Meaghan’s ideal missing persons database

I thought I’d do a blog entry about my dream MP database, which doesn’t actually exist and never will. Some databases are better than others, and I can come up with examples of great ones, but none of them meet all the criteria I’m about to name.

In this list I’ll provide some examples of features in different MP databases, including the Charley Project, to demonstrate what I think should and should not be done. I’m not trying to either elevate or denigrate any particular database by doing this, I just want to point some things out, both good and bad.

I invite discussion/suggestions in the comments section about what other people imagine as their ideal database. This list is just my opinion.

Now, the rest of these things I’m going to list are in no particular order, but I want to emphasize one thing first and foremost, the most important thing to me: THE DATABASE MUST QUICKLY REMOVE MPs AFTER THEY’RE LOCATED. Without this, no matter how otherwise user-friendly and comprehensive a database is, it’s worse than useless.

Recently I was updating Charley with cases featured on the Virginia State Police MP page and came across one where the guy disappeared over a year ago — long enough for him to appear on Charley — but further research revealed he’d turned up alive and well ONE DAY after his disappearance was reported. Yet he was still listed as missing with the VSP, over a year later.

There are a few other state databases where I’ve caught long-ago-resolved cases still listed so many times, that I don’t trust those databases anymore. I’ll still use those databases as a source, but unless I have independent verification that the person is still missing, I just won’t post the case. I know that a result I’m probably missing out on posting some actual active cases. But I had to make a judgement call and I decided I don’t want blatant errors like that on Charley, and I CERTAINLY don’t want to cause problems for those no-longer-missing people who might lose out on job opportunities etc. from still being listed as missing.

I admit that I too am guilty of this; I myself have sometimes left cases up months or even years after it was resolved. I kind of have an excuse though: I’m one person dealing with a huge database, without the kind of resources law enforcement databases or even actual nonprofits have. I’m doing the best I can with what I have, but I don’t have as much as a state LE database does. Of course when I learn that a person isn’t missing anymore, I remove the case either immediately or sometimes next time I update.

So I think that’s the most important. But here’s some other criteria that would be met in my imaginary perfect MP database. Be prepared for some rambling:

