It is said, ambiguous loss is the most traumatic of human experiences, and when someone you love goes missing, it is a trauma unlike any other.
Ambiguous loss occurs without understanding or closure, leaving a person searching for answers. Ambiguous loss confounds the process of grieving, leaving a person with prolonged unresolved grief and deep emotional trauma.
Ambiguous loss can be classified in two categories, psychological and physical. Psychological and physical loss differ in terms of what and why exactly the person is grieving.
Physical ambiguous loss means the body of a loved is no longer present, such as a missing person or unrecovered body, resulting from war, a catastrophe such as 9/11 or kidnapping, but the person is still remembered psychologically because there is still a chance the person may return. Such is the case with a missing person. This type of loss results in trauma and can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Psychological Loss is a type of loss that is a result of a loved one still physically present, but psychologically absent. Psychological loss can occur when the brain of a loved one is affected, such as traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease.
When a person goes missing, loved ones are left with more questions than answers, leaving them searching, not only for the missing person but for answers.
Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Pauline Boss is a pioneer who has studied ambiguous loss since 1973, and her decades of research have revealed those who suffer from ambiguous loss without finality, face a particularly difficult burden. Whether it is the experience of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease, or someone awaiting the fate of a family member who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances or a disastrous event such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, the loss is magnified because it is linked to lack of closure.
Those experiencing ambiguous loss find it difficult to understand, cope and almost impossible to move forward with their lives without professional counseling, love and support.
Experiencing grief is a vital part of healing, but ambiguous loss stalls the process of grieving, sometimes indefinitely. With the possibility a missing person may be alive, individuals are confounded as to how to cope.
Parents and family members of missing persons say there is no such thing as closure. Dr. Pauline Boss says the idea of closure can lead us astray – it’s a myth that needs to be set aside, like accepting the idea grief has five linear stages and we simply come out the other side and done with it.
Five Stages of Grief
It is widely accepted there are five stages of grief:
While many helpful programs are focused on these various stages, they are not necessarily experienced on order, nor are they inclusive to other issues that commonly arise, and they certainly do not include what a family experiences when a loved one goes missing.
In my nearly 30 years working with families of missing persons and unsolved homicides, I have witnessed all stages of grief and ambiguity, finding the profound effects of a loved one going missing is multi-generational and all encompassing.
Family members of missing persons must live with people’s misconception that the individual or family must move on. Like PTSD flashbacks, a missing loved one is a traumatic event that does not end, and each life event is a reminder the individual, is gone without a trace.
Those of us who have never experienced having a loved one disappear, tend to react to situations using our own experiences and may relate the disappearance of an individual to the death of someone we have loved passing away. The problem is, with a missing person there is no place to grieve, to visit, no physical body to mourn.
Constant daily uncertainty is a major source of stress, emotionally, physically, psychologically and with a missing person, the uncertainty does not dissipate. When others expect one to move on, they commonly do not understand circumstances simply do not allow it.
It is not uncommon for families to experience all phases of ambiguous loss taking a toll both physically and mentally. While I was there to help, I often found myself the one who was thankful as I was blessed to see and meet, the most amazing, strong, and courageous individuals. Getting to know these families made me face my own vulnerability and the fact this can happen to any family.
The most moving of my recollections is of a young mother who had gone missing under suspicious circumstances. Her mother had contacted me and knew something terrible had happened to her daughter, insistent police needed to investigate more aggressively.
She had been missing a year during Christmas of 2002. Her mother called me to discuss her daughter’s case and told me that her granddaughter had written a letter to Santa and wanted to read it to me.
The little girl wrote:
“Dear Santa, I am not writing you for toys this year. The only thing I want for Christmas is for my Mommy to come home.”
My heart broke for this little girl. Little did I know, fast forward fifteen years later, I would be having a conversation with the same child. She had grown into a beautiful young lady and miraculously living a normal life despite growing up without her mother who remains missing. Not all are so fortunate.
Sometimes we forget how many people are impacted when a loved one goes missing. Children of missing persons, siblings, grandparents, parents, and other family and friends. The impact is immeasurable on the family structure and one needing to be studied further. What we do know, is the trauma of ambiguous loss affects everyone differently and a family can quickly spiral out of control without immediate intervention.
When a person goes missing, children are displaced, families can suffer financially due to loss of income or assets becoming tied up in the legal process, siblings of missing persons, children especially, face numerous obstacles when being raised in a household where ongoing trauma is occurring and they must live in the shadow of someone no longer there.
With missing children, parents are faced with the “not knowing” on a day to day basis. When an adult child goes missing, parents are not only left with the “not knowing”, they also face the possibility of raising their grandchildren.
As with the young girl who I watched grow up, her grandmother somehow found the courage to raise her granddaughter while continuing to search for anything leading to her missing daughter. She had found a balance providing a healthy and loving environment for her granddaughter, while facing she may never see her own daughter again.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published a handbook When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide to help families with the crisis of having a missing child.
Though not the product of abstract academic research, it was written by parents of missing children, with the assistance of law enforcement and youth professionals, containing critical information, guidance and tools parents need to help find their missing child while making every effort to focus on staying healthy. The guide contains much information to simply help families make it through a day.
Many of the parents who helped write the handbook, I had the honor of working with over the course of decades. Following, we will summarize the first 48 hours a family must make it through when a loved one goes missing. While it is focused on families who have missing children, this handbook is an important resource for anyone with a missing person in their life, regardless of age.
