In the past few weeks, the internet has become captivated by the story of a mother who sought out her daughter’s killers in what is being called the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. The story of Miriam Rodriguez is going viral, shocking everyone with the bravery of a 56-year-old other who had to take up the mantle of getting justice for her daughter, who was kidnapped and killed by the Los Zeta drug cartel. Over a period of five years, she assisted in the search and capture of nearly all living members of the group who originally kidnapped her daughter. Despite her harrowing tale of perseverance and justice, the end of the story has people up in arms about the way her case and her daughter’s case was handled by investigating agencies.
For over ten years, Mexico has been torn by violence between multiple criminal organizations who have laid individual claim to drug-smuggling routes into the United States. These routes are lucrative and considered an asset to drug traffickers who want to move illegal drugs into the United States. In-depth coverage on these efforts to quash drug-trafficking has never been consistent and can drastically change depending on what mainstream media outlet is reporting, but one thing is clear: The conflict has caused millions of ripple effects in families of both Mexicans and Americans who have lost loved ones to the violence and cannot get justice.
Since 2006, more than 79,000 have vanished south of the border, the highest amount since the end of the Cold War. Miriam Rodriguez was one of thousands of parents who could not get answers in the cases of their missing children who had gone missing or befallen violence tangential to the Los Zeta cartel. Her 20-year-old daughter, Karen, was kidnapped and killed in 2012. She was carjacked by members of the Los Zeta cartel, who drove the car off with Karen still inside. The objective was to post ransom for Karen’s safe return, but despite her family’s compliance with their demands, Karen was still murdered by the cartel. It would be two long years before her remains would finally be discovered on an empty ranch in 2014. When Miriam was unable to get justice for Karen through the typical channels of law enforcement, she became a woman on a mission to find Karen’s killers.
Like many mothers of missing children, Miriam Rodriguez was driven to activism on behalf of missing children in a familiar mission to mitigate the suffering of other families through education and advocacy. She formed a non-governmental group of 600 families working in tandem to find their missing loved ones. As her daughter’s case continued to go unsolved, Miriam took up the mantle of finding the killers herself. Her methodology mirrored that of a private investigator. Based on conversations with the kidnappers, she was able to seize on a few key pieces of information to actually track one of the kidnappers down on Facebook. She followed lead after lead, armed with a handgun, a fake ID, and disguises that she used to extract information from relevant subjects in the case.
In the sharing of Miriam’s story, people have compared her to a vigilante, not unlike Liam Neeson’s character from the movie, Taken, in which a former CIA operative goes on a rogue mission to rescue his daughter from the clutches of a sex-trafficking ring. Details of Miriam’s story have been muddled in this comparison, with many people believing that she hunted these men down and killed them herself. The truth is that Miriam continued to work with law enforcement on her efforts to bring these men to justice—just not at their behest. In an incident reported by the New York Times when Miriam’s story broke, she had tracked one of Karen’s kidnappers to a vendor’s booth, selling sunglasses. Despite the fact that the man recognized her and gave chase, Miriam was able to tackle him and hold him at gunpoint for almost an hour until authorities arrived to take him into custody. Miriam is credited with taking down at least ten members of the Los Zeta drug cartel during her search. The critical arrest of a man called “Sama,” who was tracked down and arrested with the help of Miriam, led to the implication of several criminal conspirators and perpetrators in Karen’s abduction and murder. An officer who reportedly worked with Miriam in arresting these men remarked on the quality of work this 56-year-old mother did during her independent investigation, “She had gone to every single level of government and they had slammed the door in her face…To help her hunt down the people who took her daughter—it was the greatest privilege of my career.”
Miriam’s story has been shared for her bravery and diligence in bringing her daughter’s killers to justice, but ultimately, the cartel was able to retaliate in a devastating manner. Miriam Rodriguez was murdered in her front yard on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2017. She was shot 12 times as she exited her car in her driveway. Her husband found her face down with her hand in her purse, indicative that she had been reaching for the concealed handgun in her purse. Her murder has forced other civilians with knowledge of the case into secrecy or hiding, convinced that the same people who hunted Miriam down would also come for them. Thus the cycle of intimidation, violence, and war with law enforcement begins anew in Mexico.
Tragedies can affect communities and
society as a whole. Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference
that impacts us all.
It was 24 years ago, on June 9, 1995,
that a little girl vanished at a Little League baseball game in the small town
of Alma, Ark., within the River Valley at the edge of the majestic Ozark
Mountains. Beautiful Morgan Chauntel Nick, age 6, with
long blonde hair and blue eyes has not been seen since.
Morgan Nick is the eldest of three other children. She
loved cats and according to her mother Colleen Nick, she was a shy little girl.
A Girl Scout, Morgan loved bubble gum and said she wanted to be a doctor or a
circus performer when she grew up.
