Last week, Tawana, the mother of Jabez Spann, received the closure she’d been chasing since September 4, 2017. That Labor Day weekend was the last time she saw her son alive. The Sarasota teen went missing from his own front yard after having attended a candlelight vigil being held two blocks from his home. After a torturous 18 months without answers, she finally received the news she dreaded. Two men were checking a fence in a pasture in Manatee County when they made a grisly discovery: A human skull. They called 911. The remains of Jabez Spann identified from dental records. Sarasota Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson said in a press conference, “Today, I am sad to report that we were not able to recover Mr. Spann living and return him to his family.”
To tell the full story of Jabez’s disappearance, you have to go all the way back to August, 2017, and the death of another man in Jabez’s life. In late August of 2017, Travis Combs, 31, was fatally shot and killed, with law enforcement investigating his death as a homicide. When the news broke about Jabez’s disappearance, one of the dominating bylines denoted him as a witness to a murder, having been named in a probable cause affidavit for a suspect. Reginald Parker, 55, claimed to have witnessed the shooting of Travis Combs, and allegedly told several individuals that he had witnessed it in November of 2017. These individuals were interviewed by police, corroborating what Parker had told them. Prior to Parker’s arrest on 2017, Jabez’s presence at the crime scene was merely a neighborhood rumor. The publishing of the arrest probable cause affidavit confirmed his presence at the crime scene that night.
Combs’ case eventually became overshadowed by the
disappearance of Jabez Spann in media coverage, as he went missing less than a
week later. The facts of the case as we know it read more like an edgy police
procedural—a teenage boy, having already allegedly witnessed a violent crime,
disappears without a trace, and police find themselves stymied. He disappeared
less than 200 yards away from where Combs’ body was discovered. After Jabez’s
remains were found, Police Deputy Chief Pat Robinson claimed that “hundreds
upon hundreds” of hours have been logged in this investigation, citing that Jabez’s
family has been a valuable asset to investigators. He also noted in a
press conference that this case is personal for law enforcement, like many
cases involving teens or young children, “Many of our detectives…have children
of their own. I’m a father, as the sheriff. I can’t imagine having that
information broken to me about my son. There’s been highs and lows in this
investigation where there’ve been sightings and tips and things we’ve followed
up on. And every time it’s a peak and a valley, [the family] stood with us, and
our investigation team, every step of the way.” At that same press conference, police noted
that they did not believe Jabez left Sarasota of his own volition.
The two men who called 911 told the dispatcher they did not see signs of a weapon at the site—just the skull and “some bones.” It was the break that came after 18 months of following over 100 tips reported to law enforcement that proved to be dead ends. Members of the community have found the news of the discovery bittersweet, like activist Wayne Washington, “You can’t just hurt a child in our community and think that you can live life and everything is going to be sweet. The emotions are very high because I wish that he was alive, but by the family finally finding him they can get the closure they need as a family.” Over the course of the investigation, the reward sum for any information leading to the whereabouts of Jabez Spann had grown to $50,000. Police have yet to say if or how the funds will be disbursed.
Despite the heartbreaking news in her son’s case, his mother
remains steadfast in looking towards the future. Since the time her son
disappeared, she believed he witnessed a brutal murder, and the person
responsible had a hand in making him disappear. She now wants to see that
person answer for their actions, “We’re going to move forward in the hopes that
they can find whoever did this. Those last moments that you caused him, that
you did to him when he was helpless and couldn’t call on anybody…that’s what I
want to see justice for. We got some closure. We’re going to put him in peace
and lay him to rest. We’re not done.”
Every week there are new stories in the news about children and teenagers who have either run away or been kidnapped. When parents see these tragedies play out through media coverage, there’s usually one common thread running through their minds, “This could not happen to my child.” Despite statistics on the demographics most often affected by missing or runaway teens, no family is immune. Parents of a missing child or teen will most certainly have never found themselves in these frightful circumstances before and be at a loss for how to proceed. In addition to filing a report with police, the parents might also consider hiring a private investigator to conduct an independent, concurrent investigation, which begs the question: Should you hire a private investigator to locate your missing or runaway child?
An Overwhelming Task
At first glance, hiring a private investigator may seem superfluous. You may think, “The police are here to help me, and they’re here to help me for free. Why should I consider hiring a private investigator?” The Office of Justice Programs estimates the first 48 hours after your child goes missing are the most crucial in the timeline of any investigation. During these moments, your instinct might be to go find the child yourself or help conduct searches; however, as a parent or guardian of a missing child, your information is the most crucial. A 1982 congressional mandate requires law enforcement to immediately take a report following the disappearance of a child under the age of 18. However, recent reports estimate the excess of some 800,000 missing persons cases reported every year, 85-90% of those cases are individuals under the age of 18. What this statistic tells us is law enforcement, in most parts of the country, are overwhelmed by a caseload (with some departments averaging over 40 cases per investigator) leaving your missing child as a file amidst a stack of equally devastating missing child cases. As law enforcement agencies across the country remain stretched, missing child cases—especially ones where the child appears to have run away—are not always the first priority, as investigators attempt to perform a triage regarding which case requires their attention the most. Private investigators only average between three and four cases at any given time, meaning your child’s case will be at the top of their list of priorities. During the crucial FIRST 48 hours, having a private investigator treat your case as a priority can be the difference between acquiring invaluable information and losing a lead.
Constitutional Red Tape
One of the glowing advantages of hiring a private investigator to find your missing child or teen is the fact PIs possess far more autonomy than the average law enforcement officer or investigator. For instance, when a suspect has been identified, law enforcement often must secure a warrant for them to be tracked as the investigation unfolds. Paperwork and bureaucracy within the chain of command can cause the wheels of justice to turn slowly in regards to local or state law enforcement. Not only are PI’s not required to file this sort of paperwork, but they can also do so without the supervision of a governing law enforcement administration, so the case progression is not stalled for lack of warrant or administration approval.
The Binds of Jurisdiction
Hiring a private investigator conducting an independent, concurrent investigation, means there will never be any issues of jurisdiction when pursuing leads. Say your family lives in Indiana, but while on an out-of-state family vacation, your child goes missing in a crowd. As missing and abducted children across state or even international borders, local law enforcement exponentially lose power to follow leads maybe illuminating the child’s whereabouts. It is also not uncommon for two or more law enforcement agencies to enter a tug of war when it comes to who has jurisdiction over a particular case based on the specific circumstances. This can lead to the loss of leads or time as agencies hash out the details. Private investigators are never bound by jurisdictional bureaucracy. They can travel between states following the trail of a missing child, all without having to file any paperwork or obtain special permissions from superiors.
While law enforcement may have a wealth of experience and exclusive tools at their disposal, it’s important to remember that these civil servants are often overwhelmed with an immense case-load and can only do so much when it comes to the constitutional and jurisdictional boundaries they cannot cross. When hiring a private investigator, remember they have the expertise and similar tools of law enforcement, while also having the time to treat your case as a top priority.
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.