All the conspiracy theorists in the Gabby Pettito case are driving me mad

So social media can be a blessing AND a curse, and I think in the Gabby Pettito case it’s mainly turned out to be a curse. People who don’t know anything keep speculating, pulling all sorts of ideas out of their rear ends. There’s a reason I don’t normally hang around web-sleuthing and true-crime forums and Facebook groups and so on because this happens a lot in those places and I find it infuriating.

Back in the days when such talk was confined to one’s immediate social circle in the physical world (the breakfast table, coworkers, your friend group), it was pretty much harmless. But online, it is not necessarily harmless and I think the speculation in Gabby and Brian’s case is a pretty good example of the harm it can cause.

For example, during the time Brian was missing, Internet mobs were harassing men whose only crime was that they bore some vague physical resemblance to him. Armchair detectives were claiming that Brian’s parents must have him hidden in a bunker under their backyard and when his mom appeared to be gardening she was actually passing food and stuff down to his bunker. People were protesting outside Brian’s parents’ house and some rando sued his parents for $40 for absolutely no reason I can determine.

This all kind of reminds me of when the Internet (for some reason) decided the furniture company Wayfair was trafficking children through their website, listing kids for sale in disguise as overpriced cabinets. Internet mobs were actually HARASSING MINOR CHILDREN who had returned home after being missing for a period, to the point where one poor girl went on Facebook Live to say she was alive and well and with her family and had not been trafficked and was begging people to stop this nonsense as it was ruining her life. I was horrified and tremendously angry about this and still am frankly.

And now that Brian has been found, the Internet mobs who had seemed so dedicated to solving the case themselves now suddenly don’t want it to be solved and try to keep coming up with reasons why the remains that were identified as him could not be him.

It’s like these people think that this is a fascinating Netflix series, and now it’s over and they don’t want it to be over and are desperately trying to come up with excuses to carry on with another season of the Gabby and Brian Mystery Show…at the expense of the very real people involved in it. I am really hoping that Gabby and Brian’s respective families and friends are staying offline at the moment and don’t read any of the garbage that’s being spouted. Stuff about fake teeth, fake remains, substituted dental records, all sorts of conspiracies are being made up out of thin air.

But this isn’t Netflix. This is real life. And this is a very sad but very familiar story of a domestic abuser who killed his partner and then, probably, himself. It’s a story that happens every day all around the world and frankly I don’t understand why Gabby and Brian’s particular tragic saga has captivated so many people.

Honestly, I think the reason behind a lot of conspiracy theories is that people want to feel like they’re smarter than everybody else, even the experts. Like there’s some big secret thing going on that only they know about, so they get sucked into believing the most ridiculous things.

I certainly don’t mind if a person has legitimate good-faith questions that can be answered. Like, when I don’t know something, I look it up or I ask someone who knows.

Some people have asked why dental records were used in the identification and not DNA. Answer: dental records are much faster and cheaper than using DNA, and so that’s what’s usually done unless either the records or the decedent’s teeth are unavailable. Others have asked why only partial remains were located. Answer: probably his body had been lying in that nature preserve for weeks, maybe over a month, and animals would nibble on bits and take away pieces to eat.

But those people who ask the questions, then flatly dismiss your answers and laugh in your face and go chasing after some completely implausible story they made up themselves, I cannot stand that. Either you want to learn, or you don’t, you know?

If you DO want to learn, I have some recommendations of books on the topics of forensic science and domestic violence that you guys might find interesting. I have read all of these books myself and found them both interesting and educational.

