All the conspiracy theorists in the Gabby Pettito case are driving me mad

So social media can be a blessing AND a curse, and I think in the Gabby Pettito case it’s mainly turned out to be a curse. People who don’t know anything keep speculating, pulling all sorts of ideas out of their rear ends. There’s a reason I don’t normally hang around web-sleuthing and true-crime forums and Facebook groups and so on because this happens a lot in those places and I find it infuriating.

Back in the days when such talk was confined to one’s immediate social circle in the physical world (the breakfast table, coworkers, your friend group), it was pretty much harmless. But online, it is not necessarily harmless and I think the speculation in Gabby and Brian’s case is a pretty good example of the harm it can cause.

For example, during the time Brian was missing, Internet mobs were harassing men whose only crime was that they bore some vague physical resemblance to him. Armchair quarterbacks were claiming that Brian’s parents must have him hidden in a bunker under their backyard and when his mom appeared to be gardening she was actually passing food and stuff down to his bunker. People were protesting outside Brian’s parents’ house and some rando sued his parents for $40 for absolutely no reason I can determine.

This all kind of reminds me of when the Internet (for some reason) decided the furniture company Wayfair was trafficking children through their website, listing kids for sale in disguise as overpriced cabinets. Internet mobs were actually harassing minor children who had returned home after being missing for a period, to the point where one poor girl went on Facebook Live to say she was alive and well and with her family and had not been trafficked and was begging people to stop this nonsense as it was ruining her life.

And now that Brian has been found, the Internet mobs who had seemed so dedicated to solving the case themselves now suddenly don’t want it to be solved and try to keep coming up with reasons why the remains that were identified as him could not be him.

It’s like these people think that this is a fascinating Netflix series, and now it’s over and they don’t want it to be over and are desperately trying to come up with excuses to carry on with another season of the Gabby and Brian Mystery Show. I am really hoping that Gabby and Brian’s respective families and friends are staying offline at the moment and don’t read any of the garbage that’s being spouted. Stuff about fake teeth, fake remains, substituted dental records, all sorts of conspiracies are being made up out of thin air.

But this isn’t Netflix. This is real life. And this is a very sad but very familiar story of a domestic abuser who killed his partner and then, probably, himself. It’s a story that happens every day all around the world and frankly I don’t understand why Gabby and Brian’s particular tragic saga has captivated so many people.

Honestly, I think the reason behind a lot of conspiracy theories is that people want to feel like they’re smarter than everybody else, even the experts. Like there’s some big secret thing going on that only they know about, so they get sucked into believing the most ridiculous things.

I certainly don’t mind if a person has legitimate good-faith questions that can be answered. Like, when I don’t know something, I look it up or I ask someone who knows.

Some people have asked why dental records were used in the identification and not DNA. Answer: dental records are much faster and cheaper than using DNA, and so that’s what’s usually done unless either the records or the decedent’s teeth are unavailable. Others have asked why only partial remains were located. Answer: probably his body had been lying in that nature preserve for weeks, maybe over a month, and animals would nibble on bits and take away pieces to eat.

But those people who ask the questions, then flatly dismiss your answers and laugh in your face and go chasing after some completely implausible story they made up themselves, I cannot stand that. Either you want to learn, or you don’t, you know?

If you DO want to learn, I have some recommendations of books on the topics of forensic science and domestic violence that you guys might find interesting. I have read all of these books myself and found them both interesting and educational.

On forensic science, I recommend (in no particular order):

  1. Sue Black’s Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind and All That Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality, and Solving Crimes
  2. Richard Shepherd’s Unnatural Causes: The Life and Many Deaths of Britain’s Top Forensic Pathologist
  3. Malcolm Dodd and Beverley Knight’s Justice for the Dead: Forensic Pathology in the Hot Zone
  4. Stefan Timmermans’s Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths
  5. Colin Evans’s Blood On the Table: The Greatest Cases of New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
  6. Ryan Blumenthal’s Autopsy: Life in the Trenches with a Forensic Pathologist in Africa
  7. Zakaria Erzinclioglu’s Maggots, Murder, and Men: Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist
  8. Cynric Temple-Camp’s The Cause of Death: True Stories of Death and Murder from a New Zealand Pathologist

