Authors: Carole Moore
The Last Place
The Last Place
True Stories of Missing Persons and
the People Who Search for Them
ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Moore, Carole, 1951–
The last place you’d look : true stories of missing persons and the people who search for them / Carole Moore.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4422-0368-6 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-4422-0370-9 (electronic)
1. Missing persons—United States—Case studies. 2. Missing children—United States—Case studies. 3. Missing persons—Investigation—United States—Case studies. I. Title.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
would like to thank my editor, Suzanne Staszak-Silva, as well as my agent, Jennifer Lawler. Their belief in this project has provided me with priceless inspiration. I am also grateful to Rowman & Littlefield’s Melissa McNitt and Evan Wiig for their patience in answering my endless questions and to Erin McGarvey, whose sharp eyes made this a much better book.
Eileen Brady and my sister, Elaine Sioufi Maxwell, were invaluable as readers and sounding boards. They made my first draft readable.
Barbara Nelson of Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin, and the staff who produces the school’s invaluable annual conference on missing persons deserve both my gratitude and much of the credit for helping this book to fruition.
Kelly Jolkowski, mother of missing Jason Jolkowski and the voice behind Project Jason, has become my friend. Without her and her boundless energy, this book would never have gotten off the ground.
I am always grateful for the friendship of Naval Criminal Investigative Service Agent Cheryl Diprizio, who put me in touch with several key people involved in this project and who also guided me around the Washington, D.C., area. Thanks also to Jerry Nance and Glenn Miller of the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, and Lou Eliopulos, who shared their time and expertise with me.
To Jacksonville (North Carolina) Police Chief Mike Yaniero, who spent an afternoon explaining his department’s position on missing persons issues, as well as Todd Matthews of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), Michelle Bernier-Toth of the U.S. State Department, and all of the officials, police officers, detectives, and investigators who took the time to answer my questions—I thank you. Thanks also to fellow Yo-Hi graduates who shared their memories of our beautiful friend, Jeannette Kamahele, especially Jean Luza and Debbie Branin Coglianese.
My editors at
Law Enforcement Technology
have been both supportive and generous. You are the reason I love writing for the magazine. Cliff Hill, thank you for rekindling my interest in this project. And to Elliott Potter, my old friend and first mentor, whose lifelong editing of my work has turned me into a better writer—I hope I have done you proud.
There is almost no way to adequately thank the families who have told me their stories. Two in particular—Helen Aragona and her daughter, Jennifer, who lost their darling Phyllis to kidnappers and thieves, and Bill and Ellen Kruziki, whose personal tragedy is almost too difficult to bear—sat down and went over their losses in detail. They are courageous beyond belief. And so are the many, many others who spoke with me about their sons and daughters, their sisters and brothers, their fathers and mothers who remain lost. I hope your stories allow others a better understanding of what it means to not know. I have learned so very much from all of you.
To Kelly Pennell, Jan Bowman, Beverly Haskin, Ton
Snyder, Barb Vollick, Glenn Hargett, and Diane Bertrand, my thanks for the constant support and encouragement, as well as ideas. To Sue Nathan, a heartfelt thanks for always being there. And, to my extraordinary writer friends, Jennifer Nelson and Randy Hecht, my gratitude for helping me sort through the issues I faced as I started this project.
Lastly, thank you to my husband, Ernie, and our children, Liz and Evan, who never lacked faith in me, even when I could not say the same.
One missing child is one too many.—John Walsh
s a sworn police officer and trained criminal investigator, I thought I knew all about missing persons. I had taken reports and worked a number of those cases, but as I started to write this book, I discovered I still had a lot to learn. And I decided to talk to the real experts on missing persons—their families. They were gracious, helpful, and generous with their time, even though they were often still immersed in enormous mental anguish. They shared their stories, their grief, their contacts, and the ways they cope with the uncertainty that colors their everyday lives.
Thanks to them, I learned that what I knew about this subject would fill a thimble—and there are great oceans of information out there. Media outlets tell these stories on a selective basis, using what they think will grab the most headlines; law enforcement either works these cases with great passion or not at all; dedicated agencies and nonprofits devote themselves to the cause or don’t exist where they’re needed; and civilians volunteer to fill in some of the gaps. The reactions, the resources, and the manpower are all over the map when it comes to missing persons investigations, but things are improving. And the impetus behind that change is due in great measure to the families of the missing: a small army of people determined that their own tragedies should count for something.
Each person started as an ordinary parent, spouse, child, or sibling whose life disintegrated when someone they loved did not come home one day. While I don’t share with them the depth of their experiences, my own interest in the subject has a similar connection. It began when I learned that someone I knew had also vanished.
Her name was Jeannette Kamahele. She was pretty, with raven hair, dark eyes, and the kind of personality that made you want to know her better. And on April 25, 1972, when she was twenty years old, she put her thumb out to catch a ride near Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, California, and vanished forever.
Jeannette, a fellow military brat and college student, grew up on and around military bases. Like the rest of us, she moved many times. In 1970, Jeannette was a graduating senior at Nile C. Kinnick High School in Yokohama, Japan, where I also attended school.
