Revealed: The Hidden Methods Private Investigators Use to Find Missing Persons
The true crime world is fascinated by tales of missing persons. Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services are always adding new documentaries and series about missing persons, which often detail the sophisticated methods that law enforcement uses to find missing persons. However, when law enforcement cannot close a missing person case, families will turn to the expertise of a private investigator to find a missing person—but without the resources and support of a law enforcement agency, how does a private investigator find a missing person?
Although private investigators do not have access to the same level of informational resources as law enforcement, they still have tools at their disposal to help find a missing person. Through their licensure by the state, private investigators have access to verified databases that allow them to conduct background checks on subjects in a case. When trying to find a missing person, these databases can be used to develop leads, find a subject’s last known address, look up criminal histories, and so much more.
Private investigators typically have diverse and comprehensive experience in surveillance operations. Surveillance is one of the covert ways that private investigators can find a missing person. Surveillance operations are a great way for private investigators to collect data, develop leads, and document the unseen factors in a missing person case. For example, when trying to find a missing person in a sex trafficking ring, private investigators may set up surveillance equipment around a suspected hub of operations in order to develop a concrete plan for recovery. Such recordings and pictures can also be used in criminal and civil court.
When trying to find a missing person, one of a private investigator’s best tools is their ability to identify potential witnesses and develop a rapport with them in order to extract information. This can be done overtly or covertly. Sometimes investigators attempt to develop a personal relationship with witnesses in order to extract information from them without suspicion. Within reason, investigators may also wear disguises and present alternative pretenses for speaking with the witness. Whatever the circumstances of the case demands, investigators have the ability to develop leads and corroborate previously received testimony regarding the relevant facts in the case.
In some circumstances, it might become necessary for an investigator to develop a ruse or undercover operation in order to find a missing person. Investigators have been known to go undercover as delivery drivers, party patrons, or in extreme circumstances, embedding themselves into criminal enterprise in order to get answers. Investigators can wear covert surveillance equipment on their person, such as hidden cameras and microphones, in order to document relevant facts in the case and use them to develop further leads in recovering or finding the missing person.
Keeping a missing person’s face out in the media is crucial to a continuing a flow of information and leads for investigators. Though it may sound harsh, the public has a very short memory. Cases of missing people, particularly women of color, are forgotten almost as soon as they’re heard. It typically falls to the families of missing persons to conduct missing person awareness campaigns on their own time, relentlessly sharing their picture and story so that it may increase the chances of their loved one being found. Law enforcement does not typically devote sources specifically to awareness campaigns, but private investigators sometimes offer online awareness campaigns as part of their services for finding missing persons. The more time the missing person’s face is in the public eye, the more leads investigators are likely to generate.
According to stunning new allegations by prosecutors, Paul Flores killed Kristen Smart following attempts to sexually assault her in her dorm room on the night she went missing. This week, investigators, family members, and true crime fans are all feeling some semblance of progress in the case of missing Cal Poly student, Kristen Smart after Paul Flores, a long-time person of interest in the case was arrested in connection with her disappearance. Smart disappeared in 1996 after she left a party with her friends and never arrived back at her student dormitory. Since her disappearance, investigators have been looking Flores, who was reportedly the last person to see Smart before she went missing.
The public’s fascination with the Kristen Smart’s case goes back to 1996 when she first went missing. The Cal Poly student was on her way to a party the night she went missing, May 24, 1996. She was supposed to speak to her parents on the phone before she left her dorm room for the party, but her parents never heard from her. Kristen ended up at an off-campus party where she became heavily intoxicated and passed out on the lawn of a neighboring house. Kristen was leaving the party with friends when Paul Flores came up on them and offered to walk Kristen back to her dorm. Kristen was never heard from again, and Paul Flores has always been identified as the last person to see her alive.
The theory that Paul Flores killed Kristen Smart came from the presumed timeline of Kristen’s last movements the night she disappeared. Since Flores was the last person to be seen with her, it stands to reason he would have information about her disappearance. However, over the years, Paul Flores has proven to be a tough nut to crack. Despite the fact that Flores remained ingrained in discourse around the case for the next 20 years, he was never formally charged by law enforcement, and invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination when deposed in a wrongful death suit in 2005 levied by Kristen’s parents. Despite numerous searches by law enforcement, friends, and family, her remains have never been found.
Authorities investigating the disappearance of Kristen Smart have credited a true-crime podcast in part for the progress that has been made in the case. Your Own Backyard, a true-crime podcast that takes a deep dive into Kristen Smart’s disappearance, was launched in 2019 by Chris Lambert, a veteran podcaster who was humble when describing his investigative efforts to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, “The podcast was one part of the whole formula. Even with what I found, I can’t go arrest somebody. I needed [the sheriff’s office] to do their job. I was willing to do what I could to assist in that. You can get varying levels of agreement about what I did directly led to an arrest. My personal opinion was that I was one piece of the formula.” Following the release of the podcast, law enforcement was able to develop leads. Paul Flores and his father, Ruben, was also arrested as an accessory after the fact and is believed to have helped Flores dispose of Kristen’s remains. In a press conference following their arrest, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said to the media, “In 2019, we interviewed several witnesses that had not been previously interviewed and some of that information came to light through the podcast that many of you are familiar with.”
Paul Flores and his father, Ruben were arraigned on Thursday morning. The DA’s office is reportedly requesting a higher bail amount for Ruben Flores set at $250,000. Paul Flores remains in jail, held on zero bail for felony murder.
For the last month, people living on both sides of the Atlantic ocean have been gripped by the story of missing former flight attendant, Sarm Heslop. Sarm Heslop was first reported missing on March 7, 2021 by her boyfriend, Ryan Bane when she vanished while on his yacht in the United States’ Virgin Islands. The investigation has spanned over the Islands and now involves international cooperation between FBI agents and U.K. investigators.
