Police waste no time with missing persons' lives at stake
Investigations begin as soon as report filed
1:36 AM, Jul. 20, 2007 |
Capt. Jeff Sanborn of the Brown County Sheriff's Department leans on the missing persons case file for Areerat Chuprevich, who has been missing since April 2003. Sanborn said law enforcement personnel work as quickly as possible when they receive a report in case the missing person is in danger. Police are currently searching for a Green Bay woman who has been missing a week. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette
Capt. Jeff Sanborn of the Brown County Sheriff's Department leans on the missing persons case file for Areerat Chuprevich, who has been missing since April 2003. Sanborn said law enforcement personnel work as quickly as possible when they receive a report in case the missing person is in danger. Police are currently searching for a Green Bay woman who has been missing a week. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette http://www.gannettonline.com/external/scri...me/?siteid=7020
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Open Brown Co. missing-person cases
Active missing-person cases include:
# Amber Wilde
Wilde, 19, disappeared in September 1998 after being involved in a minor fender bender in Green Bay. Her family last heard from her Sept. 23, 1998, the same day as the wreck.
When her father couldn't get in touch with her the next day, he traveled from his home in Mayville to Green Bay and found her apartment locked and her purse and keys gone.
When Wilde, who was 4½ months pregnant and attending UW-Green Bay on a scholarship, failed to show up in West Bend for a scheduled eye doctor appointment and other family obligations, her family panicked, describing Amber as an "endless planner." The family filed a missing person report with Green Bay police that same day — Sept. 26, 1998.
Her car was found about a week later outside of a sports bar near Lambeau Field.
Wilde, who would now be 28, was 5-feet 5-inches tall, 140 pounds with long reddish-brown hair, brown eyes and eight small hoop earrings in one ear. Her due date was Feb. 15, 1999, which would make her child 8 years old.
# Dawn Mohn
Mohn, 41, of Green Bay, was last seen about 2 a.m. Aug. 21, 2000, after leaving a corn roast at Lenny's Tap on North Broadway in Green Bay. She was spotted walking a few blocks away — still on Broadway — but did not return to her Monroe Avenue home.
Her wallet was found in the 400 block of North Broadway — near the bar — the next day.
Police said Mohn, who would now be 48, had a medical condition that could render her unconscious.
# Areerat Chuprevich
Chuprevich, 32, a native of Thailand, was a student at St. Norbert College and lived with her husband at the Mariner Motel in Allouez. The last time anyone talked to her was when she abruptly stopped conversing with her sister in an Internet chat room about 9:30 p.m. April 26, 2003.
Tom Chuprevich reported his wife missing April 28 after returning from a farm in Oconto County where his daughter, Chantel, and her husband raised horses.
Search warrants filed in the case identified the son-in-law, Karl McLeod, as the focus of the probe. Brown County Sheriff's Department officials said he was a person of interest, but stopped short of calling the man a suspect.
Detectives seized several computers and the man's pickup. Investigators have gotten information back from computer experts on one of the machines.
McLeod, 41, committed suicide May 15, 2006, while being held at the Wisconsin Resource Center serving a 10-year sentence for brutally beating a woman in April 2003.
Areerat Chuprevich would be 36 years old today.
Brown County Sheriff's investigators continue to work the Chuprevich case as an active investigation.
# Beulah Ann Ware
Ware, who would be 51 today, of Green Bay, has been missing since March 30, 2004, according to the Green Bay Police Department.
A search after her disappearance yielded no results, as have several renewed efforts since.
She was often seen riding her bike in the North Ashland Avenue area and on the east side of the city as far Danz Avenue.
Police say Ware had been abused by her husband, Tyrone Ware, who reported her missing one week after being released from jail where he was being held on domestic abuse charges. Tyrone Ware was killed July 8 when he was struck by a car on Elizabeth Street and impaled in the vehicle's windshield
Police describe Beulah Ann Ware as white, 5-feet, 5-inches tall, 150 pounds with black hair and hazel eyes.
