Somerton Man identified?

Researchers in Australia claim they have identified the Somerton Man, a very mysterious case of a John Doe who died of unknown causes on Somerton Beach south of Adelaide in 1948. It’s also known as the Tamam Shud case cause those words (Persian for something like “it is finished”) were written on a scrap of paper in his pocket.

They’re saying his name is Charles Webb, who went by Carl. He was an electrical engineer from Melbourne. Honestly I was expecting the Somerton Man to be have had a more interesting occupation than this.

Why Webb was sitting against the seawall on Somerton Beach, with a scrap of paper bearing Persian words in his pocket and all the labels on his clothes removed, and what he died of, remains a mystery.

The police have yet to confirm the ID, hence my question mark in the title of this blog post. It makes me nervous that they haven’t commented yet. I’ve been burned so many times.

Some articles from a variety of sources, both paywalled and not, pick your poison:

Since I’m in Facebook Jail again, here’s the news

Facebook didn’t like a meme I posted — despite the fact that it’s elsewhere on Facebook — and gave me 30 days in jail. But then they changed their minds and decided the meme is okay after all, but forgot to remove my 30-day sentence. Shrug. It is what it is. Facebook is broken.

In California:

  • The biological parents of Classic and Cincere Pettus, later known as Orson and Orrin West, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state of California, alleging the state wrongfully removed the Pettus boys from a safe home and placed them with the people who have since been charged with their murders.

In Massachusetts:

In Michigan:

In Minnesota:

  • There’s a new podcast about the disappearance of Joshua Cheney Guimond, a St. John’s University student who disappeared from the university’s Collegeville, Minnesota campus in 2002.

In New Hampshire:

  • They’re still looking for Harmony Montgomery, and her father Adam’s lawyers have asked for police body cam footage of his arrest. Adam is charged with abusing Harmony prior to her disappearance, and with failure to report her missing. A little over a week ago the police searched Harmony’s old apartment and removed items, including a refrigerator. My guess would be they’re checking anything large enough to conceal a five-year-old child’s body.

In New York:

  • On this coming Saturday, the New York City Medical Examiner is holding an event to publicize missing persons in NYC. At the event, the ME’s office will accept “will accept any voluntarily shared information, like photos and DNA samples to help identify missing people.”

In South Carolina:

  • They interviewed the lead investigator in Shelton John Sanders‘s disappearance and presumed murder, asking him why they were unable to get convictions in that case. The investigator still thinks the suspect in guilty.
  • They have identified remains found at a recycling plant as Duncan Gordon, a missing man. He was last seen sitting on top of a shredding machine, and “a substance that looked like ground up flesh” was later found in that machine. Sounds awful; I hope it was quick. I’m predicting Gordon’s family files a lawsuit and OSHA hands out fines for this.

In Virginia:

In Washington state:

  • Othram has identified two more unidentified bodies: they are Blaine Has Tricks, who disappeared in 1977, and Alice Lou Williams, who disappeared in 1981. I know with Alice they got some help from the Charley Project; I know because the guy who owns Othram told me so.

In Canada:

  • They’re still looking for Vernon George Martin, who disappeared in 2009 after a fire at the airport hangar he co-owned. He could be missing or he could be on the run, as he’s wanted for sex offenses.

In New Zealand:

In the UK:

  • The father of Claudia Lawrence, who disappeared in 2009, died in February, and in his will he left £10,000 to a charity for missing persons.
  • They found Michael Anthony Lynch, a man who had been missing for 20 years. It appears he drove his car into Lough Erne, near Corradillar Quay, in Northern Ireland.

Things can always be worse

From Sunday to Tuesday I was down and out with a stomach upset. In between lying in bed groaning and making many many trips to the bathroom, I was reading a book about the African nation formerly known as Swaziland, renamed Eswatini a few years ago.

Now, I do not wish to get into a political discussion on here but due to some current events a lot of Americans right now are very concerned about political officials’ corruption and abuse of power. But I’m here to remind you that there are parts of the world where things can be a lot worse, and there’s a missing persons element to the story as well.

Twentyish years ago, an 18-year-old Swazi high school student didn’t return home from school one day. She’d been about to take her A levels (the university entrance/placement exams in the British education system; Eswatini is a former British colony) and planned to go to university and eventually become a lawyer. But then she was gone.

It turned out the king had decided he had a liking to her, and wanted to marry her. His way of proposing was to have some of his palace guards (goons) kidnap the girl off the street, force her into a vehicle and drive her to the royal compound.

