Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Diane Suzuki

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I am profiling one Asian or Pacific Islander MP for every day of the month of May. Today’s case is Diane Yayoe Suzuki, a 19-year-old of Japanese descent who disappeared from Aiea, Hawaii on July 6, 1985. She was a student at the University of Hawaii and a part-time dance instructor, and apparently disappeared from work. Some blood was found in the dance studio bathroom.

The suspect in her disappearance is Dewey Hamasaki, a photographer at the dance studio who knew Diane. There was never enough evidence to charge him, and the case remains unsolved after over 30 years.

Thoughts on today’s updates

It’s 11:47 p.m. as I type this, so perhaps by the time it’s finished, “today” will be “yesterday.”

For all the updated cases today, except Jahi Turner and Donna Mezo, you can thank Mion, who kindly gathered together a bunch of old newspaper articles about cases I had and emailed them to me.

Regarding my Donna Mezo update, I hope it clarifies the situation with her boyfriend’s death. Earlier I had said there was a suicide note and his death was ruled a suicide in spite of the fact that the gun used was found in “a nearby lake.” Well, I have since learned that “nearby” was more like “a few feet away.” I think what probably happened is that Jeffrie either threw or dropped his weapon into the water during or after firing it.

I found quite a lot on Newspapers.com for Marcell Byers‘s case. His NamUs profile includes a clipping about how the people charged with kidnapping him disappeared and their lawyer had been threatened and maybe it was foul play.

Well, the two suspects did disappear, leaving a van shot full of holes, but I guess it was all just an attempt to evade prosecution because they were alive, back in custody and well enough to cop a plea less than a year later.

It’s disturbing that Marcell was never found. All this over a gold chain. The Zuppos pleaded no contest to kidnapping, meaning they didn’t even admit they were guilty. They’d be out of prison by now and I’m not sure what they’re up to these days. I think Gerald Sr. may be dead; someone with the same name and birth year died in North Carolina in 2003.

Tejin‘s case is just sad. (Also, NamUs has him listed as a girl? I admit you can’t really tell from the pictures. If I hadn’t found some articles on his disappearance I’d have been none the wiser.) I found his Facebook page and one picture was of him holding a little turtle, whom Tejin called “my son.” This was just a few months before his presumed death.

Julie Davis‘s case is sad too. Judging from the Facebook page created for her, she was lost for awhile before she disappeared. They only have the one not very good quality and out-of-date photo of her, and from the Facebook page her family apparently wasn’t really clear on when they’d last heard from her. They mentioned getting a letter from her “around 1985 or 1986.” (I’m not sure where NamUs’s date of disappearance comes from.)

She was just sixteen years old and already out on her own, almost four hours from her hometown.  I know things were a bit different back in the eighties, but that’s still pretty unusual. I wonder if she was in foster care. Obviously her family cares about her or they wouldn’t be trying to find her. I hope she’s alive out there and doesn’t even know anyone is looking, and isn’t a Jane Doe somewhere, or worse, dead and never found.

For this case, normally I’d have listed her as just regular “Missing” but then I saw the detail about the track marks and thought “drugs” and upgraded her case to “Endangered Missing.” Question: do track marks ALWAYS mean drugs? There are some medical conditions that require a person to get frequent injections; do those people get similar scars?

Ashley Lynn Thomas has such striking eyes, so big and dark against her pale skin and hair. I hope she’s okay. I hope she and the baby are both healthy and being looked after.

Stuart Owen Collins got a big update today. (Thanks again, Mion!) It does sound like something bad happened to him, and one inevitably wonders about the woman he was with, and even more so about her husband.

With Paul Egan (another big update there) the whole rendering theory is just awful to contemplate. The police seemed to suspect Paul’s friend. They said his friend was not a suspect, but they also made a point of saying they couldn’t confirm the friend’s story.

It could have happened something like this: Paul and his friend got into some kind of argument at the plant after hours — his friend was a foreman, Paul a technician — and things got out of hand something went horribly wrong, and his friend is panicking and thinks “well, there’s this rendering machine, if I just chuck him in and keep my mouth shut, no one will ever know.” I doubt such places had security cameras in 1975. The rendering machine was designed to grind up horses; a human corpse would be easy.

Of course that’s all supposition. I did look up the friend in the Florida DOC database and on Facebook and couldn’t find anyone by that name. I did find a Newspapers.com mention of a person by that name (and a photo of that person) from 1970, five years before Paul disappeared. Nothing since then. I wonder if I’ve got the spelling of his surname right.

