What happens when a child goes missing? Every second counts and law enforcement needs to know exactly what to do to improve the chances the victim will be found alive. Enter Lindsey Wade, a veteran detective from Tacoma, Washington. Lindsey travels the country training officers on child abduction response and what to do in those crucial seconds, minutes, and hours after a child goes missing. Today, she joins Detectives Dan and Dave to talk about what she teaches, the critical information parents need to know, and her work as a cold case detective.Read Transcript
Dan: [00:00:04] In police stations across the country, officers start their shifts in The Briefing Room.
Dave: [00:00:10] It’s a place where law enforcement can speak openly and candidly about safety, training, policy, crime trends, and more.
Dan: [00:00:17] We think it’s time to invite you in.
Dave: [00:00:19] So, pull up a chair.
Dan and Dave: [00:00:21] Welcome to The Briefing Room.[Briefing Room theme playing]
Dan: [00:00:36] Imagine you’re the parent of a 13-year-old child. She’s gone on a bike ride like she often does. She has a curfew, which she always complies with. Then the worst thing you can imagine happens. The curfew passes and she’s nowhere to be found. You call her friends, they haven’t seen her. You scour the neighborhood, she’s nowhere to be found. You call the police, and your worst nightmare begins.
Dave: [00:00:59] That’s the story at the heart of our next guest’s book, In My DNA: My Career Investigating Your Worst Nightmares. In the case of 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian, who went missing in her town near Tacoma, Washington, on August 4th, 1986, the worst nightmare came true. Her body was found three weeks later, but the case went cold for over 30 years. Detective Lindsey Wade helped lead the team that solved the case. Hello, Lindsey.
Lindsey: [00:01:24] Hello. Thank you for having me.
Dave: [00:01:26] This was a cold case that landed on your desk, and you dug in, and solved it. For anyone in law enforcement, a fresh child abduction is a nightmare call. But law enforcement officers don’t get a whole lot of training on child abduction cases. So, they might not know exactly where to go, which resources to start mobilizing. And that can be a huge issue because minutes matter in these child abduction cases. Lindsey, you train law enforcement on child abductions and you’ve worked numerous child abduction cases.
Lindsey: [00:02:03] Right.
Dave: [00:02:03] I wanted to lean on you, so you could provide some expertise on what law enforcement should do, what parents should be concerned with, and in general, how child abduction cases are investigated.
Lindsey: [00:02:18] Appreciate you having me on the show. This is a topic that is so important for law enforcement to really understand, for the general public to really understand. I think that it is so complicated and these cases are so massive that they really can just take over an entire agency and really an entire community in the blink of an eye. And so, it’s one of those situations where you really have to have resources set up ahead of time. And unfortunately, a lot of agencies will never experience a situation that requires them to get ready, if that makes sense for something like this. And a lot of times, of course, waiting until it happens is too late.
Dave: [00:02:59] It’s one of those calls that you’re just hoping never happens, but how do you hammer home the most important first steps of these investigations? You can’t get the first hour back. You, as a subject matter expert, what are the absolute must haves from a police response in the first couple minutes, hours, and days? What should a family expect to see from an appropriate law enforcement response?
Lindsey: [00:03:28] Yeah, that’s a difficult question to answer because every situation is so different, and I think with the majority of child abduction cases, it’s not witnessed. And so, that puts law enforcement in a really difficult predicament from the beginning, because they don’t really know what they have. And hindsight is always 2020, and sometimes it takes a while to figure out what you have. We’ve all been to those calls, all been sent to a place because a child is overdue, the kid was due home after school, or should have been home hours ago and hasn’t come home. We’ve all responded to those and they turned up to be nothing. They turned up to be, “Oh, the kid forgot to check in or they stopped at somebody else’s house and didn’t tell their parents.”
[00:04:15] So, when law enforcement gets that call of a missing child, they have to weed through all those previous experiences of, it’s probably just an overdue child. That’s what we’re used to responding to. In some cases, though, it’s pretty clear from the get go that something has happened. And in those cases, I think it may be a little bit easier for law enforcement to quickly mobilize, and lock down the crime scene, and call out detectives, and decide whether or not an Amber alert is appropriate, and do all of those initial steps that you would take if you do have a true child abduction. Unfortunately, it just usually doesn’t happen like that.
[00:04:57] A lot of the cases that I’ve been involved with, either current cases or cold cases, they didn’t happen like that. There were hours between when the child was last seen and when they get reported. It’s not really clear at first if nobody wants to make a big deal out of it. And that, of course, puts the police and the investigation behind the eight ball, because now you may have days or weeks, hopefully not weeks, but sometimes, a long time between when that child was last seen, and when law enforcement is finally notified and gets involved.
[00:05:32] There was a case that I was involved with been a few years ago now. And in that situation, the family didn’t report the child missing for over 24 hours, and she was six. So, you have the fact that the child isn’t even reported missing for 24 hours, which means the police aren’t involved for over 24 hours. And then in that case, just based on her age alone, really ratcheted up the level of response by the law enforcement agency, because at that point, okay, she’s six years. She shouldn’t have been out all night on her own. No one really knows what happened to her initially, but regardless, it’s pretty dangerous for a six-year-old to be out on their own all night long.
