Thursday, March 22, 2007

Half a century later, a cold case may be solved

This story, which I first saw in the Los Angeles Times, is remarkable in a number of ways. It's the chilling cold case story of Mack Ray Edwards, a man who confessed in 1970 to molesting and killing six children in the Los Angeles area. A man who, before hanging himself in his prison cell two years later, said the number of children he molested and murdered was actually eighteen. The 1957 disappearance of a child who may be one of those eighteen -- and cases of several other possible victims -- are receiving new attention.

Also remarkable is how the new attention came about. Weston DeWalt -- perhaps you know him as the co-author of The Climb or from his Salon debate with Jon Krakauer -- is a Pasadena writer who has been researching the disappearance of Tommy Bowman, an 8-year-old boy. Bowman disappeared fifty years ago, during a family outing in Arroyo Seco. DeWalt came across an old newspaper photograph of Edwards under arrest. DeWalt felt he had seen Edwards's face before -- and remembered a sketch in the Pasadena Police Department files on Bowman's case. Later, he uncovered other evidence that points to the possibility that Bowman was murdered by Edwards.

I'll let you follow the link to see more about this, but although you may be drawn to the other aspects of the story, I hope it will also give you a sense of how great and unending an impact a missing person case can have on a family.

As those of you who've read my books or who visit here regularly know, I believe one of the areas where we severely underutilize the promise of forensic science and other investigative processes is in missing persons cases. We don't put enough funding or effort into getting DNA samples loaded into national databases, in helping medical examiners offices to make better use of the Web for John and Jane Doe cases, for staffing of investigative units, or other relatively straightforward steps help solve these cases.

According to the FBI, as of Janurary, 2007, there are nearly 51,000 active cases of missing adults in U.S. -- and 6,218 active cases of unidentified persons. Yet the nonprofit National Center for Missing Adults is severely short of funds. If you do nothing else today, please stop by their site and donate a buck or two or whatever you can afford.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports on the numbers for children, based on two studies by the Department of Justice:

To date, two such studies have been completed. The first, entitled National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART-1), was released in 1990; the second, known as NISMART-2, was
released in October 2002. According to NISMART-2, an estimated
• 797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period, resulting in an average of 2,185 children reported missing each day;
• 203,900 children were abducted by family members;
• 8,200 children were abducted by persons outside the family; and
• 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. These crimes involve someone the child does not know, or knows only slightly, who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.
Think of missing a loved one for years at a time, without knowing what has become of him or her, and you will just begin to imagine what a hell hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone are living through. Here's hoping investigators in LA County are able to end that hell for a few families.

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