“An Uncertain Future for a Key Missing Persons Program” and other stories

Another article dump (I’ve decided to make a regular thing of this, even after I’m out of Facebook Jail):

This article about the near-defunding of NamUs. Key highlight: “Meanwhile, according to a statement from NIJ, the program could be facing staffing and service cuts, at least in the short-term — and it remains unclear what exactly the longer-term future of NamUs may be.”

From Alaska: four Native people disappeared this fall after visiting the city of Fairbanks, and they are all still missing. Their names are Willis Derendorf, Frank Minano, Debbie Nictune and Doren Sanford. Police don’t think the cases are related.

From Florida: Ashley Lucas disappeared in September, a few months after traveling from her home in Texas to the Florida Panhandle for work. She was hospitalized and has not been seen since her release at the end of the month.

From Massachusetts: it’s coming up on the sixth anniversary of the disappearance of Sabrina Lee Hatheway from Worcester.

From Mississippi: they’ve installed Crime Stoppers kiosks in Walmarts in Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula to help find missing people from the area.

From Nevada: A body found in 2004 has been identified as Aldo Araiza, who disappeared in 2000 at the age of 20.

From North Carolina: the police are still looking for two people missing from Shelby: Kenneth Jamison, missing since 2017, and Walter Vernon McCraw, missing since 2018.

From Ohio: Brian Rini, who surfaced in Cincinnati in April 2019 and falsely claimed he was Timmothy James Pitzen, who disappeared from Wisconsin in 2011, has been sentenced to two years in prison for identity theft as a result. But because he gets credit for 20 months of time served, he’ll be out in four months. A year of probation follows his release.

Also from Ohio: the police are still looking for Jeffrey Hayes Pottinger, who disappeared on Christmas Eve in 2009 from Warren County.

From Texas: the police are still looking for Orville Seaton, who disappeared from Navasota two days before Christmas in 1997. He was 71 at the time and would be 94 today.

From Virginia: Ronald Roldan, recently charged with the kidnapping of Bethany Anne Decker, has now been charged with her murder as well. Bethany has been missing since 2011.

From Wyoming: Angela Laderlich disappeared from Casper on September 25 and is still missing.

From England: they found some human bones in Solihull, which were thought to possibly be those of thirteen-year-old David Spencer and eleven-year-old Patrick Warren, who disappeared the day after Christmas in 1996. However, it turns out the bones are over a century old.

From Nigeria: in an all-too-familiar story, the terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 330 boys from a government-run boarding school in Kankara.

From Pakistan: despite promises to end the practice, security forces are still regularly abducting, torturing and murdering people. Thousands of victims are still missing.

From Scotland: A review of missing people from Glasgow.

So, this has happened with NamUs

The following message has been circulating:

Due to funding limitations and significant program modifications directed by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), beginning January 1, 2021, the UNT Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI) management and operation of the National Missing and Unidentified Person System (NamUs) will cease. UNTCHI will no longer be able to support NamUs stakeholders with any analytical or case support; victim services; system development; or new forensic services. The forensic services include: DNA typing (currently suspended), fingerprint examination, forensic odontology, and forensic anthropology (currently suspended). Effective immediately, NamUs will also be unable to support states that have passed legislation mandating the use of NamUs, including bulk data import needs.

UNTCHI at the University of North Texas Health Science Center has been proud to manage NamUs through a cooperative agreement with NIJ since October 1, 2011. However, despite our best efforts over the past several months to reach a sustainable solution, the sweeping program changes being mandated by NIJ at this time make it untenable for UNTCHI to continue management of NamUs.

We deeply regret the negative impact this situation will have on the thousands of NamUs criminal justice and public customers and stakeholders across the country. NamUs is the only program of its kind in existence, and we hope the program can continue its important work for agencies and families nationwide.

We will provide more information as it becomes available.

My interpretation of the message is that while the NamUs missing and unidentified persons database will still exist, its activities, in terms of solving cases by doing DNA matches etc., will be greatly curtailed starting the first day of 2021. This is only my interpretation, though, and I don’t know anything more than what’s in the message above, so don’t just assume I’m right and don’t ask me anything.

[UPDATE: The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification has issued a statement as well.]