[00:06:15] So, either something happened to her at the beginning or something may have happened to her later. But even though there was no witness to what happened to her, no one could really say, those facts alone tell us, “Okay, we need to really heighten the response here.”
Dan: [00:06:31] Lindsey, you talk about a 24-hour gap in law enforcement being even notified of this. The significance of that that I think Dave and I recognize and obviously you is that we’ve got potentially a crime scene that is being contaminated or especially up where you work depending on time of the year, the weather can have a huge impact on that crime scene. So, can you talk about why it’s so important that law enforcement gets involved early? This is our job as law enforcement. We are bound to investigate. That’s what we do. So, it’s not an interruption to our work. It’s the purpose of our work.
Lindsey: [00:07:09] Yeah. It is absolutely critical that law enforcement be notified as quickly as possible to do exactly what you said, to lock down that crime scene, to preserve it, and make sure that evidence isn’t lost, destroyed, walked away with, cleaned up, or whatever. And with child abduction cases, there may be multiple crime scenes. In fact, there usually are multiple crime scenes. And so, I would also take it a step further to say, not only should law enforcement be contacted, but whoever’s going to be investigating it, presumably a detective or a detective unit or a Child Abduction Response Team should be notified as soon as possible. And that was really one thing that we tried to hammer home with our agency.
[00:07:50] When I was working with our Child Abduction Response Team is that we want to be notified right away. Don’t wait a couple of hours while you try to figure it out and try to find the child in patrol before you call us and now that you’ve exhausted all your leads. We want to know now. I don’t care if I get in the car and I drive in and then as soon as I arrive, the child is found, which has happened. That’s fine. I’m good with that. I would rather have that than have you call me two hours or three hours into it and say, “This child’s been missing. We’ve done these 10 different steps and we still can’t find the child. So, can you come out?” I don’t want to hear that. It’s never going to be a waste of resources because like you said, you can’t get that time back.
Dave: [00:08:30] Right. You mentioned the CART team, the Child Abduction Response Team. What did a Child Abduction Response Team look like at your agency and what are the roles and responsibilities of each member?
Lindsey: [00:08:41] So, yeah, Child Abduction Response Team, CART, is what you’ll hear people refer to them as, and it’s a multidisciplinary team of investigators and other professionals within the criminal justice arena who come together and respond in a timely manner when a child is abducted. And CARTs are pretty well known around the country. They can look different depending on the agency and the size of the jurisdiction. Our CART in Tacoma, I think we started working on it around 2009, and we got certified by the Department of Justice in 2013.
[00:09:18] It was a really huge undertaking for our agency. CARTs are, they’re invaluable and what they bring to the agency is organizational structure, and a plan, and training, and expertise. It brings together a group of people that can be basically called at a moment’s notice to respond. There’s no scrambling, trying to figure out, “Okay, what are you going to do? What are you going to do? What’s your role going to be?” Everybody knows ahead of time what their role is. So, we had about 30 core team members on our CART, and that included detectives, it included people from our child advocacy center, it included prosecutors, people from Department of Corrections, Department of Social and Health Services like CPS workers.
[00:10:10] We also had our SWAT team involved with our CART, because we knew just from other cases that some of these situations can become extremely high risk very quickly, and so we wanted to make sure we covered that component. We had search and rescue as a big part of our team. We also included the Team Adam representatives from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. We had a therapist who was involved to assist with reunification. And then we also worked really closely with the FBI, and so they’ve got victim specialists that would assist us on these kinds of cases as well.
[00:10:51] With these child abduction cases, when they occur, they are so massive and so chaotic because you’re just getting inundated with information from the news media, people calling in tips. It’s pretty important that you have a system in place ahead of time to capture all of that information to organize it, to quickly dissect it, and identify how you’re going to prioritize the tips, and how you’re going to sign them out, and who’s going to follow up, and who’s going to document all that. So, these are all things that we took into account when we created that CART team.
Dave: [00:11:28] Was there a landmark or a milestone-type case that made your agency decide, “We need to go with a Child Abduction Response Team model. This is what we need to go for?” Or, was it a cumulative, “Hey, we’ve had these over the years. Let’s get organized?”
Lindsey: [00:11:45] Unfortunately, we’d had quite a few child abductions in Tacoma prior to us forming the team. When I say quite a few, I mean, just off the top of my head, maybe six or seven at least. Most of those were unsolved. Then we had one in 2007 that was really horrific and we did end up solving it.
Dan: [00:12:08] You’re talking about a case where a 12-year-old girl was abducted by a sex offender.
Lindsey: [00:12:13] Yeah. It brought to light some of the deficiencies with how child abductions are investigated. And so, one of the recommendations that we received after that was that we needed a comprehensive child recovery strategy. And then, in order to get certified by DOJ, we had to do this huge mock exercise where we had, I don’t know, maybe 150 participants and a bunch of different locations around the city where we did this mock child abduction from start to finish. We had assessors on site from DOJ that were watching the whole thing and assessing us in real time. So, it was pretty nerve wracking to say the least, but we did it. It was successful. And so, I think that our city is much better off. Since then, since we created the team, we have been called to other jurisdictions to assist them with their cases.
