Originally Aired: September 26, 2006
(Introduction to show begins)
ERIC MEADOWS (WCAN Co-host): I want to say welcome to all of our listeners out there this Tuesday evening. You’ve joined us for yet another episode of Missing Pieces hosted by Todd Matthews and myself, Eric Meadows. And, I want to welcome everybody to the station tonight. How are, how is everyone?
TODD MATTHEWS (Missing Pieces Host): I’m good.
TRACIE FLEISCHHUT (Guest): I’m good, too.
ERIC: Great, great. Todd, you have a guest with you tonight, don’t you?
TODD: Yes, Ms Tracie Fleischhut, an old friend of mine. And, I think she’s got a lot to tell us now. She’s with New York Missing and the Center for Hope. And, I’m hoping she’ll tell us a little about that. Welcome, Tracie.
TRACIE: Thank you for having me.
TODD: Oh, wow. I’ve known you for how long now?
TRACIE: Ah, six years.
TODD: Been a long time
TRACIE: Yes, it has.
TODD: Tracy actually, she takes care of so many things. Plus, she’s a mommy. She’s got, let’s see, how many kids have you got?
TRACIE: Three, three kids. A boy and two girls.
TODD: And, you’re on the board of directors for the Hope Center.
TRACIE: Center for Hope.
TODD: Okay. And, that’s with Doug and Mary Lyall.
TRACIE: Yes. And, they’re, that’s based out of Albany, New York.
TODD: Now, next week, October 3rd, Governor George Pataki will be dedicating the Missing Persons Remembrance. Are you going to be there?
TRACIE: Yes, I will be.
TODD: This is something that the Hope Center is putting on.
TRACIE: Yes, it is. They’ve been working on it for about 4 years now.
TODD: Ah, hum.
TRACIE: The ground-breaking was in April and it’s finally finished and we’re going to have a nice dedication ceremony by candlelight and then a nice little reception afterwards.
TODD: I actually got an invitation, but I think it’s going to be a long way for me to come from Tennessee, but I’m hoping you’ll take care of that for me. Can you, let’s see, where did we first meet? Now, it was on the Cold Case discussion group, and you were, what brought you into this world?
TRACIE: I was actually researching a cousin that our family had lost contact with. And, I found an unidentified woman that actually fit her description. It turned out not to be her, but that’s how I sort of got drawn into it. I’ve always had an interest in criminal justice, but this, this sort of gave me something I could do from my home that was in the same field that I wanted to originally be in. So, it worked out pretty well.
TODD: Did you have any idea there was over a 100,000 missing and over 6,000 unidentified at the time?
TRACIE: Absolutely not. No clue. And, I think those numbers are huge when people hear them the first time.
TODD: Ah, yeah, really. And, that’s really a conservative number. Because there’s far more. That’s just numbers listed with the FBI and NCIC. Now, you started a website in New York State, New York Missing, NYMissing.org. Can you tell me a little more about that?
TRACIE: I started that because, working with other organizations, like the Doe Network, I found that there was no one place where you could go on the Internet and find all the cases across New York State. So, I thought, if I taught myself a little bit about the Internet and how to build a website I could put, that, make a place for that, where a person could find all of the New York cases in one spot. And, it sort of, it’s grown from there.
TODD: You’re sort of self-taught.
TRACIE: Yes. I’ve never taken a class on web design or anything.
TODD: How many cases do you have listed on New York Missing?
TRACIE: About 600, which is only a drop in the bucket of the actual cases in New York, but those are the ones that are on the Internet.
TODD: And is that all missing? Or is that does combined with the missing or unidentified?
TRACIE: That’s combined.
TODD: The combined cases.
TRACIE: Yes, it is.
TODD: There’s one case in particular that really interests me tonight, all of them really interests me, but there’s one in particular. The Caledonia Jane Doe.
TODD: Now, I know that’s been a favorite of yours as well, that you’ve followed very closely. Could you give us a little information about that case?
TRACIE: She was found on November 9th, 1979. She was shot twice with a .38 caliber revolver. She’s five three, weighs about 120 lbs. She’s a teenager, probably about 17. Brown hair. Brown eyes. And, she was dressed like a local girl. But, for the 26 years since she’s been found, no one has a clue who she is… still. And, it’s she’s kind of like Internet folklore when it comes to this type of thing because she is one of the oldest cases.
TODD: Now, you can find this case on the NYMissing website, NYMissing.com. It’s on the left hand case file menu “1979 Jane Doe”.
TRACIE: Yes, it is. There’s about 6 pages. It goes to, in great detail, about everything, right down to, there was a key chain that was found with her and it describes it and has the picture of the keychain; all of her clothing, that kind of thing. There’s a couple of people that have, serial killers who have claimed responsibility for her death. They’re both highly unlikely – but – it’s still a possibility. So, all that information can be found at NYMissing.com.
TODD: I see you’ve got a lot of photographs. You have a reconstruction photograph where they’ve actually tried to make a likeness of this young lady. I think they did a really good job of that. We’ve got photograph of her jewelry. Got some pretty unique jewelry. A key chain.
TODD: “He who holds the key can open my heart.”
TODD: I think that’s caught a lot of people’s eye.
TRACIE: Yeah, I think the reason why a lot of people are drawn to this case is because she looks like the girl next door. She really… she looks like someone you might have went to school with. She just looks so average and she wasn’t… she wasn’t, like I said… she was dressed appropriately for the area and the weather. So, she fit in.
TODD: She had, like I think, a tan?
TRACIE: Yes. She did have a tan. She did have a tan, and that was one of the reasons why they think she was from out-of-state, so-
TODD: That’s in Livingston County.
TRACIE: Livingston County, New York. Caledonia is just a very small town. It’s off of the I-90, which it runs from, I believe Ohio into Massachusetts. And, it’s just… a really small town, mostly corn fields.
TODD: What kind of theories?
