MISSING -- One word that conjures up a dark cesspool of fear and grief. The glimpse of a child’s face on a milk carton. The artist’s rendering of what that person might look like now, years after he or she has gone missing. We gaze, and can barely bring ourselves to imagine the suffering caused by the disappearance of a loved one.
In A Broth of Betrayal, an important person in the town of Snowflake goes missing. I hoped to portray the search for this woman as authentically as possible. What would happen in a small village if someone simply disappeared? How long would it take the police to act? What law enforcement services would be called in? State police? FBI? I was sure all of the above, but I still wanted to do some research. Since the town of Snowflake is in Vermont, I decided to start by trolling websites related to missing Vermonters.
In the last century, thousands of Vermonters have gone missing. The cases range from those quickly solved to years long mysteries. If that missing person is an adult, there may be other reasons he or she has disappeared -- an effort to avoid creditors or to escape an abusive relationship. Perhaps that person is incapable of taking care of himself. He or she might be on the run from the law or even suffering a nervous breakdown -- an irresistible urge to run away.
Local police are the first responders to a report of a missing person and, contrary to what one might believe, an individual does not have to be missing for 24 hours before an investigation can be initiated. Law enforcement authorities are well aware the first 48 hours are critical. Local police are also required by law to enter the name of the missing person in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database within two hours.
After 9/11 the Vermont Fusion Center (VFC) was created along with 72 other centers around the country under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security. (http://www.dhs.gov/fusion-center-locations-and-contact-information) Their goal is to aid federal and state law enforcement agencies and to expedite information sharing. The Center is staffed by state police who focus on crime and unsolved disappearances, and are responsible for activating the Amber Alert system in the case of a child abduction. The staff of the Center may initiate searches on social media sites and, with a subpoena, access financial and cellphone records.
Once an individual has been missing for seven days, local police are strongly encouraged to enter the individual’s data in the NamUs system and begin gathering DNA samples, dental records and other identifying information from family and friends. Even if foul play is not suspected, the material should be preserved in case it is needed at a later date.
The NamUs website, which is free and accessible to the public, was created in 2007 and is maintained by the National Institute of Justice. (https://www.findthemissing.org/en) NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, is designed to match the DNA of missing persons to the tens of thousands of unidentified human remains found nationwide.
Often there are discrepancies between State Police records and the NamUs website. For various reasons, all the unaccounted-for are not always listed in the federal database. In evaluating a case, local law enforcement may not believe that urgent action is required – for example, a teen who has run away from home repeatedly. A local police force may have limited resources to deal with the investigation. In addition, the NamUs website, which asks for a large amount of information, may be overwhelming to overworked police officers. Even though entry in the NCIC database is required by law, there is no legal mandate that Vermont police use the NamUs database.
There are many retired law enforcement personnel and private citizens who devote themselves to identifying the missing. One such is the Doe Network, volunteer online sleuths working to assist law enforcement in matching missing persons with unidentified remains. Their website displays appropriate images of remains and descriptions of personal items found with the victims. Their artists create reconstructions of how the victim may have appeared in life. (www.doenetwork.org/) Their mission statement is: “. . . to give the nameless back their names and return the missing to their families. . .” Created in 2001, the Doe network has been active for the past twelve years and is credited with more that 66 solves and lists 297 closed cases since the network’s inception.
While Vermonters may be missing for weeks, months or years, they are not forgotten. After the disappearance of 17 year old, Brianna Maitland in 2004, a crucial policy was instituted: Every missing person in Vermont is now assigned a state trooper who serves as a liaison with family members to keep them apprised of any developments.
Following are just two of the many cases that remain unsolved:
Marble Arvidson: Seventeen year old Marble Arvidson went missing the day before Tropical Storm Irene swept through Vermont – August 27, 2011.
When the floodwaters finally receded, Marble had not returned home. That afternoon, he answered a knock on the door and left the house. Before leaving, he left a note to say he’d return in a few minutes. He never returned. For more details, visit findmarble.org. Anyone with information should call the family’s tip line at (802) 257-9111 or the Brattleboro Police Department at (802) 257-7946, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A much older story is that of Grace Reapp and her daughter Gracie, missing since June 6, 1978 from Jericho, Vermont.
At the time of her disappearance Grace was 32 years old, her daughter was 5. Grace Reapp reportedly left a note stating that she and her 5-year-old daughter, Gracie, had left their home for good. She left behind her two sons, ages 7 and 11. Ten days after her disappearance, her husband, Michael filed for divorce, later marrying the couple’s babysitter. The police reopened the Reapps’ missing persons cases in 1987 and reclassified them as homicides in 1995.
In 1996, Reapp, living in Florida at the time, walked out of his life when he learned police were searching his former home in Jericho for the remains of his wife and daughter. In January 1997, in Yuma, Arizona, he kidnapped a man at gunpoint, stole his money and car, and was pursued by police in a high-speed chase. Forced to pull over, he shot himself in the head. Without an ID, he remained unidentified for over thirteen years. Finally, in 2003, that John Doe was identified as Michael Reapp.
Since 1978, twenty-five searches of the Reapps’ ten acre former Jericho home have been conducted, and authorities believe Grace and Gracie’s remains could still be on the property. For more information: http://www.julianawoodworth.com/grace/grace.html.
I had planned to include Lorraine and Bill Currier, a more recent case, in this list, but just learned from Melissa, the host of this blog, that this case has been solved:
Lorraine and Bill Currier: Husband and wife were last seen on June 8, 2011 at their home. Evidence at the home and the police investigation suggest they did not go missing voluntarily.
Update: Israel Keyes, a 34 year old serial killer, arrested for a murder in Alaska, confessed to five other slayings in different states, in addition to the murder of the Curriers. Keyes committed suicide in his jail cell shortly after his arrest. More information here: http://bo.st/YtUQyr.
If this subject interests any reader or if anyone should have information about a missing person, please visit some of the following websites:
Visit her website and blog at http://www.conniearchermysteries.com