Black History Month: Monique and Sidney Smith

In honor of Black History Month I’m profiling one African-American MP every day on this blog for the month of February. Today’s case is actually three rolled into one: sisters Monique Rae Smith, one month old, and Sidney Keara Smith, one year old, and their mother, eighteen-year-old Jennifer Dawn Lancaster. They all disappeared together from Topeka, Kansas on May 12, 2000. The children are biracial, black and white, and their mother is white.

The family’s car was found at an apartment complex a week later, and that doesn’t look good to me at all. However, I have been able to find very little information on this case, no articles, nothing.

If Sidney and Monique are still alive, they’d be 19 and 18. Jennifer would be 37.

Black History Month: Ta’Niyah Leonard

In honor of Black History Month I’m profiling one African-American MP every day on this blog for the month of February. Today’s case is Ta’Niyah Monique Leonard, an eleven-month old baby who disappeared from Bartow, Florida on October 19, 2002.

Sadly it’s not likely that Ta’Niyah is alive today. The police have two main suspects: her parents, Michael Lewis and Miranda Jones. The couple often had violent arguments, sometimes involving weapons. The cops think one or both of Ta’Niyah’s parents was responsible for her death.

This is a problem in terms of the prosecution, as I note in her casefile, since the parents are blaming each other:

Investigators believe either Lewis or Jones is responsible for Ta’Niyah’s disappearance and probable death, but they cannot proceed with charges against either of them due to a lack of evidence and due to the two suspects’ conflicting stories. Prosecutors offered both of them immunity from any charges if they would return Ta’Niyah alive, but neither Lewis nor Jones accepted the offer.

This love-hate relationship between Lewis and Jones continued after Ta’Niyah’s disappearance. Even as they both blamed each other, they conceived another child, a girl, who was immediately taken away after birth and adopted. Last I heard, in 2006, Jones had had a son (not by Lewis; the father might have been this guy) and she was about to lose her parental rights towards this baby as well.

I don’t know what Ta’Niyah’s parents have been up to since 2006; with surnames like “Lewis” and “Jones” it’s hard to trace their movements. If Ta’Niyah is alive, she’d be 17 now.

Some pretty messed up cases added today

I added eight cases today and two of them are pretty messed up, for lack of a better description.

The Roberta “Bobby” Snider disappearance / murder (which I had never heard of until today) is baffling. The husband’s behavior is so strange and I wonder if he’s got a touch of dementia. He’s in his seventies after all. If it’s not dementia I wonder what it was that made him kill his wife in cold blood in her sleep like that, especially as she was supposed to be dying of cancer anyway. Perhaps he was her primary caregiver during her illness and was tired of doing it.

I can refer interested readers to this very detailed article about the case if you want to know more about it.

The cops don’t even plan to look for her body, as they think it’s in a landfill. I wonder just how sure they are about that, though, given that the landfill thing is only one of many stories Phillip told.

The Setina and Ren Weddles case is just incredibly sad. There are shades here of the Fowler kids — Ivon and Inisha are even twins as well. I don’t hold out much hope that either of the Weddles twins is still alive, though I guess it’s remotely possible that Setina is.

All the children clearly should have been removed from their parents sooner than they were. I don’t understand why the nurse’s recommendation after they were born was not acted on.

I definitely don’t advocate removing kids from the home just because of poverty/homelessness, but Aaron and Princess were both drug addicts and Princess has serious mental health issues (she’s been locked up in Napa State Hospital since last summer as they try to make her competent to stand trial), and the family was living in absolute squalor in a van.

I wonder if the twins had some health problems, perhaps because of Princess’s drug use during the pregnancy, and if one or both of them didn’t just die from health issues and/or neglect during the many months the family was living in that van.

And we may never know.

General update on things

So the day before yesterday I discovered Dark Matters on YouTube. You can thank Caleigh Elise for most of the updates I did yesterday. Her video summaries of unsolved murders and missing persons cases and unidentified remains are in depth, well-researched and professionally done. From her research I discovered some factual errors on a few of my cases and corrected them.

Preston Winfrey, my designer, has fixed the drop-down search results on the general search (bad plugin update apparently) so the bar no longer goes blank and stops working if you scroll down. He has also improved the advanced search, fixing a bug that wouldn’t let you search multiple phrases.

Yesterday I got a shocking response from a woman whose sister was on my site. She sent me messages through email and Facebook and we spoke over Facebook messenger. She said I had no right to post about the MP, I had no permission from my family, and everything I had posted was “such baloney.”

I explained who I was and what the Charley Project is and asked what corrections needed to be made. She said the MP was reported missing by her husband; I had had it as her brother. Okay, I said, I will fix that (and did so), what else?

Well, I asked several times but she never said there was any other incorrect information, just kept yelling at me, saying their mom was very upset by seeing the casefile and it was against the law for me to write about missing persons without permission from the family. I told her this was not true.