Obviously this is a crushing blow for families of the missing and those who are trying to solve missing and unidentified persons cases all over the country. All I can do is suggest we all contact our elected representatives in Congress and beg them to do something to save this valuable program.

(Sorry I’ve been MIA for the past several days. The wifi at my house kicked it on Tuesday night and only just got restored. I could use data on my cell phone but not my computer. Also I am still in Facebook jail so I can’t post about this NamUs issue on the Charley Project Facebook page.)

Sorry for the recent silence

Yeah, I haven’t updated in a bit and I’m sorry. The last week has been super busy, mainly with wedding stuff. Michael and I are getting married Saturday.

I picked up my dress at the alterations place yesterday and it fits me perfectly. In my completely unbiased opinion I’m going to be the most beautiful bride in the world. There’s not going to be any honeymoon because of Covid. Michael will go back to work on Monday and so will I.

So, in lieu of Charley Project updates, here’s a sample of the more interesting recent missing and unidentified persons news:

  1. A woman whose body was found off Interstate 5 in Sacramento, California in 1981 has been identified as 26-year-old Lily Prendergast, who was last seen when she left her family’s Texas home in late 1980.
  2. John Michael Carroll disappeared from Victor, Idaho in 2005. His skeletal remains were found “in the general area” where he lived in 2013, and were identified this month.
  3. Hollis Willingham has been arrested in the murder of Jim Craig Martin, who disappeared from Normangee, Texas on August 6, 2007. It doesn’t look like Martin’s body has been found, however.
  4. Thomas Drew disappeared from Salisbury, Connecticut in 2007. He used to be on Charley but then his daughter asked me to remove the case. She didn’t like what I’d written, I guess. Anyway, he is still missing, and his daughter has recently published a memoir, Searching for My Missing Father: An American Noir. It sounds very interesting and I added it to my wishlist.
  5. Blackfeet Community College, in corroboration with Montana’s Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, has launched a website to help streamline missing persons reports of Native American people: “The website [linked here] allows families and friends to complete a Contact Information Form about the missing person online. In the past, missing persons’ loved ones have expressed reluctance to report missing individuals directly to law enforcement. The BCC reporting system will serve as the go-between for those reporting and all levels of law enforcement. Once the form is submitted on the website, an automatic notice will be sent to local tribal law enforcement.”
  6. A woman’s torso found washed ashore in the seaside community of Benicia, California in 1979 has been identified as Dolores Wulff, who disappeared from Woodland, California that year. Dolores’s husband Carl Wulff Sr. had actually been charged with her murder in 1985, but the charge was dismissed later that year and he died in 2005.
  7. A skull found on Mount Hood in Oregon in 1986 has been identified as that of Wanda Ann Herr, who had left a Gresham, Oregon group home a decade earlier at the age of nineteen. No missing persons report was filed at the time and the most recent photo available showed her at age twelve. The police are asking anyone who knew Wanda or has any info on her 1976 disappearance to contact them.
  8. The police have identified a new suspect in the 1973 disappearance of Barbara Jean Aleksivich from Bath, New York. The suspect, Richard W. Davis, is now dead, but he was recently identified through DNA as the killer of Siobhan McGuinness, a Missoula, Montana six-year-old who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1974. Barbara, who was 24, was way out of Richard Davis’s preferred age range for victims, but he did live in Bath at the time Barbara disappeared. A previous suspect in her case, who still lived in the Bath area last I knew, has been cleared.
  9. The body of Ethan Bert Kazmerzak, who disappeared from Hampton, Iowa in 2013, has probably been found. At least they found his car submerged in a local pond, with human remains inside. The remains have been sent to the state medical examiner to be identified, but it’s highly unlikely it’s anyone but Ethan.

Really good longread about Taalibah Islam and Typhenie Johnson

I regularly check the ididitforjodie website for links to articles about missing persons and other cold cases. I wanted to mention it here cause it’s awesome. Today I found a link to this article about the 2006 disappearance of Taalibah Fatin Bint Islam and the 2016 disappearance of Typhenie Kae Johnson. Both women had been dating the same man, he was the last person known to have seen them, and he told the same story as to what happened to each of them. The suspect, Christopher Revill, was convicted of kidnapping in Typhenie’s case but has never been charged in Taalibah’s.

