FINDING THE MISSING Most people who disappear are found quickly

Friday, November 1, 2002

When adults go missing, most of the time they are found quickly. In rare cases, they go missing for months or years.

Last year, approximately 70 adults were reported missing in Cape Girardeau County, according to Jackson and Cape Girardeau police and the sheriff's department. That number is consistent with the totals for the last several years, officers say.

Forty-five adults were reported missing in Cape Girardeau in 2001. So far this year the total has climbed to 51. Within the last month, at least six adults went missing in the city. Each of those reported missing between Nov. 6 and Dec. 4 have been found, said patrolman Jason Selzer.

Of all the reports from 2001 and this year, the only person still missing is 34-year-old Clinton Anderson, who police say walked away from Parkwood Manor, a residential care facility in January. Investigators believe he may have headed to Florida based on conversations he had with others at the home, Selzer said.

The exact number of reports made before 2001 were unavailable for the city, Selzer said, because some reports did not transfer accurately during a computer software change the department underwent two years ago.

Jackson police received 11 missing persons reports this year, which included some children but not juvenile runaways because they are a classified differently, said Lt. James Humphreys. That total equals last's year's 11 reports. The department received eight reports in 2000, seven in 1999 and 16 in 1998.

"None of the reports included any foul play," he said. "All of them were recovered. Some were elderly persons who walked away from a nursing home or kids who didn't return home from school and their parents didn't know where they were."

Most reports have quick resolutions, said Lt. David James of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department. The county receives less than five reports a month, with most being juveniles.

"Typically, our missing persons don't remain missing for very long," he said. "They'll come home after a couple of days or call their family or a friend. Some of them were involved in a domestic dispute and, for whatever reason, just felt they needed to get away for a while."

Two active cases

The sheriff's department has two active cases, Linda Crites of Jackson, who disappeared from her home under mysterious circumstances in 1983, and Harry Stafford, who walked away from an adult halfway house in 1990. Crites' disappearance is still being investigated as a possible homicide, though no body was ever found, James said.

The sheriff's department usually waits 24 hours before taking a report on a missing adult, unless circumstances dictate possible foul play, said Lt. James.

Jackson police will "generally" take a report no matter whether 24 hours has passed, Humphreys said. Such immediacy is also in place at Cape Girardeau, Selzer said.

"We always take the report to be on the safe side -- that 24 hours thing is a myth," Selzer said.

200,000 a year in U.S.

More than 200,000 adults were reported missing in the United States last year, according to the FBI. A 2002 report from the National Crime Information Center said approximately 40,000 adult cases are still active.

Recent federal decisions may bring more light to the issue. Congress passed a bill in 2000 to set up a national information clearinghouse for missing adults. On July 10, the U.S. Department of Justice released $1.75 million to finance this law, named the Kristen Act for Kristen Modafferi, an 18-year-old North Carolina college student who disappeared in 1997.

Most of the money, $1.58 million, was awarded to the Nation's Missing Children Organization and Center for Missing Adults in Phoenix, Ariz. The rest will be divided among state efforts to find missing adults. The center plans to create a registry of missing adults accessible to the public and to develop training for law enforcement.

Southeast Missouri law enforcement and media will meet Dec. 17 at the Holiday Inn in Cape Girardeau to develop a regional plan to be better prepared for instances of missing children and adults, James said. Earlier this year, the sheriff's department received a Lost Child Alert Technology Resource, or LOCATER, computer system. It can be activated at any time and helps officers create posters quickly and post them on the Internet. Congress provided $5 million to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to distribute the computers and software.

Some disappear on purpose

A common theory shared by many is that adults become missing for one of two reasons -- they either want to disappear or have fallen victim to foul play or an accident.

"Some people, except in the eyes of those looking for them, aren't really missing at all," said John Clifton of Cape Girardeau. "They just don't want to be found. Those are by far the most difficult ones to locate."

Clifton, a private investigator since 1989 and a former officer with the sheriff's department and Jackson police, said many people disappear to avoid family, legal or financial responsibilities. Their families turn to private agencies because law enforcement couldn't move fast enough for them, he said.

"We probably have some databases law enforcement do not have," Clifton said. "We can use databases that search by Social Security numbers, magazine subscriptions and credit card use."

Janis McCall of Springfield, Mo., has tried to use local law enforcement's assistance for the last decade in the search for her 18-year-old daughter, Staci McCall, and two other women who disappeared from Springfield, Mo., 10 years ago. Over the years, she has openly criticized the lack of assistance offered to families, ultimately left to search on their own.

"It's really a shame, but missing adults are not a priority with law enforcement," she said. "But you can't give up. You have to keep going until you find an answer. I still go at it one day at a time."

Her dismay at the lack of attention paid to missing adults prompted she and her husband, Stu, in 1994 to form One Missing Link, a not-for-profit agency to assist families looking for loved ones, no matter the age of the person missing or the circumstances for the disappearance.

However, Clifton was quick to defend the efforts of law enforcement.

"I think all law enforcement agencies are taking missing person cases much more seriously lately," he said. "With all that's going on these days, they have to take a closer look at it."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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