While the handbook contains steps to take to effectively work with law enforcement, media volunteers, how to disseminate fliers, and more – the most important part of the handbook is Chapter 7 focusing on maintaining health, preparing for the long term, the importance of not utilizing substances and medications to deal with the loss, and uniting with your remaining children focusing on their security and potential emotional issues.
“Hanging onto my sanity for a minute at a time often took all of my energy. I could not begin to look several days down the road,” said Colleen Nick, mother of Morgan who vanished June 9, 1995.
When your child is missing, you are overwhelmed with questions from police, neighbors, family and friends, and the media. At times, a parent may be faced with decisions they never thought they would have to make. One can begin to feel isolated, confused and utterly desperate with nowhere to go for support, but there is hope and it is found in the experience of other parents of missing persons who are courageous, and in my opinion, heroic.
The First 24 Hours (A Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide)
- Immediately report your child missing to local law enforcement. Ensure law enforcement enters your child’s data into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and notifies the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
- Request police issue a “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) message.
- Limit access to your home until police have arrived to collect evidence. It is important not to touch or remove anything from your child’s room.
- Ask for the contact information of the law enforcement officer assigned to your case. Keep in a safe place.
- Provide law enforcement with facts related to the disappearance of your child, including what has already been done to find the child.
- Have a good photograph available of your child and include a detailed description of your child and what your child was wearing.
- Make a list of friends, family and acquaintances and contact information for anyone who may have information about your child’s whereabouts. Include anyone who has moved in or out of the neighborhood within the last year.
- Make copies of photographs of your child in both black and white and color to provide to law enforcement, NCMEC, and media.
- Ask your law enforcement agency to organize a search for your child both foot patrol and canine.
- Ask law enforcement to issue an AMBER ALERT if your child’s disappearance meets the criteria.
- Ask law enforcement for guidance when working with media. It is important not to divulge information law enforcement does not want released to media possibly compromising the recovery efforts of your child.
- Designate one individual to answer your phone notating and summarizing each phone call, complete with contact information for each person who has called in one notebook.
- In addition, keep a notebook with you at all times to write down thoughts, questions, and important information, such as names, dates and telephone numbers.
- Take good care of yourself and your family because your child needs you to be strong. Force yourself to eat, rest and talk to others about your feelings.
The Next 24 Hours
- Ask for a meeting with your investigator to discuss steps being taken to find your child. Ensure your investigator has a copy of Missing and Abducted Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management. They can call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST to obtain a copy. In addition, ask them to contact the Crimes Against Children Coordinator in their local FBI Field Office to obtain a copy of the FBI’s Child Abduction Response Plan.
- Expand your list of friends, acquaintances, extended family members, landscapers, delivery persons, babysitters and anyone who may have seen your child during or following their disappearance or abduction.
- Look at personal calendars, newspapers and community events calendars to see if there may be any clues as to who may have been in the area and provide this information to law enforcement.
- Understand you will be asked to take a polygraph. This is standard procedure.
- Ask your law enforcement agency to request NCMEC issue a Broadcast Fax to law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
- Work cooperatively with your law enforcement agency to issue press releases and media events.
- Talk to law enforcement about the use of a reward.
- Report all information and/or extortion attempts to law enforcement immediately.
- Have a second telephone line installed with call forwarding, Caller ID and call waiting. If you do not have one, get a cell phone so you can receive calls when you are away from home and forward all calls to it.
- Make a list of what volunteers can do for you and your family.
- Contact your child’s doctor and dentist and request copies of medical records and x-rays to provide to police. Ask the doctor to expedite your request based upon the circumstances.
- Take care of yourself and your family and do not be afraid to ask others to help take care of your physical and emotional needs. Your remaining children need to know you are also there for them while staying strong and healthy for them all.
The resounding message here is family members of missing persons must take care of themselves and include others in their journey to help them along when they are tiring.
For more information about obtaining a copy of A Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide please contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST or obtain a copy here https://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/childismissing/contents.html
The Disappearance of Morgan Nick
It was June 9, 1995, on a beautiful evening in the small town of Alma, Arkansas. Alma is located along I-40 within the Arkansas River Valley at the edge of the Ozark Mountains with a population under 5,000 people.
That evening was the first time 6-year old Morgan Nick had gone to a baseball game. Her mother Colleen was attending the Rookie League game at the Alma ballpark and Morgan had whined about having to sit next to her mother in the bleachers. There was a nearby sand pile with other children playing and Morgan wanted to play. It was within eyesight and only seconds away, so Colleen consented.
Morgan Nick, age 6, vanished from Alma, Arkansas on June 9, 1995
Morgan ran to the sandpile, laughing with the other children while Colleen turned her head back to watch the Marlins and Pythons. A player whacked the ball and two runners tied the game, then a run was scored, and the Pythons won the game. The sound of the crowd cheering was deafening.
When Colleen stood up, she could see Morgan’s playmates walking down the hill away from the sandpile, but where was Morgan? It was approximately 10:30 p.m.
The children told Colleen, Morgan was pouring sand out of her shoe near her mother’s car parked nearby. Colleen frantically searched. Morgan was gone.
Later, the children would tell police they saw a man approach Morgan. Another abduction attempt had occurred in Alma the same day and police had a composite sketched based on witnesses of the other incident.
Thousands of leads later, numerous appearances on national news talk shows, even America’s Most Wanted, and Morgan’s mother is nowhere closer to knowing what happened to her daughter. Police have interviewed hundreds of persons of interest, searched homes and wells, and dug up slabs of concrete with backhoes, but Morgan remains missing 23 years later.