It’s a really sad story, and so typical of domestic violence cases. The article is very detailed and well worth a read.

And then this happened the other day

So yesterday I got a call from a very confused man who worked in the Internal Affairs Bureau at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Texas.

You see, the HCSO has a section on their website devoted to missing persons. It has eleven pages of people listed, but due to some apparent errors in the code, you could only see the first page. There’s buttons at the bottom to click to page two, three etc, but they didn’t work. When you clicked, nothing happened.

I found a drop-down menu on the HCSO site labeled “contact us” and underneath that, a link to “online complaints.” So I filled in the complaint form explaining the problem and sent it in. And then the next day IAB called.

It turns out the complaint form is meant for filing complaints of police misconduct.

The poor guy didn’t understand at first what I was complaining about, and was asking if I’d like an officer to come to my house to discuss the problem. I was like “It’s probably just a typo, and also I live in Indiana.” But I was able to get my point across. He said he’d sent a note to IT asking them to correct the issue.

And lo, it has been fixed! You can now view eleven pages of missing people from Harris County, cases dating back to 2003.

Thought I’d recommend these articles I found yesterday

There should be a trigger warning, I suppose, for child sexual abuse. The headline of the first I found is “7 things I learned about being a man, from talking to child abusers: How we can fix the boom in downloading of child abuse material.” By “child abuse material” they mean sexual abuse.

Though all the downloaders the journalist identified and interviewed were Norwegian (as is the reporter), I would assume that his conclusions, if correct, would apply to men from other countries as well. The reporter spent five years researching and writing about child abuse, and the article links to two much longer articles with accompanying documentaries.

And I have to say, those two longer articles are just… horrifying. So I’m warning you again: prepare to feel pretty sick.

One is Breaking the Dark Net: Why police share abuse pics to save children and the other is The Downloaders: Norwegian men pay to download videos showing children being subjected to extreme sexual abuse. They are the end users in an industry that uses children as sexual commodities. They think they are invisible. But we found them.

Yeah, it’s pretty awful. But I think people need to know this stuff.

Thought I’d give a shout-out to this article

The other day Vox came out with a fascinating article called “The Man Without a Name“, subheading reading: “Robert Ivan Nichols simply disappeared from his average, 1960s Midwestern life — until, using DNA, sleuths uncovered the truth. But were they digging where they shouldn’t have been?”

It is quite fascinating, and I think you guys would enjoy it. Though contrary to what the URL would have you believe, Robert Ivan Nichols was not the Zodiac Killer.

NCMEC search becomes slightly less terrible, and more news

I first complained about the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s search engine back in 2013, and things got even worse with later versions of it. However, when I checked today, they’d made yet another version, which is slightly better than the last. Like, you can now search based on how old the child was when they disappeared. That’s kind of nice, I guess.

You still don’t have the ability to search by category, which they axed in 2013. As far as I can tell it’s because the NCMEC decided to phase out categories. They did this because when people saw “Family Abduction” or “Runaway” they just automatically tuned it out. I can understand the logic of the NCMEC’s thinking there.

I added Duke Flores‘s case today. It’s pretty awful. Probably not as bad as Noah McIntosh‘s (I blogged about his case in March), but it’s still pretty bad.

The whole story about Duke’s murder being prompted by his attempt he was trying to kill his infant cousin looks a little sketchy at first glance. However, both women gave the police the same account of the alleged attempted murder, and I wonder if Duke, who had autism, was just unable to deal with the baby’s crying. Most people with autism (including me) are very sensitive to noises.

They tried to cover up his disappearance by saying they’d taken Duke to a psychiatric hospital. If he was indeed trying to kill his cousin, this would have been a perfectly appropriate action to take. Certainly much more appropriate than strangling him.

We’ll never know if he really tried to smother the baby or not; the only two people alive to tell the story aren’t exactly credible witnesses. But no matter what he did there’s no excuse for murdering a six-year-old child with a disability.

The thing about his mom and aunt taking the other kids along while they disposed of his body is horrifying. Though the alternative would have been leaving them alone at home, and they were both really little. Hopefully too little to remember this later.

I hope these women get what’s coming to them. They are probably not very popular in jail; most of the women prisoners are mothers too.