At the time of her disappearance, Sarm Heslop was living her dream of working as a chef in the Virgin Islands. She moved to the Virgin Islands from Southampton, England and had found work on Ryan Bane’s charter yacht while he conducted island tours for tourists on the boat. Sarm was dating Bane after meeting him on Tinder, and found working together to be a way to spend more time together. Despite reports that they were very happy at the time of her disappearance, Ryan Bane waited nine hours to call the Coast Guard after Heslop disappeared from his boat. They’d gone to dinner the night of March 7 on the island of St. John and returned to the yacht. Bane claims that he awoke around 2 in the morning to realize that Sarm was not on the boat. He called 911 to report her missing. He was then instructed to call the Coast Guard, but did not do so until almost noon that same day. Valuable time was obviously lost in the investigation, and to further exacerbate the frustration, Bane refused to let police search his boat. Because of his lack of cooperation, authorities were not able to say with certainty that Sarm Heslop reboarded the yacht when they returned from the mainland.
A month has gone by and there still have been no answers in Sarm Heslop’s disappearance. Her friends and family have taken to the internet and social media in order to spread awareness about her case. People following the case have done so by following the hashtag #FindSarm on major social media platforms. The family also generated a website about her case findsarm.com. Her family has released a statement about the case: “We are shocked and distraught that Sarm is missing. We would like assurance that the authorities in the Virgin Islands are doing everything possible to find her and that the investigation into our beautiful and cherished daughter’s disappearance includes a comprehensive fingertip search of the boat.”
Authorities have not officially named Bane a suspect in Sarm’s disappearance. According to his high-profile defense attorney, David Cattie, who represented Ghislaine Maxwell, Bane has “invoked his right to silence.” Bane is currently residing in the Virgin Islands.
Have you seen Victor Johnson? The missing Indianapolis man is Black, 6’3” with a medium build and tattoos. At 40 years old, Victor has only ever called Indianapolis home. A familiar face on the eastside, Victor’s friends and family are now missing him following a mysterious disappearance. Victor Johnson was last seen by his family near 10th Street and Oakland Avenue on March 31st.
Adults have the right to go missing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help. If a person over 18 goes missing, investigating authorities might be less inclined to prioritize it without evidence that the person went missing under malicious circumstances. After all, adults have the right to go off the grid without calling their families, but Victor’s family has reason to believe that Victor may be experiencing some level of distress. Victor’s stepfather, Crosby Swinney, told FOX59 that Victor had been struggling with hallucinations as the result of withdrawal from alcohol, and had been experiencing seizures. Swinney was the last person to see Victor on March 31st when he dropped him off at his girlfriend’s house. la
News of Victor Johnson’s disappearance has rippled throughout the eastside, leading to more than one witness coming out of the woodwork to speak to local media. A woman identified herself to FOX59 over the phone as Victor’s girlfriend, but refused to give her name. She claimed that male stranger had possession of Victor’s cell phone, because when she called it, he answered and claimed to have found the phone, but would not give his name, nor has he turned up to return the phone.
Authorities have not ruled out foul play in Victor’s disappearance. Meanwhile, his family continues their own search efforts in the streets of Indianapolis.
Anyone with information on Victor’s whereabouts should call Detective James Burton at IMPD’s Misisng Persons Branch (317-327-6160)
The family of Kirsten Brueggeman has been anxious for answers in her mysterious disappearance for over two months. Kirsten was last seen walking away from the Irish Mutt, a local bar, after a night of drinking with her friends. Security cameras last caught her image around 2:00 AM on Saturday, January 2, 2021, walking through the YMCA parking lot at 501 North Shortridge Road, Indianapolis, IN 46219. After months without answers, the family is now offering a $10,000 reward in exchange for information leading to her safe return. Lauth Investigations International has started a GoFundMe on behalf of the family to fund an independent investigation into her disappearance. You can donate to that GoFundMe here.
Kirsten Brueggeman communicated with her mother, Lisa, on the day she went missing, telling her that she wouldn’t need a ride home from work because she intended to meet up with friends at a local bar, The Irish Mutt. Along with several friends, Kirsten left the bar around 12:15 in the morning after a night of merriment. After expressing a desire to go bowling, Kirsten was last seen by her friends headed in the direction of a nearby bowling alley. She was last observed on surveillance camera around 2:00 am.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police department initially reached out to the community in search of clues regarding the missing woman. As the old adage goes, “Someone knows something.” Police were in search of anyone who might have witnessed Kirsten’s movements at crucial junctures in the final moments before she was last seen. Prior to being seen on camera at approximately 2:00 a.m on the YMCA lot, other cameras recorded Kirsten walking south and then north on Shortridge Road.
After two months without any answers in her disappearance, Kirsten’s family has retained the services of missing person investigators at Lauth Investigations International. Lauth missing person investigators are in the initial stages of conducting an independent investigation into Kristen’s disappearance. Seeking the expertise of an independent private investigator is not dissimilar to seeking a second opinion when consulting doctors about a medical problem. Having a fresh pair of eyes, or two or three, look over a case is one of the best ways to develop new leads, objectively pursue all existing leads, and develop comprehensive strategies for searches in missing person investigations. Lauth investigators are comprised of former military and law enforcement personnel, and have 30 years of experience in missing person cases.
Kirsten Brueggeman is 5-foot-two-inches tall, weighing about 115 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. When last seen, she was wearing a black, waist-length coat, blue jeans, a gray stocking cap, and she was carrying a white backpack. Anyone with information about Kirsten’s whereabouts should call IMPD Missing Persons at 317-327-6160, or contact Lauth Investigation International’s anonymous tip line at 317-279-6082.