TRACIE: My personal opinion is she knew who did it. And, that she probably isn’t from the immediate area, but someplace nearby. I think she’s from New York State or was living in New York State, but that she was originally from somewhere else, maybe California, Florida… a warm weather state.
TODD: And, even though there was a lot, you know, the jewelry found with the body, there still not a lot of clues. There’s no sign of sexual assault.
TRACIE: No. There’s no sign of sexual assault at all.
TODD: No drug mark
TRACIE: No. She was not a drug user. So, it’s very unlikely she was a prostitute.
TODD: And, I understand there’s been over 10,000 leads followed up on.
TRACIE: Yes. Yes, it’s sort of followed the Sheriff in the county. It was his case. He recently retired and there is a new Sheriff. And, now it’s his case. And, I believe it’s the only unidentified victim in that county.
TODD: Wow. Now, who found the body?
TRACIE: A father and a son who were on their way to breakfast. They noticed she had, they noticed some red in the cornfield on the side of the road and they stopped to check to see what it was. And, they found her body.
TODD: Do you ever talk to either of those two people?
TRACIE: No. No. It’s… small towns are like that. I did go out and take pictures of the crime scene though. I did walk around it and, you know, trying to get a feel of it, and see what I could see there. And, there’s not a whole lot to see. Like I said, it’s literally cornfield, that’s it. That’s all you see.
TODD: Now, what would make you want to go and try to investigate something like this?
TRACIE: I want… I want to find answers. This is someone’s daughter, or maybe a sister, or she might have a niece even, and they deserve to know what happened to her. Her family deserves some answers.
TODD: She’d probably be in her 40’s today.
TRACIE: Yeah. She could be a mom right now, or, I mean, she could be going to her brother’s wedding. There are things that she will never get to do because someone executed her, literally.
TODD: Now, I see the photos from True Detective Magazine. They’re linked on to your website. You’ve got a lot of data. I think you have more than just about any has on this particular case.
TRACIE: Well, it’s sort of become… that’s my… my case that I sort of obsess about it.
TODD: Now that anniversary’s date coming up. The November 9th.
TODD: Now, what… what might you do on that day? Is that a particular interest when you’re trying to talk with media?
TRACIE: Yes. I try to write up a press release and try to generate some media interest in it. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not such. I usually try to go to the grave and put flowers on her grave.
TODD: And, you’ve taken photos of her grave?
TODD: You have those on the website?
TRACIE: No. I don’t have those up on the website. I don’t have those up, but I know there are pictures available of her tombstone. I’m not sure where they are, though. I’ve seen it before, elsewhere.
TODD: Now, how do you feel when you actually go to the grave of this person?
TRACIE: I feel like, sort of, a surrogate family for her, because there’s nobody mourning her loss right now.
TODD: You know, I find a lot of people feel that way. You know, you sort of adopt a case into your family and, you know, you feel like you’re the caretaker-
TODD: For whatever reason
TRACIE: That’s exactly how I feel. I feel like there’s nobody there to put flowers on her grave. There’s no one to remember her life and that’s what I try to do.
TODD: And, how does your husband feel about this type of stuff that you do? Does it cut into your family time?
TRACIE: It does. You can’t help but have it cut in a little bit, but he’s very understanding. He knows it’s important to me, so he supports it 100%.
TODD: I heard he built you a nice office.
TRACIE: Yes, he did. He completely remodeled the room for me. To build my own space for it. It might also have to do with the stuff that’s in it.
TODD: To keep everything out of sight.
TRACIE: Yeah. I don’t want my kids seeing what I do. They know a little bit about it and they’re proud of it. But, I don’t want them exposed to such violence… I guess you could say.
TODD: But, it’s reality.
TRACIE: Yeah. It is reality, and when I do have, when I have cases of small children, and if I see any hint of them looking like mine, it kind of tugs at my heart strings a little bit because I can see my own children. And, I think I’m over protective because of what I see. So…
TODD: Tell me a little about Doug and Mary and what they’ve started and why they started and they’ve asked you to be a member of the board of directors.
TRACIE: Doug and Mary have been very proactive since their daughter disappeared in 1998. They’ve never just sat down. They’ve always tried to make things better. Not just in their own daughter’s case, but for everyone around them. They saw a problem and they seek out a solution, and there’s no stopping them till they get their solution. And, they’re responsible for legislation that’s protecting our college students – the kids that are between 18 and 21. Which is a very important group because they’re still kids. They’re still kids, they still need family support. And, now we can report them as missing as if they were children, which they are.
TODD: And they got the attention of the Governor.
TRACIE: Yes. They got the attention of the Governor. And, they started the Center for Hope so people would have a place to call when they needed someone.
TODD: Can you tell us a little about their daughter?
TRACIE: Their daughter, Suzanne, disappeared, like I said, in 1998. She disappeared from a bus stop by Albany College, a college outside of Albany. And, someone used her ATM card and there’s been no sign of her since. And, she was a beautiful young lady. She writes poetry. She has, just like I said, she has this gorgeous long hair and they have been searching for her diligently since that day.
TODD: You can… this website… Hope for the missing, and that’s Hope and the number 4, “The missing” dot org. (http://hope4themissing.org)
TODD: That’s their website and I’m sure they have a profile of their daughter there.
TRACIE: Oh yes, they do.
TODD: And, Eric, I, we found earlier, then ran away himself, and I think he’s been sort of touched by the topics that we’ve spoke of so far and I’m sure he’s got a question by now.
ERIC: Oh, my goodness. I’ve got so many. When you first came on to the program, well… first let me welcome you on to the program Missing Pieces. When you first came on, you talked about the unidentified woman that you thought met the description of one of your relatives that was missing.
ERIC: Well, was this unidentified woman, was she… was a name finally given to her? Did they-
TRACIE: No. As a matter of fact, she is the Caledonia unidentified.
ERIC: Oh, she’s the Caledonia unidentified.
TRACIE: Yes, she is.
ERIC: Okay. Was there a missing relative ever turned up?
