Evidence 101

EVIDENCE 101...Wherever you go, there you are...



Friday, August 8, 2014

DUNKIN' Donuts

I am very honored to welcome a most exceptionally brilliant guest who goes by the moniker,  "Slam" from Slam Dunks. I have been a fan for many years and follow his blog. He doesn't need much introduction as some of you may know how fascinating his missing person posts and cold case reviews capture your attention. However, I don't know if you may know how much time and research he puts into these cases. Missing persons and cold cases are unsolved mysteries that often leave many unanswered questions for us in the background, but most importantly for those loved ones left behind. Please join The Boogie Man Is My Friend in welcoming my prestigious guest, Slam! And stay tuned in for a short series of posts to come on cold cases, missing persons, and lost investigations, and a book review on The Skeleton Crew.

I know you will find Slam as engaging in the world of "armchair" investigating as I do. He also likes to help people and does a great job in keeping an open mind and looking at all the possibilities.

Without further ado, please welcome Slam! Enjoy the ride...

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Howdy.

I have a confession to make.

I have always had lots to say, but as an introvert, remained quiet for the most part.

That is until I started blogging.

It is a great fit for me.

Actually, I started blogging five years ago to focus on three missing persons cases.

Two of those remain unsolved (Ray Gricar and Brianna Maitland), and sadly the third is now a cold case homicide after the missing man (Beau Ramsey) was found deceased.

I quickly learned that I could not maintain a blog solely on missing persons--the posts are time consuming in terms of research and the majority of my audience loses interest unless I offer a diversity of topics.

As such, I usually highlight one missing person case per week, and have two other offerings--which is ok, as it gives me a chance to write on a variety of topics including crime, policing, family, etc., or just make fun of myself (which I generate lots of material for).

So for today, Momma Fargo asked me: What attracts you to a missing person case?

Good question.

She specializes in those.

Rather than say a variety of characteristics, let me pick one.

A primary attractor?

When the person who has disappeared leaves behind an electronic footprint.

Social media sites, discussion boards, and websites can contain a wealth of information about the individual--and reading about them allows me to better understand the person as opposed to the filtered and/or opinionated pieces that are frequently included in the Internet news reports.

For instance, Kathleen "Beanie" McBroom disappeared in Alaska in 2008. There were a handful of local news reports on her case, but all pretty vanilla. Readers were left with only a limited understanding of Ms. McBroom's life.

But one resource was available that detailed quite a bit on her life: the missing woman was an avid blogger.

And, one of her most active writing months was just prior to vanishing. In total, she wrote over 300 posts about herself, her friends, family, job, stress, faith, etc. Her online presence contains a wealth of information--making it much easier for me to develop a series on her disappearance.

In contrast, sometimes the electronic footprint is disturbing. Lucas Prassas is a missing young man from Arkansas. Prior to disappearing, he had been in the hospital; getting help for mental health issues.

Searching online for information about Mr. Prassas, I saw indications of a depressed individual. A guy who at times seemed very angry. One who described himself as a "griefer"--or a person online who enjoys harassing others.

In at least one exchange, Mr. Prassas posted his home address online and challenged anyone with a problem to drop by and he would deal with them personally.

Now, a member of Mr. Prassas family has visited multiple places on the Web and described Lucas as a good person who was just going through a difficult time; and that certainly could be the case.

In any event, when someone like him goes missing, investigators have a variety of directions to turn for possible answers.

Voluntary disappearance?

Crime victim?

Who knows, but an open challenge with a listed home address posted by someone who vanished is something that would catch an investigator's attention.

Another example of Internet presence being useful in a missing persons case is that of Makayla Hallman of Springdale, Arkansas.

Reportedly, the 17-year old was last seen on July 1, 2014.  On her Facebook page for July 1 (her last entry), she posted an image of the envelope of a letter. It shows her home address and the current residence of her adult boyfriend--who is an inmate at the Washington County (AR) Detention Center.*

She had posted the same image a few weeks prior--again with her home address clearly visible.

The logical assumption is that she left voluntarily to be closer to her boyfriend, and the letter is meant to show her intentions.

But, that should not be the only theory that investigators explore. Looking closely at comments left on previous posts, it seemed like she had some unusual followers.

When she posted the envelope from her boyfriend, was it a proclamation of love?

Or, did Makayla Hoffman unwittingly announce where others could specifically find her?

I think this exemplifies what makes missing person commentary so useful. Not that myself or anyone else is expecting to "solve the case" by looking at social media, but it can mean contributing something useful to an investigation.

In sum, a missing person's electronic footprint often provides a wealth of information about the individual, and sometimes contains nuggets waiting for the diligent researcher to mine.

A big thanks to Momma Fargo for allowing me to guest post today.

And, have you read her books yet?

I have--they are worth your time!

