This blog, originally posted December 4, 2011, was updated January 3, 2012 and May 4, 2014. I added some additional information to the cases of Joseph Crater, Jeremy Bright and Wendy Camp. Please refer to those sections for the updates.
When you hear the words “missing person,” what—or who—comes immediately to mind? “Amber Alerts?” The faces of children on milk cartons? Soul Asylum’s famous 1992 music video for the song “Runaway Train”? These are the usual associations. Almost all of us, when confronted with the words “missing person,” think about missing children. Perhaps you can even name some famous missing children or young people: Natalee Holloway, Adam Walsh, Kyron Horman, Johnny Gosch, etc. This is certainly what I thought about. Then I discovered a website called The Charley Project, and I began to realize just how complex—and how huge—the problem of missing persons really is.
Hundreds of people disappear in the United States every year. The majority of them are adults. Very, very few of these cases ever attract any significant media attention. In fact, the media’s extremely selective attention to publicizing missing persons has given rise to a phenomena known as “Missing White Woman Syndrome.” Indeed, if you go missing, your chances of winding up on the news are vastly increased if you are a white woman under the age of 25, preferably blonde, like Natalee Holloway. Certainly if a child goes missing it’s crucial that an effort to publicize her or his disappearance should be made immediately. But, children aren’t the whole story. My personal belief is that the media’s obsessive focus on missing children creates the erroneous impression in the public’s mind that most missing persons cases are children, and that the cause of their disappearance is usually abduction by strangers. In fact, the truth is that adults go missing more often than children do, and there are seldom any easy explanations for why they disappear.
If you follow my Twitter you may have noticed that for about the last six weeks I’ve been posting a missing persons report, using the hashtag #disappeared, every day at 4PM. [Update: I now do these reports on a new account, CharleysMissing.] Each one of the links I post is a link to a report on Charley Project, which is a database of unsolved missing persons cases. At first this was a pretty low-key project, but lately I’ve begun to notice some of my followers becoming very interested in these cases. Consequently, I’ve decided to do two things. First, starting this week I’m adding a second daily #disappeared tweet. Second, I plan to do a series of blog entries periodically highlighting some of the more interesting and noteworthy cases that I’ve featured on my Twitter. This is the first article in that series.
Missing Since: March 2001
Featured on my Twitter 10/30/11
Jordan Hall’s case is a sad one. A young man, age 20, with a history of mental problems, he was released from a mental ward shortly before his disappearance. Charley Project sums up his case as follows:
“Hall was discharged from a New York hospital against the advice of his family members and social workers on March 19, 2001. He visited relatives for several days before returning to his residence in the 700 Block of Ashland Avenue in Buffalo, New York on March 23, 2001. Hall phoned his mother during the evening hours and asked her to bring him back to the hospital. He disappeared before she arrived at his home. Hall has never been heard from again.”
In May 2001, the Buffalo News ran an article on Hall’s disappearance, which highlights the impact that a missing relative has on their loved ones. The article states:
“Joan Hall and her husband, Bruce, fear the worst. They know what could have happened, especially after Jordan, just before he disappeared, told his mother about a failed suicide attempt…. The Halls have passed out hundreds of fliers; visited local soup kitchens, shelters, social clubs, colleges and neighborhoods he frequented; called local hospitals repeatedly; and lobbied to get their son listed in various missing persons’ files…. In searching for Jordan, his family has found something to cling to — the extraordinary generosity of workers and cli-ents in soup kitchens and shelters.
“I’m hoping that maybe somebody’s extending that same generosity to Jordan,” his mother said. “I don’t think he could be alive unless somebody were helping him.”
It is easy to dismiss such cases as being beyond hope. Curious about this case, I looked up Hall’s address—700 Ashland Avenue, Buffalo, NY—on Google Earth. There is a large body of water only a few blocks nearby. Certainly it’s possible that the young man was suicidal and might have jumped in the water, but we can never be sure. Surely the police investigated that possibility. If he’s dead, why hasn’t his body been found? If he’s alive, living under the care of someone else as his family hopes, why haven’t they contacted anyone?
These sorts of questions are disturbingly familiar in these cases. As the years go by leads get more and more scarce and activity on cold cases dwindles to nothing. But that doesn’t change the fact that this person is missing, and his family still needs closure. A happy ending to a case like this is entirely possible.
If you know anything about Jordan Hall’s disappearance, call the Buffalo Police at 716-851-4494.
