Missing Persons Investigation

People sometimes go missing voluntarily. It is important to remember that our loved ones have a right to leave their lives behind, and that they can always come back.

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Missing persons investigators rely on various types of resources to find missing people. These may include paying informants and searching online and public databases.

Background

When someone you know disappears, it is a very serious matter. People can be missing voluntarily or involuntary, but the most important thing is that they are reported as soon as possible so that an investigation can be launched. The more time passes, the less likely it is that a person will be found alive.

Missing persons investigations are complex. In addition to identifying the person, investigators must also determine what happened to them. This involves looking at all possibilities of what could have happened, from abduction to homicide. In the case of a suspected abduction, police may have to follow a suspect, or they may need to find evidence that a crime has been committed.

While research on non-criminal disappearances is abundant, there is relatively little knowledge on criminal disappearances. This study explores the circumstances surrounding criminal disappearances in order to identify subtypes and to inform police practice. The analysis was conducted in a victimological framework, which is appropriate given the current emphasis on action victimology.

This study identified several missing person subtypes including runaways, fugitives, pushaways and others. This is in contrast to previous studies that have classified these cases into a single group, such as Payne’s (1995) theoretical classification. This new typology is an important contribution to the field because it allows for more specific classifications of missing person cases.

Identifying the Missing Person

Identifying missing persons, alive or dead, is essential to many investigations and has important consequences: It helps resolve criminal cases; provides vital statistics; satisfies the humanitarian needs of families, who are often desperate to know the fate of their loved ones; contributes to prevention; and lays the groundwork for other activities such as family reunification and community reconciliation. Therefore, it is imperative that forensic identification is carried out according to strict scientific standards.

In contexts where the search for and identification of missing persons occur in open population events, the identification process is complex and involves a number of steps. The identification process requires an adequate collection of information that must be centralized, consolidated and adequately analysed. This information should form a minimum case file (MP) for the missing person, which includes medical and social data, and which is to be compared against information on unidentified persons (UPD).

It is important that the MP case file is clearly differentiated from a database of persons reported as deceased. This is critical in order to prevent duplication of cases. In addition, each missing person should be assigned a unique file number. This ensures that each person has his/her own MP, avoids confusion due to misspelling of names and allows for effective communication and professional management of all associated files.

Searching for the Missing Person

Many family members and friends have a strong desire to locate the missing person and know their fate and whereabouts. They often undertake a great deal of research on their own, especially when several years have passed since the disappearance. This can lead to information regarding other missing persons, locations of grave sites, and more. It is important to record this information and pass it along to investigators.

Another important step is to get the local media involved. This can help raise awareness across a larger geographic area more quickly. Contact your local television network, papers, online news outlets, and even blogs that receive a lot of traffic in the area. Share photos, clues, and information with them, and ask if they can run a story. The more people that know the missing person is missing, the greater your chances of finding them.

Additionally, it is important to check hospitals and clinics in the area where the individual was last seen. Many patients are admitted without a form of identification, and in some cases the family may be able to provide a description that will help identify the patient. It is also a good idea to check with local jails and prisons, as they can often tell you the location of missing persons who have been arrested.

Finding the Missing Person

Once a missing person report has been filed police will start to actively search for the person in question. Depending on the circumstances, this may include a physical search by people on foot, search dogs, helicopters or other specialist equipment. In some cases, a ‘hasty’ search is carried out to quickly check local areas and this may then be followed or replaced by a more structured search operation.

It is important that families remain in contact with police and keep them informed of any information they might have. Families should be given a single point of contact at the police and this person should be able to update them regularly as they are able to do so.

If the missing person is known to use social media, it is advisable to thoroughly review their accounts. This is to ensure that no clues are missed. Also, it is a good idea to reach out to their friends to ask about any activity that might be of interest.

Another useful place to check is hospitals and clinics in a local area. Often the person may be admitted to the hospital as an unidentified patient and this will provide vital clues as to their whereabouts. Also, if your missing person has any criminal records, check the jails and prisons in the area to see if they are currently incarcerated. At North American Investigations, we have helped many clients reconnect with children, lovers and relatives who have been missing for up to fifty years!