, which most normal people would not have the time or the determination to read all the way through, and turned them into a 1,760-word “circumstances of disappearance” summary which can be read in less than an hour and will give a person a very good grounding of the facts of the case. There are also eight photos of the little boy, and one age-progression. If a person has a particular interest in a certain case, instead of having to chase down twenty articles in ten different publications, they can come to one source and find out what they need to know. And whenever I come across new information, as soon as is reasonably practical I add it to the casefile.
Sometimes this leads to problems — mainly when some people, particularly relatives, don’t want certain information known, particularly information that portrays the MP in a less-than-exemplary light. When this happens I negotiate with them, and almost always take the information down. I don’t like doing it, but again, I have no idea what they’re going through and I don’t want to contribute to their suffering. I can only think of one case where I outright refused to remove the info, but I did modify it somewhat, and that satisfied the person.
My theory is that the more a member of the public knows about a person’s disappearance, the more likely they are to care. Faces and driver’s-license type info on posters are great for disseminating information quickly and efficiently, but very soon those faces start to blend together. I figure people are more likely to be like, “I remember her, she was the Holocaust survivor.” Or “Oh yeah, that woman who vanished and her house caught fire and her baby son was found dead inside.” Or “that teenage boy who was seen seeing walking down the road in underpants and sneakers as if it was the most normal thing in the world.” Or “the cultural exchange girl from Brazil who was so happy to visit America, poor thing.” It saddens me to have to write the all-too-frequent “few details are available” and whenever I get a chance to erase that sad empty statement and replace it with some actual facts, I’m as happy as if someone gave me an unexpected present.
I don’t really like to toot my own horn much — in fact I am a bit of a perfectionist and think there’s a lot of things I could and ought to do with Charley to make it better — but I am proud of what it is. Very few people have the combination of research abilities, writing talent, interest in the topic (some may call it obsession), and perseverance that is necessary to build a site with 9000+ comprehensive MP narratives and maintain it and make it grow for seven and a half years and counting.
Anyway, that’s how Charley is different than all the other sites out there. Should I point this out in a page of its own, or is the difference obvious enough as is? Would it sound like I was bragging or something if I pointed it out?