The evening of her disappearance, a friend of the Nick
family had invited them to a baseball game about 30 minutes away. Colleen told
Dateline; the game started late at approximately 9:00 p.m. that night.
Morgan sat in the bleachers with her mom nearly the
entirety of the game but towards the end, two kids, a boy and a girl, a few
years older than Morgan, asked if Morgan could go catch fireflies with them.
Colleen recalls initially telling Morgan no, but other
parents told the worried mother that the kids play in the parking lot all of
the time and would be safe.
Colleen ended up telling Morgan she could go play with
the other children. “She threw her arms around my neck, kissed my cheek, then
the kids all ran out to the parking lot,” said Colleen. “I could turn my head
and see she was right there in sight. I checked on them three or four times.”
At the end of the baseball game, Colleen watched as
the team walked off the field, momentarily looking away from Morgan who was
playing behind the bleachers. When she turned around, she could see the two
other children, but Morgan was no longer with them.
Colleen asked the children where Morgan was, and they
told her Morgan was at her car emptying sand out of her shoes. “Already, when I
couldn’t see Morgan, my heart started beating really fast,” Colleen said in a
Dateline interview. “We were somewhere we hadn’t been before. She wouldn’t go
anywhere by herself, and there wasn’t even anywhere to go,” Colleen said.
“There was no concession stands, no bathrooms.”
Confusion and panic set in for Colleen.
Within minutes a spectator called the police to report
Morgan missing. Police responded within six minutes.
Chief Russell White of the Alma Police Department told
Dateline that the initial officer on the scene immediately suspected “we might
have a bigger problem.” “They did have a lot of manpower or resources, but they
did a whole lot right that first night,” Colleen said.
“The other two kids that were playing with Morgan
separately told the police about a creepy man in a red pick-up truck with a
white camper shell on the back,” Colleen said.
Authorities immediately began an intensive
“We reached out for help from local agencies, the
state police, the FBI,” Chief White said. “We were running a pretty big crew.
The FBI brought in lots of extra people and resources and we did not have, like
a computer system that could handle this kind of case, which helped
According to Colleen, Morgan’s case files fill up an
entire room at the police department. “We have tons of tips coming in every
week,” Chief White said. “It’s very unusual for a 24-year-old case to still
have so many leads.”
Despite the thousands of leads received in Morgan’s
case, she remains missing.
A Mother Fights Back
“She’s not a number. She’s not a statistic. She’s not
a case file. She is a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a friend. And she is
someone worth fighting for,” Colleen told Dateline. “If you’re not on the front
line fighting for your daughter, no one else will. So, it is my job to make
sure she never gets lost. Until someone can prove to me that Morgan is not
coming home, then I am going to fight for her.”
In the years following Morgan’s disappearance, Colleen
started the Morgan
Nick Foundation to help prevent other families from going
through what she has experienced, to raise awareness of other missing children,
and educate the public on safety for children. The foundation also provides
crucial support to other families of missing children.
Over the years Colleen has received a countless number
of recognitions and awards from the FBI, state of Arkansas, to the
International Homicide Investigator’s Association, for her work throughout the
state of Arkansas throughout the country.
“When something so tragic happens to your child, there
is a need to do something of great value,” said Colleen. “We are trying to fill
the gap that wasn’t filled when we needed it the most.”
24 years later, Colleen
continues to selflessly work within her community and nationwide to the benefit
of families and children throughout the country.
The National Impact of John Walsh
We often forget there is a personal story behind many
monumental efforts in this nation and John Walsh is certainly the epitome.
Adam Walsh, age 6, was a little boy whose
disappearance and murder changed the way society looked at missing children.
On the afternoon of July 27, 1981, Adam’s mother took
him shopping at a local mall in Hollywood, Fla. Reve Walsh had wanted to
inquire about the price of a lamp at the Sears department store.
Momentarily, Reve left Adam at an Atari video game
display where several other little boys were taking turns playing on the
display. When Reve returned, she couldn’t find Adam or the other boys and was
told by the store manager that the security guard had asked them all to leave
Adam was paged over the intercom as his mother
searched the store and mall for about an hour. She then called the Hollywood
Police Department at approximately 1:55 p.m. to report Adam missing.
Tragically, on August 10, 1981, a severed head of a
child was found in a drainage canal alongside the Florida Turnpike in Vero
Beach, about 130 miles from Hollywood. It was confirmed it was Adam. His body
has never been found.
Early on, Adam’s parents John and Reve Walsh were
critical of the police investigation which led to John’s anti-crime activism
and the creation of America’s Most Wanted which he is well known for.
Lesser known is his impact on laws and organizations
for missing children. During the 1980s, John and other child advocates lobbied Congress
to pass a law that would protect missing children and educate the public on the
importance of child safety resulting in the Missing Children’s Assistance Act
and the first national clearinghouse of information for missing children.
Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, NCMEC has
regional office in California, Florida, New York and Texas.
According to NCMEC, in 2018 there were 424,066 entries
of missing children in the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
35 years later, NCMEC provides support to thousands of
families of missing children each year, missing children’s case management,
provides training to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and
offers numerous educational programs that fight child exploitation, sex
trafficking, and provides critical information to keep our children safe.
Black & Missing Foundation
Tamika Huston vanished into thin air on or around May
27, 2004, from Spartanburg, S.C. and subsequently found murdered.
Spartanburg was Derrica Wilson’s hometown and she recalls
watching as Tamika’s family struggled to gain any media coverage on a local or
national level while Tamika was missing. A few months later, Natalee Holloway –
a white woman – went missing and dominated news headlines, becoming a household
“It was heartbreaking to see the difference in the
media attention these two cases were getting,” Derrica told Jet Magazine.
Derrica and her sister-in-law Natalie decided to team
up to ensure other families did not face the obscurity that Tamika’s family had
experienced. “We combined our professional backgrounds – mine in law
enforcement and Natalie’s in media – to create an organization that joins the
very important elements in the field of missing persons,” said Derrica.
Founded in 2008, a veteran law enforcement official
and a public relations specialist began channeling their skills for a greater
Eleven years later, Black and Missing
Foundation has become the primary voice for minority missing
providing a platform of hope for the overwhelming number of missing persons of
On the afternoon of January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber
Hagerman was last seen riding her bike in a parking lot near her home in
Arlington, Texas. A witness reported seeing a man in a black, flat-bed truck
snatch Amber from her bicycle.
Four days later, Amber’s body was found in a creek
approximately 3.2 miles from her home. Her murder remains unsolved.
Area residents were outraged and began calling radio
and television stations to vent their anger and to also offer suggestions to
prevent such crimes in the future. One resident, Diana Simone suggested
utilizing the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to notify the public when a child
has been abducted so the public could also assist in the search. Simone
followed up with a letter, with her only request to ensure the program would be
dedicated to Amber Hagerman.
The program was eventually taken to NCMEC with a
request to implement a national initiative that would eventually become known
as the AMBER Alert.
What began as a local effort in the area of the Dallas-Fort Worth area has
grown into a seamless system used by every state in the country. Since the
inception of the program in 1996, through December 31, 2018, 956 children have
been safely recovered specifically as a result of an AMBER Alert being issued.
so tragic happens to your child, there is a need to do something of great
value,” as Colleen said. “We are trying to fill the gap that wasn’t filled when
we needed it the most.” Most certainly, the advancements made in the last 35
years are proof the efforts of one person can make a difference.
Police arrest estranged husband and his girlfriend in connection with her disappearance…
Jennifer Dulous, 50, was last seen on May 24, 2019. The last time anyone heard from her, she was dropping off her five children at school in her black Chevrolet Suburban. Following that last point of contact, police investigating her disappearance have been following a trail of tangible and circumstantial evidence that paints a picture of a marriage fraught with control and intimidation, followed by an ugly custody battle that may have been the motive for a grisly, violent act.
On June 1st, police arrested Jennifer’s estranged husband, Fotis Dulos, and his girlfriend, Michelle Troconis, charging them with tampering/fabricating physical evidence and hindering prosecution. The evidence cited in the arrest warrants includes blood spatter found in Jennifer’s garage, where police believe she was violently attacked. In nearby Hartford, police found Jennifer’s blood on clothes and sponges in multiple trash cans. Surveillance footage shows a man and woman arriving in a car, then the man dumping the clothes and other items into different bins. The description of both the man and woman match descriptions of Fotis Dulos and Michelle Troconis.
As far back as May 2017, police were able to confirm through court documents that Jennifer and her husband were in the grips of an ugly custody battle at the time of her disappearance. During those custody proceedings, Jennifer alleged that her husband had presented with growing “irrational, unsafe, bullying, threatening and controlling behavior,” and raised a concern for the physical safety of both herself and her children. This fear was only compounded by the fact that as early as June 2017, Fotis Dulos made threats that if Jennifer did not adhere to his terms of their divorce, he would kidnap the children. Fotis now denies that he ever said those things to Jennifer. Jennifer also added that Fotis had bought a gun, which he now claims was purchased legally and only for the purpose of home security. On June 3, 2017, Jennifer Dulous said, “I am afraid of my husband. I know that filing for divorce and filing this motion will enrage him. I know he will retaliate by trying to harm me in some way.”