The stakes are high when a person vanishes involuntarily.
Morgan’s mother Colleen spent years keeping Morgan’s room the way it was when she vanished. She bought Christmas presents and a birthday present each year, hoping Morgan would someday return to open them.
The emotional toll is beyond words.
On Morgan’s Birthday, September 12, 2014, Colleen wrote an Open Letter to Morgan, posted on the NCMEC blog.
A Letter to Our Missing Daughter Morgan Nick
Today is your 26th birthday. Today marks twenty birthdays without you here. We miss you so desperately and our hearts are ragged with grief. We have searched for you every single day since the day you were kidnapped from us at the Little League Baseball field in Alma, Arkansas.
You were only 6 years old. We went with our friends to watch one of their children play in the game. You threw your arms around my neck in a bear hug, planted a kiss on my cheek, and ran to catch fireflies with your friends.
It is the last time that I saw you. There have been so many days since then of emptiness and heartache.
On this birthday I choose to think about your laughter, your smile, the twinkle in your sparkling blue eyes. I celebrate who you are and the deep and lasting joy that you bring to our family.
I smile today as I think about your 5th birthday. For that birthday, we took you to the Humane Society with the promise of adopting a kitten. You, my precious little girl with your big heart, took one look around the cat room and picked out the ugliest, scrawniest, most pitiful looking kitten in the entire place. Such a tiny little thing, that it was mostly all eyes.
Dad and I used our best parental powers of persuasion to get you to pick a different kitten, to look at the older cats, to choose any other feline besides that poor ugly kitty. It looked like someone had taken the worst leftover colors of mud, stirred them together, and used them to design a kitten.
You planted your five-year-old feet, looked us straight in the eye and declared that this was the kitten you were taking home. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. You would not budge, and you resolutely refused to take a second look at any other cat or kitten in the room. You had a fire of conviction in your heart.
The unexpected obstacle we faced was we were not able to adopt on that Saturday but had to wait until Monday to finalize. For the rest of the weekend and all-day Monday, you fretted and pouted and worried someone else would take “your” kitten home with them. We tried to assure you that no one else would want that cat. We didn’t want to say it was because it was so tiny, or so ugly, or so-nothing-at-all-but-eyes. You could see only beauty and you were in love.
Finally, Monday afternoon came, and dad brought it home with him after work. In that moment, your daddy was your biggest hero because he had saved your kitten.
You tenderly snuggled that little bit of fur into your arms and declared that her name was Emily. You adored your new kitten and she loved you right back. Emily gained some weight and filled out a bit. Her colors started to take shape. We began to see the same beauty in her that you had seen in that very first moment.
Where you went, Emily went. You played together. You ate together. You watched Barney together. You slept together.
Which brings me to the photo. It captures everything we love about you. I would slip into your room late at night and stand there, watching the two of you sleeping together, in awe of your sweetness, and my heart would squeeze a little tighter.
So many birthdays have passed since then. So many days since a stranger ripped you from our hearts.
My sweet girl, if you should happen to read this, we want you to know how very important and special you are to us. You are a blessing we cannot live without. We feel cheated by every day that goes by and we do not see your smile, hear your bubbly laughter, or listen to your thoughts and ideas. We have never stopped believing that we will find you. We are saving all our hugs and kisses for you.
Please be strong and brave, with a fire of conviction in your heart, just like the day you picked out your kitten!
On this birthday we promise you that we will always fight for you. We will bring you back home to our family where you belong. We will always love you! We will never give up.
Love Mom (Colleen Nick) & Dad
One cannot help but feel the Nick family’s loss. So many birthdays, so many Christmases, so many days wondering if Morgan is alive. How on earth have they done it?
Hope is incredibly important in life for health, happiness, success and coping. Research shows optimistic people are more likely to live fulfilling lives and to enjoy life. In addition, hope relieves stress reducing the risk of many leading causes of death such as high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Having hope takes a special kind of courage I have found so many families of missing persons have mustered during the most difficult time of their lives . . . not just one season but many Seasons of Hope.
Mollie Tibbetts with her father, Rob Tibbetts.
In central Iowa, off of Interstate 80, there is a little town called Brooklyn. Eight weeks ago, if you googled, ‘Brooklyn, Iowa,’ you would probably get results from the regional newspapers, a community Facebook page not updated since 2016, and a few Google Maps results. Now the results are very different as the town name dominates news coverage of the man charged with the first-degree murder of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts. The month-long search came to a grisly end when law enforcement discovered remains they believed to be the missing University of Iowa sophomore. Reports from the autopsy indicate she died from “multiple sharp force injuries.”
Mollie was reported missing after she did not show up to work on July 19, 2018. The night before, she had been dog-sitting for her boyfriend, Dalton Jack. Jack was in Dubuque, Montana for work—an alibi quickly removing him from the list of usual suspects when a young woman goes missing—when he opened a SnapChat from Mollie sent a few hours prior. When co-workers contacted him the next day to tell him Mollie never arrived for work, Jack was immediately concerned. It was not in Mollie’s nature to be unreliable, or flighty. She was reported missing, with the search party growing from a few dozen to hundreds, as an entire community felt the loss of this well-loved student. Locals tweeted Mollie’s name and missing poster to famous Iowans in the interest of getting her face out there in the media.
