Seeing them living

With more recent cases, I occasionally find traces of a person’s activities on the internet before they disappeared. One college student had a website with some pictures of her and poems, one of which she wrote just a few days before she vanished. Another person, a middle-aged man, wrote somewhere about his experiences volunteering for the Peace Corps in the 1970s. Etc.

Well, I just found an online trace of an MP who is most definitely NOT recent: Bessie Hyde, who disappeared on a rafting trip in Arizona over eighty years ago. Northern Arizona University’s digitial archive has a book of poems Bessie wrote, called Wandering Leaves. You can not just read the text but actually see the book itself, bound with string. It’s typed but the cover has the title in what is presumably Bessie’s handwriting. From page 4:

The first fall frost
In shining silver,
Comes out at night.

And soon beguiles
The fluttering trees,
With jewels.

At dawn…
The barren ground
Is carpeted with brown,
Dry, crackling leaves:
Who can no longer whisper
Soft, low songs
For they–
Are dead.

I always wondered why people made such a fuss about the beauty of autumn. The whole season is about death. Apparently Bessie shared my sentiments.

Two old ladies

Today I added a woman whom I’m pretty sure is the oldest person (at time of disappearance) to be listed on Charley: Mary Ellen Cobb. Her age in various articles was listed as 102, 104 and 105; I went with the lowest number. She disappeared with her daughter, Wynona Delvecchio, who was in her eighties, and their disappearances were not discovered for years.

It’s not clear when the two women vanished, because their neighbor was concealing their absences and cashing Mary’s pension checks for herself. It helped that they apparently only had one relative, Mary’s son, who lived in Florida, and by the time they disappeared the guy hadn’t heard from either his mother or his sister for close to a decade.

I found out about the disappearances because they just found a skull under Wynona’s house, and it made the news. I wonder where the other skull is. Of course one inevitably suspects foul play. If just one of them had vanished, perhaps it was a case of the MP dying of natural causes and neighbor burying the body and then cashing the checks, but I have a hard time believing that with TWO disappearances. Though, old as the mother and daughter were, it’s certainly possible.

That neighbor woman has probably been hauled in for questioning already about this potential homicide, though they have yet to identify the skull.

Why do I do it?

A lot of people ask me why I do this missing persons work, and why I research the Holocaust and true crime so much, and why I do my Executed Today entries, and in general why do I surround myself with such “depressing” stuff.

The short answer, of course, is “I like it.” Or, to quote the British serial killer Dennis Nilsen, when asked why he murdered people: “Well, enjoying it is as good a reason as any.”

The long answer, of course, is what people really want, and for the longest time I couldn’t provide it. I knew I had been attracted to this kind of “depressing” stuff since childhood (I’m saying depressing in quotes because I don’t find these topics depressing at all) but I didn’t really know why.

I tried to come up with various explanations, sometimes talking about it with the legion of therapists I’ve had. One of them thought the missing persons thing was because I felt so disconnected from my family and community and general environment and was therefore psychologically “missing” myself. I didn’t agree with that, but he kept pressing the point, and at one point I said, “Why do I like reading about missing people? Well, why do I like cheese pizza?” And then he said that was the most idiotic thing he’d ever heard me say. And round and round and round we went. Anyway, none of the reasons I daddled with in my head ever made much sense to me.

As part of the I-Match Program (all is well btw, headache-wise), we had to have two therapy sessions with the psychologist there. And it was in the first session that I finally figured it out. Or, rather, the therapist did. I was telling him about how I want to do something heroic, something big and blazing that will burst like fireworks and make a difference in the world. I told him about how, when the revolution started in Libya, my first instinctive urge had been to go over there and throw myself into the fracas. And he said, “So. You’re interested in fighting evil.”

And it hit me all at once: that was it. I’m interested, not in evil itself, but in the battle against it. More specifically, I’m looking for heroes. When I find one I feel it’s my duty to let other people know the story, know that person existed. Of course, heroism requires adversity, even tragedy, which is where the “depressing” stuff comes in. But my focus was never on that.

Take Johann Georg Elser for example, my latest big hero. This perfectly ordinary, working-class German guy, a deadbeat dad, with no great intelligence or talent in anything, tried to kill Adolf Hitler in 1938 and almost succeeded. He was ultimately executed for this. But what is the most important thing, to me, is that he tried. He spent a year plotting and preparing this meticulous assassination attempt and that he failed was through no fault of his own. And, unlike most assassins, Elser was neither hired nor crazy, nor did he intend to martyr himself. He was just a very ordinary man who saw a darkness spreading over his country and did what he could to stop it, while the whole rest of the world turned away. I first heard about him in February and I am still marveling over how incredible it all was, and wondering what made him so different from the millions of other ordinary German people who, after the war, tried to say “we didn’t like what was going on but there was nothing we could do about it.”

In my mind, the “depressing” fact that Elser’s attempt failed (through simple rotten luck) and that he was executed is nothing to the inspiration I feel as a result of his aspirations to change history and prevent a global war.

And for MPs, it’s largely the same, though there’s also the curiosity and speculation about the mysteries. With MPs the heroes are police officers and prosecutors who doggedly pursue decades-old disappearances that are ice cold, the coroners and medical examiners who scour the internet trying to identify dead bodies in their spare time, the family members that turn into activists for others as well as themselves, the private citizens who invest their time in solving cold cases when they could be playing Farmville instead. Maybe these actions aren’t “big and blazing” but there’s so much quiet altruism there. And it adds up.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why “I like it.”

And another siiigh

Got an email last night from a guy who saw one of my cases profiled on Investigation Discovery, which he has been watching “for days.” The case involves a woman who disappeared from a nightclub (as ever), and I guess the TV show had some security camera footage of her leaving the club. My correspondent believes a certain person he saw in the security tapes was the one who harmed my MP. He doesn’t recognize the person or anything, but watching the tape repeatedly, he just got the impression that “the man in the cowboy hat is guilty.”

Um…okay. Great. But why are you telling me this? Even if I had seen the clip myself and agreed, what on earth could I possibly do about it?

I don’t know why people keep sending me things like this when they ought to be calling the police themselves. I say repeatedly on my site that I’m not an investigator. Okay, there was one woman from Italy who asked me to give her tip to the police so she wouldn’t have to spend $$$ making an international call, but that’s an exception.

(Most of the emails I get, btw, are not from annoying or crazy people. Most of them are helpful emails with info to put on Charley, or just emails thanking me for my work. But those emails aren’t interesting to blog about.)

This is not directed at anyone in particular

A lot of people, including regular readers of this blog, send me email updates with pictures, or article links, stuff from NamUs, etc. And that’s great. Keep doing that. Makes my job a little easier. However, as I have previously noted, I presently have a backlog that would take three months and change to clear out, assuming I worked exclusively on that and updated every day. So sometimes eons pass before I get around to posting an update someone sends me.

Rest assured, though, I read every email I get and if you don’t see your update appearing, I’m not ignoring you. I generally don’t ignore people unless they are crazy and/or threatening to sue me. I just only have so much time is all.

As far as case updates go I try to get to articles first, since articles have a tendency to disappear quickly. I also have a priority on new APs, and cases where a suspect was charged with or convicted of murder. NamUs updates have their own folder and I generally work on them in the order that I get them. Everything else is whenever I can get to it.

As far as new cases, if you haven’t already figured this out, I try to stay current, keeping up with the six-month waiting period. After that I do cases that interest me for some reason (generally old ones). I go through periods where I try to designate one runaway or family abduction case per update, though not lately. The rest of the cases are added pretty much randomly.