On domestic violence I recommend:

  1. Rachel Louise Snyder’s No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us
  2. George Lardner’s The Stalking of Kristin: A Father Investigates the Murder of His Daughter

(Incidentally, if you read a lot like me and you have a smart phone I highly recommend Scribd. It’s a reading app kind of like Amazon’s Kindle, and provides you with unlimited access to Scribd’s large, regularly updated library of books for just $10 a month. It has a wide selection of books, including academic type books that cost a lot of money to buy, and including some of the books I listed above. You can read as many as you like for just the flat $10 fee. For me, it’s more than paid for itself.)

MP of the week: Shannon Hawkins

This week’s featured missing person is Shannon Marie Hawkins, a 35-year-old woman who was last seen in St. Johns, Florida on July 31, 2010. She’s white, 5’5 tall and weighed 135 pounds at the time of her disappearance. Her hair and eyes are naturally brown but at the time she went missing, her hair was dyed auburn.

It sounds like Shannon may have taken her own life. She has a history of suicide attempts due to depression, and was apparently in a crisis at the time she went missing, since she had placed a call to a mental health hotline the night before. In her diary she’d written that she wasn’t sure she would live to see her 36th birthday.

If suicide was what happened, though, her body has never been found.

Shannon would be 46 if she is still alive today. She left behind two children and a husband.

MP of the week: Kevin Persad

This week’s featured missing person is Kevin Anthony Persad, a 29-year-old man who disappeared while swimming off the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida on September 15, 2010. This case isn’t a big mystery. He’s presumed drowned, but they’ve never found his remains. I hope they are located someday.

Kevin is described as Asian (originally from Trinidad and Tobago, which has a high percentage of Indo-Caribbean people in its population) with black hair and brown eyes, 5’10 tall and 145 pounds. He was working in a customer service job but dreamed of being a fashion designer. Unfortunately his dreams probably ended in the Atlantic that day eleven years ago.

MP of the week: Merlene Hayes

This week’s featured missing person is Merlene C. Hayes, a 55-year-old woman who was last seen in Tallahassee, Florida on April 26, 1994. She went out for a walk that evening, her second of the day, over her daughter’s objections. She never came back, although there were some possible sightings of her in the local area over the coming days and weeks.

Merlene had dropped out of sight once before and turned up alive and well after three days (not sure of the circumstances there), so this time her daughter didn’t report her missing for six. I have to wonder, given those alleged sightings, if reporting Merlene missing sooner would have made a difference.

She’s described as black, 5’7 and 170, with gray hair, brown eyes, and a mole on her nose. She was wearing a wig on the night of her disappearance, as well as a purple flowered shirt, pants and sneakers. She takes medication for depression and could become disoriented if she doesn’t take it regularly. It’s unlikely that she had her medicine with her that night, if she really was only going for a walk.

I have to wonder if perhaps something prevented her from returning home, temporarily but long enough to get her off her meds and disoriented. Or perhaps she had stopped taking her meds prior to her disappearance, and became disoriented during her walk. In any case, according to my theory, she would have wandered around the city for a time not knowing who she was or where she was. That would explain the alleged sightings.

I wish I knew more about what happened with her earlier three-day disappearance — like, did she stop taking her meds, get disoriented and wander off, or did she go off on a spontaneous vacation, or what?

If still alive, she’d be 83 today.

MP of the week: Angela Luttrell

This week’s featured missing person is Angela Colleen Luttrell, missing from Loxahatchee, Florida since August 15, 1993. She is white, 5’2 and 110 pounds, with blonde hair and blue eyes, is missing a finger joint or joints on her left hand, and has a scar on her left ring finger. She was 32 at the time and would be 60 today.

There is very little information about Angela’s disappearance, but it’s noted that she had a problem with drugs and alcohol and used a long list of alias names. I can’t find a single article on the case, either recently or from back when the disappearance happened nearly 30 years ago.

MP of the week: Rosemary Day

This week’s featured missing person is Rosemary Rivas Day, a 27-year-old woman who disappeared from Jacksonville, Florida on May 21, 2011 — ten years ago this week. She was last seen at her apartment in her car, which was found abandoned two months later.