More court transcripts with quotes from Fotis Dulos seem to corroborate that perceived rage. During one of the divorce proceedings, he is on the record saying to the judge, “Your Honor, I am sorry, but why do I always get the raw end of the stick? I really want to see my children. I have spent 2 percent of the time with them since January. I’m not Charles Manson.” That proceeding was in March, just months before Jennifer disappeared. Initially, Jennifer and Fotis were sharing custody of their children, alternating weekends and complying with other orders in the agreement, such as an order to not expose the children to any romantic partners of either parent. When Fotis Dulos violated that order by allowing the children to spend time with his girlfriend, sole custody was transferred to Jennifer. While some supervised visitation with his children was eventually restored, the children were still not to have contact with Traconis.
There was another factor in the Dulous’ rapidly deteriorating situation that might bring new context to these charges. In addition to the emotional toll Fotis Dulos cited after prolonged separation from his children, there was also a mounting pile of debt accumulating to facilitate the costs of waging the custody battle. In addition to legal fees for personal counsel, Fotis was also staring down the barrel of costs for a court-appointed guardian for all five children ($175,000), a child psychaiatrist that wrote the report entered into evidence ($40,000), a family therapist, three psychologists, and court-approved monitors who supervise Fotis’ visits with the children.
Both Dulos and his girlfriend have been released on bond. Norm Pattis is the defense attorney of record for Dulos seems to be playing his cards close to the vest—so close in fact that both he and his client failed to appear at several official proceedings, such as a deposition last month, and another court appearance earlier in June. Pattis commented that the description of the evidence recovered from the trash cans in Hartford “was a very awkward set of facts,” and has yet to reveal his client’s alibi for the time frame in question when his estranged wife disappeared. “There is an explanation, but we’re not going to give it,” Pattis said, going on to say that they would wait until it was time to present the case to a jury before releasing that information to the public. Pattis further incurred public outrage by stating publicly that Jennifer has likely pulled a “Gone Girl,” making reference to the Gillian Flynn novel and film of the same name, in which a wife deliberately stages her own disappearance with the intent to implicate her husband. Author Flynn responded to the theory, “It absolutely sickens me that a work of fiction written by me would be used by Fotis Dulos’ lawyer as a defense and as a hypothetical, sensationalized motive behind Jennifer’s very real and very tragic disappearance.”
Logan City authorities are still searching for 5-year-old Elizabeth Shelley in Utah, following reports that the chief suspect in her disappearance is both under arrest and has been charged with murder. Despite the fact that a body has not been recovered, authorities have released statements characterizing the evidence in the case as solid.
The Cache County Attorney’s Office also recently released a grateful statement from the family, “As a family, we are overwhelmed, scared and sad at the recent tragic events that have touched our lives.” The desperate and miserable circumstances of little Elizabeth’s disappearance have been further compounded by the alleged involvement of her uncle, Alex Whipple.
Elizabeth Shelley was last seen at home by her mother in their Logan City home around 2AM on Saturday, May 25. This is also the time Whipple was last seen, because he was spending the night at the house. What followed was a crucial and narrow window of seven hours (2AM – 9AM) in which police have stated they believe Whipple left the house with the missing child. Around 10AM that morning, Elizabeth Shelley is reported missing by her family. Multiple investigating entities were brought in to find both Elizabeth Shelley and her uncle, including the FBI, the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force and Violent Crimes Task Force, Homeland Security, Cache County Sheriff’s Office, North Park Police Department, Smithfield Police Department, Utah Highway Patrol, Adult Probation and Parole and Great Basin K9.
This missing child investigation is another in a string of recent cases in which police have attempted to utilize private home footage from external CCTV systems and smart doorbells in order to fill in the gaps in a case’s timeline. In recent weeks, Houston law enforcement has employed similar investigative methods to find answers in the disappearance of Maleah Davis. Evidence obtained from the locals’ security systems and public CCTV surveillance cameras led police to investigating the girl’s mother’s former boyfriend. Authorities searching for Elizabeth Shelley continue to ask the community to review their own footage in the hopes that they might see something informative to their investigation.
When Whipple was located around 3PM that Saturday afternoon, the police took him into custody on the basis there was a warrant out for his arrest for failure to comply with the terms of his parole. Police recovered evidence in the vicinity of Elizabeth’s home and surrounding areas that are linked to both Whipple and the missing child. DNA obtained from some of Elizabeth’s personal items allowed police to test these items for matches to her genetic profile. Local media has reported on the grizzly list of items investigators have found related to the case. On May 28th, Chief Gary Jensen of the Logan City Police Department said in a press conference, “we have strong evidence connecting Alex to Lizzy’s disappearance.” As of Wednesday, he continues to exercise his right to remain silent.
As of May 29th, Alex Whipple is formally charged with aggravated murder, child kidnapping, desecration of a body, and two counts of obstruction of justice for his continued lack of cooperation with the investigation.
Update: Late on Wednesday, May 29th, reports came in that a body believed to be 5-year-old Elizabeth Shelley was found less than a block from her home after Whipple told his lawyer where he had hidden her. According to reports, Whipple provided the location of the child’s body in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table.
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.