Police said Ware was unemployed and relied on community services for support. Because of that, investigators have been unable to track her through methods such as vehicle registration, driver's license activity or credit-card usage.
# Todd Yopek
Yopek, of Denmark, was last heard from April 23, 2006, in a phone conversation with his family.
Yopek, now 46, told his parents that he had been dropped off in Green Bay and would be home in a day or two. He never returned.
Yopek made his way around Denmark on a red 10-speed bicycle with a wooden carrier on the back. He was last seen in that area April 17, 2006.
Yopek is described as a 5-feet 8-inches tall, 145 pounds with blue eyes and brown hair.
# Mahalia Xiong
Xiong, 21, was last seen driving away from Ashwaubenon Bowling Alley early July 13 after a night out with friends bowling and drinking at Time Out, a sports bar on Hansen Road.
Xiong was dropped off in the bowling alley lot and was seen driving away in a rental car she was using while her vehicle was under repair.
Xiong called her boyfriend's brother from her cell phone about 2:30 a.m. July 13, but the call was not answered, and no voicemail was left.
Her family reported her missing Saturday.
Xiong, a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay senior, is described as 5 feet, 2 inches tall, 110 pounds with a medium build. She has black hair and brown eyes and has a tattoo of a cross and her name on her left shoulder and tribal art tattooed on her lower back.
Candlelight vigil for Mahalia Xiong
# Where: Lambeau Field parking lot, South Oneida Street, near the Resch Center.
# When: 9 p.m. today
# Expected speakers: Jerry Menne, Ashwaubenon interim village president; Sue Keihn, associate provost for student affairs/dean of students for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay; Jim Schmitt, Green Bay mayor.
# More information: http://mahaliaxiong.pleasehelpfind.org
It usually starts with a flurry of phone calls to friends, relatives, classmates or colleagues that all come up empty.
Have you seen …? Have you heard from …? Did they come home last night …? When's the last time …?
And at some point in that calamity, someone comes to the conclusion that something is seriously amiss and calls the authorities, triggering a response that can grow more labor intensive and complicated by the minute.
It's the beginning of a missing person investigation.
"It starts immediately in the field," said Brown County Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Sanborn, an investigator for more than 10 years, head of his agency's detective bureau and a veteran of dozens of missing persons investigations.
"The patrol officers do as much legwork as they can, and if need be, we start calling in detectives," said Sanborn, who has five open missing adult cases in his detectives' caseload.
Officers often retrace steps already covered by the missing person's family or friends, making phone calls and interviewing the last person to have contact with the person believed to be missing. There's no magic time someone has to be gone, he said, acknowledging the myth a person needs to be gone for 24 or 72 hours before authorities will take action.
"You're working as fast as possible in case the person is endangered," Sanborn said. "It takes a priority and it is prioritized right up to the top."
Missing a week
Green Bay police are investigating the whereabouts of Mahalia Xiong, a 21-year-old woman dropped off outside Ashwaubenon Bowling Alley early July 13 after a night out with friends. A phone call made a short time later from Xiong's cell phone — unanswered and without a message — was the last contact with Xiong's family or friends. She was last seen driving away from the bowling alley in the 1996 Mercury Sable rental car — license plate TFD-715 — she was driving while her car was being repaired.
Part of the initial response to a missing person call is to determine if the person is really missing or just not wanting to be found.
"Sometimes somebody is reported missing when they disappear because they want to be by themselves," said Green Bay police Lt. David Wesely. There's no law that says an adult can't run away, he notes.
Age, mental health, physical health and any evidence of foul play all factor into that evaluation, Wesely said.
But when the disappearance is a significant departure from the person's normal routine and pattern, police react assuming the worst.
The Xiong case is a prime example of a departure from the norm, Wesely said. That has police working as fast as they can.
"I think initially, the brunt of the investigation is to try and locate her as quickly as possible for fear that she is in harm's way," Wesely said.
"We don't wait 24 hours, we don't wait 48 hours," Wesely said. "Our policy — for quite a while now — is that we look at all (the) factors and try to find those people as quickly as we can.
