Missing persons cases complex
JIM FABER and TIM DONNELLY
Published Saturday, March 8, 2008
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Missing persons investigations -- like the ongoing effort to find vanished Hilton Head Island couple John and Elizabeth Calvert -- are tricky.
First, there are a number of possible outcomes, ranging from someone who doesn't want to be found to abduction to murder.
Second, there rarely are witnesses and no single definitive crime scene, law enforcement experts said.
"To be honest, missing persons are one of the most difficult investigations there are," said Maj. William Forbes, of the Independence, Mo., Police Department, a police academy and university instructor and author of the upcoming textbook "The Investigation of Crime."
Authorities have given no indication that a crime was involved in the disappearance of the Calverts and haven't said whether they think the couple is alive. But they have said they're covering every angle.
Missing persons investigations begin when law enforcement retraces the victim's steps, talking to family, friends, work associates and anyonewho might have seen the missing person.
"The most important thing that happens is who is going to do the interviews and interrogations and who can give the law enforcement community the best possible information," said Thomas Martin, president of Martin Investigative Services in Newport Beach, Calif., and a retired Drug Enforcement Agency agent.
Learning the habits of the missing person opens avenues to follow. It also helps determine whether the person vanished because of criminal activity, which helps police decide how seriously to treat the case, Martin said.
Missing persons cases in Beaufort County aren't rare, but it is rare when the missing aren't found, said Lt. Col. Neil Baxley of the county sheriff's office.
In some instances, a person simply doesn't tell anyone where he or she is going. In others, the missing person returns and may not have realized he or she had been reported missing, he said.
A few years ago, a girl reported missing in Beaufort County later turned up touring with the Grateful Dead, Baxley said.
"She was selling T-shirts," he said.
Technology such as cell phones and GPS in cars has given investigators yet another way to locate missing persons.
In the Calverts' case, both the car locator system and their cell phones were turned off.
And while evidence-sniffing police dogs searched the Harbour Town Yacht Basin on Thursday and the Sheriff's Office plans to search the water with a dive team today, those moves don't mean the investigation is being conducted as a homicide case, said Forbes.
Authorities work all possible outcomes simultaneously, he said.
"You have to be really careful about closing your mind to any avenue," Forbes said.
Ultimately, each case is different.
A missing juvenile might be treated as a runaway while an older person might have wandered off from an Alzheimer's facility, said Bobbi Schlatterer, special agent and public information officer for the S.C. Law Enforcement Division.
In investigations, law enforcement focuses on looking for children, the sick and elderly, or people who are unlikely to simply vanish, experts say. The Calverts, both business leaders and respected members of the community, fall into that last category.
Some people even choose to go missing, although that's highly unusual.
"Some people just don't want to be found," Forbes said. "Everyone has a right to do that."
Unsolved local disappearances
A handful of disappearances in Beaufort County are still unsolved, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office:
Kristina Joanne Porco, 16, vanished from Hilton Head on Nov. 29, 1986, following an argument with her family. Foul play is suspected.
Paul Leonard Baker, 3, has been missing from Beaufort since March 5, 1987. His mother was later convicted of beating his sister, and was charged with beating Paul, according to the sheriff's office. She was not charged in Paul's disappearance.
April Irene Vik, 37, was last seen barefoot, bleeding and terrified on Sept. 12, 1991, at an island church. She wanted cardboard to make a sign to hitchhike off the island, according to the sheriff's office.
Kaye Francis Reid Hamilton, 37, was last seen at her home in the Jenkins Road area of U.S. 17 in Yemassee on Nov. 9, 1995. Her bank accounts have been inactive since she vanished and a required prescription medicinenot renewed, according to the sheriff's office.