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
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
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
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
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 © 2019 Barry M. Baker