"To put it bluntly, she's the daughter of somebody out there," he said. "And our responsibility is to try and find her as soon as we can, for her safety, but also for her family. You can imagine what they're going through right now."
'Emotional roller coaster'
Steve Wilde knows exactly what that family is going through. His 19-year-old daughter, Amber, went missing Sept. 23, 1998, and her whereabouts remain unknown.
"You go over everything you've talked about with your child in the past couple weeks," said Wilde, of Mayville. "Did you forget something that she said she had to do? You try to remember everything you've talked about.
"You go crazy. You're up 20 or 22 hours a day trying to figure things out."
Wilde said it is an emotional roller coaster ride. He survived on candy bars and Diet Coke for more than a week when Amber — who was 4½ months pregnant — was first reported missing. She was living in Green Bay attending classes at UW-Green Bay when she disappeared.
"You want to help yourself get an answer and you do whatever you need to do to keep yourself going," Wilde said. "You think if you take a break it's going to be the time you're going to miss something.
"You kind of lose your mind. It's emotional torture."
Red flags rising
Once a case is deemed a suspicious disappearance, the subject's name and information are entered into a pair of national databases that raise red flags if the person has contact with law enforcement anywhere else in the country.
Friends and family often provide more answers — different in their own respects. Friends can help fill in gaps where family members have been kept in the dark, Sanborn said. It is still a labor-intensive process and can tax an agency's resources.
"Just interviews alone … if you have 10 family members and 12 friends, you have to have detectives go to their house and travel there or get them on the phone and track them down," Wesely said. "That can take some time."
Investigators also begin deconstructing the missing person's life.
Phone records, bank records, appointments kept and missed, and their homes are all scrutinized. Investigators work to establish a timeline working from the time the person was last seen or their last known contact.
While there is no instruction manual to a missing persons case, following the money often provides dividends one way or another, Sanborn said.
"If a person is gone, they need money," Sanborn said flatly. "Whether it's cash or credit or a checking account, they need money. We always try to track that."
If there's no activity on the financial front, it can speak volumes, too.
Investigators look into the person's mail and, more so in recent years, their computer. Plans to purchase plane tickets or a long-distance relationship can come to light when officers peruse a person's e-mail and hard drive.
Missing adult cases are different than missing child cases, including the kinds of tools at investigators' disposal.
In cases of juveniles, the nationwide Amber Alert system can mass broadcast information about an abduction, but it is reserved for situations in which children are missing and investigators have "significant evidence to show they are in danger of great bodily harm or death," Wesely said.
The criteria are strict because law enforcement wants people to notice when Amber Alerts are issued. Use the system too often and it could breed complacency, Wesely said.
Missing persons reports are common, both Wesely and Sanborn said. The most common outcome is that the person turns up quickly, the report usually the product of miscommunication.
"Missing persons cases are extremely common — weekly for sure," Sanborn said. "The majority have positive endings.
"Some take minutes, some take days or months … even years. There are some missing persons we're never able to recover."
Sanborn noted a recent case in which a mother of several children took off and went out of state for several days without telling anyone.
"Her vehicle was found in a parking ramp, and we later learned she had traveled to California and back and was found in a local motel," Sanborn said. "She didn't think anyone would be checking for her.
"It was a strange one … but we went for that week exhausting all those avenues to find out that she just needed to get away."
And then there's Areerat Chuprevich, the Allouez woman who disappeared April 27, 2003.
She's still missing, and detectives are still working to find her.
"I had a lead yesterday brought to my attention in connection to that case," Sanborn said. "It was information gained through a source in the prison system. It may turn out to be nothing, but we follow up on it.
"It's not as if these cases are put in a file and the door is shut. They stay active."
The fact that now three of the area's current missing persons cases involve female college students have investigators on alert, but at this point the factor is being chalked up to happenstance.
In the two other cases, the missing woman's car turned up at an area bar in the weeks following her disappearance. The car Xiong was driving has not been found.
"Right now, we're handling it as a coincidence," Wesely said. "There is no evidence or information that would lead us to believe other than that at this point."