  1. Add as many cases as you can, and keep adding them promptly as more people go missing. I can’t think of a single publicly available database that has ALL the MPs in any particular state, but it would be nice if they did. The California Department of Justice (CDOJ) database is, I think, the largest, with almost 3,000 cases in it as of this writing.
  2. Include a law enforcement contact phone number. If more than one LE agency is investigating the case, including contact info for both.
  3. Put in a subscription thing where interested parties can be emailed when a new case is added, when a case is resolved, and when an existing case is updated (and also what was updated). I like how NamUs has that feature where you could subscribe to individual cases to be notified when they’re updated or resolved. Unfortunately, they’ve since reduced the number of possible case subscriptions to 50.
  4. There should be some kind of public notice, even if it’s just temporary, if a case is resolved, to let viewers know even if they aren’t signed up for the mailing list.
  5. I like how NamUs cross-references their MPs and their UIDs and has a list of rule-outs, so you can find out quickly that it’s already been determined the MP “Elizabeth Jones” is not the UID “Podunk Jane Doe.” This saves a lot of time and effort for both LE and armchair sleuths. So, if the MP database is also a UID database, that’s a great feature.
  6. Speaking of databases of both MP and UID cases, I think they should be kept entirely separate. Like, the NCMEC search page has different categories you can search for, including various types of missing child as well as “unidentified.” You don’t have to search by category. But if you don’t — say, if you search just by gender — UID cases get listed along with the missing (sometimes over a dozen of them, depending on what your search criteria was) and it’s kind of annoying to have to keep skipping past those.
  7. Speaking of categories like the NCMEC has, if you do them at all — and I don’t think they’re strictly necessary, although they can be helpful — make sure they’re accurate. Be prepared to move a case to a different category if more info somes to light. The NCMEC’s “Lost, Injured, Missing” category (which is supposed to mean people who disappeared as a result of things like drowning or getting lost in the wilderness) on there has only one person, Sierra Lamar, and as you can see from her Charley Project page, she definitely didn’t disappear under those circumstances. Meanwhile, Christopher William Vigil, listed as “Endangered Missing” with the NCMEC, disappeared while hiking with his family (see his Charley Project casefile) and is a much better candidate for the Lost, Injured Missing category. Carlee Jade Morse is listed as “Endangered Runaway” on the NCMEC when she was in fact murdered by her ex-boyfriend. The NCMEC isn’t the only database that sometimes miscategorizes cases; the CDOJ database has Casey Joanna Brooks listed as a runaway when she was in fact witnessed jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and left a suicide note as well. She didn’t even run away from home before she did this; the Golden Gate Bridge was near where she lived. Years ago I actually contacted the CDOJ to explain this fact and how the runaway categorization, in addition to being inaccurate, would probably be hurtful to her family if they knew about it. They didn’t do anything to fix it though.
  8. Include contact info (an email address, or a contact form, or a phone number, or some combination thereof) so people who find errors in the database can suggest corrections. And, if you get corrections from the public, investigate them, and if they’re legit, FIX THE PROBLEM. I admit that sometimes I don’t correct things as fast as I should. It’s not out of malice. Sometimes the email gets lost in the shuffle; I get so many. Sometimes I just forget. This is one of my many sins. As I said, the Charley Project is definitely NOT an ideal MP database. But I know from my own experience how frustrating it is to take the time to try to correct something in another database and just to just ignored.
  9. If your database accepts tips, include contact info for that too. If it does not accept tips (the Charley Project doesn’t, not that this seems to stop anyone from sending them in), put up a notice explaining this and directing viewers to places that can accept and act on any tips.
  10. Whenever possible, include photos of the missing person, as many as possible, and make them as current as you can. The databases for Washington and Florida have very few photos and that’s frustrating. There are an abundance of sources for photographs, particularly for people who disappeared in the Internet Age, so usually at least one photo can be found. In some cases, if I can find nothing else, I’ve gone so far as to use a person’s mug shot(s). With this case, for example, mug shots are all I have to work with.
  11. If the person frequently wore their hair in different styles and colors, try to provide photos of them reflecting that fact. (I tried to do that with Kara Kopetsky for example.)
  12. It would be a good idea also to include a variety of facial expressions in the photos provided — something that can be difficult, I think, because most people try to smile and look happy when they know they’ve been photographed. I had Brooke Wilberger listed on Charley (she was found murdered in 2009) and had, like, 12 pics of her, and could only find one of her where she wasn’t smiling.
  13. If it’s known, put in the date each photo was taken, or the age the person was in the photo.
  14. Sometimes photos simply aren’t available, and I’d rather a case be listed without a pic than not listed at all. But if there’s no photo, and you can swing it, possibly a sketch artist could meet with the MP’s loved ones to make a drawing of the person. I’ve seen a few examples of that, and it’s certainly better than nothing. Similarly, I think it’s a better idea to put up a poor quality picture or an old picture than none at all. But if it is a really old picture, that should be noted.
  15. If at all possible, at least one of the MP photos should show the person’s teeth. Teeth are so distinctive and so important when it comes to identifying a dead body. A simple photo of a person smiling could be a rule-out right there and then, and save a lot of time: “Can’t be this person; he has buck teeth, and the John Doe clearly doesn’t. Let’s move on.”
  16. If the exact date the missing person was last seen is not known, make a note of that in the casefile somewhere. Don’t just say they disappeared on January 1, Year-of-disappearance, and don’t list the date it was reported as the date they were missing, because sadly too many MPs aren’t reported missing for months or years.
  17. I like having dates of birth available, but I suppose that’s not essential, as long as the age when the person disappeared is accurate. Inaccurate info is worse than no info at all, if you ask me. If the exact age isn’t known, note that somewhere, and put in a range of possible ages.
  18. Adding the MP’s current age, if they’re still alive, would also be nice. It might seem obvious, but some people really don’t seem to realize that if a three-year-old has been missing for ten years, they’d be looking for a living teenager now, not a living toddler.
  19. Both height and weight should be given. If you have to estimate, do it, but again, make a note that it’s an estimate. Anything that has to be estimated, should be noted as such.
  20. Note in as much detail as possible all distinguishing characteristics such as tattoos and scars. Things like skin conditions, even acne, should be mentioned also. Details like the size and color(s), and the exact location — like, upper arm? Lower arm? — are very helpful. If it’s on the shoulder, it would be nice to whether it’s on the side of the shoulder (aka the upper arm), or the top part of the shoulder, or the back of the shoulder (aka upper back). And try to make the description as unambiguous as you can. I’ve seen things like “Tattoos: Harley Davidson on right calf.” Do they mean plain words reading “Harley Davidson”, or a Harley Davidson logo, or a Harley Davidson motorcycle? Inquiring minds wanna know.
  21. If there are a photos available of those tattoos or scars or whatever, by all means, put them in. Drawings of the tattoos, or at least of the logo or whatever the tattoo was inspired by, could be used if there are no photos. If a scar came from stitches or surgery, that’s helpful to know.
  22. If the MP had facial hair, it should be explicitly mentioned in the description, even if all the photos show them with it. If there are photos of the MP with facial hair but he was clean-shaven at the time of his disappearance, mention that in the description too.
