Straddling the line

Apropos of nothing, I thought I’d talk about a tricky issue I often have to deal with in writing up casefiles to put on Charley.

A lot of the MPs on the Charley Project met their end through domestic violence — either child abuse or intimate partner abuse. Of course the abuser is not going to admit to murder, so he (I’m using the male gender pronoun merely for convenience) will say his partner simply left him, or his child ran away or was abducted.

And then as the investigation progresses, the police will poke holes in the abuser’s story. Sometimes the cops will talk to the media about the inconsistencies and evasions and so on, and announce that the abuser is the prime suspect in the disappearance. But not always. Sometimes the police say nothing at all.

A few months ago I saw a Facebook post about a certain missing child. The child’s parents say he simply disappeared during the night; the police think otherwise and believe his parents murdered him. The Facebook post said my casefile for this boy was “full of lies” and they put up a screenshot of the casefile with the word “LIES” in big red letters across it.

I went back to that casefile and had a look, trying to figure out what the Facebook person was talking about, and I realized they were upset because I put the parents’ version of the disappearance on there. And then — this is the important part — I said that basically everything I’d just written probably did not happen and here’s what the police think REALLY happened, and summed up the evidence against the parents and so on.

That’s what I usually do in cases like that: I sum up the suspect’s version of what happened, followed by what the police believe happened. So it’s two different stories I’m telling. I feel like I have to include both in order to give the complete picture. So yes, in a way, that boy’s casefile was “full of lies”, lies his parents told. But I made it clear that those particular statements lacked credibility.

I’m doing the best I can with what I have to work with, and I think the whole “telling two stories” is a good policy. But the problem arises when the police have said little or nothing about a case.

Awhile back I got an email from an MP’s sister. She said she wanted me to change some things in the MP’s profile because her boyfriend, the last person known to have seen her, was the prime suspect in her disappearance and the cops didn’t believe she had ever been to the store that day like the boyfriend said.

The problem, though, was that I have nothing to back that up. The police have never gone public saying the boyfriend’s story is a lie and he might have murdered the MP. I could find not a single database entry or news article that said that. And if I can’t get an on-the-record source, I have to leave things as they are, with only the boyfriend’s story given, because that’s the only account that’s out there right now.

Much as I would have liked to, I knew it would be a bad idea to change the MP’s casefile in that way just because a non law enforcement source emailed me and told me to do it. If my source was lying or mistaken, publishing such info could get me in a lot of trouble. Even if it was accurate information, the police were probably keeping quiet about it for a reason and I wouldn’t want to hinder the investigation.

So there you go.

6 thoughts on “Straddling the line

  1. Marshall Loveday August 26, 2016 / 6:09 pm

    You’re following good journalistic practices, Meaghan. I don’t see anything wrong with the way you (have to) handle it.

  2. whereaboutsstillunknown August 26, 2016 / 8:22 pm

    It’s probably not necessary all the time, but in those occasions where you think the information could potentially be important, what you could do is ask the person to post the information on one of the forums, then you could say “her sister does not believe she was ever at the store” and then list the forum as a source. Again, not for every little thing, but if it’s important enough.

  3. diamondlil16 August 26, 2016 / 11:16 pm

    I agree with both comments above, by Marshall and WhereAbouts. If those close to the person has suspicions and are willing to publicly state so, then it can be added. Names of the supect/s don’t have to be used if they were not used in original mainstream media reporting or by LE. Just saying ‘the mom doesn’t believe the roommate/coworker/neighbor…is being truthful “. Sadly, so many missing persons have no one speaking about them.

  4. Michael Cartier August 27, 2016 / 12:43 pm

    I would think that the families of the missing would appreciate as much help and visibility as possible to help find their loved one….

    • Meaghan September 2, 2016 / 3:07 pm

      You’d be surprised. Very early in the days of the Charley Project I got a furious letter from a woman saying that her husband was on Charley and demanding that I remove his case because she did not give permission for him to be listed as missing on there. I was absolutely mystified but dutifully removed his case — and she went around bad-mouthing me to other people and claiming I’d said something horrible to her when I had not.

      (And no, she wasn’t a suspect.)

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