Dan: [00:13:23] Lindsey, can you talk a little bit about the different types of abduction or missing child cases that you encounter?
Lindsey: [00:13:30] Well, so, some of the cases that I have worked on as cold cases, they’re still unsolved even today. I have my opinions about what may have happened with those cases. One of the cases that I worked on was a case that’s still unsolved, and I believe that it’s most likely what is referred to as a false allegation case. And a false allegation case is a case where a parent or a caretaker makes a false report of a missing child to cover up a homicide. They’re very difficult cases to investigate, but there are some flags or some key considerations when someone reports a really little kid missing, a kid that is really too young to be off on their own or a suspicious story about the kid going missing from the house when they’re two or three years old or one or a baby, an infant, that kind of thing.
[00:14:28] So, those cases, they’re really hard. I don’t know what the stats are on solvability factors for those kinds of cases, but those kinds are hard. The stranger abduction is the most unlikely type of child abduction, the stereotypical kidnapping. And the one case I talked about with a six-year-old, that was an acquaintance. And so, it turned out to be somebody that she knew, somebody that lived in her neighborhood. The cases with the two little girls from 1986 that I talked to you about on a previous episode, those were stranger cases.
Dave: [00:15:08] This is a cold case that dates back to 1986 that you talk about on our other podcast, Small Town Dicks.
Lindsey: [00:15:15] Yeah. And so, those are the most rare, the hardest to solve, because there’s no connection between the victims and the suspects, and they literally are victims of opportunity. With a lot of these child abduction suspects, when they’re interviewed, they will say, the victim was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t like this perpetrator was out stalking them, or had been watching them, or picked them out ahead of time. It literally was they’re looking for a victim and the victim presented themselves.
[00:15:49] The case from 2007 that I talked about earlier, it was the same situation. She was a 12-year-old little girl. She was literally standing in her backyard, about to walk into her backyard. She had her hand on her back gate trying to walk into her yard when this guy pulled up. He saw her a minute prior to this. He was pissed off. He wanted to have his kid for the day. This is according to him, later, and his ex-wife wasn’t home when he showed up unannounced. So, in his mind, I guess, that gave him permission to go do whatever he wanted. So, he said he was driving around, he was angry, he saw this girl riding her bike, and he decided that he was going to grab her.
[00:16:31] He followed her, and pulled his van around, and parked it, so that he could make a quick getaway. He walked up to her and he said, “Does this alley go all the way through?” And she stopped and she addressed him and said, “No,” and then she turned her back on him and tried to go into her backyard, and that’s when he grabbed her and pulled her into his van and then took off. He later murdered her and dumped her body out in a rural area. And he was a registered sex offender. He was within like nine months of being off sex offender registration at the time of the murder. So, he was level one, which was considered the least likely to reoffend.
[00:17:10] Yeah, he didn’t know her, never seen her before. It was just that he was looking for a victim. I think a lot of these guys do have, of course, a fantasy of what their victim looks like, but if a victim presents themselves that’s vulnerable and available, they’re going to go for it.
Dan: [00:17:25] Yeah. And his motivation was based on a disagreement with his ex.
Lindsey: [00:17:30] That’s what he said. That was what set him off.
Dan: [00:17:33] So, I’ve encountered true stranger abduction. I’ve been working when one of those occurred. I’ve been a part of an abduction where it was an acquaintance who abducted a woman. And then the other type that was a little more common to me was more of a custodial interference type of abduction where somebody loses a custody hearing or something similar, where they’re not going to have equal access to their child and they feel slighted, so they just decide that they’re going to take their child. That’s something that I have found to be fairly common. Do you agree with that?
Lindsey: [00:18:09] Yes. When it comes to abduction cases, the majority of child abductions are family abductions compared to acquaintances or strangers. I will say though that sometimes people have this belief that if it’s a family member that abducts the child, then it’s okay, like, they’re with their dad or they’re with their mom. That’s just absolutely not the case, because these kids are being taken as punishment. And oftentimes, they’re not taken care of. They’re hidden. They’re subject to abuse themselves, whether it’s physical, sexual, or mental, and they’ve been ripped away from their other parent that they love. So, they are very tragic cases as well.
Dave: [00:18:48] Absolutely. You think about Hollywood and their portrayal of child abduction where you’re getting a ransom note, and we’ll be in touch by Friday at 5 PM, follow the instructions, don’t involve law enforcement. All of that is horseshit. I’ve never heard of it happening in real life. It’s not the way it goes. So, I imagine from a lead detective perspective, this waiting for additional leads, updates, good news, give us something. It’s not like the movies where you’re like, “Well, he’s still talking to us, so we still have a shot.” Usually, you never hear from the abductor. How does that feel for you specifically, I didn’t sleep very well when I was a detective. I can’t imagine having a case like that and being the lead on it, what that would have done to my life?
