Wisconsin Trip 2018

So last weekend I went to the Fourth Annual Wisconsin Missing Persons Awareness Event. (I also went to the first and second ones, but missed last year’s.) Here are some articles about it:

I arranged for an Airbnb and said I would be at my hosts’ house by six on Friday. But I left a bit early, and I had forgotten also that I would gain an hour by traveling west. So I was in Illinois, contemplating what to do about this extra time, when I saw a sign for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and I stopped there.

I wound up dropping $70 on books at the gift shop — and they were worth every penny. I didn’t get to see the whole museum but it seemed really nice, and I enjoyed walking on this exhibit which was set in the floor:

nazifloor

So I got up into Wisconsin and in the last two hours or so of the drive I realized the car was making a funny noise. It was louder than normal. There didn’t seem to be any difference in the driving, but the engine was suddenly REALLY REALLY LOUD.

I arrived at my Airbnb and was let inside by a lovely married couple with two little kids. The wife escorted me to my room and the first question I asked was a recommendation for a mechanic. I didn’t want to risk a six-hour drive home on a faulty vehicle. The nice lady gave me a mechanic friend’s cell phone number.

The mechanic’s name was Matt. He agreed to collect my car from the Airbnb’s driveway and look at it in his shop while I was attending the next day’s event. I then messaged Marsha Loritz, the event organizer, to ask for a ride to the event, two miles from my Airbnb, the next morning. Marsha said she would ask a friend to pick me up.

The next morning the mechanic came and took my car away, and time passed and I waited patiently but Marsha’s friend never arrived to pick me up. Finally I got a ride with the nice Airbnb husband, a work-from-home dad who cheerfully put coats on his toddlers, bundled all of us into his car and trucked me over to the place. (I later gave this couple five stars and a glowing review on Airbnb.)

So I showed up slightly late and Marsha’s friend saw me and was like “OMG did I forget to pick you up?” and was upset with herself but I shrugged it off. I was there. It didn’t matter.

The first hour or so consisted of standing at my table and answering questions from passersby. I got a call from the Matt the mechanic. My car’s wheel bearing was broken. I COULD drive it home, but there was a slight chance that at highway speeds the wheel would come flying off and cause an accident that might kill someone, possibly me. Or he could fix the car right then and there.

Of course I wanted the car fixed, but there was a rub: Matt didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have enough cash on me to pay for the repair. He recommended someone else, but that shop turned out to be closed on weekends, and I was looking at the very real prospect of getting stuck in Wisconsin with no wheels until Monday.

I was quietly wigging out about this when I was approached by SAR (search and rescue) dog handler Rachel, my friend and fellow event attendee. I told her my problem and she promptly offered to lend me all the cash I needed to pay for the repair! Rachel saved my butt!

Problem fixed. She took me to Matt’s place after the event (stopping at an ATM for cash on the way), and went inside with me to meet Matt to make sure he wouldn’t be a creep. I paid him and drove home.

Getting back to the event itself: it was quite awesome. Rachel took this photo of me there:

wisconsinmp2018

There were at least seven dogs present. Four of them were therapy dogs (from left: Louise, Gracie, Ava and Bernie.)

therapydogs

There were also at least three SAR dogs. Rachel brought her Dutch Shepherd Rieken, and there was also Calvin, who was delighted to meet everyone and hammed it up for ear rubs and “good boy”s:

calvin

And there was this SAR-puppy-in-training who was trying to be professional but kept jumping on people:

puppy

Amber Wilde‘s family was there. Bobby Joe Fritz‘s family was there. DonaMae Bourgeois Bayerl‘s family was there. Marsha Loritz and her sister lost their mother, Victoria Lynn Prokopovitz, I’m sure other families were there as well but I didn’t see everyone. It was pretty well attended, pretty crowded.

The keynote speaker was Patty Wetterling. Of course most of you know the story of her young son Jacob, who was found in 2016, nearly thirty years after he was abducted at gunpoint. I didn’t get really good photos of her, but there’s this article you can read about her speech which has pics.

Patty told the story of Jacob’s kidnapping and the subsequent 27-year investigation into what happened. I hadn’t been previously aware of the role played by Jared, who was also a victim of Danny Heinrich.

Heinrich, Jacob’s killer, specialized in what I’d refer to as “grab-and-gropes.” He would basically snatch a child — a boy of a certain age — and drag him into his car, sexually abuse him, then release him within minutes. Jared was snatched a few months before Jacob was taken.

As the years passed Jared became convinced that whoever had done this to him had also taken Jacob, and he thought the perpetrator must have committed many, many similar crimes that were not reported to the police. Because you know, it’s a young boy just getting into adolescence, they’re embarrassed and ashamed, don’t want to talk to cops or parents about what happened to them.