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*Post Note: After writing this, I see that Makayla Hallman began posting to her FB account again (as of 8/6), but she is still listed by authorities as missing. Glad she appears to have reappeared and is safe. I will be notifying the investigating agency to see if they will be updating her status. 


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Thanks so much for being my guest, Slam, and for the book plug.   ;)    Please check out more missing person posts, cold cases, investigations of the strange and unusual kind, mysteries,  humor, and most importantly his brilliant and insightful investigative thoughts...along with daily happenings on his blog! 

18 comments:

Momma Fargo said...

Thank you for being my guest, Slam! I do enjoy so much your wonderful posts and your inquisitive mind diving into cold cases. And Happy Anniversary to you and the missus!

Momma Fargo said...

Slam-A question I have. Do you find that young persons leave more of an electronic footprint because of the technology age or is it situational to each individual and not age specific? Also do you find more women or more men are apt to leave an electronic footprint. I know mine are Sasquatch size.

Momma Fargo said...

That was two questions and I apologize for the lack of question mark on the second. I guess what I am asking you also is to profile an average stereotype in these situations if you can.

Fire Pup said...

Do you find that the persona that some people post online, via a blog, or FB, etc, are totally different a lot of the time than actual reality? How do you parse that out?

Tennessee Grammie said...

Welcome Slam! Very interesting topic to this laywoman. As a retired Banker I was wondering if you also have availability to follow the missing person's financial trail if they are an adult? And if you do, has it been the door to solving a case?

Old NFO said...

Very interesting, thanks!

Slamdunk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Slamdunk said...

Thank you for the questions and kind words all.

@ MF: Speaking in generalities: females are more consistent social media users than males, those with more education/a higher income level use more frequently over those with less, and certainly younger persons over older--as technology is a much more an integrated part of the teenager/young adult's life (though income is not the best factor to use as it can be misleading).

There is quite a bit of research on how women and men use social networking differently (like men use it often for dating--haha), and that can give you some clues as to where you are most likely to find information on an individual.

Despite the information on generalities, I am often surprised to find individuals who do not seem to fit the typical user profiles who are actually very active on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever.

Slamdunk said...

@Fire Pup: Good insight. In general, I do not think that most Internet users (including the majority who are law abiding) maintain a consistent separate online persona.

Unfortunately with a portion of the missing persons cases, it is common to see folks who have more than one identity online (they may have criminal backgrounds, substance abuse issues, etc.). Sometimes it is simply for protection--they don't want employers or family identifying them and their activities. Other times, it is for less than admirable reasons.

Each researcher has tricks for data mining on people. With my own work, I try to error on the cautious side. If I am not near positive that the two online personalities are the same person (and can support it), I won't publish it. So to answer your question--I have strong evidence to connect an individual's online personas before I run with it.

Regulars at sites like Reddit and similar places online are very skilled at finding and then publishing information on these hidden identities. WIth their technical search skills, they have flushed more than one politician with an alternate user name out of hiding.

I try to remember that authorities investigating the case will always no much more than is released to the public and available to be found online. When I get a chance to speak to students studying investigation, I try to emphasize fully using the information that the techies uncover with the warranted technology searches (it is much easier for authorities to identify user activity than me sitting in a chair 500 miles away from the case).

@TennesseeGrammie: No, I am not a private investigator so I only use free search tools. In several of the cases, I have worked, FOIA requests were made to learn more about an individuals finances, but I have not taken that route myself.

I do have friends who love some of the paid for services that focus on individual and business finances though. There is one research company based in Florida that allows users to search for a variety of characteristics involving an individual--and as you surmised, following someone's financial trail has closed many missing persons cases.

Miranda Hardy said...

Very interesting factors to research on missing cases. It's the details that spark the analyst in me, and the stories that spark the creativity.

Pat Hatt said...

Online presence can say a lot indeed, as you follow the trail. always great at tracking them down at your sea. What? Online personnas are the same in real life too? So I'm really a cat? how about that? lol

Bijoux said...

Fascinating reading, as always, SD.

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

Great guest post! Enjoy the Spy Museum - it's one of our favorites :-)

Gail Dixon said...

A wonderful and thought-provoking post! Glad to find you writing over here; a new blog to visit! Hope you have a great vacay, Slam.

Brian Miller said...

i think too there is hope in a missing persons case....and so much relief too in finding the unknown...to being settled and not always questioning...the electronic signature is interesting...and i imagine a more modern phenomena

Bob G. said...

Momma Fargo:
Slamdunk is a very good blogger.
He "gets it".

To Slamdunk:
Always a good take on missing people...lots of research into the cold cases.
Keep on keepin' on.

Stay safe

Tara Tyler R said...

great guest post!
intriguing cases - very helpful for my research, thank you!!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

First, LOVE Slam dunk and his blog. He's always got interesting info to share with his readers. And his family posts always make me laugh.

The one about the 17 yo is scary. She's the kind of individual stalkers love. That is the ones who make it easy for stalkers to commit their crimes.