On forensic science, I recommend (in no particular order):

  1. Sue Black’s Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind and All That Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality, and Solving Crimes
  2. Richard Shepherd’s Unnatural Causes: The Life and Many Deaths of Britain’s Top Forensic Pathologist
  3. Malcolm Dodd and Beverley Knight’s Justice for the Dead: Forensic Pathology in the Hot Zone
  4. Stefan Timmermans’s Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths
  5. Colin Evans’s Blood On the Table: The Greatest Cases of New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
  6. Ryan Blumenthal’s Autopsy: Life in the Trenches with a Forensic Pathologist in Africa
  7. Zakaria Erzinclioglu’s Maggots, Murder, and Men: Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist
  8. Cynric Temple-Camp’s The Cause of Death: True Stories of Death and Murder from a New Zealand Pathologist

On domestic violence I recommend:

  1. Rachel Louise Snyder’s No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us
  2. George Lardner’s The Stalking of Kristin: A Father Investigates the Murder of His Daughter

(Incidentally, if you read a lot like me and you have a smart phone I highly recommend Scribd. It’s a reading app kind of like Amazon’s Kindle, and provides you with unlimited access to Scribd’s large, regularly updated library of books for just $10 a month. It has a wide selection of books, including academic type books that cost a lot of money to buy, and including some of the books I listed above. You can read as many as you like for just the flat $10 fee. For me, it’s more than paid for itself.)

Hit a win on Facebook yesterday

These days, in addition to checking the missing person’s own Facebook accounts, I often check those of their family members and friends cause sometimes I come across info about the missing person or the circumstances of their disappearance that isn’t available elsewhere. Photos, nicknames, etc.

Yesterday I was writing up a case of a missing woman whose disappearance had a decent amount of coverage on the internet. Articles, listing on her local Crime Stoppers page, listing on NamUs, etc. After I pulled all the info off those sources I checked social media and found even more.

The MP had a tattoo on her chest and one on her upper arm which I was already aware of. I got the best photos I could find of those tattoos off her Facebook account. But then I noticed that, when a friend posted about her disappearance and tagged the MP’s Facebook account, the friend had (probably unintentionally) actually tagged an old account the MP hadn’t used in several years. I had not been aware of this old account, but I had a look, and discovered photos which showed two additional tattoos, on the wrist and thigh, that were not mentioned ANYWHERE ELSE.

I was able to grab a photo of the thigh tattoo, and I mentioned the wrist tattoo in the distinguishing characteristics. (The only photo I could find of it was poor quality and not at a good angle and I couldn’t really tell what the tattoo looked like, so I just noted its presence and didn’t use that photo.)

It may not sound like much but that kind of info could break a case open. Last summer a man on my site was identified because I mentioned, and had a photo of, a tattoo he had that the official “This man is missing” articles, fliers etc. said nothing about.

I thought I’d share this story because I know a lot of people who read this blog are trying to identify dead bodies and make matches with missing persons, so I thought they might try to do what I’m doing (that is, look at the missing person’s loved ones’ posts about their case to find more info).

As for the case, it’s not up yet. The MP disappeared on August 22 of last year, which isn’t quite a year ago yet. But I was doing a bunch of cases from her city and figured I’d write this case up a few days early while I was at it.

Social media update, and contemplating a language change

I am happy to say I now have Facebook access back and no longer need to keep running to my husband’s office to use his account. Hopefully I can avoid further troubles with the platform but honestly I have my doubts. During my time away I encountered, and commiserated with, many people online who had been kicked off Facebook for no good reason, and sometimes no reason at all, and unless the platform makes major changes I think things are only going to get worse.

So posts on the Charley Project Facebook page have resumed as before. Need I also remind you the Charley Project is on Twitter?

I’m also happy to report that I’ve had no side effects from Thursday’s COVID-19 vaccine, other than a sore arm. It was very sore yesterday and much less so today. I also have a sniffly nose, but I’m pretty sure that’s just pollen.

Now on another topic: Occasionally I have adjusted the Charley Project’s vocabulary to fit with the times. For example, I stopped saying “confined to a wheelchair” after it came to my attention that, for people who cannot walk, a wheelchair is not a tool of confinement but liberation. Instead I started saying “uses a wheelchair” or “needs a wheelchair for mobility.” I also changed “committed suicide” to “died by suicide” because suicide is no longer a crime in most jurisdictions, and referring to the act as if it was still a crime contributes to the stigma against it and against people who die in this way, most of whom were suffering terribly.