  23. Same with piercings. I see a lot of pics of MPs with earrings, but unless the description I find explicitly mentions them, I don’t like to add “pierced ears” to the Charley Project’s “distinguishing characteristics” section of the casefile because, like, what if the piercings closed after the photo was taken, or what if it’s a clip-on earring and not a pierced one? It also might be worth mentioning if a female MP, especially a teenager or adult, has no piercings at all, since the overwhelming majority of American females have pierced ears.
  24. Note all prior bone fractures and also all foreign bits implanted in the body — rods and screws to repair broken bones, artificial heart valves, etc., Even bullets. (One MP on my site has a bullet in his brain!) X-rays would be a good idea, if available.
  25. Similarly, note all dental fillings, implants, etc., as well as any teeth that are missing. Whether or not the teeth have any dental work done, if there are X-rays, those should be added. If the MP was wearing braces when they disappeared, note that.
  26. The racial background is important also. When I first started Charley, and for years afterwards, I usually didn’t say the person’s race. When I decided to change that, I realized just how bad a mistake I’d made by omitting the race — sometimes a person’s race is obvious from the picture, but so many times I wasn’t sure just by looking at them and I had to go and look it up. If a person has a multiracial/multiethnic background, explain this. (Peter Kema, for example, is of Native Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino and Spanish descent.) I don’t think it’s not really necessary to say things like “of Chinese descent” as well as “Asian” or “of German, Swedish and Spanish descent” as well as “Caucasian”, although it’s something I do.
  27. Also important in the description, I think, is if the MP doesn’t speak English or doesn’t speak it well or speaks with a foreign accent. And, of course, their primary language should be mentioned if it’s not English.
  28. Unless the family objects, note in as much detail as possible an MP’s medical conditions, whether those conditions are visible or not, and what medicines they took and whether they had said medicines with them. This includes mental illnesses as well as physical ones. If they’re classified as disabled, say so. If they need a cane or other assistance to get around, say so. If the MP was involved in illegal drug use, note that, and note which drugs. There’s a difference between someone who just occasionally uses drugs at parties or whatever, and someone who’s an actual addict. If they’re addicted to any substances, including alcohol, that’s a medical condition and should be noted as in #8.
  29. The clothing description should be as detailed as possible — including undergarments, accessories and shoes as well as outer garments, and with brand names and sizes if possible. Beverly Potts‘s case is an example of a very detailed description. I realize that it’s usually not possible to get as detailed a description as Beverly’s, of course, but if it is, better too much information than too little.
  30. If possible, include a photo of the MP wearing those clothes (I have such a photo in Shantina Smiley‘s casefile), or at least a photo of the clothes. With Sky Metalwala‘s case, I have both three photos of him wearing the hoodie, and a photo of the same type of pants he was wearing. In the same vein, try to include some details about any stuff the person had with them when they disappeared, and pictures as possible. I have a photo of Benedetta Bentley‘s overnight bag, which is colorful and attention-grabbing. (You might want to make such pics bigger than the ones I use, though. Mine are usually only 100 pixels high.)
  31. As for the actual details of disappearance, I don’t think an ideal database should be as detailed as mine is in that regard. I’m trying to tell a story as much as I’m trying to impart details about an MP, and I understand that’s not the goal of most databases, and finding and writing up as many background details as I provide takes a lot of time that might be better used towards other aspects of the case listing. Like, you don’t really need pictures of suspects and other parties involved in the case to find an MP.
  32. BUT there are a lot of details that SHOULD be added. Details can show people not only WHERE to look but where NOT to look. If the person obviously got lost in the wilderness or drowned or something like that, that’s important. If a person is believed to have left on their own, that’s important, and if it’s thought they’ve to a particular place, that’s important. If a person has mental illness or dementia and could be somewhere suffering from amnesia, that’s important. If it’s a murder-without-a-body case, that’s VERY important. If there are strong indications of foul play, like a bloody crime scene, that’s important. Vehicle information — including license plate number and VIN number and a picture of the car if you have it — is also important.
  33. Speaking of MPs who left on their own, it would be nice if there was a way you could search for which MPs may be in a particular state or country. The NCMEC search page has this, though it doesn’t seem to be very comprehensive; I searched for Minnesota and then Ohio and turned up nobody, and for California I only found two cases, and in Arizona only three. I searched for the nation of India and found no one, though I know of several cases where the posters say the missing child may be in India.
  34. It would be very convenient if, when you click on individual results within a database search, those individual cases have a permanent link you can bookmark to. Most MP databases have that feature, but not all of them, alas.
  35. If two cases are thought to be connected, each result should have a link to another. I’m not necessarily talking about, say, Ted Bundy’s myriad of still-missing presumed victims (I count twelve of them on Charley), but if multiple MPs disappeared together, or are thought to be together, that should be noted in their file with a link to the other case(s). The NCMEC usually does this, but not always; I recently blogged about two MPs listed on the NCMEC who disappeared together, but there was neither a mention of that or a links to the other case on either of their posters.
  36. If the kidnapper is known, particularly if there’s a warrant out for the person’s arrest, include info about the warrant and photos and a physical description of the perpetrator.
  37. If the MP database, like mine, gathers info from a variety of sources, please, please, please, link to those sources at the bottom. It doesn’t have to be a Wikipedia-style “link each bit of info to the specific article/URL it came from” but just putting a link to the website or database or newspaper would be enough in my opinion. I’m willing to share, but I get very angry and hurt when people take info off Charley and put it on their own sites or articles without attributing it to me. I’m sure other people feel the same way when their hard work is copied without any credit.
  38. The database, if it covers the whole country, should have a listing by state and perhaps by region too, and if it just covers one state, it should have a listing for cases by county.
  39. The database should be browsable — browsing is pretty fun, I think — but more importantly, it should be searchable to the full extent possible. This is really important; the more searchable it is, the more useful it is. For example, it should be possible to get a range of dates — say, anyone missing between October 5, 1985 and January 6, 1992 — as well as a range of ages. Right now, the Charley Project is only searchable by keyword, although I do have lists by state, alphabetically and chronologically to compensate for that. NamUs’s search capabilities are very broad in scope, maybe the best I’ve seen anywhere, although I don’t see a basic keyword search there. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement database’s search page, on the other hand, is sadly lacking in its parameters: it doesn’t have fields for important things like height, weight, and hair and eye color, even if other fields are filled in, it won’t search at all unless you have at least the first two letters of the MP’s surname. Which means it’s really only good for looking up a specific MP. How can you use it to match UIDs then?
  40. The casefiles should have the correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. Now, I know that I myself make typos a lot. When I find out about them, I often wince in embarrassment. But I’ve seen entries in some other databases where the case description is basically semi-literate, to the point where it’s hard to figure out what the person is saying, and it just looks unprofessional. (If you find a typo on Charley, btw, don’t hesitate to email me and point it out. I’m not “bothered” by such emails; rather, I’m grateful for the opportunity to fix the mistake. I mean, like, if you had lettuce stuck in your teeth, wouldn’t you rather someone tell you, than walk around in public like that all day and only find out after you get home and a hundred or so people have already seen it?)