The high school, known by students and faculty alike as Yo-Hi, served members of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps stationed in Yokohama and the nearby port of Yokosuka, home to both the navy’s Seventh Fleet and a large military hospital. Many of the troops evacuated from Vietnam were brought first to Yokosuka to stabilize before the trip home. My dad was stationed there at the Naval Hospital.
Those of us who attended the dependents’ high school existed in a kind of suspended animation. Although students living stateside were involved in war protests and the peace movement in a country divided over the military’s role overseas, none of that encroached on our lives at Yo-Hi. We were as protected from reality as if cocooned in bubble wrap.
Yo-Hi students only heard popular music for an hour a day on the Far East Network (FEN) radio. We didn’t have to worry about controversial numbers—songs like “Angel of the Morning” with its implicit sexuality were not allowed on FEN. Movies available at the base theaters and the newspaper—the ubiquitous
Stars and Stripes
—were squeaky clean. English-language television did not exist. Those of us who were the offspring of servicemen and civilians who attended Yo-Hi would emerge almost untouched by that era’s popular culture.
Outside the base’s gates, there was also little to fear: the Japanese at that time were an orderly and even formal society, just beginning to feel the effects of postwar cultural changes. Although everyone seemed to be learning to speak English, the more shocking aspects of the new American revolution of the 1960s and early ’70s had not yet bled over into Japanese society. Students at Yo-Hi, like Jeannette Kamahele and me, were immersed in surroundings that were more associated with the 1950s than the late 1960s.
Although the school’s classes were small, we did boast some serious overachievers in our ranks. Tina Lutz Chow, a fashion icon who before her death was often on the international best dressed list, graduated in 1968; actor Mark Hamill was student body president in 1969. Jeannette belonged to the class that graduated after Hamill.
With her long, dark hair parted down the middle and short-short skirts, Jeannette wore the uniform of the Yo-Hi girl. Her family had its roots in Hawaii, and she reflected her island heritage with her exotic good looks and almond eyes. Smart, popular, and well-liked, Jeannette had a steady boyfriend and longtime best friend with whom she would share an apartment in college. She had no enemies—who could dislike someone as cheerful and personable as Jeannette? After graduation, she would relocate to California and enroll in Santa Rosa.
The smiling Jeannette, whose raucous laugh echoed up and down the hallways at Yo-Hi, didn’t have a suspicious bone in her body. Her graduating class of about one hundred was as close as family. Emerging from our vanilla childhoods in Japan, she saw no evil—not even in hitchhiking, which in the early ’70s was in vogue for both young men and women.
Not quite two years after her high school graduation, Jeannette left home one warm spring day and caught a ride near the on-ramp leading to Highway 101, then vanished into the bright California sun. Although authorities found the bodies of several other young women from the community who disappeared around the same time as Jeannette, she has never been located, nor have those murders been solved.
Everyone who knew Jeannette Kamahele—from her high school classmates to her friends—says she would never, ever leave of her own accord. She had no reason to run away. I graduated from Yo-Hi one year ahead of Jeannette, but time scattered our classmates around and it wasn’t until an all-school reunion held in 2000 that I found out she had vanished. The news threw me off balance: how could this happen to someone I knew?
I was no stranger to missing persons in my police work. I remember early in my career sitting at the front desk at the department as a patrol officer, when a young man came in to report his wife missing. Not more than a couple of hours before, the county sheriff’s office had responded to a call about a woman’s body found on a nearby beach. I directed the man to the sheriff’s department, and as it turned out, the woman was his missing wife.
The two incidents—Jeannette Kamahele’s disappearance and the missing woman on the beach—combined to fuel my drive to learn what I could about missing persons in this country. When I began my research, I discovered a hidden network of families, organizations, civilians, and officials, all linked by one thing: their interest in the tide of people who have disappeared and in unidentified recovered human remains. And the first lesson I learned was that while the numbers don’t lie, they also don’t tell the whole story.
Each day in excess of two thousand individuals are reported missing in the United States, according to the National Crime Information Center. That total does not include Americans who have vanished in other countries or individuals who disappear and are never reported: the homeless and the children born to them, prostitutes, drug users, foster kids, individuals without families or who have lost touch with their families, and transients.
Most of those reported missing return home. Some turn up in the medical examiner’s office. Others, like Jeannette Kamahele, vanish and are never seen again. Most of the families I have encountered while working on this book have spent their time turning over every rock, looking in every crevice. They never quit, as in the case of Dorothy “Dee” Scofield, whose disappearance many years ago set her parents on a lifelong quest to find their child. They lost her in the most ordinary of circumstances—the kind of thing that could happen to any family. In fact, the ordinariness of Dee’s disappearance is what haunts me.
When Dee was twelve years old, she accompanied her mother to the Ocala, Florida, highway patrol office, where Mrs. Scofield was obtaining a new driver’s license. Dee went to run an errand a few hundred feet away at a nearby department store. The preteen, her hair in pigtails, promised her mom she would return to the station once she finished her errand, but she never came back. Her mother went to the store to look for her.