Josh Duggar’s recent arrest (is anyone surprised? not me!) has got me thinking: I’ve seen a trend, in some publications, to replace the term “child pornography” with “child sexual abuse images.” I think it’s a good change. Adult pornography, whatever feelings you might have about it, is legal in most jurisdictions throughout the world, and participants are doing it voluntarily and are usually paid. Child pornography is obviously not legal and the participants are being exploited and abused, and the term “child sexual abuse images” reminds a person of what is going on in those pictures and videos and the crime that must be committed to produce them.

So I’m thinking of making the change myself, and changing all references of “child pornography” on the Charley Project to “child sexual abuse images” instead.

Thoughts, anyone?

Facebook is a broken system and I hate it, part III

I had written about Facebook woes last winter, here and here. Well, now my account has been permanently disabled. The last straw, for them, was a meme I posted two. years. ago. (And it didn’t violate community standards, then or now.)

They aren’t even letting me download all my info like they’re supposed to. This is an account I’ve had since like 2004. I’ve had it since back in the days when you had to be a college student to get an account.

I haven’t done anything wrong. It’s just the stupid moderation bots, as I discussed in the previous entries linked above, who don’t understand the difference between a historical meme educating someone about World War II, and a pro-Nazi meme.

I kind of knew this was coming. The same thing has been happening to a lot of people for a long time.

No, it’s not really possible to just make a new account. No, I can’t contact customer service. Facebook doesn’t really have customer service.

This is really quite catastrophic. Leaving aside the social consequences of suddenly being cut off from all my happy online friendships (and I miss them all horribly)… I need Facebook to run the Charley Project. SO MUCH missing persons stuff is on Facebook. This is a critical source of information, almost as big for me as something like Google is, that I’m suddenly cut off from. Without an account I can’t even search Facebook for anything.

[EDIT: And to all the people suggesting I simply make a new account, I’ve tried. It can’t be done. I’ve tried different names, email addresses, phone numbers. I’ve tried using a VPN to hide my IP address. I can’t start a new account; they all get suspended immediately.]

People’s judgmental attitude in internet comments sometimes drives me mad

I often interact with the people who comment on stuff I post on the Charley Project’s Facebook page; I consider it my duty, as the admin of that page, to do so, and also I usually enjoy discussing things with them. We are, after all, talking about items of mutual interest. But sometimes people just… argh.

I put up an article recently written about the Bianca Noel Piper case (the article was of the “we’re still looking for” variety, nothing new), and immediately a bunch of commenters started saying awful things about her mother for making her go on that walk back to their house so she could chill out and deal with her anger. One of them even accused the mother of “abandoning” Bianca.

Well, here are the facts:

  1. The walk was about a mile. That’s not very far. It may seem like a long way since everyone is accustomed to driving these days, but a person Bianca’s size and age can walk a mile in ten or fifteen minutes.
  2. It was a rural area, not a big city.
  3. Bianca’s mother cooperated fully with the investigation and is not a suspect in her case.
  4. Bianca’s mother, by making her go for a walk, was following the advice of Bianca’s therapist, and they had tried the walking treatment before and it had been helpful. Loads of people go for a walk alone to cool down when they’re angry, and it’s a commonly recommended method of anger management.

I’m sure Bianca’s mother has regretted what she did every day of her life in the past sixteen years. But I do not think she did anything wrong here. She was following medical advice and the advice given sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I think Bianca was just very unlucky. And certainly casting judgment on her mom at this late date is not going to help at all.

Bianca was tall for her age, and heavy. I think that in the evening light, from a distance, she would have looked more like a woman than a child. My guess is some predator driving by saw her walking alone and grabbed her. Wrong place, wrong time.