Yeah, that’s all I can think of at the moment. My dream database. If only…

Make-a-List Monday: Motorcycle gangs

I recently did two Flashback Friday cases in a row where the MP associated with a motorcycle gang. So I thought I’d do a list of motorcycle gang related cases: either the person associated with a gang, or they had close relatives or good friends or a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend who did, or gang members are thought to have caused the disappearance. Or some combination thereof.

This is not, of course, meant to imply that the MPs on this list deserved whatever their fate was.

All of these cases are pretty old. I don’t know if motorcycle gangs have gone out of style or mostly been stomped out of existence by the police and prosecutors or what. And curiously, save one, all those MPs are white.

  1. Maria Florence Anjiras, 14, 1976
  2. Sharon Rose Apgar, 33, 1999
  3. Mary Edna Badaracco, 38, 1984
  4. Paget Renee Barr, 29, 1986
  5. Amy Billig, 17, 1974
  6. Susan Marie DeQuina, 22, 1979
  7. Gus Henry Hoffman Jr., 20, 1978
  8. Cheryl Ann Moser Iacovone, 17, 1977
  9. Ron Walter Knutson, 27, 1982
  10. Diana Lynn Miller, 23, 1986
  11. Tammy Dawn Risenhoover, 19, 1984
  12. Joseph Thomas Rodziewicz Jr., 32, 1999
  13. Sharon Rayanne Turner, 33, 1997
  14. Virginia Alice Welch, 22, 1982
  15. Rhonda Lynn Yocom, 19, 1985

Flashback Friday: Jimmy Edwards

This week’s Flashback Friday is Jimmy Wayne Edwards. Like last week’s case, Jimmy associated with a motorcycle gang. In this case, Jimmy was a member of the Outlaws and had had a quarrel with some other other members, and he was supposedly robbed and beaten. He disappeared the day after he told his wife he was going to get back the money that had been stolen from him.