As far as the note Elsie Elsinga left behind — and her daughter’s poo-pooing the significance of that note — I don’t know. Her daughter said something like “How could someone of that age have done anything to mess up their life?” But perhaps Elsie’s “possible mild depression” was more significant than her daughter thought.

For Helen Robinson, I wonder if she decided to take a plane to visit one of those CB radio friends she had, and maybe something happened that prevented her from coming back. It was two solid years before her van turned up; by then, the weeds might have grown over the flight records. Robinson is definitely dead now; I don’t think she would have lived long in any case, because of her emphysema.

I added 27 updates and I’m very pleased with my work output today. I hope y’all have noticed how much more productive I’ve been ever since the site got redesigned. It takes less time to add/update stuff, since I don’t have to write all the code by hand, or hand-add case names to the lists.

Flashback Friday: Natasha Shanes

This week’s FF case is Natasha Marie Shanes, a six-year-old girl who was apparently abducted from her mother’s Jackson, Michigan home on May 8, 1985.

Although they never identified the abductor or found any bloodstains or the like, I’m pretty confident Natasha died around the time she was taken, because of her medical problems. She had a seizure disorder and needed medication for that. She was also slightly intellectually disabled and she had scoliosis, though to what degree I don’t know.

In the very unlikely event that Natasha is alive, she’d be 38 today.

Flashback Friday: Wayne Hickman

This week’s Flashback Friday case is Wayne W. Hickman, who disappeared from Missoula, Montana on October 1, 1985. He was 27 years old. Hickman was going to hitchhike to the town of Superior, which Google Maps says is about an hour from Missoula, to have a look at a pickup truck that was for sale. I don’t know if he ever arrived there.

I have to wonder about possible foul play here, especially if Hickman was carrying a large amount of cash to buy the truck with. Perhaps he got picked up by the wrong person. But I don’t have much on the case.

Thinking aloud in today’s updates

Yeah, I went a bit nuts this night.

  • Regarding Angelica Gandara:
    It would appear from the neighbor’s account that someone was stalking Angelica prior to her abduction. I’m not sure what to make of the account by the witness in San Antonio, though.
    It’s certainly plausible but I don’t know if it was ever verified — I could find only one article about it. Nowadays it would be pretty easy to verify since I’m assuming all convenience stores have security cameras, but I don’t think that was the case in 1985.
    If that girl WAS Angelica, though, it would seem to indicate she was kept alive for an extended period after her disappearance, which makes me wonder if human trafficking was involved. Perhaps she might even still be alive today.
    The fact that the little girl didn’t ask for help doesn’t mean this witness’s account is discredited — Shasta Groene didn’t ask for help either, although she did keep walking up to people and staring at them in right the face.
  • Regarding Carol Woolsoncroft:
    I tried to find out what Eugene LaFaye is doing nowadays but came up with nothing I could verify. I couldn’t find anyone by that name listed in the sex offender registry. I couldn’t find him listed in the Florida Department of Corrections database.
    I did find mention of a Eugene LaFaye in the Fort Myers area in 1979 and I’m pretty sure this guy was Carol’s boyfriend’s father, since (a) the 1979 Eugene was 65 is and Carol’s Eugene would have been in 19 at the time and (b) I know Carol’s Eugene is a junior, so his father would have had the same name.
    I did find mention of an “incapacitated person” named Eugene LaFaye in the Fort Myers area in 2001. I’m not sure which Eugene this is. Eugene Sr. would have been 87 by then.
    At any rate this is a very sad but all-too-common kind of disappearance — domestic violence. It’s like super-obvious what happened, they just can’t prove it.
  • Also… I found photos of Ivan Gutierrez and Charles Gibson! They’re not even really awful photos, either! I mean, they’re not the greatest, but they’re about as good as you can expect from newspaper archives, and I could finally add the cases to Charley!
    Though why Gibson is in FDLE and Gutierrez isn’t, I don’t know; one of the articles said Gutierrez was officially reported missing by his father. Shrug.

Flashback Friday: Eva West

This week’s Flashback Friday case is Eva Susan West, a 28-year-old who disappeared from Oklahoma City on June 14, 1985. After her disappearance made the news, Eva’s mom got a call from someone saying she was all right, but this was never confirmed and her mom never actually spoke to the caller. The police don’t think Eva is all right, and they think drugs could be a factor.

Yates girls found safe after 31 1/2 years

This has been all over the news so chances are you’ve heard it already: one of my oldest family abductions, the 1985 case of ten-month-old Kelly Ann Yates and her big sister, 3-year-old Kimberly Ann Yates, has been solved. The girls, who are of course now adults, turned up alive and well in Texas.