Days passed before her family found out where she was and what had happened.

The girl’s mother (a single parent, dad had died) was extremely upset by this, as you might imagine, especially because her daughter was a minor (21 is the age of majority there) and the king had acted without consent from either mother or daughter. She actually went to the courts to try to get her child back, but the case didn’t go anywhere, because in Swaziland/Eswatini the king’s word is law. He’s an absolute monarch.

The kidnapping did not come out of nowhere. The king had previously expressed his interest in the girl, who did NOT want to marry this lout and be condemned to a life of (as the book I was reading put it) “luxurious tedium”. She and her mom contemplated leaving the country to avoid something like what wound up happening, but decided to stay after finding out that, per Swazi tradition, the king cannot marry a woman who’s a twin. This girl was a twin; she had a twin brother. So she thought: Whew, I’m safe.

Well, it turns out Swazi tradition is whatever the king says it is. And if he decides Swazi tradition will make an exception in this case, it will. Hence, the abduction and forced marriage. The eighteen-year-old Swazi girl became his tenth wife, all her career and education dreams gone.

I want to emphasize that this occurred in like 2001 or 2002. The same century in which we live now. It sounds straight-up medieval.

As bad as things have gotten here with corruption and abuses of power… I can walk safe in the street knowing no U.S. president will ever have his goons kidnap me and force me into marriage, and no U.S. court would ever let the president do it if he tried.

Where There Is Evil

I wanted to drop a book recommendation: Sandra Brown’s memoir Where There Is Evil. Sandra’s dad, Alexander Gartshore, is the prime suspect in the notorious 1957 disappearance of Moira Anderson. It’s one of the most notorious child disappearances in Scottish history.

Sandra is the one who turned him in after he made suspicious comments about Moira’s disappearance to her in 1992. She was already somewhat aware by then what sort of man her father was, and when she investigated his background she learned he molested numerous young girls, including all her girl cousins. She already knew he molested her friends when she was little, because he wasn’t very discreet about it and would do it right in front of her. She was too young to know what she was looking at, at the time.

Mind you, Sandra shouldn’t have had to turn in her dad. The police should have been onto him from the start. Alex Gartshore was, at the time of eleven-year-old Moira’s disappearance, out on bond awaiting trial for the rape of his children’s thirteen-year-old babysitter. Furthermore, Alex was a bus driver on the job on the night Moira disappeared, and Moira was last seen (as far as anyone knows) at a bus stop.

The fact that the police did not investigate him, didn’t so much as interview him one time, is suggestive of either corruption, or incompetence so extreme it might as well be corruption. The only thing Sandra can think of is that her dad belonged to a certain social club whose local membership was 90% cops, and so they covered for him.

Others covered for him as well. Sandra found out, post 1992, that her grandfather had suspected his son in Moira’s case and gone so far as to search various places associated with Alexander, ripping up floorboards even, trying to find Moira’s body. But he never went to the police with his suspicions. Or if he did, they were not noted down in the file due to the previously mentioned corruption/incompetence.

And when Sandra told her family she thought Alex had killed Moira Anderson and she was going to police, many of them were not exactly thrilled about it and some of them got extremely angry at her. Not because they thought Alex was innocent really — they all knew what sort of man he was, like I said he wasn’t discreet — but because of being embarrassed and not wanting the public to connect Alex with them. It was a small town, you see, and Alex and his relatives were the only people in it with his highly distinct surname.

The book is about Sandra’s childhood with such a father, then the 1992 revelation and search for answers and justice. It is well worth a read.

MP of the week: Tiffany Westford

This week’s featured missing person is Tiffany Susan Westford, a 2-year-old girl who was abducted by her non-custodial mother, Marie Catherine Dominique, from Amityville, New York on November 13, 1993. This is one of the Charley Project’s older family abduction cases.

Tiffany and her mother are both black, and I think they are of Haitian descent, given that Marie speaks Haitian Creole and they could be living in a Haitian-American community if they haven’t left the country altogether. Tiffany has a two- or three-inch scar below her navel and may use one of several alias last names. Marie may also use any of a number of alisas. She’s described as 5’3 – 5’4 and 130 – 140 pounds. She worked as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) though I suppose her license would have expired by now.

Tiffany would now be 30 years old, and her abductor would be 57. There’s a good chance Tiffany has no idea she’s a missing child, and given the passage of time I think it’s unlikely that Marie would face any charges if they were located.

Theodore Kampf identified

So it’s been in the news in several places: Theodore Frederick Kampf, a 46-year-old man who was last seen in Oaklyn, New Jersey in July 1981, has been identified.