It’s pretty obvious what happened here, I should think. The question is who, and are they still alive (Jimmy disappeared in 1978) and can the cops prove it.

Two other cases on Charley of people who associated with the Outlaws: Amy Billig, missing from Florida since 1974 and Sharon Rayanne Turner, missing from Indiana since 1997. And there’s this guy who was wearing an “Outlaws shirt” at the time of his disappearance, but I’m not sure if he actually associated with the Outlaws or not. He did ride a motorcycle, but loads of people do and very few have gang associations, and there’s also at least one band called the Outlaws.

Make-a-List Monday: Gangs

A list of possibly gang-related disappearances. The MP doesn’t necessarily have to have been in a gang themselves, but perhaps the MP associated with gang members, or had nothing to do with gangs at all but the police think a gang victimized that person and caused them to disappear. Etc.

  1. Sharon Rose Apgar
  2. Mary Edna Badaracco
  3. Paget Renee Barr
  4. Amy Billig
  5. Michael James Borges
  6. William Walter Brooks Jr.
  7. Eric Lawrence Brown
  8. Nicholas O. Brown
  9. Tyrone Lydell Bryant
  10. Travis Wendell Burley
  11. David Antonio Cambray
  12. Susan Marie DeQuina
  13. Jimmy Wayne Edwards
  14. Kevin Andre Gardner
  15. Gabriela Leticia Gonzalez
  16. Trevell Lamar Henley
  17. Deniese Shalize Hiraman
  18. Gus Henry Hoffman Jr.
  19. Cheryl Ann Moser Iacovone
  20. Ron Walter Knutson
  21. Gabriel Martinez
  22. Diana Lynn Miller
  23. Justin Weldon O’Brien
  24. Paresh Patel
  25. Erin Kay Pospisil
  26. Tammy Dawn Risenhoover
  27. Joseph Thomas Rodziewicz Jr.
  28. Warner James Rose
  29. Victor Trejo
  30. Shannon Rayanne Turner
  31. Eric Vidal
  32. Virginia Alice Welch
  33. Rhonda Lynn Yocom
  34. Evon Young

It’s so sad to see how young many of these people were. Victor Trejo, for example, was only fourteen, and Deniese Hiraman was thirteen. It reminds me of Todd Strasser’s novel If I Grow Up, which is about a young boy who’s trying as hard as he can to stay away from the violence and despair of the housing project where he lives, but winds up sucked into gang life anyway.

MP of the week: Al’Quon Flowers

This week’s featured missing person is Al’Quon Flowers, an eighteen-year-old who disappeared three years ago. I don’t have very much on him, other than that his disappearance may have been gang-related. I did the usual check to see if there’d been any recent news: nope.

Al’Quon may have been involved in criminal activities, but he didn’t deserve what probably happened to him and his baby son didn’t deserve to grow up without a father and his large family didn’t deserve to have him ripped from their lives like this.

Interesting article on gangster girlfriends

I found this excellent article on gangster girlfriends — ordinary, suburban girls who start dating a “bad boy” gangster, get involved in that life, and sometimes pay the ultimate price. The article focuses on one particular girl who was killed, probably by a rival gang to get back at her boyfriend. I think the interview with the mother was really good. The journalist isn’t trying to whitewash the victim here — both she and the girl’s mother say flat-out that she used drugs, she had a drug conviction, she knew her BF was a criminal before she started dating him. But she did not deserve to die, and there are a lot of women who would like to get out of that life and can’t figure out how to do so. If you go to this page you’ll see a lot of comments on the article. Many of them are very thoughtful. A lot of the people who are trashing the article don’t seem to have read it properly.

I am posting this because I’m sure that there are missing women on Charley who were in that situation. I can think of one case off the top of my head — Aislin Silva. She was only nineteen or twenty, I believe, and she got involved with a gangster/drug dealer boyfriend and got sort of absorbed in that culture generally, and wound up getting killed for it. They finally found her body, almost ten years after her death. She is in my resolved section somewhere.