Lindsey: [00:19:45] Yeah, it was very difficult. It’s like having an elephant and a grand piano strapped to your shoulders, because you do feel like the weight of the world is on you, not only to find this child, but then to hold somebody accountable. My perspective on child abduction cases is we’re not going to wait around for tips. We’re not going to wait around to hope somebody calls something in, like, we need to be proactive. And so, that’s where having some really strong crime analysts involved. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. If a guy goes out and abducts a kid, chances are he’s done it before, he’s done something like it before, there may be some previous attempts, there may be something that happened previously that you can look back to try to help identify the suspect in the case.
[00:20:29] In a lot of these cases, that’s what you’ll find if you look for it is, okay, this child’s just been abducted, but a month prior or three months prior, there was this attempted abduction, and we have a witness in that and a description. So, those are the kinds of things that law enforcement really needs to take a look at when they’re looking at one of these cases, both fresh cases and cold cases as well. Look at what else happened in the area, look at suspicious activity reports, look at Peeping Toms. It doesn’t have to be the exact same type of crime, but look for people that are off, things that are off, odd things that happened at that location prior to the actual abduction.
[00:21:11] Really with the case from 2007, and the one that I talked about with the six-year-old from a few years ago, neither one of those cases was solved by way of tips. Those cases were solved through investigative leads by the detectives working the case. In the case from 2007 with the sex offender that abducted the 12-year-old girl, we solved that case because I happened to find a report when I was digging back through our police database looking for similar crimes or other crimes. I did two different searches. So, I was looking for other crimes, something similar in the area, luring, abduction, kidnapping, sexual assault, anything like that. We had a vehicle description. So, I did some really broad searches just looking for similar vehicles, and I ended up finding a couple of reports with similar vehicles, and we followed up on both of those reports, and one of them turned out to be the guy.
[00:22:14] Unfortunately, when we found him and got him into custody, we had no evidence. Literally, it was just a circumstantial case. We had no body, nothing to tie him to the case. It was just all these circumstantial things. After tallying up the 50 different circumstantial pieces that made him look really good, we presented the case to the prosecutor, and he said that he would take the death penalty off the table if this guy would lead us to this child’s body and he went for it.
Dave: [00:22:49] That was a gamble.
Lindsey: [00:22:50] It was a gamble. And really, it was like, up until he said, I’ll show you where she’s at if I can have a cigarette, I was like, “I don’t even know if this is the right guy.”
Dan: [00:23:01] Not that there’s an average child abduction case or an average offender, but are there commonalities among suspects that you’ve seen over the years?
Lindsey: [00:23:10] Yeah, that’s a tough one because it depends on the type, right? Like, is it family? We’re going to take that out. Acquaintance and stranger can be similar with the statistics. Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of studies out there. There’s really only one study that you can point to that’s well known about child abduction, murder cases, and that’s a study that was actually done in Washington State. People just refer to it as the child abduction murder study. And that one, I think they looked at about 800 cases total of solved child abduction murder cases. From that they were able to create some stats about what the composite looks like. Like, what does the average child abduction victim look like and what does the average child abduction murder suspect look like.
[00:23:58] For the suspect, it’s a white male somewhere around 28 years old, somebody who’s got marginal social skills. When you’re talking about someone that’s going to abduct a kid off the street or even a slight acquaintance, this is somebody that doesn’t have the social skills to groom a child. This is not the camp counselor, the boy scout leader, whoever. The person that has access to these kids all the time and is continuously assaulting these kids because they have the skill set to groom them, this is the person that probably couldn’t carry on a face-to-face conversation with anybody. Those are the kinds of offenders typically.
Dan: [00:24:38] Little more impulsive?
Lindsey: [00:24:41] Yeah, the stranger or the slight acquaintance type of abductions. Some of them, actually, I think at the time of the offense, majority were unemployed. For the ones that did work, the most common job was some kind of construction work.
Dave: [00:24:58] What Lindsey is describing sounds very familiar to me. I can think of two cases in our area that were child abductions where the offenders in those cases had very poor people skills. So, they don’t have the traditional ability to groom like others who are charming, quick witted, manipulative. So, based on the crimes I’ve worked, when I think of someone who’s able to groom a victim, I think of these folks who can really fit in to almost any scenario. They’re good talkers and they put people at ease. If you don’t have those skills, brute force becomes an option.
Lindsey: [00:25:37] Mm-hmm. For these child abduction murders, most of the suspects that were identified in the study were not registered sex offenders. They were actually a very small number. However, a good percentage of them did have history for child sexual assault or some kind of sexual assault offense. So, while they may not have been a sex offender, they had something in their history, an arrest or a conviction or something. Maybe they were even just listed as a suspect in some kind of a sexual assault case. And so, that should be something that investigators key in on.
[00:26:11] The sex offenders themselves, yes, you have to check them, but they’re probably not as high priority as that person that just has that in their background, but has managed to stay under the radar.
Dave: [00:26:24] I have always noticed that that you see– I watch a lot of true crime.
Lindsey: [00:26:29] [laughs] Yeah.
Dave: [00:26:30] Sometimes, you get these cases where they’re like, “Oh, and then we just did a sweep of all the sex offenders.” And I’m like, “God, if it was only that easy.”