TRACIE: Yes. She’s been located.
ERIC: Okay, that’s great. Okay. My second question is, how many individuals are there out there that remain in the state of New York as identified?
TRACIE: Can you repeat that? I didn’t hear that.
ERIC: How many individuals are there in the State of New York that remain unidentified? I know that you say you have 600 listed but I imagine there maybe 10 times that many. But, how many out of that, out of all that you know about, what percentage remains unidentified?
TRACIE: Most of them are ID within 48 to 72 hours.
TRACIE: Long term cases, NCIC has about 6000.
TRACIE: When I say long term, I’m talking over 6 months.
TRACIE: Usually, by 6 months most of the good solid leads have dried up.
TRACIE: On an unidentified person.
ERIC: And, then, it becomes what? The task of the family to keep it going?
TRACIE: With unidentified, the law enforcement can only do so much in seeking out information on who that person is. Once they’ve utilized all the tools that they have, they’ve pretty much hit a road block.
TRACIE: And, with the family, as long as the families keep pursuing, eventually the two will meet.
ERIC: Okay, okay.
TODD: And, people like you become the foster families for these unidentified.
TRACIE: Yes. Exactly, exactly. We’re… I’m sort of the middle man… I guess you could say.
ERIC: Okay. And, most cases, where you do have a body of a person that’s been murdered, do they discover a motive or can they actually put a motive on it? Or, do they have to discover the perpetrator first to find out what the motive was?
TRACIE: I think most, most murder cases; they start from the victim out. Without that victim’s identity it’s very hard to determine unless there’s something at the crime scene that points to an obvious motive.
TODD: I hate crime.
TODD: I’ve seen the hate crime
TRACIE: Yeah. Or, there’s drug paraphernalia, or signs of drugs at the scene, or something that would point to it being a crime about drugs. Otherwise, you’re not going to really have any idea.
ERIC: Okay. Well now, you said she was like the girl next door.
ERIC: If she had not been like the girl next door, maybe she had been dressed inappropriately as a prostitute or maybe there had been drugs discovered, would it get as much high profile or as much attention from your group?
TRACIE: I think, personally, I treat them all equally.
TRACIE: That’s my personal belief. All of them are equal. I’ve never… I’ve never looked at… I mean… there are cases on my site where the people have been known to have a drug addiction and I don’t look/treat those cases any differently. As far as I’m concerned, they ALL deserve the same thing – answers.
ERIC: Okay, okay. You are working with Project Edan. How has then been where, like you said, you do have a room to set up just for you and if it’s too violent, you make sure that the children don’t see it. But, how do you balance out your life, to the point where when do emotions stop playing a big part?
TRACIE: Well, I ran into a problem after I helped identify a body with a missing woman and she had a small child. And, when that match was confirmed, that got really emotional for me. And, I disappeared for a couple of weeks after that one because I didn’t know how to internally deal with that. Because, I felt like I was stripping the hope away from that child… of his mother ever returning home. And, even though I knew it was absolutely the right thing to do, to make that phone call-
TRACIE: …To the detective, I also knew what I was going to be doing to the child. And, that… that just tore me apart and it took me weeks to really get a grasp on the fact that we needed to know who it was.
TRACIE: Her family needed that and she was a murder victim, so they needed to find out who did this to her.
TODD: Those cases are truly bittersweet because you’re providing closure to some degree and then just dashing the hopes on another level.
TODD: Always very difficult. Yeah. Every time I’ve been involved in a positive ID you go through that whole emotion that’s first there’s initial, GREAT, it’s something that’s very positive. Then, you go through the sad phase. And then, I think you go through your own set closures, and then you come to the realization this is the right thing. It’s over now. People can heal from it.
ERIC: I really do have to applaud the both of you because I don’t know…I don’t… I just don’t know that if I could actually… after helping on a case, and even solving a case and even pursuing it, after the identity, if I could go to the next person and continue to go to the next person, and then go to the … I don’t know, don’t know. This show just means so much to me. I’ve never known the magnitude of having to lose somebody that way. And, I just don’t know, I just don’t know, it tugs at me, it really does. It brings me closer to my family, if nothing else.
TRACIE: Yeah. You always hug your kids a little bit tighter when you really think about that.
TODD: You really think about that. It really makes you think about… I think it’s helped me to enjoy my children more, because they are here and I’m going to give them an extra hug, just in case. And then, you find out you’ve given more hugs than a lot of other parents do. And, even my 5 year old, he says, “Daddy, you hug me all the time.” And, I think it kind of irritates him, but it’s just something you learn to do.
TRACIE: Right. Well, you can do it. That’s why.
TODD: Yeah. He’s there and I thought, what if?
TODD: And, I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night before and went into their bedroom and maybe kissed the boys on the forehead and just be so happy they’re there. And everybody, I just wish, everybody had a life were everything was in its proper place. But, there’s so many people out thee that just have scattered remnants of their family. It’s heartbreaking. I think that’s what makes a lot of us want to do something about it. And, I know there is a Missing Person’s Day in New York.
TRACIE: Yes, there is. And, that is on April 6th – its Suzanne’s birthday. Suzanne Lyall.
TODD: So, then they’ve helped instrument that.
TRACIE: Yes, they did. And, I believe, they are working on now getting a National Missing Person’s Day.
TODD: Governor Pataki declared that a Missing Person’s Day in New York.
TRACIE: Yes, he did.
TODD: What kind of events go on throughout the state with this type of thing?
TRACIE: We have a workshop and we have a gathering of family members of the missing, just to be together mostly. But, also to learn more current information, new legislation that’s passing, or is worked on. That kind of thing, just kind of to regroup and refocus and work together.
TODD: And, how they find comfort with each other.
TRACIE: Yeah, because no one can truly understand what they are going through. I can understand, but only to a point.
TRACIE: I equate it to, you sort of get caught in the grieving cycle, but it never ends. Where… when you grieve for a loved one who died, you have that final moment where you can move on. Where’s someone missing, that grieving cycle just keeps cycling through. You just keep going and going and going.
