My Involvement in a Missing Person’s Investigation

One quiet Saturday in Chicago, I was working at a Verizon Store on the campus of Loyola University, Chicago.

The pandemic of the coronavirus in the US is just beginning to unfold, and Governor J.B. Pritzker has just announced his Stay-at-Home Order for non-essential business in Illinois, which would take affect that day, March 20th beginning at 5:00 PM. Telecommunications is considered critical infrastructure, and so I remain employed.

I’d had one customer that day, and he had just happily left with his new phone.

About 35 minutes later, a couple walks in the door. The man was older, with bad hips. The woman was a bit younger than him, maybe around 60, and wearing a healthcare mask (as is currently the trend). She was talking on the phone, and he just grunts and points at her when i greet him. She continued to chat on her phone call for about 5 minutes while i waited patiently for her to wrap up.

Once she hung up, she looked at me, then the man and quietly said to him “we may be too late” in a sad and worried sounding voice.

I welcomed her and asked what brought them in. She went into a tale about coming into the store the previous day and being assisted by a person that was unable to fully help them, going on to explain that they were trying to locate her missing son, who last been heard from on February 29th. Realizing that it was March 21st, I realized how she must feel. She went on to explain that her son had a phone, that was on the step father’s account (the older gentleman), and that they were trying to get the call history so they would be able to see the last call(s) made by him, and when they were made. They did not know the account PIN, and hadn’t ever registered it online, so which would have allowed them to reset the PIN.

I apologized about her situation, and explained that without the account PIN, I wouldn’t be able to gain access to the account, to help them gather information. I went on to explain that Corporate locations are often able to verify identity with only photo ID, but that I was unable to use that method. I also explained that unfortunately, all of the Corporate doors in the area had closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. I encouraged them to contact the police to assist with this, and to file a report. She assured me that they had, and the Chicago Police Department wasn’t interested in the least, but had allowed them to make a report.

Knowing that this might be the only other person to walk into the store today, my heart and my uncommon-sense both decided I should tackle this seemingly impossible challenge.

2 1/2 hours later, with the help of a super-awesome Customer Care rep (on her first shift working from home)and we were finally in the account! We were able to reset the account PIN, and then I helped them register online, downloaded and printed the latest bill, which listed the call logs.

The bill cycle went though March 14th.

Sadly, the last activity on her son’s line was on March 1st.

That last day of account activity was painful to look at.

It showed a list of outbound calls, about 2 dozen in total, over the course of about 12 hours. Most of the calls were to just one phone number, which went to voicemail each time. There was one call out to his mother’s phone, and one to a cell phone in Ireland; none of these calls had been answered.

As I helped the mother decipher each line on the printout, I began to learn more details surrounding the situation. A military or former-military son (currently missing for 20 days) an ex-pat mom, living in Ireland, phone calls to landline and cellular numbers in Ireland, Russia, and more-  clues that made that made a strange situation even more confusing to me, and seemed totally normal to the mother.

The whole time, she was taking notes at a furious pace, with an ink pen and a notebook that she brought, and suddenly I felt like i was in fictional movie or book. Meanwhile, the stepfather sat silently, occasionally moving slightly to adjust his bad hip, only speaking to answer a question or two  I asked about phone numbers on the call log, or account information.

I decided that we should try to call the number, that number that had all the activity from the last day. Lisa (the mother) was scared to do it. Mind you at this point, everyone’s emotions were pretty rattled, after spending so much time ‘cracking’ into the account, and only to find no recent activity. My thought was that the call wouldn’t be answered, or would go to a machine of some sort.

But I dialed it. From my personal phone. On Speakerphone, so the three of us could hear, you know, just in case someone answered.

And after 3 rings, a female answered!

I could barely speak, I was so surprised!

But I managed to pull it together. I explained who I was and inquired who she was. She told me her name (I‘ll call her Tina to protect identities) and asked why I was calling her. By this point, I thought I was way out of my league as far as knowing what type of questions to ask, how much to share. But she made it easy. I explained a little bit: looking for a missing person, worried parents, verizon employee helping out, etc, and that we were trying to track down people he’d recently been in communication with. I asked if she would be able to help.

Strangely, she seemed eager to give information. I said the person’s name, and she knew who i was talking about. One of the first things she said that I thought was rather strange was, “You’re just a verizon employee?” To which I replied, “yes, just trying to assist my customers locate their son.” Which led to another hour of information collecting, with mom furiously taking notes throughout. I expected that I would do a lot of talking, but once I asked a couple questions, Tina opened up.

She did ask, “Who all is there listening?” and I told her it was the mother, and I.

According to Tina, she was involved in the political campaign in South Carolina for Candidate Sanders, and among other things, often dealt with campaign volunteers. That’s how she came to meet the missing son, who I will call Tom. Allegedly, Tom contacted her via email, and expressed his passion for Bernie, and an interest in helping out along the campaign trail, to which an agreement was made.

According to Tina, Tom told her that he would be flying into Greensville, SC on February 26th, and that he would contact her once he’d arrived, or if his itinerary changed.

It changed.

Due to the fast unfolding coronavirus epidemic, Tom texted Tina that his flight was delayed. Then he followed up saying it was cancelled, but he would be booking another flight, to a nearby town, and could she meet him there and scoop him up?

I know, you’re probably thinking that she’s sharing so much info, and with many details. At that point I felt exactly the same! I’m not a detective by any means, but I have worked with many different types of people in my life. Additionally, I’ve always been interested in psychology, and reading people. Honestly my instincts were telling me that it sounded too rehearsed.

As she continued to share what seemed like every detail about every contact she’d had with Tom, various scenes from thriller movies went through my head.