Lindsey: [00:26:37] Oh, 100%.
Dave: [00:26:38] It’s actually not. So many horrible crimes that I’ve gone to where the person just had a speeding ticket in their past. They’re really good at hiding, folks.
Lindsey: [00:26:47] Yes. And I will say I’m hoping that at some point this study gets updated, now that all these cases have been solved with genetic genealogy, because I think we’re going to see a different picture of the offender once those stats are produced or published, because a lot of the offenders who have been identified and arrested and convicted for child abduction, murder cases, thanks to genealogy, they don’t have any criminal history. They don’t have anything that stands out. There’s nothing about them that meets this stereotypical profile. And so, that’s going to be really interesting. It explains why the cases were unsolved for so long.
Dave: [00:27:28] Yeah.
Dave: [00:27:43] You had a hand in changing some state law regarding DNA. Do you want to talk about that at all?
Lindsey: [00:27:50] Sure. There were two girls that were murdered in Washington state back in 1986, Jennifer Bastian and Michella Welch. When I was investigating their cases as cold cases, I had this theory that the suspects in their cases, they must have slipped through the cracks somehow with their DNA. Because after reading the child abduction murder study, and based on my own experience with these kinds of predators, I just thought, there’s no way these guys are like a one and done. They have to have history for doing this. They have to be incarcerated someplace or maybe they died in prison.
[00:28:25] I just couldn’t believe that a suspect who could commit a crime this horrendous could just be out walking around. So, my thought was, “Okay, I know that we have a major gap with collecting DNA from convicted offenders.” This is national. This is not just a Washington thing. And so, I thought, “Well, could we strengthen our state law with regard to collecting DNA, and maybe it’ll help us solve not only these cold cases, but some other cold cases as well.” There are lots of different reasons why people are missed and why their DNA is not in CODIS.
Dave: [00:29:02] And CODIS, as we know, is the DNA database that law enforcement leans on heavily to identify offenders.
Lindsey: [00:29:09] Yeah. And in this case, I thought, “Well, maybe we can go back and look at some of these older offenders that were operating back in the 1970s and 1980s that are now deceased. Based on our state law, they couldn’t be entered into the DNA database, because they committed their crimes prior to the DNA law actually being enacted. And so, I was able to work with a state representative here in Washington. It took four years of going down to Olympia and lobbying with the mother of one of the victims. But we finally, in 2019, got Jennifer and Michella’s law passed. It did several things to strengthen our DNA law. But the main thing, I guess, that I was happiest about was that it allows law enforcement to enter DNA from deceased convicted offenders into the database regardless of when they were convicted.
[00:30:01] So, prior to this, I found examples of these basically serial killers in Washington that one of them had been executed, and he had just committed a string of atrocious crimes. But not only was he not in CODIS, I was all excited when I tracked down a sample of his DNA at the Medical Examiner’s Office, just to be told by the crime lab, “That’s great, Lindsey, but we can’t do anything with it. Can’t put it in the database.” So, that’s when it lit a fire under me that, “Okay, we need to change something here.”
Dan: [00:30:32] I guess, maybe it’s just too obvious to me, but what is the objection by a lawmaker why you wouldn’t want to put a serial killer’s DNA, even though they’re deceased, into CODIS?
Lindsey: [00:30:43] Well, you would be surprised. One of our trips to Olympia, I don’t even remember which year it was because it’s kind of a blur. Patty Bastian and I, so that’s Jennifer Bastian’s mother, we went to testify in Olympia. And someone basically stepped in and said, “Well, that’s really sad about your daughter and all, but we’re more concerned about the rights of the deceased offenders and their families being bombarded with this kind of information if it were to appear on the news that they were somehow linked to a new crime.”
Dave: [00:31:17] Nothing surprises me anymore. We already have a system that’s fairly weighted in favor of the defendant as far as they have rights. They say, “I don’t want to talk to you. We can’t talk to them anymore.” It’s very protective of defendants. I think we have continued to move where we’re protecting the accused and forgetting about victims and answers, and what’s the bigger picture? If we get this guy’s DNA, maybe we clear six cases and we get closure for dozens of people.
Lindsey: [00:31:52] Absolutely. You have to look at the greater good. I could talk about lawfully owed DNA all day, because that is something that I’m really passionate about, because it’s just ridiculous. I love genetic genealogy, I think it’s great, I’m glad it’s solved so many cases, but we also have CODIS and there are a lot of people that should be in CODIS that are not.
Dave: [00:32:11] 100% agree.
Dan: [00:32:13] I think most parents, it’s the worst nightmare to have your child abducted. And Lindsey, you mentioned this study about child abduction, murder cases, murder statistics, for parents out there, just to give you an idea, what do the stats say about how common child abduction is? Obviously, I think that and we talked about it, acquaintance abductions. So, we’re talking about maybe the creep that lives down the street, who the child has seen in passing over the years, or maybe is even known to say hello to the family every now and then. And stranger abduction, those are the least common types of abduction. What is realistic for parents to feel about the likelihood of their child being abducted? Because we don’t want to panic parents.