But they might talk to Jared, because he was also a victim. So he started reaching out saying basically “this happened to me, and if anything similar happened to you, please come to me and let’s talk because we need to identify this man.”

Patty talked about campfire gatherings of Heinrich’s victims, where they would tell their stories while staring into the fire, because something about the presence of the fire got people to open up. You weren’t looking into someone’s face and seeing all the shock and horror and whatever as you walked, you were just talking to a fire.

The cops worked very hard on the case, and the Wetterling family worked very hard, but without Jared I’m not sure this would have ever been solved.

Patty also talked about how in the immediate aftermath of the abduction, other people began to prey on the family. Specifically, she mentioned several men who came, supposedly to help support the family and support the search effort, but really to creep on the kids. Like, they’d offer to babysit all the kids while all the grownups in the town were out searching for Jacob, then they’re creep on them.

This was absolutely vile. I hadn’t even considered that someone would want to do that. Patty said she learned the hard way — and she advised other families of missing children, so they wouldn’t have to learn the hard way — to run background checks and ask for credentials for everyone who showed up offering to help.

She also made a lot of good points about education. How parents need to be educated about signs to look for, signs of predatory adults, signs that children are being abused. How children need to be educated to know when they’re being creeped on, or taken advantage of, and to know who to go to for help.

(It reminds me of an episode from my own childhood: when I was in second grade I was repeatedly touched inappropriately by an older boy on the school bus. On the ride home from school this boy — who, it must be said, was severely mentally handicapped, nonverbal, and probably didn’t have the capacity to realize what he was doing — would sit on top of me on the bus seat and touch me in a way he shouldn’t have.

This lasted for weeks and I kept coming home in tears over it. My mother asked why and all I could think of to say was “a boy is touching me and bothering me.” She did not understand what I was trying to tell her and thought it was a situation of teasing, and was like “so stand up to him and tell him to stop, then.”

This incident was referenced in the Longreads article about me. I remember the frustration I felt at the time, because I knew something was very wrong about this but I didn’t know what it was or how to explain it, and it didn’t occur to my mom to ask any questions like “Where exactly is he touching you?” And so nothing was done, and the situation continued until the boy got tired of this game and stopped of his own accord.

This could have all been avoided if even one of us had been properly educated, like Patty Wetterling was saying, on the signs to look out for and how to ask for help. Fortunately I wasn’t really traumatized by what happened, I think mainly because even at eight years old I realized this boy had something wrong with him and didn’t know what was he doing. It was just a very uncomfortable experience for me is all.)

So Patty Wetterling gave this awesome speech that had me tearing up, especially when she talked about the nice boy Jacob had been, and what the world lost when he died before he could become a man, and how people reached out to to help them in their grief and loss and show solidarity for them.

And Marsha gave a speech and read the names of missing people aloud, and their families got to come up and say “My name is so and so, and this person is my relative who disappeared from this town on this day.” It was very emotional.

Instead of a balloon release, Vincent, this year they did pinwheels instead. Each of us got a shiny foil pinwheel with the name of a missing person on it — I got Evon Young — and the suggestion that we could put it in our yard or our window or whatever in this person’s memory.

I handed out plenty of business cards. Then we all packed up and left, Rachel took me to my car, I paid the mechanic and I drove home, arriving shortly after midnight on Sunday.

I’ve been super tired since I got home but unable to sleep well. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt well-rested. The medication I take messes up my sleep and I often wake up after only about four hours, unable to go back to sleep again even though I feel like hammered dog poo.

Ima start the engines again today though.

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Black History Month: Zaden McKnight

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 Zaden Alexander McKnight, a four-year-old boy who disappeared from Dayton, Ohio on March 25, 2014. Zaden went missing with his mother, Nichelle. Nichelle’s body was found near the Stillwater River two and a half weeks later. She’d been murdered.

Zaden is presumed murdered too, and the police are pretty sure what happened and who did it. Antwan Anderson, Nichelle’s ex-boyfriend, and Tonisha Harris, another woman Anderson had dated, are the prime suspects in the cases.

Neither of them have been charged in connection with the actual homicides, but Harris was imprisoned for using Nichelle’s bank card and later for evidence tampering, abuse of a corpse and failure to report a crime.

Erica Parsons autopsy results released

The authorities have released the results of Erica Parsons’s autopsy. There are several articles available about this, but this link actually includes the autopsy report itself.

In a nutshell: because they were working with skeletal remains and several bones were missing, they were unable to determine the precise cause of death, but this was obviously a homicide and indications are that Erica suffered horribly before dying.