I haven’t removed their casefiles yet; you can still read them for now. This article from the Providence Journal also provides a really good grounding in the case.

And I want to address an issue that has come up time and time again in family abduction cases, particularly cases where the children were taken by their mothers: the assumption so many people make that the abductor must have been “saving” the children from an unfit and/or abusive parent.

Several of the news articles (such as this one) have brought up the fact that, before Elaine Yates took the children and vanished, there was a domestic argument between herself and Russell, and he struck her. However, if you check out my casefiles for the girls, I include the information that, according to Russell, he only kicked his wife in self-defense after she attacked him first and struck him several times.

I’ve had people being like “How do you know that’s really true” and “How do you know that’s the ONLY incident, maybe there was more.”

I don’t know. That’s the thing. But just because I don’t know does not mean I am going to assume, based on a single incident that did not result in charges and that may have been self-defense, that Russell was an abusive husband and father.

What is DEFINITELY true is that Elaine committed a serious crime and put Russell through a lot of pain and grief for the past 30+ years. Elaine’s offense is much worse than Russell’s offense, which was basically simple assault.

Elaine will get a chance to tell her side of the story in time, but until then, I am a bit sickened by how some people people are automatically giving her the benefit of doubt. People don’t generally do this for most other crimes. Someone commented on my Facebook page about this case saying “some people do this [kidnap their own children] for a good reason.” Well, sometimes people who rob banks do it for a good reason — perhaps they have seven children and no food in the kitchen and they’re behind on the mortgage and about to be turned out of house and home into the frozen cold, and they really, really need the money. But nobody makes such remarks in response to news stories about bank robbery.

I cannot speak specifically on the Yates case because I don’t have all the facts. What I can say is this: in most family abduction cases, the abducting parent is not trying to protect the child or give it a better home. Most abducting parents take their children in order to spite the other parent. They hate their ex and want to hurt them in the worst way possible, by taking away the most precious thing in their lives.

Furthermore, parental abduction is child abuse. Most of the victims are lied to, told that the left-behind parent is dead or doesn’t want them anymore. In many cases the children are shifted from pillar to post, forced to live a lie, use false names, etc. Many times they don’t have access to education or health care while they’re missing, aren’t allowed to have friends, aren’t allowed to live a normal childhood.

I hope Kelly and Kimberly Yates prove willing to at least give their father a chance to get to know them again. That’s most important. I think it’s also important, though, that they follow through with prosecuting Elaine. I don’t think people should be allowed to get away with this sort of thing. The fact that it’s been thirty years does not lessen the gravity of what she did.

Flashback Friday: Donald Kulas

This week’s Flashback Friday case is Donald Kulas, a sixty-year-old man who disappeared from Two Harbors, Minnesota, a small town in the northeastern corner of the state, on the shores of Lake Superior. Kulas attended a party on the night of his disappearance, May 11, 1985, and was last seen as he was leaving. He never made it home and his car turned up abandoned in a ditch the next day.

I wish I had more info on this case. I don’t even have a decent quality picture of Kulas; I don’t think anyone could recognize somebody based on the photo I have. A few questions spring to mind:

  1. Was there alcohol served at this party? Did Kulas partake, and if so, how much?
  2. What condition was the car in when it was found? Was it out of gas? Were there any indications of an accident?

My guess is that Kulas died shortly after his disappearance, though I don’t have enough info to speculate as to how he met his death. NamUs says sixty tracker dogs were used in the search, but turned up nothing. Regardless, I think his remains are somewhere between the spot his car was found and his own home in Brimson, Minnesota, thirteen miles away.

Flashback Friday: Ronald Zellmer

This week’s Flashback Friday case is Ronald LeRoy Zellmer, who disappeared from Sioux City, Iowa on April 6, 1985 at the age of 31, and his car was found abandoned on a bridge just over in the border in Nebraska during the wee hours. Zellmer had depression and the police don’t seem to be sure whether he committed suicide or whether something else, such as abduction, happened to him.

Some more “UnFound” podcasts

The guy who does the “UnFound” podcasts has just released three more. (My links for the MPs’ names direct you to their Charley Project casefiles; click on the “UnFound” link above to see the podcasts.) There’s:

The podcaster, Ed Dentzel, interviewed me by phone on September 21. We talked for about an hour, and afterwards, at his request, I emailed him a bunch of stuff. The September call was actually what they call a pre-interview. The real, public interview will be next week. In the meantime, Ed is going to send me an outline of how he’d like the interview to go, what questions he plans to ask me, etc., for me to examine and suggest possible changes if needs be.