Five (sorta) missing people in the wreckage of a crashed plane

So, if a plane crashes and they find the crash site but are unable to recover the bodies for whatever reason, I don’t usually consider those people to be missing, even by my quite generous definition. After all, their fate and the location of their remains is known.

But today, I added five people whose case fit those parameters: plane crash, wreckage found. I decided I could just about wedge the case within the Charley Project’s case requirements because, after the crash site was initially located, it vanished again. It moved.

I doubt that happens all that often, but this was in Alaska, the Land That Eats People.

A small plane carrying four Polish tourists and their pilot was on an aerial tour of Denali National Park when it hit the side of the mountain. This was at 11,000-foot elevation, on an unstable field of ice and snow. When park rangers found the site a few days later, the plane was embedded in snow right on the side of a cliff, as you can see in the photo accompanying this article. The fact that it’s gone now is not terribly surprising: shifting/melting ice and snow, wind, etc.

So anyway, the victims are now up on my site: the pilot, Craig Layson, from Michigan, and the four passengers: Janusz Intek, Maria Libacka, Kazimierz Miernik and Robert Sieniawski, all of them Poles. Rest In Peace. The mountain is their grave.

MP of the week: Charles Rutherford Jr.

This week’s featured missing person is Charles “Chuck” Rutherford Jr., a 34-year-old attorney who disappeared with his girlfriend, Lana Stempien, while they were boating on Lake Huron on August 11, 2005.

Rutherford and Stempien at the Presque Isle Marina in Presque Isle, Michigan, and planned to go to Mackinac Island, but never arrived. Their boat was found idling in the lake, ten miles off Mackinac Island, the next day. Two weeks later, Stempien’s body washed ashore. There was elevated carbon monoxide in her blood, but the cause of death was drowning.

In spite of some mutterings about foul play and things being “mysterious”, it looks to me like Rutherford was probably also the victim of an accidental drowning; there’s a theory that they went swimming and became overcome with fumes from the boat motor.

A samaritan utility

The other day I updated a case that had a detail I’d never seen before: the woman, Mary Joetta Roderick, was reported missing by her phone company.

It’s not all that uncommon for adults to not get reported missing for months, particularly if their children are taking the opportunity to cash their checks, which Mary’s son was. But usually in such cases, the police are alerted by friends, neighbors or extended family members. I’ve never heard of a utility company doing it.

She was last seen in December 1994. A few months later her phone company contacted the cops to say she’d always paid her bill promptly, but she had not paid it in months and the balance had grown to $3,500 (was her son calling 900-number sex lines?). I suppose the company probably tried to contact her themselves and couldn’t. Anyway, they thought something might have happened to her.

So the cops went to her house on a welfare check and found her son, and it started to unravel. Partially, anyway. They’ve never found her or charged anyone in her disappearance.

The cops haven’t given up, though. They conducted a search for her just this month.

Missing persons news that happened while my computer was broken

Yeah, so this has been in the news:

  • They’re going to try to identify two bodies, victims of a terrible fire at a Connecticut circus in 1944. 168 people were killed and of those, five are still unidentified. Per the article: “State Chief Medical Examiner James Gill wants to compare the unknown victims’ DNA to that of Sandra Sumrow, the granddaughter of 47-year-old Grace Fifield, a Newport, Vermont woman who was at the circus the day of the fire but was never seen again.”
  • Hazel Rose Hess‘s daughter has gone on the news asking for information that could solve her mother’s 25-year-old disappearance. There isn’t much in the way of anything new in the article, however. I just found a few new pictures.
  • There’s been some news about the 1985 disappearances of Janet Shuglie and her ten-year-old daughter Marisa. It turns out someone found her class ring. They found it over 20 years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that they realized the ring belonged to a missing person and turned it over to the police.
    The police seem to think the find is significant, and they have not disclosed where the ring was found. There were several articles about this: here, here, here and here. There is a picture of the ring (is it just me or is the stone missing?) but alas, no photos of Marisa. I don’t have a photo of her either, so only Janet has a casefile on Charley.
  • They’ve found the bodies of Danielle Marie Steiner and her five-year-old son, Aubrey Hall, who disappeared from Lansing, Michigan a year ago. The bodies were discovered by a clean-up crew in a vacant house in the 800 block of Loa Street. The article notes that “At various times, Steiner and Aubrey had lived in the 700 and 800 block of Loa Street.”
    No other details have been released, except that the deaths are being treated as homicides. I’m sure their families are devastated.
  • This month is the 13th anniversary of the disappearance of Melanie Metheny from Belle, West Virginia. She went missing on July 19, 2006. There’s this article about it.
  • Doreen Jane Vincent‘s 1988 disappearance has been covered in the second season of the podcast “Faded Out.” I grabbed a bunch of photos off this article, and the podcast sounds absolutely fascinating, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to listen to it. There’s 21 episodes in the season so far, ranging in length from 27 minutes to an hour and 17 minutes, during which time I’d have to be paying very close attention, stopping the play to take notes, etc. All for one case. I wish I had the time for this kind of thing; it would benefit the Charley Project greatly. But I just don’t.
  • A suspect, Bryan Lee O’Daniels, has been charged with murder in the 1995 disappearance of Timothy Jason Smart. Apparently there were many witnesses who knew the truth, but none of them spoke up out of fear of O’Daniels. The case broke after the police got an anonymous tip last year that led to a motherlode of information.