I also grew up in a rural area and in the late nineties, as a young girl Bianca’s age, or younger, would often wander around by myself on foot or bicycle, sometimes traveling up to fifteen miles from home. It did me no harm and in fact I benefited from it. I got exercise and fresh air and learned how to amuse myself. It bothers me a lot that so much judgment is heaped on parents these days that it seems like they are expected to swaddle their youngsters in cottonwool until they graduate high school — and then people wonder why young college-age adults have no idea how to take care of themselves.

I am legit wondering if I’m ever going to get out of Facebook Jail

Remember how I said Facebook had said they would let me out of jail on January 23 but this was their third date change and I doubted it was going to happen? Well, it didn’t. They changed the date. Now it’s February 8. And remember, I should have been out in December.

This is obviously some kind of glitch, one that might get fixed in an instant by some customer service person. Except Facebook doesn’t have customer service. So I am still locked out of the Charley Project’s Facebook page.

I’m trying not to get all upset about it because there’s nothing I can do. This isn’t even a huge honking social media catastrophe, by Facebook standards. There are people I’ve read about who have run businesses through Facebook, investing gobs of money, only to lose said businesses overnight when Facebook canceled their accounts without warning. And they have no more recourse than I do.

Tiktok girl, searching through ponds and other stories

Honestly… it’s been ten days and it’s still very hard for me to take my mind off of the situation or to get much of anything done. I really wish I would not live through any more major historical events; I think I’ve endured more than my share already. But I’m trying, guys. I really am.

Oh, and an update on my Facebook woes: my release date from Facebook Jail has been moved from early February to late January. 6:26 a.m. on January 23 to be precise. I have no idea why and I’m not sure Facebook will honor this release date, since they didn’t last time.

Arizona: They’re still looking for Elizabeth Emma Breck, a 46-year-old teacher who disappeared from the Sierra Tucson behavioral health center in Saddlebrooke in January 2019. She had just arrived a few days earlier for a thirty-day treatment program for PTSD. Nothing significant to report regarding her disappearance, just that the anniversary was this week.

Arkansas: There has been much talk over the last couple of days that a dark-haired girl with bruised eyes in a viral Tiktok video was Cassie Kay Compton, who disappeared from Stuttgart in 2014, at age 15. The FBI says they’ve identified and spoken to the Tiktok girl and it’s not Cassie. They haven’t released her name, but she has been identified elsewhere as Haley Grace Phillips, a Los Angeles woman.

California: They’re looking to see if David Emery Misch, the man recently charged in the 1988 murder of nine-year-old Michaela Joy Garecht, who was kidnapped from a Hayward supermarket and never found, was also responsible for the disappearance of thirteen-year-old Ilene Beth Misheloff from Dublin in 1989.

Connecticut: They’re released an age-progressed image of Vanessa Morales, a two-year-old girl who was last seen in from Ansonia on November 29, 2019. The cops found Vanessa’s mother murdered at home on December 2, with no sign of Vanessa. I’ll add her to Charley soon.

Florida: They’re still looking for Mary Opitz, a seventeen-year-old girl who disappeared from Fort Myers back in 1981. They’re also still trying to solve the murder of Mary Hare, whose abduction and killing may have had the same perpetrator as in Opitz’s case.

Illinois: They’re still looking for Steven Robert Asplund, a 32-year-old tool and die worker who disappeared from Moline on January 9, 1994. The 27th anniversary of his disappearance was a week ago but there’s nothing new to report.

Iowa: They’ve finally canceled the Amber Alert for Breasia Terrell, a ten-year-old girl who disappeared from Davenport in July. She is still missing.

Michigan: Brad Cournaya, the longtime suspect in 34-year-old Krista Robin Lueth‘s 2008 disappearance from Lansing, has been charged with her murder. Her body has never been found.