The FBI soon joined the search, working in conjunction with local law enforcement, to extract data from Mollie’s Fitbit in order to piece together the last hours before she went missing. It did not take long for the community to raise over $300,000 as a reward for her safe return, “the biggest figure Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa has ever collected.” However, law enforcement soon transparently declared in a press conference they were no closer to finding Mollie than before. “I understand this is frustrating for many in the public and the media, but feel this is necessary for our investigation. As far as suspects go, we continue to look at all possibilities. I’m not in a position right now to say, we have suspects, we don’t have suspects, persons of interest or anything else.”
Mere days after that press conference, a woman’s body was found an hour outside of Brooklyn, and briefly, the locals believed the search might be over. However, state police soon negated the rumors by declaring the remains found were not those of Mollie Tibbetts. As coverage of the investigation ensued, Mollie’s father, Rob Tibbetts, offered a hopeful perspective on his daughter’s disappearance, “It’s totally speculation on my part, but I think Mollie is with someone she knows, that is in over their head,” Rob says. “That there was some kind of misunderstanding about the nature of their relationship and at this point they don’t know how to get out from under this.”
As of August 9, 2018, Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa reported the organization had fielded more than 830 tips for law enforcement on Mollie’s case. One of those tips came from an Iowan resident by the name of Devin Riley, who claimed he might have been the last person to see Mollie alive. She regularly ran by his house between three and four times per week. “She’d kind of jog down the street and towards the hill. I thought nothing of it until I heard somebody was missing, and it really hit me that I hadn’t seen that runner since then.” Around this time, the record-breaking reward sum had swelled to nearly $400,000 following the authorities launching a website about Mollie’s case.
Mollie Tibbetts (left) and Cristhian Bahena River, the man charged with her murder (right).
Finally, on August 21, 2018, more than a month since Mollie disappeared, authorities had the break in the case they needed. Mollie’s remains were found in a field, covered by corn stalks. ‘Found’ may not be the word. In fact, they were led there by a man named Cristhian Bahena Rivera. He worked on a farm near the location of the body, and had confessed to police he hid Mollie there. He was described by former classmates as “a very good person, a simple guy with no vices,” and he was liked by his co-workers for his efficient, albeit silent, work ethic. Rivera was charged with murder last Wednesday, after he confessed to following Mollie on her run. In his arrest affidavit, Rivera’s memory of his altercation with Mollie is spotty. He claimed he remembered growing angry with her, because Tibbetts had her hands on the phone, threatening to call police, but the rest is a blur. The next thing he remembered was putting a bleeding young woman in his trunk, and driving her to the field where he would conceal her body. Since his arrest, Rivera has hired a new lawyer and is being held on a $5 million bond, despite his lack of criminal record and steady employment. He has not yet entered a plea to his charge of first-degree murder.
Though the search for Mollie is over, the community has not relented in showing their support for the Tibbetts family. In addition to the record-breaking reward raised by Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa, locals and people around the country have offered their support via the hashtag #MilesforMollie, in which runners are dedicating their jogging miles to Mollie’s memory with the added sentiment they had to “keep going.” Only days after his sister’s body had been found, Scott Tibbetts—a quarterback at Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom High School in Iowa—led his team to victory in honor of Mollie. The Des Moines Register reported, “Scott Tibbetts decided last night to play today and led the Bears to a 35-24 win at Lisbon. The coaches tried to keep things as normal as possible but could see the strain on their players’ faces this week. Tonight, there were plenty of smiles and hugs after the game. A big B-G-M contingent on hand. Nice moment for that community.” One of the biggest testaments to Mollie’s impact on her community was the fact, in a town of a little over 1500 people, 1200 mourners turned out for her funeral. Mollie’s other brother, Jake, spoke at her service, delivering a beautiful message about Mollie’s spirit:
“I can see her dancing with joy in her heart,” he said. “Mollie’s best life here would be spent helping others, helping everyone in this room … And now she’s in a place where she can watch over everyone in here and everyone in the country and help them reach their goals, solve their problems and make their lives better, because that’s what Mollie was all about.”
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.
Polaroid found in parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe Florida in July 1989.
Tara Calico’s disappearance has baffled investigators for decades. In July 1989, a color Polaroid of an unidentified young woman and a little boy was found by a woman in a convenience store parking lot in Port St. Joe, a beach town approximately one hour south of Panama City, Florida.
The woman who found the photograph in a vacant parking space said she saw a man driving a windowless Toyota cargo van parked there when she arrived at the store. The man was described as being in his 30’s with a mustache. The photograph had recently been taken. Officials at Polaroid said the picture was taken after May 1989 because it was not available until then.
In the picture, the young woman glares at the camera, her mouth covered with black duct tape, hands bound behind her back, alongside a young boy who looks scared, his mouth taped and hands bound behind his back as well.
Pictured alongside the bound woman is a copy of V.C. Andrews book, My Sweet Audrina, a 1982 best-seller about a young girl who is haunted by her sister’s death. The thriller touches upon rape, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and autism.
The photograph made the national news and a “Current Affair” where family and friends of a young missing New Mexico woman saw a haunting resemblance. Tara Calico vanished in Belen, New Mexico, 10 months earlier on September 20, 1988. They contacted Tara’s mother, Patty Doel, who insisted she meet with investigators and see the photograph firsthand.
After viewing the photograph, Patty insisted the picture was her missing daughter, even noting a discoloration on the leg of the woman pictured being identical to a large scar on Tara’s leg she had sustained in a car accident. Not to be overlooked, V.C. Andrews was also Tara’s favorite author.