Lindsey: [00:33:03] Correct. It’s extremely rare. When I say rare, I mean, the FBI keeps stats on child abductions each year. It’s less than 100 a year for the entire country. It’s probably closer to around 60 per year for the whole country. That sounds like a lot. It is a lot. But compared to other violent crime, it’s extremely rare.
Dan: [00:33:31] So, let’s talk about what parents can do in the meantime with their children, obviously educating their children about stranger danger. We’ve heard it for decades, stranger danger. But what are some things that parents can do on their end in the event of the worst-case scenario happening?
Lindsey: [00:33:50] So, let me first start by saying, you have to have open dialogue with your child. I think there are just some things that parents need to talk about with their kids. I feel bad for my poor daughter because I have had so many conversations with her about this particular topic, way more than she ever wanted to hear about. But it’s just really important to even throw some scenarios at your child. What would you do in this situation? Because believe it or not, they’re not going to do what you think they’re going to do. And so, bringing it to their attention– It sounds silly to us, right? But what if this guy with a cute puppy asks you to come help him find the other puppy, or he says he has a cute puppy and he lost it. We all love animals. Having that open discussion about the fact that these are some potential things that somebody like that could say to you. And so, just be aware. So, at least, if something like that happens, it’s like, “Oh, I remember my mom saying something about that.”
[00:34:52] The other thing that I think is really important is that parents need to explain to their children that adults don’t need anything from them. It’s not okay for an adult to come up to you, to drive up to you and say, “What time is it?” No, they have their own watch, they have their own phone. They don’t need directions from a nine-year-old. They don’t need the time from a nine-year-old. But those are the most common ruses that these guys use to get close to the kids. So, keep that thing in mind.
[00:35:25] Then really arming your kids with the knowledge and also, the permission to yell and scream and say, “No, get away from me,” and to run away. It’s okay. We teach kids to be respectful of adults, and kids are just naturally prone to do that. But make noise, yell, scream, run away. You need to do that. It’s okay.
Dave: [00:35:52] If I can piggyback on Dan’s question, just getting out in front of this, what can parents do? What are items they can keep, pictures, those types of things?
Lindsey: [00:36:03] As far as preparing for your child going missing, yeah, it may be helpful to have things like a fingerprint card. I know they make those ID Me kits and things like that. The reality is that law enforcement is probably going to have a pretty easy time of getting a reference sample if that was necessary.
Dave: [00:36:23] Toothbrush. [chuckles]
Lindsey: [00:36:25] Yeah. So, I’m less concerned about that kind of stuff, more concerned about just let’s avoid it from the get go. And that means encouraging your kids to use the buddy system. And this day and age, it’s all about online safety. I have conversations with my daughter all the time about Roblox and all these games that they play. It’s like, they think that somebody who tells them they’re 14 playing with them in another state is really a 14-year-old. I’m like, “Well, that’s possible, but it also could be like a 75-year-old guy living in his mom’s basement, FYI.”
Dave: [00:36:57] Your daughter’s got a mom who just knows too much.
Lindsey: [00:37:00] [laughs] Yeah. So, I don’t want to scare my child, but the online enticement is a real thing. I know we’ve all heard some horror stories about these online predators who meet these kids online and they say that they’re their same age and then they come across the country and abduct these kids. It does happen.
Dan: [00:37:19] I know Dave’s talked about it for years on the podcast, and especially when he does presentations for parents that, parents you have a right to know what’s in your child’s phone and if your child is going to protest that, then maybe your child just doesn’t get a phone or they just get a phone that has the ability to dial 911 and the parent’s number, that’s it. But I think a lot of parents don’t feel empowered to have that visibility into their child’s phone and the different apps that are on their phone. I know, detective, that was my partner for a while, any app that his child downloaded onto his phone magically appeared on my partner’s phone also. So, my partner, he had the keys to the castle. I want parents to feel empowered to do those things. It’s not that you’re going to snoop on your child, but there’s some accountability there.
Lindsey: [00:38:15] Absolutely. Kids, they are still trying to figure it out, and they just don’t have any kind of a concept of just how evil people can be and how manipulative some of these people can be. And so, it doesn’t even occur to them that those kinds of things could be happening. So, I think it is absolutely important for the parents to be aware and monitor that social media, and the games that they can communicate through. I have an app, the family app, on my phone so I can see where my daughter is at. We’ve got the whole family on there. So, we can all see where we’re at, you know? I think that’s important. I want to know where my child is. If God forbid, something happened to her, I want to be able to go and look and see where she’s at.
Dave: [00:39:17] Have you been present for a reunification between child and parent?
Lindsey: [00:39:21] I have not. No, I have not.
Dave: [00:39:24] Does that feel like an empty checkbox from your career? It’s like, when you work all this tragedy, give me the feel good at the end.
Lindsey: [00:39:33] I know. Although, I think reunifications are tricky. I know we did quite a bit of training on that very topic, because I’ve definitely heard of situations where the reunification didn’t go well, where maybe they do it very publicly. I’ve definitely seen some news footage from some of the older high-profile cases where they literally film the child coming out of the hospital or whatever and reuniting with the family and there’s no privacy. There’re so many variables, like, how long has the child been missing and what kind of things was the child told while they were missing about the parent that’s been searching?
