Let’s talk about it: Four patients in the same medical practice

Between 1996 and 1997 four people, all of them in roughly the same age group, disappeared from the Los Angeles area: Robert Vincent Black, 64, on March 12, 1996; Patricia Laxer, 63, on August 11, 1997; Goldie A. Swanger, 75, on August 29, 1997; Richard Dean Davison, 70, on October 29, 1997. Mysteriously, not only were all four of these individuals patients of the same doctor (I never found out anything about him), but they all supposedly disappeared while going either to or from appointments with him.

The first answer that strikes me is “serial killer connected with the medical practice,” but what little I knew about the cases didn’t seem to indicate foul play; in fact the police not only suggested they were alive, but that each “may be a patient in a hospital or nursing home.”

In 2004, I found out Goldie Swanger’s case had been resolved, but I did not learn her fate at the time, whether she’d been found dead, or what. I blogged about this in 2011, and in 2014 a commenter, claiming to be Swanger’s biological son, left a comment on that blog entry. I quote from it below. He, his daughter Andria and another of Goldie’s granddaughters traveled to Los Angeles in 2000 or 2001 and

did a little investigation, got medical records from a doctor that Goldie was seeing before she became missing. That doctor told me that she saw him about once a month and then just never showed up and that he wondered what became of her! We found out where she was last at, alive, during her being “missing”. I believe it was a nursing home or something to that effect. I believe the government department that we today call the SRS had something to hide as they threw roadblocks in our search of Goldie.

I’m not sure what he means by SRS. Google turned up “special retirement supplement” which doesn’t make a lot of sense, and “supported residential services” which does, but supported residential services isn’t an American government department, only a service provided by the state government in Victoria, AUSTRALIA. My guess is he meant something similar to supported residential services that the U.S. or California government provide, but got the acronym wrong. Anyway, on with what Goldie Swanger’s son said:

It seems strange that as soon as my wife and I determined that her last name was Swanger and informed the SRS we knew her last name, the “SRS” had one hissy fit, and we determined that Goldie was still alive! But when we got to California she had passed away! Now that is strange! We found out where she lived previous to this facility and saw the place (apartment) and met and talked with a person who knew Goldie (an apartment neighbor). The administrator of the facility she was last at clammed up when we started to question the circumstance as to why Goldie was at this facility. Andria talked with a person who worked in that facility and knew Goldie as a patient(?). Andria has the info on this place. Goldie’s biological family believe that what we discovered may possibly be something to do with medicare fraud. The other missing persons in that area may just have been admitted to that same facility. We don’t know. We couldn’t find out.

The plot thickens indeed. This is most peculiar. I’d love to learn more about this case — some questions that come to mind are who was this doctor, what was his speciality, is he still practicing, what the MPs were seeing him for, and what were their general states of physical/mental health at the time they went missing? The facility administrator may have “clammed up” because there was something sketchy going on, but it could have been for confidentiality reasons (HIPAA).

I suppose it’s possible the other three could be still alive, particularly if they’re in a reasonably good care facility. (Key words being “possible” and “reasonably good”.) By now Black would be 85, Davis would be 89, and Laxer would be 83. But I wonder if anyone is even looking for them by now. If I was looking to imprison some people in a care facility against their will for the purposes of committing medical assistance fraud, I’d be targeting people with no living relatives, or at least no close relatives, and few ties to their community — people who would be easily missed.

So what happened to these people? Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Felicia “Lisa” Weaver

This week’s “let’s talk about it” case is a recent one, Felicia Ann “Lisa” Weaver, who disappeared just a little over two years ago. At the relatively young age of 52 she was in the end stages of COPD, a progressive and incurable breathing condition; she was no longer able to care for herself and her family was considering hospice care. She was living with her ex-husband and three kids at the time of her disappearance, and they were taking care of her.

On the day of Lisa’s disappearance, the house caught fire and burned to the ground, killing the family’s three dogs, but there was no sign of Lisa in the ashes. Last I knew the cause of the fire remained unknown, though I’m sure Lisa’s bottled oxygen was a contributing factor. The police and fire officials don’t think she was at home at the time, but her family said she simply wasn’t physically capable of leaving on her own.

The family’s Facebook page about the case states:

We had every reason to believe that…Lisa Weaver was inside the home at the time of the fire. We still have no reason to believe she left on her own free will. After numerous searches by dozens of firefighters, the State Fire Marshall, as well as cadaver dogs and helicopter it was determined that Lisa was not in the home.

This is quite a peculiar case and I’m not sure a crime occurred, but certainly her family deserves to learn her fate, get her back and bury her decently.