The photograph has been carefully analyzed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation who felt the photograph was not of Tara while Scotland Yard declared it was her.
On Tuesday, September 20, 1988, Tara left her home at approximately 9:30 a.m. to go on a daily bicycle ride along New Mexico State Rd. 47 in Belen, a route she took almost every morning. A small town, Belen only had a population of 7,152 in 2015.
Tara Calico missing from Belen, New Mexico since September 20, 1988
Sometimes accompanied by her mother, Patty had warned her daughter to carry mace with her when she rode but Tara rejected the suggestion. On the morning of Tara’s disappearance, she playfully told her mother to come and get her if she did not return by noon because she had plans to meet her boyfriend at 12:30 p.m. to play tennis.
When Tara did not return, anxiously Patty drove south along Tara’s usual bike route but could not find her. In the process of searching, she spotted a Boston cassette tape lying on the side of the rugged road. She immediately called the police.
Several witnesses told police they had witnessed an older light-colored pickup truck, about 1953, with a camper shell following close behind her as she rode along the highway. Quite possibly, Tara would not have even noticed if a vehicle was following behind her while she listened to Boston on her Walkman.
The boy in the disturbing photograph remains unidentified to this day. Initially, when the photograph was found, the mother of Michael Henley said she was “almost certain” the boy in the Polaroid was her missing son. Sadly, Michael Henley was found deceased in June 1990 in the Zuni Mountains near where his father and he were hunting when the child vanished in April of 1988. It was determined he died of exposure.
Another missing child case has caught the attention of law enforcement as the picture strongly resembles David Michael Borer missing since April 26, 1989, from Willow, Alaska, about five hours south of Fairbanks.
Resemblance between missing child David Borer and the unidentified boy in Polaroid
David was last seen walking along Parks Highway about 11 miles on his way to a friend’s home or to the Kashmitna River sandbar.
David once hitchhiked to Wasilla, approximately 30 miles from his home and described as a very independent young child,
Canine searches tracked his scent to Parks Highway, but the scent was lost at the road and there have been no signs of him since.
A missing lead
In 2008, the Sheriff of Valencia County claimed he had received information about what happened to Tara. A witness came forward telling law enforcement two teenagers had been following Tara in a Ford pickup truck, trying to talk to her and grabbing at her. Apparently, they accidentally hit Tara and panicked, then killed her. No further information surfaced from this allegation and no arrests were made.
Tara’s stepfather, John Doel, disputed the sheriff’s claims telling media the sheriff should not have released this information without enough circumstantial information to make an arrest.
More haunting photographs surface
In 2009, twenty years after the Polaroid was found, pictures of a young boy were mailed to the Port St. Joe police chief, David Barnes. The sheriff received two letters with photographs included, one postmarked June 10, 2009, and the other postmarked August 10, 2009, from Albuquerque New Mexico. One letter contained a photo copy of a young boy with very light brown hair with a band of black ink drawn over the boy’s mouth as if it were covered in the 1989 Polaroid.
The second letter contained the original picture. On August 12th, the Star Newspaper in Port St. Joe received a letter, also from Albuquerque, with the same picture, with the same hand-drawn mouth covering. Law enforcement has never been able to confirm the original Polaroid and the pictures received in 2009 are of the same boy. None of the three letters contained information indicating the child’s identity. Though there was not a reference to Tara’s case, police felt confident it was potentially connected.
Two other Polaroids have been found over the years some believe may be of Tara. The first was found near a construction site. It was a blurry photograph of a seemingly nude girl with tape over her mouth, light blue striped fabric behind her, similar to the fabric seen in the original Polaroid. It too was taken on film not available until 1989.
Copy of Polaroid found in Montecito, California.
The second photograph is of a terrified woman bound on an Amtrak train (possibly abandoned), her eyes covered with gauze and big black framed glasses, with a male passenger taunting her in the photograph.
Of the many photographs and unidentified remains Patty had to view to help police throughout the country rule out, these three could never be ruled out by her mother.
Sadly, Patti Doel passed away in 2006, never finding out what happened to her daughter. Tara’s father passed away in 2002. However, with advancement in technology, Tara’s remaining family and stepfather still hold out hope they will one day find out what happened to her.
Valencia County Sheriff’s Office is not actively pursuing any of the photographs as possible leads. Instead, they are working with the FBI analyzing local suspects given the information provided to the sheriff’s office years ago that Tara was killed by local residents of her small community. Supported by witness reports claiming Tara was followed prior to her disappearance and she was also receiving threatening notes placed on her vehicle prior to her disappearance.
Michele Doel, Tara’s stepsister, told People Magazine when asked if the Polaroid with the young unidentified boy is Tara she responds, “If I had to say yes or no, definitively, yes, that is her,” says Michele. However, she added “Does that make sense? No. That’s not the story that makes sense.”
Current lead investigator Sgt. Joseph Rowland at Valencia County Sheriff’s Department said the vehicle in the first polaroid was identified as a van and the sheriff’s department received many tips about vans that were not fruitful.
Mother never lost hope
Patty Doel died in 2006 after suffering several strokes after relocating from New Mexico to Florida with her husband John.
Friends and family say her daughter was always on her mind, never giving up hope she would one day find her.
She and her husband John even had a bedroom they kept for Tara, placing passing birthday and Christmas gifts there.
Even after the strokes, Patty would see a young girl on a bicycle and point and write her daughter’s name. Her husband would have to tell her it wasn’t Tara.
Tara’s older brother Chris told People Magazine he believed the stress of his sister’s disappearance and lack of resolution significantly shortened his mother’s life.