TODD: I truly don’t…. I think the world does NOT, as a whole, realize the intensity of this.
TRACIE: No. I’ve told reporters before about when they hear that number, that huge number, hundreds of thousands of people-
TODD: They gasp.
TRACIE: Yeah. They gasp every time because I don’t think anybody really realizes it and it’s shocking to everybody when they hear it.
TODD: I hear, “You’re kidding me?” I say, “No, I’m not kidding ya. I’ve got the documentation to prove it.” But, they are overwhelmed. I’m surprised at how many, such a great percentage of reports that are actually reporting on this type of subject matter, they have no idea that it’s that much… I think they see it in the smaller areas where they live, but they don’t realize it’s a huge problem. And, you have to think of world-wide.
TRACIE: Many times they don’t think it’s going to happen in their town. I live in a very rural community and things like that don’t happen here. I hear that all the time. But it does. It can happen anywhere. It can happen on your street, it can happen in your neighborhood, it can happen to your family.
TODD: In my hometown here, you don’t see prostitutes. You don’t see homeless people, normally. It’s not something you encounter on a day-to-day basis. It would be very odd if you saw somebody that was sleeping on the park bench. It would just be overwhelming to the community. Everybody would know about it…
TODD: That’s somebody there and they don’t have a home and I am sure somebody would investigate verily quickly.
TRACIE: Right. A lot of people really have this theory in their head that it’s not going to happen. It just happens to other people. It doesn’t happen to us.
TODD: Now, Suzanne’s Law was passed and signed by President Bush on April 30th, 2003.
TODD: And that’s the reason they raised the age from 18 to 21 on investigating for missing persons. So that, pretty much, it treats a 21 year old as a child.
TRACIE: I think that’s very important because between those ages, 18-21, many times the kids are going off to college by they are still in need of guidance.
TODD: They’re still connected to their family. Now what exactly did this law do? Did it make it mandatory?
TRACIE: Yes. It treats them just like if they were 8.
TODD: What would that mean?
TRACIE: That would mean faster response by the police. In other words, you could take a 19 year old who disappeared and the case would be treated as if it were a 12 year old, it would be immediate response. There would be no waiting time like you find in an adult case, where sometimes you have 24, 48 hours, depending on the law enforcement agency. It eliminates that wait time and it makes it so that law enforcement officer investigating can act more quickly.
TODD: And, you said the time you’re asked to wait before officially reporting an adult – that’s during that critical time period.
TRACIE: Yes, it is.
TODD: Now, how does that affect… can you tell me a little bit about that time period and why you’re asked to wait and then what you might lose during that time period?
TRACIE: In an adult… every adult has the right to walk away, at any point in their lives. You have that right-
TODD: Legally, but not morally.
TRACIE: Legally, but not morally. Every adult has that right. So, unless the law enforcement officer, who gets called to the scene, says there’s obvious signs that this just didn’t happen, he just didn’t decide to do this, there’s blood or something at the scene that says something else happened, they’re not going to investigate right away. They’re going to see, if maybe he just… your husband decided to stay in a motel for 2 days or maybe he ran off with someone or whatever the case may be. There’s a hundred different reasons they can come up with why he would be gone.
TODD: And, I can see that to some degree.
TODD: Because, I know they’d be overwhelmed with cases that, say I come home, I know my wife wouldn’t leave for any reason… she’d know I’d hunt her down if I had to. How long would it take me, if I could not prove any signs of any wrong doing and it looked like she simply walked out, walked out the door, how long would it take – in most areas – before they would really begin to take it seriously?
TRACIE: I think most areas; it would be about 48 hours. Overnight, most people come home.
TODD: How far can people get in 48 hours?
TRACIE: They can get, WOW, pretty much clear across the country. You can get pretty far. I mean, with planes and trains and cars and transportation is so readily available you can get anywhere, literally.
TODD: You can get literally anywhere on the global.
TRACIE: Yes, you can.
TODD: What can we do? And, I understand why law enforcement can’t always follow-up on these in great detail like we would like for them to because they would be even more overwhelmed than they are now. What can we do to help people, when it’s an obvious, legitimate case, because I know you in-take cases?
TRACIE: Yes, I do.
TODD: What can we tell somebody that’s been kind of put off by the police, for legitimate reason, but they are convinced, and in talking with them, you’re convinced, what can they do, what can I do in that first 48 hours? If I can’t get the help but I feel like that I need? What can I do to be productive during that time other than sitting by the phone and waiting… what could I do?
TRACIE: You can be proactive and start your own search. You can literally make your own posters. Get out there and start asking questions yourself. Try and come up with that timeline of where the person spent their last day.
TODD: You should maybe be trying to create a list?
TRACIE: Yes. You should definitely… one of the first things I tell people when they contact me, is to get a notebook and set it aside just for this. Write lists of people this person regularly contacts, their friends, their enemies, everything.
TODD: Family members, phone numbers.
TRACIE: Yes. Everything down in one list. If anybody offers to help you in your search, write their name down.
TODD: You’re really confused at this time in my life when something like this is going on, I really gotta be proactive – you really got to think about what you need to get in order.
TRACIE: And, I think that everyone, when they have someone missing, should contact a non-profit agency within those first 24 hours. Because, the things that you’re not going to think of, they will. They’ve been there, they’ve done it, they can help you.
TODD: And, most non-profit agencies, legitimate agencies like the DOE Network, New York Missing, all of these, really good ones, they can help refer you to somebody. If it’s something that’s not local to anybody within that organization, they can help put you in touch with someone locally that might be able to help expedite this process for you. I know, certainly, they’ve counsel a lot of people in the early stages of a missing person case.
TRACIE: Uh-huh. All the organizations sort of work together and I’ve known, where people have called me from Florida, where I’ve sent them to an organization down there – where it’s closer to them, where it deal with their issue better.
