The news that three women, all missing for a decade, were found alive in a Cleveland home was recognized as good news in the types of cases where good news is not all that common.
“Obviously, it’s extremely rare,” said Bill Hagmaier, executive director of the International Homcide Investigators Association. “It doesn’t happen that often.”
It’s unclear exactly how many truly missing people there are in the United States. Some are runaways. Adults disappear because they want to leave unpleasant situations. But there are more than 50,000 unidentified bodies across the country, Hagmaier said.
Last year, the Dayton Daily News identified more than 20 cases across the region of long missing people. Those are among the toughest of the cold cases, investigators say, because there are no bodies and often not even a crime scene. A few of those cases are considered homicides, with people doing prison time for them, even though the bodies were never found.
For most, there are no answers, just questions. Some cases go back decades, whether it is Sharon Pretorius, 13, who vanished in 1973 while collecting for her Dayton Journal-Herald paper route, or Ronald Tammen, Jr., who disappeared from the Miami University campus in 1953.
When there is a resolution, it’s often more tragic than what happened in Cleveland. Last month, the remains of Katelyn Markham, one of those cases the Daily News examined, was discovered in Cedar Grove, Ind., 30 miles from where she disappeared in Fairfield on Aug. 14, 2011.
However there was one local case that ended similarly to what happened in Cleveland. Kevin Caes kidnapped a prostitute in Nashville, then took her to a small trailer parked in his brother’s driveway in Clinton, Ind. After the woman convinced Caes she had been seen, he took her to his parents’ Harrison Twp. home after they left for a vacation.
The woman had been Caes’ captive for several weeks when she was able to sever an alarm wire at the home on Aug. 20, 1997, bringing sheriff’s deputies there. Convicted of 28 felonies in 1999, Caes is doing a 110-year prison sentence.
Hagmaier, a retired FBI agent, said he wouldn’t speculate on details about the Cleveland case, but noted that “there’s a lot of different ways to imprison people. It’s not all handcuffs and bars and doors.”
Younger children can be intimidated or psychologically influenced in different ways, he said.
Tim Apolito, an instructor with the University of Dayton’s Criminal Justice Studies Program, said it’s amazing the three Cleveland women could be imprisoned for so long.
“It’s kind of bizarre,” Apolito said. “They got away with that for 10 years. That’s pretty unbelievable.”
Apolito, who was raised in Cleveland, said that type of situation might not have been possible in the past, before neighbors became more detatched from each other, and neighborhoods more fragmented.
“There’s not the kind of connectedness that there used to be,” Apolito said. “We need to get into that idea of looking out for one another a little more often.”
But the Cleveland case should “recharge the motors” of cold case detectives, Hagmaier said.
“Investigators don’t always think the worst, but they always have to be prepared for it,” Hagmaier said. “This is a case that should be used as an example for investigators to never give up hope.”
He also said investigators should not worry about those rare cases where missing people turn up causing unfounded hope for other families.
“It’s our job to be realistic, but not to scorch hope for anyone. Because it can happen. It’s just, unfortunately, extremely rare,” Hagmaier said.