11/8/2007 3:00:00 PM
Tour calls attention to missing persons
Courier Staff Writer
On Oct. 17, 2000, 40-year-old singer-songwriter Gina Bos disappeared after playing at a local pub in Lincoln, Neb. A mother of three, Gina's car was found across the street from the pub with her guitar in the trunk. She has not been seen or heard from since.
On Aug. 26, 1995, 23-year-old Heather Teague was lying in the sun on a beach in Spottsville, Ky. When a witness says a man appeared from behind her, jerked her up by her hair and drug her into the woods. She has not been seen or heard from since.
On Sept. 3, 2006, 44-year-old Walter Smith, Jr. was last seen at his home in Edinburgh. His black, 2000 Daewoo Laganza was located abandoned two months later on the north side of Franklin. He has not been seen or heard from since.
And the list goes on and on. According to the FBI, tens of thousands of people vanish under suspicious circumstances each year, and there are as many as 100,000 active missing-persons cases daily.
As time goes by and the leads on a missing person fade, law enforcement officials eventually deem them cold cases. But for the families and friends, the unknown of what has happened to their loved one is a constant ache, and their strength and resilience spur them to continue their quest for answers by banding together with other families to find the missing and find creative outlets in doing so.
One such nonprofit organization is www.411Gina.org. Founded in 2001 by Gina Bos' sister, Jannel Rap, the mission of the organization is to bring together musicians and media through what has become known as The Squeaky Wheel Tour.
"After my sister disappeared, I got very depressed for some time. One night I went to bed and sat up in the morning and thought, 'We need to get news attention about this. We need to make some noise,'" Rap said. "I knew Gina was pushing me to do this, and I couldn't look at her kids and not do something about it. It was as if God told me what to do, too. I never knew what faith was until she disappeared."
So that's what Rap did. She made some noise. Continually calling the detectives working on Gina's case, Rap made her voice heard because Gina's could not be, she said.
With the inception of the Squeaky Wheel Tour, Rap, who is a member of the tour's headliner band Clementine, said her hope is to bring media attention to missing people whose circumstances surrounding their disappearance are not deemed "lurid" or "dramatic" enough to receive national attention.
The concert tour is held annually, and this year it played 19 shows across the country, including one that generated a packed house at the Electric Lady in Madison. As with each show, fliers with the faces and details of local missing persons are laid out on tables and displayed on posters for those in attendance to see.
Molly Dattilo, who grew up in Madison and who disappeared in Indianapolis on July 6, 2004, was one of several missing persons from the surrounding area whose disappearance was highlighted.
Last year, the tour brought home 10 people, including a boy who had run away from his home in Indiana and was living in New York City.
The missing boy attended the concert in New York and saw his face on the CD cover as one that was missing. He realized his parents did care and were looking for him, so he contacted his parents after the show.
The show in Madison brought out many relatives from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky whose loved ones are missing.
Two women in attendance, whose daughters disappeared in separate states, share a heartbreaking similarity. Although the two men responsible for their daughters' deaths were convicted and given lengthy prison sentences based on circumstantial evidence, they refuse to tell these mothers where their daughters remains are, leaving them without closure.
Patti Bishop's stepdaughter Karen Jo Smith, 35, disappeared from Indianapolis on Dec. 27, 2000. Smith divorced Steven D. Halcomb after a volatile, abusive relationship. Halcomb was convicted and sentenced to 95 years in prison for the murder of Smith, but her remains have not been found and Halcomb isn't talking.
"He has a narcissistic personality, and I don't know if he'll ever tell us where she is, but we will never stop searching for her," Bishop said.
Bishop is now heavily involved in domestic violence awareness and is a volunteer for TeamHOPE, a support network for families of missing children and adults. In 2001, after contacting Rap, she helped organize the first Squeaky Wheel Tour to be held in Indiana.
"It's a passion of mine now. You never realize that in a split second someone you love and cherish will disappear from your life. We will never let other families give up hope," Bishop said.
On Aug. 28, 1996, 22-year-old Carrie Culberson disappeared from Wilmington, Ohio. Culberson's abusive ex-boyfriend, Vincent Doan, was convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for her murder. Her remains have not been found. At Doan's sentencing, Carrie's mother, Debbie Culberson, urged Doan to tell her where her daughter's body could be found, but her pleas were met with silence.
"We have told him that if he would tell us where Carrie is, we would agree to a sentence reduction, but he has so far refused," Culberson said. "I and my daughter have been robbed of the natural grieving process that comes with losing a loved one because of this. Some people say our bodies are just a vessel, but it's that physical bond that we need to have closure."
She has since channeled her grief and frustration by working with Congressman Steve Chabot to get legislation passed that would require mandated testing of any unidentified dead and a national repository for these test results for all states to be able to access.
This week the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs demonstrated the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUS, that the department had announced it was setting up in July. NamUs is a national database for matching unidentified human remains with records of missing persons. Ultimately, medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials, forensic professionals and the public will be able to use the database to search and match missing persons records and information about unidentified human remains.
The Office of Justice Programs' Bureau of Justice Statistics found that on average, 4,400 unidentified human bodies are received in medical examiners' and coroners' offices each year, and about 1,000 remain unidentified after a year.
The database is at www.namus.gov.
Culberson said she feels guilt for her other daughter for what she said is the "Left Behind Children" syndrome.
"I was there for her physical needs when she was growing up, but I was so absorbed in the trial and finding Carrie that she not only lost her sister, she lost me, and sadly, that has put a strain on our relationship," Culberson said.
The grassroots organizations are a monumental aid to those who want to spread the word of a missing loved one or to console those who have or are experiencing the agony of the unknown that some say is indescribable unless someone has gone through it.
But they know their work is not done. With each passing day, another flier with the photo of a missing son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father or other relative is posted in a neighborhood.
"Some people say to me, 'It's been years since your daughter disappeared. Maybe it's time you let it go and moved on with your life,'" Sarah Teague, the mother of Heather Teague, said. "I tell them I will not rest until I have justice, but more importantly I will not stop searching, waiting, hoping and praying for a miracle. How can I? I am her mother."
For more on missing persons or to post information on a missing person, visit www.411Gina.org or www.teamhope.org.