TODD: Now, Center for Hope, if I go to their website, I can feel pretty comfortable that anybody that they refer on their website, that they have really, thoroughly, checked these people out and they are really referring somebody that are valid.
TRACIE: Absolutely. If the Center for Hope sends you to someone, they’re valid. Yes.
TODD: Now, I don’t have any money and I’m looking for possible help from a private investigator. Don’t we all? But I get a lot of that… I get a lot of calls like that… and I know you do too….
TRACIE: Yes, I do.
TODD: What would I need to start actually doing something like that? Could you refer me to somebody like that?
TRACIE: Yes, I could. And, I know there’s other organizations that could do the exact same thing. There are several private investigators who have offered to help out with cases for free.
TODD: But, there’s guidelines. They have a certain…
TRACIE: Yes, they have guidelines. And, I’m sort of the middle man between them and their guidelines.
TODD: I could have a wife, perhaps she has to pay me some type of spousal support and I’ve sort of lost track of her.
TODD: Kind of report her missing, just to try to get somebody to help me out. Now, I know that’s happened.
TRACIE: Yes, it has.
TODD: And, that’s not a good use of that resource. How do we know, how do you detect something like that? Is that just through the initial screening?
TRACIE: I try to get a feel for the person. I try to talk with everyone on the phone, if possible, when they come to me for help. I want to make sure it’s been reported to law enforcement, that’s a big thing for me. If they have law enforcement involvement, then it’s probably not a case of he’s just not paying his child support and I can’t find him.
TODD: A lot of the today, first thing, “Well, I don’t want to involve the police right now.” That’s a big red flag. If they don’t want to involve the police right away, and I’ve asked them, as soon as you can get your case listed with the FBI, NCIC, you need to do that, you need to press for that. And, sometimes law enforcement are not always initially really willing to do that for various reasons. What might sort of reasons be that, say your child’s been missing for 5 years or your spouse, or somebody that you love, and law enforcement are still not real keen on entering this into NCIC, what might be a reason for that, that you’ve found in your experience?
TRACIE: My experience is that they feel the child maybe a runaway, and that they are still alive. They may feel the case is more of a situation where the person did walk away. That they very well could be living a normal life somewhere else and so they won’t enter it or it gets removed from NCIC after a certain time because nothing comes up.
TODD: They sort of forget about it after a period of time.
TRACIE: Right. Law enforcement has such heavy case loads at times that sometimes they, you have to remind them about the older cases.
TODD: And, a lot of what we do to that point is – we do try and remind law enforcement. I’ve seen a lot of times where the investigator will be changed out. Somebody new will be on the case, the old investigator retires, gets fired, whatever. The new one doesn’t always pick up where the old one left off.
TRACIE: Right. Sometimes it takes months for them to go back and go through all the open cases, some previous investigations.
TODD: And, sometimes they fall through the cracks at that point and time.
TRACIE: Yes, they do. They can fall through the cracks very easily. The one case that I was involved with where the woman was found alive, she disappeared in 1976. And, her case was still considered open by New York State, but it had been filed away because she was listed as a runaway.
TODD: They pretty much stopped the actual investigation.
TRACIE: Right. So, when I called to inquire about a possible match with an unidentified body, they pulled her file and found out she was alive and well.
TODD: Just like that.
TRACIE: Yeah, just like that.
TODD: It just took an inquiry.
TRACIE: Yep. It took someone calling and it closed the case.
TODD: Case closed.
TRACIE: Yes. We can find people alive. And, that case reminds me that we can do that. That people can be alive after all that time. So there is hope. And, that case is proof of that hope.
TODD: I’m sure Eric has a ton of questions.
ERIC: I’m sitting and I’m listening and I’m just thinking about the euphoria that a family would feel to find somebody – that missing person – they’re alive. And, if it’s been 1 year, 1 month, 10 years, and they’re alive
TODD: Some of them are so thoroughly convinced that they’re dead…
ERIC: Yes. I don’t know why tonight’s show is really getting to me the way it is. Guess, when you just listed the 600, you said you have listed on your site, and then, the Jane Doe missing and this was back in ’86, and here it is 20 years later, and they still don’t know and nobody’s come forward to …
TRACIE: It’s heartbreaking.
ERIC: It really is. It sounds… how can somebody NOT come forward? Understand what I’m saying? It’s like, how do you miss somebody and just give up and say, “Well, my sister, my wife, my daughter, my cousin, my niece – she walked away and, oh well, she’ll come back,” and just forget it. I don’t know how people do that. I just feel like with the networks that have been set up, and I’m seeing this across… now while dealing with Missing Pieces… that this network of concerned people about the unidentified and the missing is a nation wide thing. I think you guys probably move faster than the Amber Alert.
TRACIE: Actually, I was getting ready to say-
TODD: Sometimes we know about something before you get the Amber Alert and you anticipate it, and when the alert doesn’t come, we’re talking “Where’s the Amber Alert?” “Why didn’t it go out?”
TRACIE: I’ve said that, too.
TODD: “Somebody needs to go check on it.” We’ve done that before. We hear from cases in Australia, instantly. There’s something that will happen in Australia and we have the news on our desktops just almost instantly.
TRACIE: I have people all over the country that will email me news articles about cases that are on my site.
ERIC: It speaks well of the American public, or the public period in general, in that they are concerned. With as many people as you can find that don’t want to be bothered with it as long as it Doesn’t hit them, you find an equal number of people who are concerned, who are actually looking at the posters when they go into Wal-Marts and studying faces and seeing if that child is okay.
TRACIE: See, that’s my ultimate goal is to get people to look at the faces. That’s all I want. If anything else, look at one picture, just one. It makes my day.
ERIC: Since I’ve been doing this show, I find that when I go into the Wal-Mart’s, or the K-Mart’s, or the Sam’s, I stop at the board. I’m there for a while.