Mississippi: They’re still trying to identify a little boy whose skull was found in a drainage canal in Sharkey County in 2014. No other remains were located. He was estimated to be between 5 and 7 at the time of his death, which may have occurred up to several years before he found. Preliminary DNA results indicate the boy was black, and probably has relatives from Sharkey County and the surrounding area.

Kansas: Some divers from an Oregon-based organization searched two ponds in Leavenworth County for Randy Wayne Leach and his mom’s car, which have both been missing since 1988. They didn’t find them.

Maryland: They’re still looking for Andre Thompson, a sixteen-year-old who disappeared from Baltimore on June 23. He may be in the Glen Burnie area.

Michigan: They have located fifteen-year-old Gloria Alvarado, who was missing from Taylor for 75 days. She is alive and well, and had run away with a seventeen-year-old boy because her parents would not allow her to date. She has returned home.

New York: They’re still looking for Joseph David Helt, a seventeen-year-old boy who disappeared from Ellenville on January 17, 1987, thirty-four years ago tomorrow.

Nevada: They’re still looking for Cassandra Ayon, a 27-year-old woman who disappeared from Loyal back in October. In particular, the police are asking for public help for info on a red or maroon SUV that may have been on one of the residential side streets near Unity Trailer Court, which is where Cassandra was last seen.

North Carolina: They’re still looking for Ebonee Shanetta Spears, a 30-year-old woman who disappeared five years and one day ago. Nothing new has been reported though.

Also North Carolina: In Winston-Salem, they’re still looking for two missing adults: Lucinda Farris, who disappeared from in June, and Eliseo Ernesto Gomez-Martinez, who disappeared in November. There’s no indication the two cases are related.

Oregon: They’re still trying to identify a child whose body was found near a rest area in Lincoln County on December 10. The little girl had dark brown or black hair and was between six and a half and ten years of age at the time of her death, which occurred at least a month before she was found. Cops have ruled out several possibilities for the girl, including five-year-old Dulce Maria Alvarez, who was abducted from a New Jersey playground in September 2019.

Virginia: The police have reclassified the 2010 disappearance of 19-year-old Samantha Ann Clarke from a missing person to a kidnap/homicide. They have not said whether they have any current suspects in the case, but Randy Allen Taylor, who was found guilty of murder-without-a-body in the 2013 disappearance of seventeen-year-old Alexis Tiara Murphy, has been mentioned before.

Wisconsin: They’re still looking for Daajane Morgan, a sixteen-year-old girl who disappeared from Milwaukee on March 6.

Canada: They’re still looking for Alyssa Turnbull, a young woman who disappeared from Nipigon, Ontario in late March 2020.

Also Canada: Six patients went missing from the now-defunct North Bay Psychiatric Hospital in Toronto, Ontario between 1966 and 2010. They have never been found.

England: They’re still looking for Andrew Gosden, a fourteen-year-old schoolboy who disappeared from London in 2007. Andrew Gosden and another English missing person, Charles Horvath Allen, have both been featured recently on the podcast The Missing.

Trinidad: They’re still looking for Kelly Ann Seerattan, a 25-year-old kindergarten music teacher who disappeared from Princes Town in 2011. The article has some quotes from Kelly’s mom.

Re-read what I wrote. What I wrote does not mean what you think it means

I thought I made it pretty clear what was going on in my blog posts about my Facebook woes (here’s post one and post two for reference) but apparently I didn’t because a bunch of commenters have gotten the wrong impression. In fact I’ve had to delete some comments and block one guy from commenting altogether because he kept ranting, and I need to set the record straight:

The problems that have led to me being placed in Facebook jail have nothing to do with the Charley Project, or anything I have posted about missing persons. Nobody in particular is angry at me for any particular reason. No one is conspiring against me, particularly not any child traffickers or organized groups of pedophiles or anyone in government.

I have no idea why anybody got the idea that any of the above things were happening, but they are not. If you believed this, let me make it perfectly clear: you are mistaken.

