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Missing
Persons
If you begin your police career working in
the type of neighborhoods that I did,
you're going to be taking a lot of missing
person reports.  Most of those missing
persons will be for adolescent children
who generally experience low levels of
parental supervision.

You'll find that the vast, vast majority of
reported missing persons aren't really
missing.  In large urban environments
where missing person reports are
plentiful, the most a police department
can do is develop and maintain a
comprehensive and efficient reporting
and follow-up procedure for missing
person reports.
In the example I just described, the
victim in that case could have remained a
missing person indefinitely.  His social
status, primarily of his own making,
placed him into a category of persons
who would not be missed by too many
people...if any.  The prostitute, who
located his grave, knew that fact well.  
While she had been the victim of
attempted murder, surviving only
through the efforts of some pretty top
notch emergency room doctors, no
efforts were made to investigate her
assault beyond the initial report; until,
she was contacted by members of my
squad.  There was even more irony.  She
had been assaulted within that very same
park.  Fortunately, her assault occurred
near the care taker's residence, and she
was able to reach the residence, before
she lost consciousness.  I'm sure she
thought about how long she would have
lain in that jungle like park before anyone
would have found her body.

It makes one wonder just how many
murder victims are still filed away as
missing persons.  There's plenty to be
sure, and that's why you must always
conduct a competent and thorough
investigation of every missing person
report you take.   
As a special operations lieutenant, one of
the squads under my command was
responsible for prostitution
enforcement.  The squad regularly
conducted operations where 20 to 30
prostitutes would be arrested in one
evening.  While the reason for the
arrests was prostitution, the real
purpose of the operations was to
conduct interviews of the prostitutes to
acquire information regarding serious
criminal activities.

On this occasion, one of the women
couldn't wait for her turn to be
interviewed.  She knew that the
information she possessed would be her
get of jail free card.  She walked up to an
officer, who was in conversation with
another officer, and tugged on his shirt
sleeve.  The officer turned to her and
directed her to return to her seat.  As he
turned back toward the other officer, the
woman tugged on his sleeve again.  This
time, before he could say anything, the
woman stated, "You don't understand.  I
know where there's a body."

This woman had quite a story.  Several
days earlier she was inside a house with a
number of other people.  She described
how she witnessed four men beat
another man to death.  Her description of
the events became even more graphic
when she described how the suspects
placed the victim's naked corpse into a
bathtub filled with scalding hot water in
an effort to make the victim
unidentifiable.  She described how the
victim's skin came off his corpse and
congealed around the edges of the tub.

While our prostitute could not give us
the current exact location of the body,
she did provide the location where the
suspects carried the corpse, along with
shovels, into a city park which had a
notorious reputation as a final
destination for murder victims.

It didn't take long for us to identify the
victim and the four suspects.  Sure
enough, there was a missing person
report on file for the victim.  Earlier that
same day, an officer had returned to the
victim's resident where he filed a
follow-up report indicating that there was
no additional information regarding the
missing person.  In effect, we went
directly from a routine missing person
incident to a murder which we solved
even before we had a body.

A K-9 search of the park, or that area of
the park identified by our witness, was
conducted the same night without finding
the body.  It was decided that Homicide
detectives and K-9 would return at
daylight to conduct a more extensive
search.  However, just after daybreak, a
second prostitute, not one of those
arrested the night before, called police.  
She led officers into the park to a shallow
grave that contained a naked man
disfigured as described by our witness.

To me, the most interesting part of this
incident was the second prostitute.  
Exactly one year earlier she had been the
victim of a horribly brutal assault by two
men who solicited her for prostitution.  
While we had never arrested her, we
interviewed her several times, because we
believed the suspects who assaulted her
were responsible for other assaults on
prostitutes.  It just goes to show you
that when you treat all victims as victims,
some will appreciate your efforts, and, in
some cases, they will return the favor.
Just because you may experience missing
person reports on a routine basis
doesn't lessen the importance of each
and every report you receive.  Out of the
hundreds of reports I took as a patrol
officer, none were abduction victims.  
However, I did pull a lot of kids out of
places they shouldn't have been.  In the
case of girls, many were involved in
sexual relationships with older men in
violation of statutory sexual assault laws.

When you respond to a report of a
missing person, you're going to run into
all sorts of reporting persons.  Some will
show little concern, and they'll treat the
reports as something they're just
supposed to do.  This circumstance is
common in households where people,
particularly children, frequently leave
home for extended periods of time.  Of
course, others will be extremely
concerned, even distraught, over the
unknown whereabouts of a loved one.

If you develop any information during
your interview on which you can act, you
act on that information.  However, most
of the time, the reporting person has
already done the usual investigation by
contacting acquaintances and checking
locations.  In the case of those repeat
reporting persons, they'll be familiar with,
and understanding of, your limitations in
assisting them when no evidence exists
to indicate that the missing person's
absence is other than voluntary.

When you encounter those reporting
persons and family members who are
obviously distressed, you have to take
the time to explain that family members
and friends of the missing person are the
best investigators for the initial
development of information simply
because they're already familiar with
many aspects of the missing person's
personality, habits, and lifestyle.  You'll
also stress that police will always be
available to them for advice or physical
assistance when any credible information
is developed on which you can act.

Your department will have written
procedures for handling missing person
incidents.  For example, when the
missing person is a small child, infant, or
an elderly person with a life threatening
medical condition, you'll initiate immediate
and active police assistance as outlined in
your procedure.  While these
circumstances are pretty common sense
stuff, you should make yourself
thoroughly familiar with all your
department's published procedures.  
Never take anything for granted.  A
seemingly routine missing person incident
can turn into just about anything...even
murder.
"Just because you may experience
missing person reports on a routine
basis doesn't lessen the importance
of each and every report you receive."
~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2017  Barry M. Baker  
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