“The police would send photos of every possibility, including pictures of bodies, dismembered bodies, and every time mom got an envelope with the newest pictures, she had to look at them,” Chris told People. “She couldn’t not look , but it tore her up every time.”
The first Polaroid told Patty her daughter might still be alive, she survived whatever and whoever abducted her.
A case that is not exactly cold, Tara’s family holds onto hope; and many of the missing person investigators have taken the case into retirement with them. A case that happened long ago but is never forgotten.
At Lauth Missing Person Investigations, we specialize in complex missing person investigations of endangered missing children and adults.
The investigative team at Lauth Investigations has over 40 years combined experience working closely with the families of missing persons, local, state and federal law enforcement, along with national media and missing persons organizations throughout the country and internationally.
Founded in 1995, Thomas Lauth is a nationally recognized Missing Persons and Human Trafficking Investigator and graduate of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, who initially served as Senior Criminal Investigator for Marion County Public Defender Agency located in Indiana.
Lauth has served as both a prosecution and defense witness on numerous missing persons and homicides at the federal and state levels, including being appointed by state and federal courts to conduct independent investigations of homicides, robberies, and other serious felony matters.
In addition, Thomas has attended various U.S. Department of Justice conferences on missing persons, human trafficking, and child abduction. He served as a volunteer Advisor to the Nation’s Missing Children Organization and the National Center for Missing Adults for nearly twenty years.
In addition to working with local and state law enforcement, Lauth has worked cooperatively with Interpol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. State Department, the U.S. Consulate and various foreign embassies.
Lauth is considered an expert in missing persons by national media and has appeared in publications like Essence Magazine, USA Today, Los Angeles Daily News, San Diego Tribune, New York Times and more.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the United States.
Missing persons are entered into various categories such as Juvenile, Endangered, Involuntary or Non-family Abductions, Disability, Catastrophe and Other. Though it is not mandated for law enforcement to enter missing persons into NCIC, it is beneficial to both the missing person and the private investigation. Lauth Investigations verifies all missing persons investigated are entered into NCIC making the missing person’s information available to all law enforcement throughout the country to include, medical examiners and Coroners.
By creating more public awareness, it increases the potential for generating leads. Lauth is one of the few private investigators in the country who works every day in locating missing persons, focusing on creating a collaborative effort between various victim assistance organizations, media, and law enforcement to create a successful public awareness campaign.
Lauth Investigations success rate is averaged at approximately 85% over 20 years working with families of missing persons. Every case is unique based on the circumstances of the disappearance and discovery based upon the private investigator’s fact-finding.
When hired, Lauth exclusively focuses on the specific missing person case, ensuring full attention is given to each case. Lauth is experienced in searching for missing persons between the ages of approximately 12-years old to seniors.
Circumstances of disappearances include at-risk children, teens, at-risk adults missing due to foul play, human trafficking, custodial and non-custodial abduction, (including Hague and non-compliant Hague countries), homeless, and those suffering from disabilities such as mental illness or missing persons suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Following are a few excerpts from letters Thomas Lauth has received throughout the years:
Mr. Lauth’s credentials indicate he has a high success rate of locating individuals and we have also found this to be true. He not only utilizes various resources to help locate individuals, but he frequently follows up with them after they are located to see how they are transitioning.
We will continue to utilize Thomas Lauth’s services in the future. His assistance with this organization and the many families of missing person we refer him to give hope to the possibility these families will once again be able to hold their loved ones in their arms. We highly recommend the services he provides to the families of missing persons.
Erin Bruno, National Center for Missing Adults
At a highly emotional time, I found the contact with Mr. Lauth to be quite reassuring. His experience in investigations of missing persons is quite impressive and without pressure, he outlined the stages of his proposed investigation costs and projected number of days to successfully locate my son.
As Tom predicted, my son was located a day later and was brought to the hospital in very bad shape. I am convinced without his intervention, my son was at extreme risk of death, or trafficked to other major cities around the world.
I am honored to provide a letter of reference for this remarkable man who is such a strong advocate for missing persons. My experience is such that I do not recommend relying solely on a local police department to locate a missing person, particularly with mental illness. The risk of exploitation or other harm is simply too great and hiring an experienced private investigator is more likely to bring a loved one home again.
Liz Mallin, mother of Brandon
Thomas Lauth, an investigator who specializes in missing children and adults, has been one of the most reliable and imaginative investigators we have found to date. Mr. Lauth’s experience with our organization, as well as the work he has done for the National Center for Missing Adults, has proven to be invaluable in the locating of abductors and bringing missing children and adults home.
Mr. Lauth’s impressive list of successes as well as his passion for the “left behind parent” makes him more than qualified to work in the area of child abduction. I would not hesitate to recommend Mr. Lauth to any parent who has lost a child. I personally feel that it is Mr. Lauth’s feelings for the children that separate him from so many other investigators.
David Thelen, CEO of Committee for Missing Children, Inc.
I wanted to take this opportunity to formally commend and recommend the services provided by Thomas Lauth at Lauth Investigations. My family and I recently worked with Thomas regarding my sister and nephew who had been missing for almost two years.
Tom was the second investigator that worked the case. Based on the excellent service we experienced, I sincerely regret that we did not work with him initially.
I found Thomas to be extremely knowledgeable, professional and emphatic. I immediately felt comfortable confiding in him. In response, Thomas offered a complete plan, with accurate cost disclosures and regular substantive updates.