Eventually, Tina stated that as the time progressed on the campaign, she and Tom spent more time together, prompting several other campaign staff and volunteers to pull her aside and ask if she was ok. I asked what that meant, and she said that at times, Tom came across as “unstable”, and the others expressed their concern to her about it, as he seemed to have “partnered up with her”.

Since Tina was so willing to share, I continued to ask her questions. Questions like, “Did he ever come across like a person with violent tendencies, or that he might inflict harm on you, himself, or others?” She wouldn’t really commit to an answer, saying she didn’t know for sure, but that he “did seem unstable at times”. I asked is she could recall any times that she did feel afraid of him, to which she stated she did not fear for her safety most of the time, but that there was a time when things changed.

After the election on February 29th, the campaign came to an end for the South Carolina volunteers. Tina stated that Tom seemed interested in continuing his involvement in the campaign, but claimed he had no way to get to the next stop, and no place to stay if he did get there, and could he “hang with her?” She said no, to which he became “extremely angry” and began “shouting and yelling” at her.

According to Tina, they went back and forth about it, and ultimately it was decided that she would go on her way and he would go on his- separately. It was then, that Tina arranged for another campaign staff member- a male named Brian, who had a car, to pick up Tom. The plan was for Brian to take Tom to pick up his luggage from a staff member’s home that some of the volunteers had been staying at, then deliver Tom to the airport. Destination Unkown.

From that point, we didn’t get much more information about what happened next.

That was the night of February 29th. Tom allegedly continued to text and phone Tina, which she stated she began to ignore, eventually blocking his number on her phone that same night. She volunteered that when she arrived at her next destination, she opened her computer, to find that he was not blocked on it, and that he had repeatedly texted, called and left voicemails, and that the content of them seemed “manic”, “unstable”, and “off balance”.

This was about 40 minutes into the phone call, which Tom’s mother had been recording on her phone the whole time, while quietly scribbling notes. She would occasionally write something down, and then reach over and touch my arm, indicating that I should ask Tina a particular question. I wasn’t sure why she was unable to ask herself, but I accommodated her.

It went on for about 10 more minutes, and Tina said that was about all that she knew. I asked the mother if she had any questions that she wanted to ask Tina. That was a mistake. She was emotional- upset, scared, and angry. She went into a little bit of a tirade, chastising Tina for suggesting that her son might even be slightly violent, stating that he had never harmed a soul in his life, only serving his country selflessly in the military.

I realized then that we were beyond the point of having a productive conversation. I picked up the phone, took it off speaker, apologized to Tina, thanked her for her help and all the info, asked if there was anything else she wanted to add (there wasn’t), and ended the call.

By now the mother is crying, red faced, and breathing fast. She was cursing and mumbling incoherently under her breath, occasionally loudly saying things like “She’s told this story before” and “They coached her what to say”. I was slightly worried that she was going to melt down even further, but she held onto some composure, and pulled it together.

I on the other hand, was feeling a bit stressed, and my mouth had gone as dry as a jar of cotton balls. I desperately needed a drink of something- ANYTHING- to wet my whistle, but my iced tea from Popeye’s had been empty for an hour or more.

I was spent.

Again I recommended contacting the police in both Chicago, and Greenville, SC to further the investigation. The mother then turned to me saying that she would hug me, but “You know..” and thanked me profusely for all my help. She said, “Where did you get your investigation experience? You’ve obviously done this before...” I chuckled a bit uncomfortably, saying, “No, I just like people and I like helping when I can. Plus, I really like challenges. I hope this info can help you. Good Luck.”

Lisa gathered her belongings, a notebook, ink pens, post it notes, and the multiple pages of phone logs that I’d printed out, preparing to leave. She began talking to her husband in hushed tones, and they left.

I escorted them out, thinking I would close the store and go home, but looking at my phone I realized there was another half hour left. I locked the door anyway, went to the bathroom and drank from the sink like a dog. I was mentally drained by the whole thing, and I was so thirsty!

As I closed up the store, I couldn’t stop thinking about the whole situation. I was worried that Tim was dead. I felt bad for his mother, and worried about how she would handle the grief. I thought about Tina, and wondered what her involvement was. I thought about ‘Brian’, wondering if he was a murderer, and if I had spent an hour talking to his accomplice.

I got home, continuously thinking about the situation, unable to get it out of my mind. I felt compelled to get some sort of closure, at least in my own head.

So I got online and booked the next flight to Greenville, South Carolina.

Just kidding! I sent Tina a text message:

She replied, and we went back and forth a couple minutes, and at that time, I felt better about her, and that she may not actually have been involved in a murder.

Then I sent Lisa an email, as I had never gotten her phone number written down:

Lisa replied to my email the next day:

That email didn’t offer anything but more cryptic info.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I told a person or two about the drama, and sort of expected to be contacted by the police- for what, I’m not sure, but it never happened, and eventually, I began to think less and less about it.

One March 26th, this past week, I received an additional email from Lisa:

Giving me very few details, my curiosity was renewed even more, but. I resisted the urge to inquire about details, happy that he was alive (but maybe not well).

My simple reply:

I truly hope that Lisa reaches out to me at some point and provides a detail or 2, and some closure, for me and for my readers.

I don’t know how significant a role I had in helping Lisa track down her son, but I am glad to have assisted in some way.  It sounds like her son has some things to work out, and I hope he is able to do so. This is not an easy time for any of us, and for their family, I hope it becomes a little easier.

If you are ever in a position, at any time, to HELP someone that needs it, PLEASE DO.

Your help may make more of a difference than you’d imagine!

Be well friends.