[00:40:08] If they’ve been told the whole time they were gone that the parents didn’t want them anymore, that they basically did something wrong, that’s going to look very different than a child that truly believes their parents were looking for them.
Dave: [00:40:20] I understand that that’s a control tactic and manipulation, but how evil. That’s disgusting. But as we know, they’re out there.
Dan: [00:40:33] The case that I think about the famous case of Steven Stayner, he got abducted when he was seven years old in central California, held hostage by his abductor, Kenneth Parnell for seven years. And then Kenneth Parnell goes out and abducts another kid. And Steven Stayner says, “Uh-uh, this ain’t happening on my watch.” So, Steven Stayner takes this kid, Timothy White, and they escape. Steven Stayner had been living autonomously with Kenneth Parnell. Kenneth Parnell had trusted Steven Stayner to not leave. And finally, Steven Stayner said, “I’ve had enough. I’m not going to watch this happen to this little kid.”
[00:41:12] So, Steven Stayner rescues this child. The reunification with the parents happens. It’s just chaos. There are cameras everywhere. I think it was completely inappropriate how the reunification happened. You’ve got Steven Stayner’s brother, Cary Stayner, who is watching all this, and now he is the forgotten brother. And this whole case is just tragic. Ten years after Steven Stayner reunites with his family, he dies tragically in a hit and run motorcycle accident. And then you’ve got Cary Stayner, who moves up into the Yosemite National Forest. And in 1999, Cary Stayner goes out and murders four women. You couldn’t write it because I don’t think anyone would believe it, but it happened and it’s tragic, and you wonder what the tale of that reunification if that was maybe the spark for all the bad things that happened following.
Dave: [00:42:10] Right. Is there a Cary Stayner as we know him or as we knew him, if his brother, Steven, isn’t ever abducted? The cost is tremendous.
Lindsey: [00:42:21] Yeah.
Dave: [00:42:23] Good or bad, what are some memorable moments from some of these missing and abducted child cases that you’ve worked over the years? Do you have things that just, “Oh, I remember that one, and it always bubbles up?”
Lindsey: [00:42:36] Mm-hmm. Yeah, they’re not fun. I don’t think that anyone would argue that children are the most precious gifts that we have. And so, even the most hardened law enforcement officer, detective, whatever you want to say, has a soft spot when it comes to kids. So, I think the child cases are certainly the hardest to process and to deal with. I think when you’re working on it in real time, it’s easier because you have a job to do, and so you have to focus on the job. It’s more like after the fact. And that’s, I guess, how I experienced those cases.
[00:43:15] I would say for the cold cases, it’s a little bit harder because just the case that we talked about on your other podcast with the two girls that were murdered in 1986, those were long ago cold. And so, it wasn’t like that fresh fear and panic in the community. But once you meet that family and once you make a connection with the victim’s family, it just takes on a different tone and it can become a bit more personal. So, with those cases, I wasn’t there. Like, I wasn’t at the crime scene. I didn’t see all of the things. Looking at photos and watching the crime scene video is different than actually being there.
[00:43:58] You still are emotional, but it’s not quite the same. With the fresh cases, it’s just an emotional roller coaster. [laughs] You’re basically working– I don’t even remember what kind of hours we’re working in the midst of those crazy cases, but it would be 15, 16-hour days. You’d run home and get a couple of hours of sleep and then come back and it’s just nonstop. You’re bombarded. The case that I talked about previously with the little six-year-old, that case was resolved fairly quickly. She, like I said, hadn’t been reported for like 24 hours. And so, when we got involved, I think it was a Monday morning. And so, you figure, okay, all-day Monday, this thing is going, all day Tuesday and I think it was either Wednesday– I think it was Wednesday afternoon, her body was finally found.
[00:45:01] Of course, this was after multiple searches in the same exact area where she was found, which is another issue with child abduction cases, is searches. But in this case, the area had been searched multiple times. People literally walked right over the top of her. And so, when she was finally found, it was like this let down and this sadness, but also like, “Okay, we still have a job to do now. It’s no longer a missing child. Now it’s a homicide case, and we need to find who did it, and we need to get justice for this little girl.” So, while it’s sad and it’s heartbreaking, you still have to go and you still have to get things done. I know for myself, with those kinds of cases, it’s all over. I don’t even know what all over means, because it can take years and years for these cases to go to trial. But it seems like I have to be completely separated and away from it for quite a while before I allow myself to really think about it.
Dave: [00:45:58] I understand that.
Dan: [00:46:01] Lindsey, you mentioned challenges when it comes to searching for a child. Can you give us a little more detail on what you were talking about there?
Lindsey: [00:46:09] Yeah, I can think of several cases where an area had been searched previously, and the child wasn’t found, and then later the child was found in the same exact spot that had already been searched. This has come up in at least three different cases that I can think of right off the top of my head. And so, some people will say, “Oh, the child must have been taken away and then brought back later. I don’t think that’s the case, usually. It just depends on where the search is taking place and who is searching. When you’re talking about a vast wooded area and the cases I’m thinking of in particular, these were wooded areas where you don’t have a million people out doing a search. There’s no way that you can cover every square foot of a wooded area. And so, things get missed. They do.