TODD: People are empowered at a whole new level now. So many people could actually sit down at their desktop and pull up stuff without even having to go to Wal-Mart – you’re actually able to look through all of those. Then you find, just through the communication of information you’re able to actually help impact that case. It doesn’t have to be an immediate positive ID to be of some help. If you have an old newspaper article that you see that might not be in that person’s archive, you can save that and email to the administrator’s of the website so they can actually gather… because a lot of this is the gathering phase – you’re trying to gather all the data, and if nothing else, we’re building a time capsule for the future. We’re hoping if we can’t do something now, we’re hoping that the future can. And, leave a good, solid foundation for them to start.
TRACIE: That is exactly what we are doing. This information is the inside… the Internet is the greatest tool.
ERIC: It really is.
TRACIE: I love the Internet simply because you can get so much information to so many people so quickly. To utilize the Internet is the perfect way to do that. To get these pictures out there, to as many people. My little tiny site is for one thing. I’ve had 90,000 original visitors…
TRACIE: In 3 years. Those are 90,000 people who sought out that website. So if one picture, if they only looked at one, that’s one face, they will remember. And, so, there’s one more person looking for that missing child, or looking at that unidentified person and saying, “Hey, wait a second. That sort of looks like…” and then make that call.
TODD: I remember a point in time where I didn’t know there where other people… not only did I not know that there where that many missing and that many unidentified cases… I didn’t know there were other people that were potentially interested in it, because it was rare to run across somebody in the early days – pre-Internet – you just didn’t see somebody daily. How many people do you know in your home town, Tracie, that could sit down and go, over coffee, with you and talk about all this stuff like we have on hours on end at a time?
TRACIE: No one. I don’t know of a single person. Not one. It’s like a foreign language to them.
TODD: I think other parents find this a little odd. I think… they think it’s a little bit odd what you’re doing, but I don’t think they really know what you’re doing. You’re not poking around in graves, or carrying bones around, or something like that. It’s not like that. What you’re doing is not exactly that, but I think a lot of people are a little put-off by it because they think, “Oh, forensics”.
TRACIE: Exactly. They think all you do is deal with dead bodies all day. And, my son’s teacher, my husband tried to explain what I do and she got the notion in her mind that I was some sort of CSI type person. That I went out and investigated crime scenes and poking around dead bodies and stuff. I kind of laugh about it now because she thinks I’m this thing that I’m not. I consider myself a victim’s advocate. I think she fears me a little bit now, because she thinks I’m something I’m not… and so, it’s kind of hard to describe what we do. Like I said, I consider myself a victim’s advocate, because that encompasses everybody.
TODD: The missing-
TRACIE: And, the unidentified. It’s easier for people to figure out what that means. Where other times they look at you funny when you tell them what you do.
ERIC: You mentioned CSI. Now, a lot of us have started watching CSI, both Las Vegas and New York, and it’s become on of the more popular shows on television. They usually solve a crime inside of an hour. Are there techniques, are they viable, are they correct, are thy true? Was this pure entertainment?
TRACIE: It’s entertainment.
ERIC: That’s all.
TODD: They’re getting better.
TRACIE: They are making it more realistic.
TODD: Because of the public. They’re getting letters from people like Tracie that are pointing out things. I hardly ever watch anything like that because the truth is stranger than fiction. Truly, as I’ve seen cases that, I could tell… what show did you watch that on? I thought, I didn’t. It’s happened. I know these people. This truly happened and it’s just incredible. So much has improved over the past few years since the invention of the internet, that actually brought into this cause now. We went through a period where we all became aware of each other. And, now, we’re becoming aware of the cases more with the data transfers really flowing now. Now we’re talking about long-term goals and I see on the Center for Hope’s website where they’re actually discussing things, long-term goals. Educate all segments of the community in both awareness and prevention strategies. Now, how are you going to do something like it? Is that what this big event next week; is that what that’s about?
TRACIE: Yes. It’s another way to make awareness. We have now a 20 ft. tall monument smack in the middle of Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York, that reminds daily, everybody that drives by it, that there are missing people. That people disappear every day. Every hour.
TODD: You’re going to have a photograph of this on your website at some point in time?
TRACIE: Yes. I’m going to make sure I take several photographs of it when I go. Yes. There will be a beautiful photograph of it. There is an artist’s drawing of it on the Center for Hope’s page. That’s basically is what it should look like. I actually have not seen it yet.
TODD: Now, a lot of the awareness issues are disguised as other things. They serve more than one purpose. Jill Bennett does the candlelight vigils. We talked with Jill last week. A lot of that helps as an emotional type thing for the family, a memorial type service. But, then again, at the same time, it provides a little bit of public awareness, a little bit of fellowship for family members, people who are learning about what’s going on in the community… that type of thing. Have you ever been involved in, like a, candlelight vigil? Or, some type of memorial service?
TRACIE: Yes. I took part in a candlelight vigil, that they… they have like a ceremony for the families at New York Missing Person’s Day every year, where they have pictures on a board and they give the family member a rose. And, it’s just to acknowledge each missing person that is represented by family there.
TODD: Now, the impact of this, how do you feel this impacts the family?
TRACIE: I think it helps them to remember their loved one, to keep their memories alive, to keep them with them, to keep them focused, and to know they aren’t alone. That this whole room of people is with them.
TODD: They’re there for them.
TRACIE: Exactly. This past year… the ceremony… it affected me. I was in tears right along everyone else. I was first there with them, and, it’s hard to keep separated, to a point, which I have to do, because I work with the unidentified, too. I’m sort of the uglier half of missing people.
TODD: Like the grim reaper part.
TRACIE: Yes. And when you get a phone call from me, it’s usually not good.
TODD: I’ve heard that before. If you’re calling somebody, you’ve got bad news for them – it’s NOT always the case – but a lot of times, there’s a comparative analysis between the possiblity of it being their missing loved one and an unidentified person. And, some people even welcome that, just to end it, just like – finally – finally, it’s over.