Most importantly, Thomas did exactly what he promised to do, on time and within the estimated budget we initially discussed. Thanks to his efforts, we were able to speak with both missing parties for the first time since 2003.
Tom is an absolute gem. I strongly recommend him to anyone who may find him or herself in the unfortunate circumstance of losing contact with a loved one.
Andrea D. Townsend, Attorney at Law
Recently, my son was missing, and we had nowhere to turn until we found you. He had taken off for work and never got there. No one knew where he was, and police couldn’t help because he was of age.
If any parent is in our situation, I highly recommend they call you. You were so helpful and kind to us. You understood just how worried we were.
You met my husband in Massachusetts, where we finally figured out where he was. You stayed there until he was found and let us contact him. Your kindness and professional manner were of great comfort to us in our time of need. It is so hard not knowing where your child is. Anyone going through these hard times needs to know there is an organization out there that cares and handles the problem for you.
You don’t know what you gave back to us. My son means the world to me and getting him back made my world complete again.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and hope that anyone else missing a child will call you. You are the best!
Donna Post, mother of a formerly missing son
From the desk of Kym Pasqualini, Feature Crime Writer for Lauth Investigations
15.8 million tourist visited Dubai during 2017 and considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), is where you will find nightclubs on the same street as mosques. Some describe residing in Dubai as “living in a bubble” where there as is an attitude of “live and let live.”
Dubai is one of the main and most populous cities in the UAE where islands have been built with beautiful luxury hotels and extravagant shopping centers that are attractive tourist destinations. Located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf, Dubai is the capital of the Emirate of Dubai and considered one of the most fascinating and developed cities in the Middle East.
Sprouting up out of the desert, Gulf News reports a whopping 15.8 million tourists visited Dubai during 2017, making it one of the most happening tourist meccas in the world. Mega-malls, 5-star hotels, a thriving art and design ecosystem, and a constantly evolving food scene, something is always happening.
Home to the Burj Khalifa (the tallest man-made structure on earth), as well as the Marina where the tallest residential buildings in the world were built, the many skyscrapers offer an amazing skyline view.
One of the main draws for visitors is the more than 300 days of sunshine and over 600 miles of white sand coastline, one can simply relax and lay in the sun, skydive, or hang glide over the gulf for an adventurous time. A place where you have the city, desert, and sea in one place.
The country is described as transient. Many come, stay, and leave. However, 97% of Dubai’s population say they feel safe in the UAE, with most having had little to no experience with crime.
Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and Allegations of Abuse
Sheikh MohammedSheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 68, is the billionaire Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. Since his accession in 2006, after the death of his brother, Maktoum has been credited with the growth of Dubai into a global city.
Named one of the “richest royalty” in the world by Forbes, the Sheikh’s personal life is a well-guarded secret, though he is widely known for his love of horse-racing. In fact, he shares his passion for horse-racing with the Queen of England and meets her at the Royal Ascot each year.
Despite the accolades, in March 2018, allegations of abuse were made via video by Princess Latifa bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, a daughter of the Sheikh. The princess alleged being incarcerated for more than three years in a family-owned compound where she was also tortured.
Daily Mail has reported Princess Latifah claims she was drugged in a hospital to stop her from rebelling and escaping. Though Daily Mail has not been able to verify her claims of abuse and incarceration, Mail Online has reported the princess fled Dubai in an attempt to live a normal life, leading some to believe Princess Latifa may be the richest runaway in the world.
Reports recenly Princess skydiving surfaced indicating Princess Latifa received help escaping by a former French spy and was hiding on a yacht off the coast of southern India. She expected to seek asylum in the United States where she had made contact with an attorney.
What may seem like something straight out of a best-selling spy novel, becomes all the more real after watching an emotional video she made prior to leaving that explains, in shocking detail, her reasons for wanting to escape. But has she?
Princess Latifah, 33, is one of 30 children the wealthy Ruler of Dubai has between six of his wives. In an Emirates Woman magazine article, the Princess is described as a daredevil skydiver with an undying enthusiasm for adventure and longing for a normal life.
In her YouTube video, she sits humbly with no makeup, her hair tied back, wearing a simple blue t-shirt, speaking calmly as she explains her reason for fleeing Dubai.
“I do not have the freedom that people have. Freedom of choice is not something we have,” the Princess says. “I am very restricted and cannot even go to another emirate without permission. I have not left Dubai since 2000.”
The Princess says she is not allowed to keep her own passport and if she goes out in Dubai she is assigned a driver.
It has been reported she gave the video to her UK-based attorney Radha Stirling in case of her disappearance or death.
NDTV reported the princess sent her last WhatsApp message to her attorney on Sunday, March 4th from a U.S. registered boat at least 50 miles from India’s coastline.
During a distressed call, the princess told Stirling they were hiding below deck and said, “Radha, please help me, there are men outside,” then frantically claimed to hear gunshots. Stirling asked the princess to record the gunshots but received no reply. That was the last time anyone heard from Princess Latifah.
Stirling says the princess first got in touch with her firm “Detained in Dubai” on February 26th, claiming she had escaped Dubai where she had been tortured for helping another sibling run away. She told Stirling her older sister had also fled because she was denied choices some people take for granted, such as returning home at a certain time or driving a car.
After giving a harrowing account of her life in the video, she warns by the time people watch, she could be either dead or in a really bad situation.
Herve Jaubert, author of “Escape from Dubai.”