It’s not clear what happened here. According to her dad, Rosemary was in an abusive relationship and was afraid. However, she also suffered from depression and is classified as disabled (whether from the depression or from something else, I’m not sure). When her car was located the police found “unspecified information” inside which could indicate her whereabouts; however, nothing turned up and it’s been two years.

Rosemary is of mixed white and Asian (Filipino) descent with very long, thick brown hair, glasses and small scars on her arms. She was 27 when she was last seen and, if still alive, would be 37 today. Her birthday is just the day after mine.

Former cult leader Anna Young, believed responsible for three Charley Project disappearances, dies

So Anna Young died a few days ago at the age of 79, having served just 33 days of a life sentence for second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Anna pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Emon Harper, aka Moses Young, a toddler who was beaten and starved to death in 1988 or 1989. His body was never found. The manslaughter conviction was for the death of Katonya Jackson, a two-year-old who died after being beaten, tortured and denied her epilepsy medication. (For some reason her death had initially been ruled as natural.)

Anna is also connected to two unsolved disappearances: that of two-year-old Marcos Antonio Cruz, whom she allegedly had abandoned at a church in Puerto Rico in 1992, and that of her six-year-old stepdaughter Catherine Barbara Davidson, who was last seen in 1973. Per one of Catherine’s siblings, she didn’t actually vanish while on a family outing to a state park in Michigan but had in fact been bound, gagged and placed in a closet where she died.

Pretty awful stuff.

I wonder if Marcos is still alive out there, or if he was ever abandoned in the first place and didn’t meet with the same awful death as Emon and Catherine and Katonya did.

We may never know.

Remains found in 1979 identified, and other stories

Today is National Missing Persons day. This article has some info about how the new Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act, which was signed into law on New Years’ Eve, will help communities along the Mexican border.

In Alabama: Skeletal remains have been found in Conecuh County, Alabama. Though they haven’t been identified yet, the police think they’re those of Brian Estrada, who disappeared last October. His ID was found near the bones.

In California: They’re still looking for Sydney West, a 19-year-old University of California, Berkeley student who disappeared from San Francisco on September 30. Her parents are offering a $10,000 reward for info leading to her return.

In Colorado: The murder trial of Donthe Lucas in the disappearance of his 21-year-old pregnant girlfriend Kelsie Jean Schelling from Pueblo has begun. Kelsie was last seen on February 5, 2013.

In Florida: They’re still looking for Lemuel Robert Hall, a 79-year-old man who disappeared from Escambia County in 2019. He was last seen in July, but wasn’t reported missing till September.

In Maine: They’re still looking for Jason D. Reil, a 33-year-old man who disappeared from Brunswick in January 2012. He had schizophrenia and was off his meds when he went missing.

In Mississippi: They’re still looking for William Brian McKenzie, a 21-year-old who disappeared in September 2019.

In Ohio: They’re still looking for Nylo Lattimore, a 3-year-old boy who disappeared from Cincinnati on December 4. His mother was allegedly stabbed to death in her home on December 5 and her body dumped, but it wasn’t found for a week. Desean Brown has been charged with Nylo’s mother’s murder, but Nylo has never been found and Brown hasn’t cooperated in the case.

In Pennsylvania: They’re still looking for Robert Scott Baron, who disappeared from his restaurant in Old Forge on January 25, 2017. It looks like he was probably killed in a robbery of the business; they found some blood in his car and a tooth in the restaurant’s sink.

In South Dakota: 9-year-old Serenity June Dennard disappeared from the Black Hills Children’s Home two years ago today. Though the case is still open, the police have suspended the search for now, for lack of any ideas where to look.

In Tennessee: They’re still looking for Shelley Lynn Mook, a 24-year-old woman who disappeared from Shelbyville on February 28, 2011. Her husband Tyler is a person of interest in her case, but has never been charged.

In Texas: They’re still looking for Joshua Jayvaughn Davis Jr., a one-year-old boy who disappeared from New Braunfels on February 4, 2011 — ten years ago tomorrow. The police seem to think his parents were involved or at least know what happened. I’m not sure. I am a firm believer in the axiom that there’s usually no smoke without fire. But one thing I will observe: Joshua’s parents have talked to the media a fair bit about his disappearance and tried to publicize it as much as they can, which in my observation is inconsistent with people who were responsible for their child’s disappearance.