I was just talking to David Mittelman, the Othram Inc. guy, and he says it was in part cause of Charley that Kampf was identified. He was identified through DNA, but I guess Kampf wouldn’t have even been on the list of possibles except his Charley Project page notes he was road-tripping to Canada and was supposed to cross the border on July 13.

His body was found in the Yukon, you see. Specifically, “in a wooded area near the North Fork Dam and Dempster Highway in Dawson City.” Which is about as far away as it is possible for him to be and still be on the same continent. I looked it up and Dawson City, Yukon Territory is a 63-hour drive from Oaklyn, New Jersey — and that’s only if you take a direct route (which Kampf didn’t, since he was last known to be in Washington State). The direct route is 6,382 kilometers, or almost 4,000 miles.

After forty years I think it’s unlikely his murder will ever be solved. The killer could even be dead by now. But at least he’s coming home.

Two long-missing people turn up alive and well

Just another one of those “never give up hope” reminders: Nicole Denise Jackson, a Birmingham, Alabama woman who dropped out of sight in 2018, and Sajid Thungal, a man from Kottyam in the state of Kerala in India who was last heard from in 1974, have both resurfaced alive.

Neither of these people were ever listed on the Charley Project: Sajid because he didn’t disappear on American soil, and I’m not sure Nicole was ever officially listed as missing. They also have something else in common, in that both of them vanished after leaving their home countries.

Nicole stopped contacting her family after moving to Germany to be with a guy she met online. Her family finally hired a private investigator who was able to locate and speak to Nicole’s employer and landlord, and as a result Nicole went to the authorities with her ID and verified that she’s ok. She hasn’t gotten in touch with her family though. I don’t know if there were prior family problems, if she’s in a bad situation, if she’s embarrassed or what. But I’m glad to hear she’s alive and has a job and a place to live, anyway.

Sajid left home to make his fortune in the United Arab Emirates, taking a job managing a group of entertainers who were also Indian nationals. At some point in the ensuing few years he lost touch with his family. Then a plane with the entertainers he’d been managing crashed in Mumbai with the loss of all onboard. His family thought, given the circumstances, that Sajid might have died in the crash as well. However, that wasn’t the case.

The truth was that Sajid hadn’t made his fortune after all and was embarrassed by his poverty, and didn’t want to return home with his tail between his legs. And I suppose the more time passed without him writing his family, the more difficult it became to get started, and he just never did it. Until now. His father had passed away in the intervening years but his mom, wife and brothers are still alive.

When a person vanishes voluntarily like that, and then reappears after years have passed, re-integration into the family unit is often difficult. This Washington Post article from 2019 (which I’m quoted in) talks about several real-life cases of a missing person resurfacing and encountering bumps along the way.

The family members, though delighted that their loved one is back in their lives, may also be very angry at the them for causing them so much pain by not picking up the phone. Often, whatever problems that led the no-longer-missing person to go missing in the first place (be it mental illness, family issues, etc.) are still there when they return, and the person might have picked up some new problems along the way while they were missing. Furthermore, they may have built another life for themselves in the meantime, a life which didn’t include their family, and now they have to find a way to fit their family into that life.

It’s a big adjustment and I recommend individual and family therapy in such cases.

I wanted to drop a recommendation for y’all

So this podcast series, “Through the Cracks: The Untold Story of Mbuyisa Makhubo” came out in 2016, but I didn’t discover it until a few days ago. I really wanted to tell everyone because it’s an awesome series, four episodes, great journalism, very thorough, telling a fascinating story about a missing person.

Mbuyisa Makhubo was a very ordinary teenage black boy living in Soweto, South Africa in the 1970s when he became world-famous by accident. Basically, what happened was that a 1976 youth protest against the brutal apartheid regime got out of hand and the police opened fire on the crowd, killing a twelve-year-old boy named Hector Pieterson (and a lot of other people). Mbuyisa was the one who picked up Hector after he was shot and carried him to a nearby car — a photojournalist’s — to take him to the hospital. The journalist’s photos of Mbuyisa, running with a dying Hector in his arms and Hector’s screaming, hysterical sister running next to him, were displayed in newspapers across the world. You might have seen the images yourself; they’re still famous.

The result was that Mbuyisa (who hadn’t even been attending the protest, he just happened to live on that street) became a target of South African security forces. Afraid for his life, he had to flee the country. He got a scholarship to attend a school in Nigeria, but couldn’t adjust, began deteriorating physically and mentally, and ended up on drugs and living on the streets of Lagos. Sometime in 1978, he disappeared, and his family in South Africa never heard from him again.