Let’s talk about it: Francheska and Misheila Martinez

On June 9, 2000, Francheska Martinez disappeared from Paterson, New Jersey. She was twelve years old; it was the day before her thirteenth birthday. A few days later, the miniskirt and pink top Francheska had been wearing the day she disappeared were found inside a plastic supermarket bag in the driveway outside her mom’s house.

Francheska had a twin sister, Misheila. One month and twelve days after Francheska went missing, Misheila also disappeared. It’s been sixteen and a half years since then and nobody has heard from either of the girls.

Although the NCMEC classifies both sisters as runaways, the phrase “human trafficking” comes to mind. According to her friends, Francheska had a secret “boyfriend” who was 22 years old. I can well understand why he would want to keep such a relationship a secret because, pretty much by definition, there was something very wrong going on there. According to this legal website, if Francheska was having sex with that “boyfriend” he could have faced a very long prison term.

But even if human trafficking was involved here, it’s VERY unusual for these girls to have been gone as long as they have, without a word to anyone or any indication as to what became of them. What do you suppose happened? Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: the Garcia/Burhans family

On March 15, 1982, Carmen Maria Burhans Garcia, her husband Diego Garcia, and Carmen’s nine-year-old daughter Barbara Burhans departed their Los Angeles residence into the unknown.

The family lived in the same house as Carmen’s mother; Carmen’s mother lived in the upstairs apartment, and the others lived downstairs. That morning — which was a Monday, presumably a school day for Barbara — Carmen’s mother came downstairs to see them while they were eating breakfast and noticed her daughter was crying but didn’t ask why. She never saw any of them again. They left that afternoon, leaving everything behind, including their dog.

One month and ten days later, the family’s car turned up in a snowbank 500 feet down a gorge in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Big Pines, California. Google Maps says that by today’s routes, Big Pines is 80-ish miles from the Garcias’ home, about an hour and a half by car. There’s two interesting things worth noting here:

  1. In spite of the fact that the car had gone 500 feet into the gorge and the roof had been bashed in, there was no blood present, strongly suggesting no one was inside the car when it was pushed, accidentally or intentionally, into the gorge.
  2. The road it must have fallen off from had been closed since March 16, the day after the trio vanished.

There are a few colorful details here, including a rumor that Carmen, a newly minted Mormon, had gotten involved in a MUCH different religion prior to her disappearance, one involving chicken sacrifice. (Santeria maybe? For what it’s worth, Santeria has Caribbean origins, and Diego was born in Cuba.) Another rumor was that Diego had gotten into criminal activity and the whole family had up and left for Miami.

The whole thing makes me think of the Mary Celeste. It appears that SOMETHING seriously spooked the family that morning, enough to have Carmen crying, enough to keep Barbara from going to school, enough to have them pile into their car and leave everything behind. But what was it? And what happened next?

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: The Guthrie family

Last night I was plugging the names of various old cases into Newspapers.com to see if I could find articles. My persistence yielded a bountiful harvest — I found out the ultimate ending to the Matory/Williams/Marshall murder-without-a-body case for one. One of the names I plugged in was the Guthrie kids, Julie and Timothy, and their mom, Leslie, who disappeared in February 1977 from Katonah, New York. I was able to get another picture of Leslie and a clothing description for her, and that’s on today’s updates.

Two details that I learned last night but did not include in the casefiles:

  1. Leslie’s mother lent her the too-small, borrowed boots she was wearing that day, and also gave her $10 for gas. Which would indicate that (A) The car was low on gas and (B) Leslie had no money.
  2. The police do not believe the car wound up in a lake somewhere. The winter had been a severe one and the ice was thick enough that a car could have driven on it without it breaking.

Usually, when a person or persons disappears under circumstances like this and their car never turns up, I tend to believe they wound up in the water. But now it seems that theory is no longer viable.

I’m stumped. It seems highly unlikely that Leslie took the kids and left on her own, with almost no money and shoes that didn’t even fit. Timothy Sr. seems to be in the clear. It’s like this young family and their car just vanished into thin air.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Yuan Xia Wang

This week’s “let’s talk about it” case is Yuan Xia Wang, a young Chinese girl who disappeared from Lincolnia, Virginia on October 21, 1998. I was just getting interested in missing persons at that time and I remember seeing her NCMEC poster right after she disappeared and wondering about it. Like most of their posters, it said very little, and it was years before I learned the details of her disappearance.

Yuan was smuggled into the country by a Thai man, using someone else’s genuine Thai passport. According to this Washington Post article, the immigration and customs people caught them after someone at the airport realized she didn’t speak Thai, and her smuggler was arrested.