Missing Since: August 1930
Featured on my Twitter 10/31/11
The case of Judge Crater is one of the most baffling disappearances in recorded history. Age 41, an associate justice on the New York Supreme Court, Crater, visiting New York City, had dinner with a friend at Billy Haas’s Chophouse on West 45th Street in Manhattan, then hailed a cab and vanished off the face of the earth. Supposedly he was headed to a Broadway show he had tickets for, but not only did he never arrive at the theater, but there were no records of taxicabs having picked him up. Judge Crater has never been seen again.
Unlike “Missing White Women,” the news media in 1930 did spend a tremendous amount of attention on Crater’s case. Suspicion focused on his supposed political corruption—he was connected to New York political machine Tammany Hall—and his financial dealings. Crater cashed $5,000 in checks the day of his disappearance. Later some strange papers were found among Crater’s effects, including what could have been a potential suicide note, but police thought this may have been planted after the fact.
Even more oddly, Crater was, at the time of his disappearance, having an affair with a woman named Sally Ritz, who herself vanished about a month after Crater did. No trace of her was ever discovered either. Charley Project has a file on her as well, although her case didn’t receive the same publicity as Crater’s did.
Theories abound on what happened to Judge Crater. The most prominent of them is that he was murdered by the Mafia, and then Ritz, having information about the killing, was killed too in order to silence her. Crater was declared legally dead in 1939. More than 80 years after the disappearance, it will probably never be solved, but Crater’s case will endure as one of the more puzzling vanishings of the twentieth century.
Update 3 January 2012
Since I wrote this blog I have done some additional research into the case of Judge Crater. In 2004 Richard J. Tofel published a book, Vanishing Point: The Disappearance of Judge Crater and the New York He Left Behind. I found the book a very absorbing and interesting history, but it offers little insight into the Crater case that hasn’t appeared elsewhere.
There does, however, appear to be some dispute as to whether Sally Lou Ritz, Crater’s dinner companion, disappeared as well. The Wikipedia article on Crater claims that she was alive in 1937. It cites as a source a 1937 Pennsylvania newspaper article. I haven’t seen a copy of this article yet, but I’m curious whether it checks out, so there may be a further update to this blog later on.
Missing Since: August 1986
Featured on my Twitter 11/1/11
I remember seeing a profile of Jeremy Bright on the old Lifetime TV show Unsolved Mysteries. That was about 1988, certainly no later than 1990. A quarter century after 14-year-old Jeremy Bright vanished from Myrtle Point, Oregon, there are still no leads in his case. The case made an impression on me because Bright was the same age I was at the time of his disappearance.
Bright was attending the Coos County Fair along with his sister. At about 9:30 PM on August 14, 1986, he saw his stepfather at a café and borrowed money from him. Bright was supposed to pick up his sister later that evening. No one ever saw him again.
The Unsolved Mysteries report, as I recall, detailed several rumors about what happened to Jeremy. A particularly horrific one was that he went with some rednecks who were conducting target practice with their guns and he was accidentally shot. The rednecks are rumored to have kept him locked in a basement, suffering from his wounds for two weeks before expiring, too afraid of punishment to admit what they did. As I recall (again, it’s been 20 years since I saw the segment) this rumor was not substantiated. Another rumor was that he drowned in the Coquille River, or was accidentally shot while swimming. These too have not been confirmed.
On August 14, 2011, the 25th anniversary of Bright’s disappearance, his family, now evidently believing he is dead, held a memorial service for him. I cannot imagine the crushing grief that this family must have gone through not knowing what happened to him. The police classify Bright’s case as a likely homicide.
Update 3 January 2012
I did a bit more looking into this case. The Unsolved Mysteries episode on Jeremy Bright was broadcast January 18, 1989. I found the segment from the show hosted on YouTube. I can’t vouch for the veracity of the information–I’m frankly a little skeptical of the television show, which also did numerous segments of paranormal activity, UFOs and other “woo” subjects–but there is at least a little more detail here, such as the finding of Jeremy’s wallet and keys at his house (interesting, if true). [May 2014: these videos are no longer available on YouTube.]
There is a Wiki site devoted to the show Unsolved Mysteries. I looked up Jeremy Bright on the wiki and found some follow-up information. Again, we cannot take this information at face value. It may be bogus. Nevertheless, this is rumored:
“Several people who would have had information on Jeremy’s fate have since died: Terry Steinhoff, who was with his cousin David, the person covered in blood, died of a drug overdose in prison in 2007 while serving for an unrelated murder. Around 1988, four of Jeremy’s friends died together in a car accident, and his friend Johnny died in January 2011. His stepfather, Orville Gulseth, died in 2003 at age 66.”
Missing Since: June 1965
Featured on my Twitter 11/8/11
Before I really began looking at missing persons cases I assumed that the vast majority of them were hopeless—if a person was missing a significant amount of time, you could safely assume that they were dead and there is little chance of finding out what happened. As I looked at the cases, though, I found this blanket assumption is not tenable in many cases. There are some cases—even decades old—where there is reasonable hope that the person is still alive and can be located.