To go into more detail: Erica had one tooth that had been knocked out, and another was cracked. She had fractures to her nasal bones, nine rib fractures, one arm fracture and a finger fracture. The fractures were mostly in various stages of healing, but there were four unhealed fractures to her spine and one unhealed rib fracture. This is suggestive of “multiple blunt force injuries over a prolonged period.”

There was also “low bone mineral density” and “growth deficit” suggestive of malnutrition.

The autopsy report notes that, “In the week prior to her 2011 disappearance, siblings described her as looking gray with sunken eyes, smelling bad with open, oozing cuts, very weak and complaining of not being able to breathe.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Erica, like Peter Kema, died after her poor battered body got an infection she wasn’t able to fight. And of course her so-called family didn’t bother to ever take her to the doctor.

This kid was tortured. And we all know who did it, but no one has been charged in her death.

A cluster of resolves

Sometimes it seems like I don’t get a resolved case for a month and then suddenly get hit with a dozen at once. This next update will have five. So far. I’m linking to their casefiles but they won’t be up for much longer.

  • Runaway Sualee Jeseenia Gonzalez Castro has been found alive, per NCMEC. She had been missing for two years and almost two months and is now 19 years old.
  • Runaway Alondra Hernandez-Trujillo has also been found alive, per NCMEC. She had been missing for almost three years. She is now 18.
  • Convicted murderer Thomas Riffenburg has confessed to the killings of his girlfriend, Jennifer Anne Walsh, and their son, Alexander Mitchell Riffenburg, who had been missing from Palmdale, California since January 9, 2009. Jennifer was 23 and Alexander was only a year old. This article provides a lot of background info about their cases, more than I have on Charley. Thomas provided hand-drawn maps to where he’d buried their bodies, and the cops found remains and are awaiting DNA confirmation of their identities. I think I’ll resolve their cases now; it’s highly unlikely they’re anyone but Jennifer and Alexander.
  • A skull found in the woods 2001 has been identified as Ella Mae Williams, an 80-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s Disease who wandered from her Gainesville, Florida home on March 25, 1990. (The article incorrectly gives her age as 78.)

Congratulations to my friend Dan S. for solving a cold case

Dan S., a Florida journalist and Friend Of My Youth, found Juanita Bardin the other day. If the link to her casefile is broken (I’m planning on taking it down later today), Juanita disappeared from Vidor, Texas on May 17, 1993, at the age of 49.

Dan simply entered Juanita’s name into Google and poof, found her: a person with the same name and date of birth died in King County, Washington in 2012 and was buried in a common grave for the indigent.

He asked me to call it in for him, so I did. Confirmation came yesterday afternoon: it’s her. I talked to the Vidor police chief and he said he’d verified it by the tattoos.

Juanita has no family to grieve the loss/celebrate the finding. The closest relative the police chief could find was her ex-husband. She had one child, the daughter mentioned in the casefile, but her daughter died years ago — before Juanita did, and apparently without issue — so there’s no one left.

But at least she wasn’t murdered by Tommy Lynn Sells or anyone else, and at least the cops can stop looking for her.

Go Dan! *claps*

There’s been a social media storm these last 24 hours

For those who haven’t heard, there’s a woman who claims she is Jennifer Klein who disappeared in 1974. This story has been floating around the internet for about a month, but yesterday there was a YouTube video published where the woman claimed she had DNA testing done and it proved her identity.

This woman also claims her abductors were members of a Satanic cult and that they kidnapped Kurt Newton and Etan Patz (who both disappeared in the 1970s, across the country from Jennifer) as well. She says she was brainwashed and didn’t start remembering what happened until after she was injured in a car accident.

As for what I think, well, I didn’t write this editorial but it pretty much sums up my own position on the matter.

Hopefully the truth will come out over the next few days or so. Until then, that’s all I’ve got to say.

40-year-old disappearance finally resolved

Margret Dodd disappeared from Beckley, West Virginia on September 7, 1977 — nearly forty years ago (I won’t quibble over two months). She was 27 years old and was witnessed being dragged, screaming, into someone’s car. James Hendree subsequently demanding a $10k ransom for her safe return. An FBI agent posed as Margret’s dad to meet Hendree for the handoff, and wound up shooting him after an altercation.

Margret’s body was found on Bolt Mountain in 1993, but it wasn’t identified until now. According to this article, her family recognized the clothes and jewelry found with the body, and mitochondrial DNA confirmed the match.

I’m happy for her family. The police are still investigating the case and there might be prosecutions in the future, as it seems unlikely that Hendree acted alone.