Usually, Chinese immigrants who get smuggled into the U.S. are sent “to restaurants or brothels where they are held in virtual servitude to pay off huge smuggling fees.” Yuan’s case was somewhat unusual in that her passage was paid for in advance.

She said she was twelve, but the authorities doubted it and so do I. I was five feet even at that age, about middling height for the girls in my class at school, and I think Chinese people tend to be smaller than Americans. Yuan was five feet six. They thought she could have been as old as fifteen. I don’t know what reason she would have had to lie; perhaps she felt she would be better treated if they thought she was younger.

Yuan was sent to a foster home. Her foster family welcomed her as best they could, but they didn’t speak Mandarin, and she was the only Mandarin-speaking student at her new school. If I were her I’d have been desperately lonely. She vanished without a trace six weeks later — significantly, perhaps, on a day she had a doctor’s appointment.

They’re not sure what happened to her. The most obvious suggestions are that she either ran away or got picked up (voluntarily or otherwise) by someone, like a relative or someone involved in the smuggling, in order to avoid deportation. (The U.S. authorities hadn’t decided what to do with her yet; she could have been either deported or allowed to stay.) I suppose it’s possible she could have been abducted for reasons having nothing to do with her immigration status, as well.

Other than a lead placing her in Kansas City in 2008, there hasn’t been any sign of her in almost twenty years.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Stephanie and Edward Hunsberger

This was a case suggested by a reader: the 1978 disappearances of Stephanie Hunsberger (nee Smith) and her husband, Edward Hale Hunsberger, who were 24 and 30 respectively when they vanished from Northwales, Pennsylvania on February 25 of that year.

The Hunsbergers were drug addicts and in pretty deep; Stephanie even occasionally worked as a prostitute to support her heroin habit. Both of them were in a methadone program at the time they went missing. After Stephanie missed one of her methadone clinic appointments, the staff contacted her father, Jay Smith, and asked if he knew where she was. He said he was trying to detox her himself with Placidyl (a prescription sedative with recreational uses; it’s no longer on the market) and “really good pot.” Neither of the Hunsbergers ever went back to the methadone clinic, and it was assumed they had relapsed.

After that, things get murky.

Read the couple’s casefiles for details on what a weirdo Stephanie’s father was. Suffice it to say that, although he had a doctorate and a respectable job as principal of Upper Merion High School, on his downtime he committed a series of armed robberies, and after his arrest in August 1978, the police found a TON of drugs at his house. He bonded out awaiting trial. He was later sentenced to five years.

Smith was later convicted of three counts of murder in the deaths of Susan Reinert, an employee at the school where he was principal, and her two children, Karen and Michael. Susan was murdered in June 1979, in a fairly unusual way — she was beaten severely, but she survived for about 24 to 36 hours afterwards, and the actual cause of death was a morphine overdose. Karen and Michael disappeared with their mom and the bodies were never found.

The police believed the murders were orchestrated by Susan’s boyfriend Bill Bradfield, an Upper Merion High School teacher, for money, but that Jay Smith actually committed the killings. Bradfield died while serving life in prison for the crimes. Smith (who was sentenced to death) had his conviction overturned because the prosecution had exculpatory evidence they’d unethically concealed from his defense (who claimed Bradfield had deliberately framed him). Smith died in 2009.

What of Stephanie and Edward? Well, the last confirmed sighting of them was on the aforementioned date of February 25, 1978, but there were several reported sightings of them after that, by Smith — not a credible witness perhaps — and by Stephanie’s younger sister, a neighbor, and others.

Now, Smith claimed the Hunsbergers went on the run because they owed money to drug dealers. But they left all their stuff behind at his house, including an uncashed tax return, and all those drugs which he claimed were theirs. Smith’s relationship with his daughter was understandably troubled, and he was demonstrably violent. Even if you don’t buy the story that he was a murderer, he was definitely a robber who, at the time of his arrest, was carrying multiple loaded guns and a syringe of “sedative drugs” (Placidyl?). The police consider him a suspect in Stephanie and Edward’s cases.

They definitely dropped out out sight sometime in 1978 or 1979; there were no sightings of them after that, and no one heard from them. Given the high-risk lifestyle they lead, and the lack of contact for nearly 40 years, I highly doubt they’re alive now. But who got them? Jay Smith? Drug dealers? Or just drugs? Or something else? Are their bodies perhaps listed as John Does somewhere else in the country, or do they lie undiscovered in a landfill or a shallow grave in Pennsylvania?

Let’s talk about it.