My complaints about Facebook are entirely about their AI moderation being terrible and their customer service being nonexistent. I am being treated THE SAME AS EVERYBODY ELSE that uses Facebook, and THIS IS THE PROBLEM. Anyone who uses Facebook is liable to get into this kind of predicament, and unless the platform makes changes, that’s how it’s going to stay.

I do not intend to join any other platforms that have marketed themselves as alternatives to Facebook. Hopefully, in February, AI moderation will let me out of Facebook jail. Unless something else happens in the meantime, that’s all I have to say in the matter.

Facebook is a broken system and I hate it, part II

Hi all. As I mentioned earlier, I was in Facebook jail for a month due to a meme I posted that their AI moderator thought violated Facebook’s TOS, when in fact it didn’t.

The restriction was supposed to end this morning. I wake up to discover that Facebook has extended it till February.

This is, as far as I can tell, not even an actual decision on Facebook’s part but an error. They’d given me another strike, then like literally two seconds later they told me they’d made a mistake and removed it… supposedly. Except apparently they forgot to remove it. They only say they did.

Facebook’s mistake is making it impossible for me to run my Charley Project page on there (they won’t let me add stuff or make changes to my page), which is a pretty big problem for me. I tried to add another account as an editor to the Charley Project page, so someone could still post stuff. But it won’t let me cause it won’t let me run the page. So as far as the followers of that page are concerned, I’ve vanished without a word. Some of them have started to contact me on their own to ask if I’m all right. Many of them don’t even realize the Charley Project is also a separate entity outside Facebook.

No, there’s nothing I can do about this. I can’t talk to customer service. Facebook, as far as I can tell, literally has no customer service employees. And it has only 15,000 human moderators for a company that serves over a billion people. Almost all moderation is done by AI technology and it makes a lot of mistakes, which is why I’m in Facebook jail in the first place.

This is actually starting to cut into my income as well since I think a lot of donors were Facebook followers. Oh, well.

I’m not in the best of moods.

The missing persons articles I would’ve shared on Facebook if I could have

Yeah, for the uninitiated, Facebook is mainly where I share missing persons related news. But as I addressed in my previous entry, that’s not an option right now. So I’m sharing them here:

From Joliet, Illinois: 17 Missing In Will County: One Joliet Case Dates To 1957. Includes a photo of Sarah Elizabeth Avon which I hadn’t previously seen; I have added it.

From Rice County, Kansas: Five years after she disappeared, the search for Megan continues. The Megan here is Megan Renee Foglesong.

From Tarboro, North Carolina: Cold case investigators offer $15K reward in case of missing Edgecombe County man. The missing man, Stephen Frederick MacGray, has been missing for nearly a year — not quite long enough to be eligible for listing on the Charley Project.

From San Luis Obispo, California: This coach last saw his mother in Woodland in 1979; his DNA helped find her body. About the Dolores Wulff case; she disappeared in 1979 and was identified recently.

From Texas: Congressmen introduce bipartisan missing persons bill.

From Valdosta, Georgia: Valdosta police still seek missing mother, son. This is the disappearance of three-year-old Brandon Lee Wade and his mom, Paula, eighteen years ago.

From Mobile, Alabama: Cold Case Mystery: Mobile mother missing for 20 years. That’s Lisa Ann Pierce, who went missing in 2000.

From Battle Creek, Michigan: Amber Griffin remains missing after months of failed searches around Battle Creek. She’s been missing since June.

From Montana: Officials discuss missing persons cases in Montana national parks.

From San Luis Obispo, California: Can new info help solve the case of missing college student Kristin Smart? Also: Was the beeping in a backyard coming from Kristin Smart’s watch? Kristin disappeared in 1996; it’s one of those cases where it’s pretty obvious what must have happened but the cops are having a hard time proving it.

From the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana: BIA, FBI Seeking Missing Child Mildred Old Crow. I added her the other day.

From Sonora, Mexico: Sonora mayor’s gift to mothers of missing persons: shovels and buckets.