Then he may have resurfaced, thirty years later, alive and well in a Canadian jail. Or maybe he didn’t.

From there the story just keeps getting stranger and stranger and more and more complicated. I don’t want to say anything more for fear of spoiling things, but I wound up listening to the whole podcast in one streak, ruminating on it for hours and puzzling it over with my friends afterwards.

So yeah, listen to it.

Remains found in 1979 identified, and other stories

Today is National Missing Persons day. This article has some info about how the new Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act, which was signed into law on New Years’ Eve, will help communities along the Mexican border.

In Alabama: Skeletal remains have been found in Conecuh County, Alabama. Though they haven’t been identified yet, the police think they’re those of Brian Estrada, who disappeared last October. His ID was found near the bones.

In California: They’re still looking for Sydney West, a 19-year-old University of California, Berkeley student who disappeared from San Francisco on September 30. Her parents are offering a $10,000 reward for info leading to her return.

In Colorado: The murder trial of Donthe Lucas in the disappearance of his 21-year-old pregnant girlfriend Kelsie Jean Schelling from Pueblo has begun. Kelsie was last seen on February 5, 2013.

In Florida: They’re still looking for Lemuel Robert Hall, a 79-year-old man who disappeared from Escambia County in 2019. He was last seen in July, but wasn’t reported missing till September.

In Maine: They’re still looking for Jason D. Reil, a 33-year-old man who disappeared from Brunswick in January 2012. He had schizophrenia and was off his meds when he went missing.

In Mississippi: They’re still looking for William Brian McKenzie, a 21-year-old who disappeared in September 2019.

In Ohio: They’re still looking for Nylo Lattimore, a 3-year-old boy who disappeared from Cincinnati on December 4. His mother was allegedly stabbed to death in her home on December 5 and her body dumped, but it wasn’t found for a week. Desean Brown has been charged with Nylo’s mother’s murder, but Nylo has never been found and Brown hasn’t cooperated in the case.

In Pennsylvania: They’re still looking for Robert Scott Baron, who disappeared from his restaurant in Old Forge on January 25, 2017. It looks like he was probably killed in a robbery of the business; they found some blood in his car and a tooth in the restaurant’s sink.

In South Dakota: 9-year-old Serenity June Dennard disappeared from the Black Hills Children’s Home two years ago today. Though the case is still open, the police have suspended the search for now, for lack of any ideas where to look.

In Tennessee: They’re still looking for Shelley Lynn Mook, a 24-year-old woman who disappeared from Shelbyville on February 28, 2011. Her husband Tyler is a person of interest in her case, but has never been charged.

In Texas: They’re still looking for Joshua Jayvaughn Davis Jr., a one-year-old boy who disappeared from New Braunfels on February 4, 2011 — ten years ago tomorrow. The police seem to think his parents were involved or at least know what happened. I’m not sure. I am a firm believer in the axiom that there’s usually no smoke without fire. But one thing I will observe: Joshua’s parents have talked to the media a fair bit about his disappearance and tried to publicize it as much as they can, which in my observation is inconsistent with people who were responsible for their child’s disappearance.

In Oregon: They have identified remains found at the bottom of Multnomah Falls in September 1979. His name is Freeman Asher Jr.

In Washington: They’re still looking for Sofia Lucerno Juarez, who disappeared from Kennewick on February 4, 2003, the day before her fifth birthday. 18 years ago tomorrow.

In Australia: They’re still looking for Lisa Govan, a 28-year-old woman who disappeared from Kalfoorie, Western Australia in 1999. The police believe she was murdered.

Also in Australia: They’re still looking for Steven James Goldsmith, a 28-year-old arborist who disappeared from Toowoomba, Queensland in 2000. Authorities believe he was murdered. There’s a $250k reward out to help solve the case.

In Canada: They have identified a body that washed up on Gulf Island Beach in British Columbia in 1972. The name of the man, who was 41 when he disappeared from Coquitlam in 1967, has not been released.

Also in Canada: They’re still looking for Ben Tyner, a ranch manager who disappeared from Merritt, British Columbia in January 2019.

In Belgium: A car was found in a canal in Bruges; it turned out to belong to Ronny Lateste, a 39-year-old man who disappeared in 1990. His body was inside it.