Princess Latifah was last known to be with Herve Jaubert, an American who served as a French Navy Officer, marine engineer, and spy who operated for the General Directorate for External Security, France’s external intelligence agency and equivalent to the United Kingdom’s MI6 and the United States CIA.
Ironically, Jaubert has been wanted by the Dubai authorities for alleged embezzlement during the time Jaubert owned a submarine design and manufacturing company in Dubai. Now a resident of Florida, those allegations have been widely discredited. He is also an author of “Escape from Dubai,” a book recounting his own escape from Dubai.
According to Stirling, Jaubert and the princess were on his yacht called the Nostromo. Finnish woman, Tiina Jauhiainen, 41, was also aboard the Nostromo, all three disappearing in the Indian ocean, while closing in on Goa, India, known to be where they were headed to execute their escape.
According to UK police, information about the trio’s disappearance was sent to international liaison officers at the National Crime Agency and Interpol so they could proceed with the missing person investigation.
The three had maintained regular contact with Stirling until March 4th and had told the attorney they were 50 miles off the Indian shore, with plans to disembark the yacht and fly to the U.S from Mumbai. Seven hours later, Stirling received the distress call from the princess saying she was hiding inside the yacht, and men were outside. The princess then reported hearing gunshots. Directly after, their communication stops permanently.
Princess Latifa and Tiina Jauhianinen had become good friends prior to the princesses’ disappearance.
According to the Jauhianinen family, Tiina and the princess had met each other through their passion for skydiving and over the years became close friends. Princess Latifa referred to Tiina as “my angel” and the only person “I can talk to about anything.” Tiina was also the princesses’ martial arts instructor and personal trainer.
After learning of Princess Latifa’s tortuous life, Tiina and the princess set out to find Jaubert, now a public figure and famous for his book. Tiina needed help getting the princess out of Dubai and Jaubert was a logical choice to ask for help.
Tiina had maintained regular contact with her family, but the last time Tiina was seen online was the day before the princess’s distress call to Stirling. The following day, one of Tiina’s friends told the family they had heard there was a possible raid on the yacht. The family immediately contacted Finnish Police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and filed a missing person report.
After weeks of being reported missing, in April 2018, Jaubert and Tiina suddenly surfaced.
They both claimed to have been blindfolded and beaten after a hostile boarding. They were both in jail and told they had broken “Islamic Law” by assisting Princess Latifah in her quest to escape Dubai because she is the property of her father.
Herve Jaubert and Tiina Jauhianinen surface to tell their own harrowing stories of being detained by Dubai authorities.
Speaking to Pakistan Defense News from London, Jaubert claims he had attempted to bring the princess to a western country. He confirmed Tiina was on board, along with Princess Latifah and three Filipino nationals who were part of the crew.
Jaubert indicated he was en route to Mumbai and planned to fly everyone to the US from there. However, near Goa, the Nostromo was intercepted in a joint operation by India and the UAE, an act Jaubert considers a criminal conspiracy.
Jaubert tells how he noticed three vessels ghosting him on radar and he knew he was being followed. Then, two speed boats containing six to eight men carrying laser pointed assault rifles, faces covered in helmets and masks rushed the yacht. They proceeded to use stun guns and smoke grenades to neutralize the crew.
He was ordered to raise his hands above his head or they would kill him. With an assault rifle in Jaubert’s face, he complied and the men proceeded to handcuff him and beat him.
“No warning, no warrant, no charges, no explanations, no questions, nothing, just unnecessary brutal force by thugs,” said Jaubert.
The men proceeded to go to Princess Latifa’s cabin and said, “Come on Latifah, let’s go home.” Jaubert described how they forcefully grabbed her while she was screaming she would rather be killed right there on the boat than go back to the UAE. She repeatedly claimed political asylum but was ignored.
Next, at least ten people from the UAE boarded the vessel, some crew, and a captain, the others were special forces, not a private contractor Jaubert recalls. They were surrounded by the men on speedboats, and three coast guard warships. Later it would be reported there was a minimum of five Indian and Emirate warships, two military airplanes and a helicopter taking part in the attack on the Nostromo.
The authorities transported Jaubert to a secret prison where he lived in constant fear he would be executed for stealing a daughter away from their father, the ruler of a country nonetheless.
Once freed, Jaubert sailed for 13 days to Galle, Sri Lanka, abandoned his boat and flew to London. “I was in fear all day we would not make it, as it is easier for the UAE to blow up the yacht with a missile strike to eliminate witnesses and destroy evidence,” says Jaubert.
He claims they let him go due to Princess Latifa’s video, and scandalous stories released in the news. “They also let me go because I was filed as a missing person and the U.S. was looking for me, “ Jaubert said.
While the Indian authorities have denied any paramilitary mission occurred, the UAE has refused to comment. Concerns are growing, the Princess of Dubai is the victim of an “enforced disappearance” after attempting her dramatic escape. Jaubert believes she is being held captive and drugged in isolation for repeatedly misbehaving according to her father, the Sheikh.
The scandal has raised questions about women’s treatment in Dubai. In a seemingly idyllic place, there are clearly still some women who are treated inhumanely, only creating more concern for Princess Latifah’s safety at the hands of her father.
There has been no activity on Princess Latifah’s Instagram account or other social media platforms since her disappearance at sea.
To raise awareness, according to the Helsinki Times, social media users are using hashtags #FindLatifa #WhereisLatifa? #WhereisNostromo #EscapefromDubai
Unlike the ending of a tragic spy novel, friends of Princess Latifah are hoping for a happy-ending.