MP of the week: Letitia Regans

This week’s featured missing person is Letitia Nuchelle Regans, a 29-year-old woman who disappeared from St. Louis, Missouri on November 16, 2006.

Unfortunately I don’t know squat about the circumstances of her disappearance; it’s a “few details are available” case. I’ve got a description of her clothes, and a tattoo, and that’s it.

If she is still alive, Letitia Regans would be 42 years old today. She’s been missing twelve and a half years.

One murder trial ends while another begins

Brendt Christensen has been convicted of the murder of 26-year-old doctoral student Yingying Zhang, whose body has never been found.

Of course Yingying’s Charley Project casefile has the basics. I also recommend this Washington Post article, which links to a partial transcript of the trial. And there’s plenty of other news articles about this available.

There remains the punishment phase: LWOP, or the death penalty? (The state of Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, but because Brendt was tried in federal court he can be executed.) The defense’s primary objective, as they said from the outset of the trial, is to save Brendt from the death penalty. I have a hard time imagining how they’re going to accomplish this.

Given the recorded confession and the blood found at Brendt’s apartment, the defense in this case is waging an uphill battle with a 50mph wind in their faces. But even so, their argument strikes me as pathetically weak: Brendt totally isn’t a vile human being and would-be (or, perhaps, actual) serial killer, not at all! He only kidnapped, raped, murdered and decapitated a complete stranger because he was depressed and flunking out of college and felt like a failure!

To which I say: SO WHAT? Lots of people are depressed. I’ve been depressed since I was in middle school. Lots of people flunk out of college. Most people feel like a failure at some point in their life. That isn’t an excuse to go out and murder some poor woman you don’t even know.

In other news, yesterday John Bayerl’s murder trial began in Wisconsin (which happens to be Brendt Christensen’s home state). John’s wife, DonaMae, disappeared in 1979 and was never seen again. Suspicion hovered over him for decades before he was finally arrested early this year.

I’m a bit surprised they’re going to trial so quickly; in most murder cases (as in Yingying’s) years pass between arrest and trial. But John is 79 and not getting any younger; I suppose he’s hoping they’ll acquit him and he can return to his retirement home in Florida and die on a beach instead of in jail.

John is another absolute turd and I firmly believe he killed his wife. I just hope the prosecution can prove it.

A minor puzzlement with an MP’s social media

Yeah, so if a missing persons case is reasonably recent (like within the last ten or twelve years or so) I check and see if they have accounts with Facebook or MySpace or whatever. Those accounts are a great source of MP photos, and sometimes I’ll get pics of their tattoos, scars, whatever as well.

Last night I had a missing persons case from a year ago. I looked for her on Facebook and found three accounts of varying age, the oldest one from back around ten years ago, and the newest going all the way up to her disappearance. (Her last Facebook post was made the very day she went missing, saying she was no longer with some guy and that he had thrown her out.)

In the oldest account, several photos of her showed the outline of a heart on her forearm. However, the MP’s NamUs page didn’t mention a heart and said she had a tattoo of a “small Chinese symbol” on her forearm.

I thought there were three possible explanations:

  1. NamUs was wrong about the tattoo information.
  2. At some time in the years after she got the heart tattoo, the woman got a coverup tattoo changing the heart into a Chinese symbol.
  3. She had both tattoos, a heart on one forearm and a Chinese symbol on the other forearm.

Not knowing for sure what was going on there, I said on her casefile that she had a Chinese symbol OR a heart tattoo on her forearm.