Elizabeth Gill’s case is one of those. She was not quite three years old when she vanished from her family’s front yard in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. She was in the care of her older siblings at the time; Gill’s parents were in St. Louis. Although she has not been seen since 1965, authorities believe she may still be alive, possibly abducted by a non-family member and raised by someone else under an assumed name. The case was active as of last year and an investigation is continuing.
Because she was so young at the time of her disappearance, if Elizabeth Gill is still alive it’s possible she may not even remember being abducted (if that’s what happened to her). This case posits the fascinating possibility that she may not even know who she really is. I’ve posted two pictures here—one as Elizabeth looked in 1965, and the second an age-progressed picture depicting what she might look like today.
If you have seen her—or if you think you may be Elizabeth Ann Gill—call the Cape Girardeau, MO police department at 573-335-6621.
Missing Since: April 2005
Featured on my Twitter 11/17/11
The Gricar case is especially fascinating, as it contains echoes of the Judge Crater case. Like Crater, Gricar was an officer of the court, having served for 20 years as district attorney of Centre County, Pennsylvania. On April 15, 2005, Gricar phoned his girlfriend from his car and said he was driving towards Lewisburg, PA. That was the last anyone heard from him. Gricar’s car, a Mini Cooper, was found 45 miles from his home. The car was locked and the keys were gone. Gricar’s cell phone was inside, but his laptop was missing. Furthermore, cigarette ashes found in the car indicated someone had smoked in the vehicle. Ray Gricar didn’t smoke.
A few months later the remnants of the hard drive from Gricar’s laptop was found on the banks of a river. It was too badly damaged to gain any information from it, but it’s possible someone abducted and killed him in order to destroy data on the hard drive. If so, where is the body?
What’s very odd about this case is that Gricar’s brother also disappeared. He vanished in May 1996 in Ohio and his body was eventually fished out of a river. The police ruled Roy Gricar’s death a suicide. Was Ray’s case connected to his brother’s? No one knows.
I remember hearing about the Gricar case when it happened—I was practicing law at the time and I vaguely recall seeing an email or some Internet posting on lawyers’ groups requesting information on the missing D.A. There is obviously a real-life mystery here, and one that may never be solved.
Do you know anything about the case of District Attorney Gricar? If so, call the Bellefonte, PA Police Department at 814-353-2320.
Missing since: August 1912
Featured on my Twitter 11/23/11
Almost a century ago, four-year-old Robert Dunbar wandered away from the cabins where his family was staying on vacation at Swayze Lake in Louisiana and was never seen again. A set of footprints was found leading out of the area toward a railroad bridge, and there were reports of a strange man in the area at the time. Authorities concluded he’d been abducted. In 1912 there were no milk cartons to put pictures on, no DNA testing and no central databases of criminals, sex offenders or missing persons. A case like this was unlikely to be solved at that time.
What makes this case fascinating is what happened subsequently. In 1913 a man named William Walters was charged with kidnapping Dunbar, largely because he had a child with him matching Dunbar’s description and close in age. Walters said the child had been given to him by friends. The courts decided that child was Robert Dunbar, and they sent him home to live with his family. That “Robert Dunbar” grew up, had children and eventually died. Family members say that even he wasn’t 100% certain he was the “real” Robert Dunbar.
In 2004, DNA testing proved that he wasn’t—he was unrelated to the Dunbar family. That means that Walters did not kidnap him, and we have no idea what happened to the real Robert Dunbar. Indeed we also do not know the identity of the child “given” to Walters who was raised erroneously as Robert Dunbar. He turned out not to be related to the friends who “gave” him to Walters, though the leading theory was at the time that if he wasn’t Robert Dunbar, he must have been the illegitimate son of the female friend, sired by Walters’s brother.
Confused yet? Imagine what the Dunbar family must think. Obviously this case is no longer being investigated by law enforcement, but the mystery of what happened to the real Robert Dunbar, and who the boy mistaken for him actually was, is far from settled.
Wendy Camp, Cynthia Britto, Lisa Kregear
Missing since: May 1992
Featured on my Twitter 11/28/11
Even stranger than single-person disappearances are the multiple disappearances. Although it’s much rarer, people do sometimes vanish together. The case of Camp-Britto-Kregear is one of these rare cases.