TRACIE: Oh, I know. I’ve met people… there’s one woman who’s been searching for her son for 3 decades and it’s heartbreaking seeing her every year, because I know how long it’s been for her. I know how much she’s gone through. I’ve seen it in her face over the years. I’ve connected with some of the families, but I have to remember to pull myself back from it, too.
TODD: You can get consumed, easily.
TRACIE: Well, I have to stay objective, too. I have to remember not to ignore some detail on an unidentified body, because I don’t want it to be that person, because I met their aunt, or their sister. You have to stay objective, too, and it’s a hard balancing act to keep yourself that way.
TODD: You have to learn to appreciate your own family, too. And, not spend so much time away from the, because I find I spend more and more time away – not away – but locked away in another room. Now, my family is in another room, and they’re going about their normal business and Daddy’s in a room doing a radio show about missing persons and it’s their normal.
TRACIE: Right. And, my kids are off doing cheerleading and football.
TODD: You’ve got a quiet house tonight.
TRACIE: Right. Yes. It’s a quiet house tonight, that’s their normal schedule. Yeah, it will take away from your family and you have to balance – that’s another balance act. You have to be very good at juggling things and multi-tasking in this.
TRACIE: You have to be able to do a hundred things at once. I’ve done interviews with news crews where I’ve just ship the kids out the door for school. I’ve literally had a news crew walk in.
TODD: I’ve had to run, run… trying to stay one step ahead of them. Tracie and my phone calls are not always this quiet. We’re usually immersed in our families when we’re having one of our long, long phone calls. I can hear her children crying, fighting, and she hears the same. The other parent coming in and trying to intervene and try to clear things up. That’s how we know each other’s family. They’ve been little background noises. You really get to know people like that. I’ve met Tracie – physically – one time in my life. We did the Good Morning America show and we were both in New York for that. And, the bond that you can create and establish and maintain through the Internet and through phone calls, it’s amazing.
TRACIE: Todd’s like a brother to me and I feel like I know him just as well as my regular brother… my real brother. It’s like a big family.
TODD: I know you better than I know a lot of my own family. Cousins, extended family members, I will know more about Tracie and her family than I’ll know about the others. It’s because we share some of the same goals, concerns, and hopes for the future. I know you’re working with your organizations to review and evaluate legislation, that’s constant and ongoing – always looking for a way to improve pieces of legislation that helps the cause.
TODD: There’s always a way to add on to it, change it, make sure it’s implemented, apply it to the right… tell people about the legislation, how it applies to them. Information guidance, referrals, advocacy services – that’s all the things we try to put together for people like that. And, a lot of them have no idea that there’s this type resources out here.
TRACIE: That’s why I, actually, Doug and Mary, have sent pamphlets out to all the law enforcement in New York State, that includes NYMissing as a resource. So that the law enforcement can actually inform the families immediately here are resources available to you.
TODD: So, whether or not you communicate with law enforcement directly, they still do use your website as a resource and it’s become a reliable resource. They know you have reliable resource…
TODD: In the community of one stop shop… sort of like the DOE Network on a national and international level.
TRACIE: I’ve got quite a few politicians and law enforcement and a lot of different people that are publicly influential, I guess you could say, in the last year. I’m going to be meeting with the Governor of the State in a couple of weeks.
TODD: We have ways of seeing who visits our websites at times and you do see a lot of government level visitors-
TODD: Visiting the website. So, at least, whether or not you hear from them physically, you know they’re using this resource and they’ve come back again today, they were here yesterday, the day before, the week before. You see them historically coming back again and again and you know that you’ve created a resource that these people are using and it’s becoming effective. That feeling is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world.
TRACIE: Exactly. It’s nice to know you’re making a difference and that even me, who’s completely untrained, very little college, and I’m doing this out of a small room in my house-
TODD: But, you’ve got the heart and desire to do this.
TRACIE: Yes. As long as you have the heart and desire, anybody’s capable of it. You can do it and you can make a huge impact. There are 2 families, at least, that have had huge impact upon their life because of the work I’ve done. That makes me feel great, to know I’ve helped. Even if it’s only 2 cases, and even if I never solve another case, those 2 cases are enough for me.
TODD: Long-term, the Hope Center hopes to create local chapters.
TODD: And, I think anybody can go to the website to look at that type of thing and I think there’s a little bit of criteria for that. Got to have a lot on the ball for that type of thing. But, there’s information there for that if you’d like to see this brought into your community. There’s no community too small for it.
TRACIE: Absolutely not.
TODD: Because, the cases that are prevented are just as important as the ones we’re trying to resolve.
TRACIE: Yes. I don’t ever want to see another person on my website again as in a missing person. I would prefer it never happen again.
TODD: It’s funny… when you’re operating something that you hope will eradicate itself-
TRACIE: Yeah. I don’t want it to be useful; I don’t want it to ever come in handy to any family. I want it to be gone. You’re exactly right, that does sound funny, but you don’t want it to be used, ever. You don’t want it to be needed.
TODD: What would you do, if tomorrow, all this is wiped away, you never have to worry about it again… what would you do with your life? With your spare time?
TRACIE: I’d probably find some other meaningful thing to work for. I’ve never been one to not volunteer. I’ve volunteered since I was a teenager. I would find something else. I definitely would.
TODD: There’s now way around it?
TRACIE: No. There’s no way around it. And, honestly, I don’t know if I could go out and get a regular job right now because it wouldn’t have the meaning.
TODD: Well, who’s got time for a regular job when all this type of thing’s going on. Nobody has the time for a real job. My day job gets in the way at times; of the things that I feel is the more important job. This is the more important job, the things we’re trying to do is spread public awareness and then the day job that you have to for food and shelter actually gets in the way. But, I have a very understanding group of people that I work with and they usually clear the way for me and help me make time for what I need to make time. And, I think they’ve realized it’s good for their community, too, to help resolve this type of thing and they’re really, really great about that now.
