On September 6th, 1992, while looking for shelter against the oncoming Alaskan night, a hunter stepped into an abandoned school bus and discovered the body of Christopher McCandless. He (McCandless) would come to fame after his death in an Outside Magazine article penned by Jon Krakauer, followed by his book “Into the Wild”.
While McCandless’ story evoked the interest of the world because it was something seen as unique, the reality is that every year hundreds of seemingly normal, or in many cases people of above average intelligence simply disappear. It can be a difficult concept to grasp. Especially for loved ones. No one wants to believe that a family member can simply walk away from what is perceived as “normal” life and, that something nefarious must have happened to them. It’s a reasonable line of thought and one no investigator ever rules out. We know that when children go missing that the act is almost never voluntary. There are of course, kids who runaway from home but, in almost every case they turn up within a day or two at a friend or relative’s home. When children disappear altogether we know it’s at the hands of someone with evil intent.
Adults, however, can, and are frequently a different matter.
In some cases it’s both.
In the summer of 2011 I was called I was called into locate and, if possible retrieve a young man, who much like Christopher McCandless, or inspired by him in one fashion or another, decided one day to walk away from his Senior year at Mizzou, in Columbia, Missouri. In December 2010, his vehicle was found abandoned and, after breaking into a home during a snow storm to find shelter, he was arrested by the local police. When the home owner, who was out of town during the incident, declined to press charges, the police released him the next morning. It was the last known verifiable track his family had on him.
By June, when I was contacted by another investigation firm for my experience in missing adults, there was not much of a trail to go on. There were numerous rumors. One of which being that he had fallen in with a cult-like group. By the time all was said and, done, the young man’s head was discovered in a creek bed. Whether he suffered a tragic accident or was murdered depends on who you ask.
Without question, for every family of a missing person, that is the worst case scenario.
The other problem we face when dealing with Clients who retain our firm to find a missing loved one, is a certain level of acceptance. The first often being that if the loved one is over 18, the “missing child” is no longer that and, with that the rules (and laws) are completely different. The Parents/Clients have a habit of referring to their adult sons and daughters, in these circumstances as children. Biologically speaking, the term child refers to a person aged between birth and puberty. Legally the term “child” acts as a line of demarcation, separating childhood from adulthood. The age of legal responsibility being eighteen.
On the surface it seems superfluous to point out such a basic cultural fact but, it bears significant legal importance. While our success rate in finding missing adults is over 80%.
There is a secondary problem that also exists.
What do you do with an adult who simply doesn’t want to go home?
It’s often hard to explain to a family, especially the one’s that for all intent and purposes are middle to upper middle class and stable why one of their own would simply walk away from their life one day out of the clear blue.
In every case I have ever worked that involved missing adults there were one of three factors in play. One was an underlying mental health issue, the second was some form of substance abuse or addiction. The third is the one clients have the hardest time believing. The missing person just wanted space.
In every case, it was any of those three, or a combination there of.
On the mild end of the spectrum are the individuals who found themselves sitting stagnant and, just wanted to “feel alive” again and almost everyone of them put it. In each case, all of them were on one type of depression medicine or another. In many cases there was also on going treatment for Bi-polar disorder.
In many other cases there was either burgeoning or untreated schizophrenia. These tend to be the toughest of all missing persons investigations because not only is there the problem of locating the individual but, once found they are often unreasonable to work with. The other problem, that I have discovered at least, is that the individuals who suffer from schizophrenia in many cases will range or,travel farther in a shorter period of time combined with an ability to adapt to living in squalor or homeless conditions.
Persons dealing with, what I think is best described as, excessive on board life problems, such as substance abuse or depression issues still hold to certain social standards. For instance, it’s not uncommon to finally find the person who has been missing and learn that they haven’t showered for a few days or had a decent night’s sleep. However, they are now more than willing to hear what we have to say in exchange of the night in a hotel room, with clean sheets and a hot shower.
Dealing with someone who may be suffering from schizophrenia requires a far more different approach. Often they are paranoid of anyone who is “looking for them”. Their beliefs can range from the fear that their family is going to have them locked away in a mental institution or, that it’s part of a government conspiracy to silence them. One must realize rather quickly, that if you are going to try an talk with someone who has been eating out of trash cans for two weeks, the straightforward approach isn’t likely going to work.
All of this brings on the bigger issue of rights.
Because, it can be heart breaking for a family to hear us say that it’s perfectly legal to be homeless. Many, if not most, families want us to assist them in getting forced or, court mandated “help” with involuntary holds. Their, hopes being that a seventy-two or ninety-six hour court ordered stay in a psychiatric facility becomes the ground work for seeking legal guardianship.
This is where things fall apart.
Once we locate their family member we lay out a course of action both long and short term in getting the person real help, and in almost every case we’ve dealt with the Client’s listen thoughtfully but, impatiently. I explain that the involuntary psychiatric hold, if even possible to attain, will not solve the problem. And in one to two weeks the family is right back to square one. Instead of listening to our hard won knowledge, they bite their tongue, wait till our meeting has concluded, then call the local police and, try to have them “arrested”.
Client’s are often surprised when they discover that after the police officers talk with their family member, and determine that they are not a “risk to themselves or others” simply let the individual walk away. Clients become angry at “the system” for failing them. They also now want to put our plan into action, failing to grasp why that plan is no longer viable.
Then there is the third problem.
The loved one who wants to stay missing once found.
We all have family and, we understand that each family brings it’s own troubles to bear in different capacities. We also understand that each member of the family deals with the family issues in an individual manner. It can be hard to explain to a client who is paying you, that their loved one sees family life as suffocating and, that the help they need is really space and support. We have found very unique and lasting solutions to these circumstances.
If your loved on has gone missing, we are your best chance for finding them and bringing them home.