In Oregon: They have identified remains found at the bottom of Multnomah Falls in September 1979. His name is Freeman Asher Jr.

In Washington: They’re still looking for Sofia Lucerno Juarez, who disappeared from Kennewick on February 4, 2003, the day before her fifth birthday. 18 years ago tomorrow.

In Australia: They’re still looking for Lisa Govan, a 28-year-old woman who disappeared from Kalfoorie, Western Australia in 1999. The police believe she was murdered.

Also in Australia: They’re still looking for Steven James Goldsmith, a 28-year-old arborist who disappeared from Toowoomba, Queensland in 2000. Authorities believe he was murdered. There’s a $250k reward out to help solve the case.

In Canada: They have identified a body that washed up on Gulf Island Beach in British Columbia in 1972. The name of the man, who was 41 when he disappeared from Coquitlam in 1967, has not been released.

Also in Canada: They’re still looking for Ben Tyner, a ranch manager who disappeared from Merritt, British Columbia in January 2019.

In Belgium: A car was found in a canal in Bruges; it turned out to belong to Ronny Lateste, a 39-year-old man who disappeared in 1990. His body was inside it.

MP of the week: Michelle Mulcahy

This week’s featured missing person is Michelle Meredith Mulcahy, a seventeen-year-old girl who disappeared from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on July 7, 1979. She left all her belongings behind, including her new car, so she isn’t believed to have been a runaway. She didn’t need to run away in any case; she had already moved out of her mom’s house and was living with a friend. There were some issues going on in her life: she had gotten involved with drugs and was dating a man who was himself into the drug culture.

I have to wonder if Christopher Wilder was ever looked at in this case. 1979 is a little before his time — his known victims were killed in 1983 and 1984 — but Michelle did want to be a model and was last seen en route to a dance contest, which would fit the profile of Wilder’s victims.

Legislation passed to deal with the migrants who die trying to cross the border, and other stories

In Arizona: the death toll of migrants crossing the U.S./Mexican border through the Arizona desert reached 227 last year. This is a 58% increase from 2019.

In Florida: they’re still looking for Christine Muriel Flahive, a 42-year-old woman who disappeared from Punta Gorda on January 5, 1995. Per the article, the primary suspect is Jonathan Payne (who is also named in Christine’s Charley Project casefile) and unfortunately he’s been dead for a decade.

In Illinois: the police are trying to find Victoria Puzinas, who disappeared from the Albany Park area of Chicago on November 25, 2019. She was 54 years old at the time, suffers from mental illness and was homeless.

In Massachusetts: they’re still looking for 59-year-old Abbie Flynn, who disappeared from Gloucester on February 2, 2020. She had a party planned at her house, and a few hours beforehand she went out for a walk and never returned.

In Kentucky: the police have located Kenneth Davis Jr., who had been missing from Harlan County since October. He is alive.

In Ohio: the police are still looking for David Alan Tackett, who was last seen in Miami Township on September 8. He was 56 years old at the time, and it’s notable how skinny he was: 5’7 and somewhere between 100 and 125 pounds.

In Oregon: they’re still trying to identify a Jane Doe whose body was found in Polk, County, Oregon in September 1996.

In Tennessee: the Holly Bobo Act, which increases the age limit from 18 to 21 for endangered or missing adult alerts, is now in effect. From now on, missing people age 18 through 20 will be classified with the children.

In West Virginia: they’re still looking for John Jesse Wiley, a 41-year-old man who disappeared from Morgan County sometime in 2018. He wasn’t reported missing till last April.

In the border region: an article about the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act, bipartisan legislation that “opens up funding for the network of state and local governments, humanitarian organizations, forensics labs and medical offices that respond to migrant deaths on a day-to-day basis.” This should lead to a lot of unidentified migrants getting their names back.

In Europe: two children who were kidnapped from the Netherlands by their mom in 2014 have been found safe in Innsbruck, Austria. Their searching father is delighted.