A bunch of “they’re still looking for…” and other stories

Lee and Anthony Redgrave are working with the the DNA Doe Project to identify transgender and nonbinary murder victims. They’ve started the Trans Doe Task Force, which helps police and medical examiners with cold cases involving transgender people.

Alaska: An unusually high number of people have gone missing from Fairbanks in the past ten months. Fairbanks averages five missing persons a year, but since May 2020, eleven people have disappeared and have not been found. (I wonder if the political, economic and emotional turmoil caused by the pandemic has anything to do with it.) Five of the missing eleven are Native. The community is concerned and held a vigil about it.

Colorado: Wendy Stephens, a Denver teenager who disappeared in 1983, has been identified as a victim of Gary Leon Ridgeway, the Green River Killer. He pleaded guilty to 49 murders but is believed to have killed more than 71. Not all of his presumed victims have been found, and three that have been are still unidentified.

Indiana: This article details the uncertainty about the veracity of a suspect’s confession in the Denise Diane Pflum case. Denise was 18 when she disappeared from Connersville in 1986. Her body has never been found. In 2020, her ex-boyfriend, Shawn McClung, confessed to her killing after being offered immunity for her death and also the dismissal of two charges he was in jail for. At the time he was dying. Before he passed away a few months later, McClung retracted his confession, saying he’d only made the statement because he didn’t want to die in jail.

Louisiana: They’re still looking for Cory Marie Rubio, a 24-year-old mother of two who disappeared from Shreveport in 1999. The most logical person to look at is her ex-husband; they were in the middle of a custody battle, and he had a history of violent behavior.

New Hampshire: Authorities have determined that the remaining unidentified body in the Bear Brook murders case has maternal relatives in the Pearl River, Mississippi area. DNA testing indicates the child and her mother were descendants of Thomas “Deadhorse” Mitchell, who was born in 1836, or William Livings, who was born in 1826. The dead child also may have suffered from anemia.

New Mexico: They’re still looking for Robert Marcos Romero, an eight-year-old boy who disappeared from Santa Fe in 2000. The most plausible theory is that his brother Ronnie killed him accidentally while under the influence of drugs, but nothing has been proven and Ronnie died over a decade ago.

New York: They believe the car found in the Muscoot Reservoir, which I wrote about earlier, is that of Brenda Kerber, a 40-year-old woman who disappeared from White Plains in 1989. I’d never heard of this case before.

Also New York: They’re still trying to identify a Jane Doe found in Chautauqua County. She now has her own Facebook page.

Oklahoma: They’re still looking for Darian Michelle Hudson, age 23, who went missing from Stillwater in 2017. She was going through a lot of personal problems and may have had a mental breakdown. Her family thinks foul play was involved in her disappearance, but the police say they aren’t sure.

Also Oklahoma: A proposed missing persons bill, House Bill 1790, is being called the Aubrey Alert, after missing transgender Native woman Aubrey Dameron. Aubrey was 25 when she disappeared from Grove in 2019. The Aubrey Alert bill, if passed, would require “critically missing” adult cases to be investigated immediately. The text of the bill can be read here.

Oregon: They’re still looking for Jodie Marie Anderson, a 29-year-old woman who disappeared from Crescent City in 2017. She may be in the Linn County area.

South Carolina: They’re still looking for Shelton John Sanders, a 25-year-old man who disappeared from Columbia in 2001. He now has a Facebook page.

Tennessee: They’re still looking for married couple Kristie Wilson, 39, and Henry Wilson, 45, who disappeared from Monterey in 2018. Their car was found at the bottom of a ravine months after they went missing; it had been there so long there were plants growing in it. No sign of either of them. There have been multiple tips that the Wilsons were murdered, but no solid leads.

Texas: They’re still looking for Fredrick Joseph “Little Joe” Boehm, age 23, who disappeared from Marshall on this day twenty years ago. He was temporarily staying with a friend when late one night he got a mysterious phone call, changed from his pajamas into street clothes and left, saying he’d be back later. He never returned.

Also Texas: They’re still looking for Andrea Leigh Cotten, a seventeen-year-old girl who disappeared from Corsicana in 2004. She left her cousin’s house in the night and never returned. She disappeared the day before she was supposed to visit her child, who was in foster care, and her family doesn’t think she would have missed that on purpose. Since she went missing there’s been no activity on her Social Security number, which is ominous.

Canada: The four-month-old disappearance of 30-year-old Megan Michelle Gallagher from Saskatoon is now being investigated as a homicide.

England: The brother of Suzy Lamplugh, a 35-year-old woman who disappeared from London in 1986, has issued an appeal for answers in her case.