I do not know what was bothering her, because besides that quite minor error there was absolutely nothing objectionable in the MP’s casefile, nothing that could be construed as remotely critical or judgmental or intrusive. I don’t think the woman’s anger or her mother’s distress had anything to do with me really.

I know I have written and spoken about this kind of reaction several times but it doesn’t happen often at all; most relatives who reach out to me are polite and respectful and appreciate my efforts. I got a really nice email from Morgan Nick‘s mom last month. It’s just that whenever I do get family members who claim I did something wrong or hurtful it’s upsetting to me. But some people just react differently and they are in a bad situation so I try not to take it personally.

Shrug.

I’m doing pretty well right now and everyone’s fine where I’m at: Michael, cats, dogs. Kinsey’s fifteenth birthday was earlier this week and we had her wear a party hat and gave her an Arby’s roast beef sandwich as we sang the birthday song.

Well, this is a bit odd

I found out that Maribel Oquendo-Carrero‘s dad, said to be possibly her abductor when she disappeared in 1982, is still around and his whereabouts are unknown and he gets arrested sometimes. Petty stuff. He was arrested at least three times this year. He’s 80 years old.

So where is Maribel? I have no idea. The Facebook page I found for her includes a scrap of some article about her disappearance, but it’s not enough to tell me anything, and I have yet to find the whole article anywhere.

Showing people as they are

I try to see the “whole person” in real life; I try to be conscious of everyone’s flaws and redeeming features, whether I personally love them or loathe them. And similarly, on my missing persons profiles I try to show the whole person, show missing people as they ARE, not how others would wish them to be.

Twice recently, I got yelled at by relatives of missing people for saying on the person’s profile that they were addicted to drugs. Both people who were mad at me admitted that their missing relative was, in fact, addicted to drugs. But they didn’t want it said out loud, basically.

One person said it sounded “harsh.” Another person claimed it was “confidential” when it wasn’t; she herself had been trying to admit her brother to a residential drug rehab facility, a fact that was publicly known on the internet. They don’t admit you to residential drug rehabs just because you want a vacation. But nevertheless, she didn’t want me calling her brother an addict.

While I can understand why these people feel this way, as I’ve gotten more experience I’ve felt less and less inclined to modify profiles and remove perfectly accurate information like that just because a family member asks me to.

When I was sixteen I read an excellent novel that reminds me of this situation: The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci. (Warning: spoilers ahead!) Basically, the story is about a high-school boy who mysteriously disappears, and the aftermath and how this affects his classmates and the small town they live in. All sorts of ugly rumors are floating around, and Christopher’s mother makes public accusations of murder against multiple people.

In the end, however, it turns out that Christopher had been desperately unhappy at home because his mother was very controlling and volatile, and he’d simply run away from home because he couldn’t take it anymore. Furthermore, Christopher’s mom had KNOWN THIS all along, but didn’t want to believe it, going so far as to lie to the police and conceal evidence. She would rather believe her son had been murdered than admit, even to herself, to she hadn’t been a good mother and her son hadn’t been a normal, happy kid.

It’s always a bit of a conundrum I have to deal with, trying to tell the whole truth about a person while trying not to cause additional pain to their family members.

A long-ago disappearance and a repressed memory

I wrote up the case of Maxine Beatrice Green last night. The details, if true, are pretty horrifying. According to Maxine’s daughter Norma, her ex-husband, Hobart, raped Maxine and beat and strangled her to death and buried her body in a river bottom.

The problem with Norma’s story is that she says she repressed the memory and it only came back to her 25 years after the fact, and she has exactly zero hard evidence to support it.

That Norma herself believes the murder happened is evident in the fact that, after the police wouldn’t listen to her, she used her own money to have the alleged burial site excavated. That Hobart murdered his wife I can also well believe; he was a demonstrably violent man who later beat his baby son to death and buried the body on his farm.

But nothing turned up at Norma’s excavation site except a few buttons and some animal bones. They should have found at least Maxine’s purse, or part of it, or some of the contents of it, as Norma remembers the purse being buried with her mother.

It’s possible, I suppose, that every part of Norma’s story is correct EXCEPT the burial site. But I have some other questions:

  1. What about Norma’s sister, who was also alleged to be present at the murder and burial? What is she saying? How old was she at the time; was she old enough to remember any of this?
  2. What about Hobart’s girlfriend, who was also said to have been there? She is unnamed in the news articles. Does Norma know her identity, and was she ever interviewed?
  3. Maxine and Hobart had four other children. Where were they on the night in question, and do they remember anything?

I think Hobart must be dead by now. I can find no record of his death, but he’d be nearly 90 today and I can’t find him listed as an inmate in the Missouri Department of Corrections database.

Given how old the case is, and how Hobart was already in prison for life, I can understand that the police were reluctant to invest a lot of resources in this. But six children grew up with their mother, and it would be nice to know why, and where she is now.