Unable to find her daughter, Mrs. Scofield returned to the highway patrol office and reported her child missing. It was July 22, 1976. Later, a clerk at a nearby store told investigators that two men came into the store with an upset child matching Dee’s description, but the clerk did not intervene and the men left with the girl.
The Scofields did what any parents in their position would do. They spent every penny they had looking for their missing child, but Dee, who would have been forty-six at the time this was written in 2010, has never been heard from again. It is a hard story to read, but the worst part is that it is not unique, demographically, generationally, or geographically.
Far away from the Scofield family, on the other side of the country, another set of parents also faced the unthinkable during an ordinary outing. Today they, too, keep the candles burning for their lost child.
On December 5, 1998, eight-year-old Derrick Engebretson was with his dad and grandfather looking for a Christmas tree in the Winema National Forest located in Klamath County, Oregon, when he became separated from the pair. A massive search was conducted once they discovered the child was missing, but it was called off when a blizzard struck that night, covering the search area in heavy new snow.
Later, evidence suggested Derrick could have found his way to a nearby highway, where he may have been forced into a car by a passerby. Despite his parents’ efforts and subsequent searches of the forest and road, no trace of the little boy has ever been discovered. Like Jeannette and Dee, Derrick’s disappearance was a tragedy that struck without warning or any type of foreshadowing: each simply vanished.
Jeannette Kamahele, Dee Scofield, and Derrick Engebretson are not household names like that of Natalee Holloway, the blond American teen who disappeared while on a high school graduation trip to Aruba, or Stacy Peterson, an Illinois woman who vanished in October 2007 under mysterious circumstances. I doubt the media was interested in Jeannette’s disappearance since she was an adult at the time. I know from press clippings that local coverage following the disappearances of Dee and Derrick was intense; in the pre-Internet days, such cases would fade from the public radar over time, their causes resurrected on the anniversaries of their disappearances or on the rare occasions when a new development surfaced.
In fact, before the Internet, most disappearances not involving small children or celebrities received scant attention from all but their local news media. Families and friends had little help with publicity. They would raise rewards, make posters, run ads, and try to keep the media interested. Some helpful national initiatives emerged: in the mid-1980s milk cartons with photos of missing children on them made their debut, asking, “Have you seen me?” The first child to appear on one of those milk cartons, Etan Patz, a six-year-old from New York who disappeared walking to the bus stop in May 1975, has never been found.
For families like the Kamaheles, Scofields, and Engebretsons, publicizing their loved ones’ disappearances proved much more difficult. It’s still challenging, but the World Wide Web gives families of the missing additional tools to keep their stories alive and also grants access to more and better resources, one of which is also the resource of last resort.
The young woman who goes by Clark County, Nevada, coroner’s case number 80-01221 could be asleep in the photograph, except that the background behind her head is not a pillow, but a metal tray—the kind where bodies are rolled out to be viewed or autopsied in a morgue.
That is where the young girl found in Henderson, Nevada, “sleeps” in this photograph. Her picture, as well as many others, appears on the Web site of the Clark County Coroner’s Office.
It is a Web site not for the morbidly curious, but rather it was established to help authorities unite this young girl and the other unidentified dead on the site with their identities. The problem of unidentified remains is not unique to Clark County, but Clark authorities are on the leading edge of finding a solution.
Clark County, the fifteenth-largest county in the nation, is home to the city of Las Vegas and has a population of two million that derives much of its commerce from the tourism industry. Thousands flock from all over the world to visit the area’s casinos. Some of them die there, and not all are identified.
I heard Clark County Coroner P. Michael Murphy speak at a conference entitled, “Responding to Missing and Unidentified Persons,” which is held each year by Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin. Murphy says his county has 8,060 square miles of territory, and each year, on average, his office deals with about fourteen thousand deaths. Sometimes the bodies are bones or even bone fragments. Murphy and other staff members work hard to identify the unknown dead that turn up in his jurisdiction because, as he puts it, “they’re all somebody’s children.”
In the case mentioned earlier, number 80-01221, the victim died as the result of a homicide. Five feet, two inches tall and 103 pounds at her death, the girl had fair skin, red hair, and green eyes, as well as a tattoo of the letter
on her right forearm. Her body was found on October 5, 1980, with lacerations to her scalp and puncture wounds on her back. She wore no clothes.
The coroner estimates her age at somewhere between fourteen and twenty years. I chose her from among the many who fill the Web site’s pages because I found it hard to understand how this girl could remain unidentified and unclaimed for three decades. Someone, somewhere, misses this young woman, but until very recently there was no organized method of sharing this information with the public, law enforcement, or even other medical examiners. Today that is changing: coroners and medical examiners across the nation are not only posting the likenesses and descriptions of unidentified bodies that are found in their jurisdictions, but they are also taking part in a new initiative designed to link civilian and official resources in an effort to identify the more than forty thousand bodies retained by authorities that remain unclaimed in this country.