TRACIE: Yeah. See, you’re lucky with that and I’m grateful that they are good for you. But, I’ve looked for a job and all I keep contemplating is, I haven’t worked for 10 years, except for this… and, I honestly don’t think I could do running a cash register for 8 hours. It would just be so meaningless to me at that point because I know I can be more useful, even if it doesn’t pay anything.
TODD: I’m lucky I get to sit at a desk all day long so that … makes it hand for the telephone and email, and that type of thing. Because, part of my job is that I have to deal with a lot of email. So, that makes it easy, but I’m hoping you’ll find something that can supplement your income where you can keep doing what you want to do. It’s not easy. I’ve been very, very lucky in that.
TRACIE: Well, I’ve been lucky. My husband makes enough to support us. I’ve been lucky in that aspect.
TODD: How would your family be different if you had worked all this time and you were able to supplement the income? What might be different?
TRACIE: A bigger house maybe. A better house. I mean, I don’t think there’s anything that we lack, that we need. That’s the way I look at it. As long as we have what we need and our kids aren’t wanting excessively for things-
TODD: That you’re able to put some of your wants aside, the need for the one… are not-
TRACIE: Hey, I drive an older car instead of a new one. I buy used, never new. That kind of thing, but I’ve never been one for very material things. I’ve always been kind of down to earth and very simple.
TODD: Treasures of the heart, you know.
TRACIE: Yeah. I don’t need a fancy house. I’m happy with my big ole farmhouse that creeps at night.
ERIC: I want to ask both of you a question, because, Tracie, you were saying that “when people are getting a call from me” it usually not a good call. And, I remember when our last grandson, because we raised all 3 of them, till they went back home to be with their parents, and each time they went, I would always say, “Listen, if anything happens, do not call me, because I don’t want to know.” Do you run into that? What type of a person does that make me? Sometimes I ask myself, “Would you rather live in denial than knowing the truth?” Are there more people out there like that?
TRACIE: I think everybody would want to deny their loved one’s gone. When my father passed away, I didn’t want to accept it. It was weeks before I would accept it. I wouldn’t go near the grave, none of that. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. So, I think it’s natural for you to deny it because if you don’t actually hear it, or see it, it’s not real.
ERIC: It didn’t happen… exactly.
TODD: You go through the stages. Everybody goes through those stages. And, a lot of times, when you try to help somebody, you have to let them go through their denial period and then they’re going to be back. And, they do. I’ve seen, historically, a lot of people, they’re off on their own tangent at the time and they are finding their way to deal with what’s happened to them. It’s probably the most impactful thing that’s ever happened in their entire life, and then, when they get their self settled where they’re actually wanting positive steps forward, they come back and you’ll hear from them again and they want to look for positive ways to move forward.
TODD: We just have to provide those ways. I think this show, among others’ efforts, that we’re trying to put together, are going to be ways to do that. To give people a voice, and let them hear the things they need to hear. It’s very important, to hear these messages.
TRACIE: You’re right. And, to never give up hope.
ERIC: Are there support groups for people who have lost loved ones?
TODD: And, you can refer somebody to those?
TRACIE: Yes, absolutely.
ERIC: Okay. Tracie, before we actually come to the end of this, can you give us your website address again?
TODD: Can you get to the Center for Hope there?
TRACIE: Everything links – Center for Hope, Project Edan, The Lost and Found – everything’s linked right on the home page.
TODD: All the phone numbers, addresses… everything’s there.
TODD: And, Missing Pieces does have a newsletter (see link at bottom of page to subscribe) that we’re putting together to help let the public know about our upcoming guests, maybe a little reminder that will go out the day before the show. There’s a lot of people that have missed it because they forget about it, they’ve got their family, their kids. So, we’re trying to work on ways to keep reminding people that it’s going to be on Tuesday nights. And, love to hear from people that have interesting ideas or interesting guests they’d like to see included in the show. We’ve not had a lack of that so far – but we want to hear from more and more ways. I might be able to refer people over to Tracie, because they might not need a radio show as much as they need somebody to talk to. So, a lot of times, we’re just referring here and there and as a community, we do pass people back and forth. I think they really need a friend, I think this one needs an advocate, this one needs a private investigator – you just put them in categories and pass them to your trusted circle.
ERIC: That’s wonderful. It is really wonderful. The network that you guy’s have put together… actually, it extends around the world, doesn’t it?
TODD: Oh, yeah. There’s several, several organizations around the world that all just tie together… we hear from people in the UK, and it’s people you become very familiar with and you don’t have to question what they’re asking of you, because they’ve already researched it and you can say, “Sure” without hesitation.
ERIC: Let me ask you something of the both of you. Is child slavery something that’s coming back… the kidnappings, the slavery issue? Is it coming back where people are actually kidnapping children and putting them into slavery, or servitude?
TODD: Coming back, or maybe people just becoming more aware of it?
ERIC: One or the other
TRACIE: I think it’s more that we’re becoming more aware of it.
TRACIE: I think the mass… it’s so easy to get information out to people. People are becoming more aware of more things. I think people are more aware of the situation now than they were, maybe, 20 years ago.
TODD: It seems like you’re hearing more and more bad news; but really, you’re just becoming more aware of things. And, that’s a good thing. I try to look at that as a positive, too. What we’re aware of, that means we can begin to try to tackle it.
TODD: And, we’re going to have Tracie back again. There’s a lot of guests that we just simply couldn’t get enough time with and you’re one of them.
TRACIE: Thank you for having me.
TODD: We definitely want you back.
ERIC: It seems like everybody we have we definitely got to have back. Listen, I want to thank the both of you for having taken of your tame and your consideration for coming on to the show to let our listening audience, a very interested listening audience, know about what you do, what you’re involved in, and where they can go to get help if they need to, and where they can even go to provide some help for somebody that’s looking for closure. I want to thank the both of you, and we’ll look forward to doing this again next Tuesday.
TODD: See ya next week.
ERIC: Okay, everyone have a good night now.