[00:47:03] I think it’s just critical with the child abduction cases, especially that there’s a plan ahead of time with search and rescue about who is going to be searching. And also, keep in mind, search and rescue folks are very adept at doing searches, but they’re adept at doing it on their own. Like, they are called out all the time for people who are lost in the woods and people that are missing, not necessarily related to a criminal investigation. And so, keeping that in mind, when search and rescue is brought in on a missing child case, sometimes what will happen is they will want to search as if they’re doing a typical search and rescue operation. That has to be managed by someone within the criminal investigation to make sure, “Okay, you’re not just looking for a person. We’re also looking for evidence.”
[00:48:00] So, along the way, I know you’re looking for this child, but if you happen to find some suspicious items as well, you need to stop, and you need to flag them, and you need to contact the command post. I’ve seen that happen in situations where they’re so used to doing the search the way that they’re doing it and also being autonomous and just doing it how they want to do it. You can’t do that with the child abduction case because that communication back to the command post and back to whoever is running the operation is extremely critical, and that can really cause problems. I’ve seen cases where something was found out in the woods by a searcher, and they brought it back to the command post, and just set it down. No one knew where it came from or who found it.
Dan: [00:48:42] Never photographed in place.
Lindsey: [00:48:44] Nothing. So, with search and rescue, they bring in the ESAR volunteers which are the Emergency Search And Rescue. Oftentimes, they’re kids. Again, they’re trained to find lost hikers and things like that. They’re not trained on how to preserve a crime scene or how to look for evidence. And so, that’s something to really keep in mind, because I know everyone wants to mobilize, and just jump on it, and let’s deploy all these people. But sometimes, that can be problematic.
Dan: [00:49:11] Yeah. I think it’s easy to look at a map and draw a perimeter around a part of a map and say, this area has been searched when– Depending on terrain, there are certain parts of an area and terrain, we’re not talking about flat fields with two-foot-tall grass.
Lindsey: [00:49:28] Right.
Dan: [00:49:28] We’re talking about mountainous, there are cliffs, there’s brush everywhere. Like you said, you can’t cover every square foot of that area. So, to just blanket mark this area off as it’s already been searched, it’s just not a true representation of the search.
Lindsey: [00:49:45] Yeah. And with that case, with the six-year-old, this same area was searched and researched and researched again. It wasn’t until, I think, maybe the third or fourth search that she was found. It was a difficult situation because she was actually submerged in mud. I mean, it’s not like people walked by her or anything like that, but there were other items of evidence nearby to someone that’s used to looking at crime scenes would key in on, “Okay, we need to spend more time here, as opposed to let’s keep looking for a body,” so to speak.
Dave: [00:50:18] So frustrating like. [laughs] We say it all the time over the years. You are at the mercy of the law enforcement professional that’s assigned to your case or assigned to a task. It’s the same way in every job.
Lindsey: [00:50:31] Oh, 100%. Not to say that any of those people did anything wrong, because that’s the situation that they were in. My case from 1986, the area was searched, and then I think it was 24 days later, a jogger noticed an odor, and they went back to the same area. Even after, I think there were two days’ worth of additional searches and it took that long after they noticed the odor to find her right there. So, that just gives you a sense of how difficult it can be in a rugged, forested area with all kinds of trees and shrubs.
Dave: [00:51:10] Right. You think about, if you lost your car keys in your front yard and hadn’t mowed for a week, go find them. That’s such a small scale compared to what search and rescue and these search parties are doing on these cases.
Lindsey: [00:51:25] Right.
Dave: [00:51:26] We could devote a whole episode to search and rescue. Lindsey, former detective, police educator, author, and expert on child abduction cases, we appreciate your time. Thank you for joining us, and of course, you are always welcome back.
Dan: [00:51:41] Yes, thank you.
Lindsey: [00:51:42] Well, thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.
Dan: [00:51:49] On the next episode of The Briefing Room–
Male Speaker: [00:51:52] I get halfway into the first case and I realize what an idiot I am. And you don’t realize it completely, but you cut out your other life. You’re no longer you. All the friends you have, they’re moving on. You don’t get it that their life is moving forward. And for you, who you are for real, just hit a pause button and stops. That person that you were just before the case started, that person is gone for the amount of time that you’re undercover.
Dave: [00:52:17] That’s next week on The Briefing Room.[music]
Yeardley: [00:52:25] The Briefing Room is produced by Jessica Halstead and co-produced by Detectives Dan and Dave. Executive producers are Gary Scott and me, Yeardley Smith. Our production manager is Logan Heftel. Logan also composed the theme music. Soren Begin is our senior audio editor. Monika Scott runs our social media, and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
[00:52:50] Thank you to SpeechDocs for providing transcripts. To read those transcripts or to hear past episodes, please go to our website at thebriefingroompod.com. The Briefing Room is an Audio 99 production. And I cannot go without saying thank you to you, all of you our fans, you are the best fans in the pod universe. And I can say with complete confidence, nobody is better than you.
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