Charley Project says:
“Camp was last seen with her young daughter, Cynthia Britto, and her sister-in-law, Lisa Kregear, on May 29, 1992. Camp had recently received visitation rights to see her young son, and she, Kregear and Britto visited him at his father’s home in Shamrock, Oklahoma that day. She had not seen him for several months prior to the visit. Camp’s husband told authorities that his wife called him from a pay phone in Shamrock at 5:00 PM and said the visit had gone well and they were on their way home…Camp’s former mother-in-law, Beverly Noe, was supposed to provide transportation…She stated she and Camp had an argument in the car and Noe asked the two women and Britto to get out at a Wal-Mart store in Chandler, Oklahoma at 6:00 PM. They never arrived home and have not been heard from again.”
Camp and Kregear were both 23; Britto was six. What makes this case bizarre is that all three are missing. If Camp had been alone, you can spin a number of horrifying scenarios about what might have happened, but the complications abound when you add another adult woman and a young child into the mix. If they met with foul play, why haven’t any trace of any of the three ever been found? With three missing people you can rule out a lot of typical go-to explanations for missing persons—suicide, freak accident, ending up “off the grid” in a homeless situation or something along those lines. What could possibly have happened to these women and the girl that could leave no trace of any of them?
Update 4 May 2014
This case appears to have been solved. In April 2014 the bodies of Camp, Britto and Kreagar were discovered in a hole originally built for a septic tank. The Oklahoma State Police have made an arrest in this case. What a horrible end for these three innocent people, but at least there is some closure.
Missing Since: April 1977
Featured on my Twitter 12/2/11
Jay Pringle, from my home state of Oregon, traveled to the Los Angeles area in the spring of 1977. He was then seventeen. He was last seen on April 19, 1977 in Gardena, CA, a suburb of L.A, carrying a suitcase and a blanket. Evidently he’d had a falling-out with a friend who said they had an argument. The friend traveled from Las Vegas back to Pringle’s hometown of Medford, OR after spending all of Pringle’s money. That person—I could not track down his name—was not charged with anything for lack of evidence.
In researching the Pringle case I came upon a web forum posting by someone claiming to be a psychic. This person claims that Pringle’s body is buried behind an Italian restaurant somewhere. No substantiation is given for this claim. Another forum post, made just last month, conjectures that Pringle may have been a victim of serial killer Randy Kraft, who targeted teenage boys wandering on California freeways in the late 1970s and who also had a connection to Oregon. This theory makes some sense—Kraft, currently on Death Row at San Quentin, is suspected of many more murders than he was accused of—but there is no evidence to substantiate it.
I’m aware that police departments sometimes use psychics to try to gain insight on cold cases. As I am skeptical that psychic powers exist, I doubt this practice has really paid off. Nevertheless, the post about the Italian restaurant made me mad. Here is a family who lost their son almost 40 years ago. The last thing they must want is some Internet psychic making unsubstantiated claims about their son’s last resting place.
Update 4 May 2014
The case of Jay Pringle became the subject of a stand-alone article on this blog posted April 19, 2014, the anniversary of his disappearance.
Missing Since: January 2005
Featured on my Twitter 12/4/11
Arkadiy Tashman, called “Ark,” was from a family of Russian émigrés who live in the New York City area. In January 2005 Tashman left a friend’s house in the wee hours of the morning. He was never seen again. Later that day Tashman’s parents found a note he’d left in his bedroom that read simply, “Sorry about this. No wake, no funeral.” He was seventeen.
Although this evidence points toward suicide—and it seems Arkadiy may have thought about suicide before—the Tashman family isn’t convinced that he took his own life. Ark was an avid skateboarder, and police have searched for him at skateboard hangouts in the New York area. Tashman’s sister has continued the search for him. She is featured in this news clip, uploaded to YouTube in 2007, which brings home the anguish that family members feel for their missing loved ones.
If you know anything about Arkadiy Tashman, call the New York City Police Department at 212-473-2042.
What’s Coming Up
I intend to continue featuring missing persons reports on my Twitter. I have at least one follower who faithfully retweets them nearly every day. When I asked my followers recently if they like this feature and want me to continue doing it, several people said that definitely, yes I should. I also plan periodically to feature some of these cases on my blog, as I have done today. So, in the next few months expect some more articles like this one.
Missing persons are a huge problem, and they rarely get the media attention that is lavished on high-profile cases like Natalie Holloway or Kyron Horman. I think the Charley Project is a terrific resource and it’s one of my favorite websites. Searching for missing persons is often a shot in the dark, but publicity is the key to cracking these cases. If I can help, even just a little bit, my time will be well spent.
Thanks for reading.
[Note: some of the images in this blog came from the Charley Project–my understanding is that they originally came from law enforcement agencies and thus are public domain, but in any event, as it’s difficult to publicize missing persons without photos of them, I hope it is OK that I used them.]