Evidence of Foul Play by John Philpin
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Death of a Little Princess: The Tragic Story of the Murder of JonBenet Ramsey
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A portrait of the Ramsey family and computer business; key events in the investigation; profiles of Boulder, Colorado, Police Chief Tom Koby and District Attorney Alex Hunter; a chronological account of the media reaction to the murder itself, child beauty pageants; and the feud between the Ramsey "dream team," the police department and the district attorney's office. Ex-FBI criminal profiler Robert Ressler's consultation on the case.

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Evidence of Foul Play

by John Philpin

A police helicopter prowls the sky above eleven-year-old Shakira Johnson's southeast Cleveland neighborhood. Do the cops send up the mother ship for suspected runaways? Does the FBI enter the search for them? They must. According to authorities, Shakira does not meet Ohio criteria for an Amber Alert, thus placing her in the category of runaway or parental abduction. The latter does not apply, so ... the chopper is up, the Feds are in, and families are praying for the child's safe return.

The Amber Alert is a fine concept. Ohio guidelines state that when a child younger than 18 disappears, and the investigating agency believes s/he is in imminent danger of harm or death, and they have reasonable descriptions to offer (child, perp, vehicle, etc.), the police may order the emergency alert. In the end, it is a subjective call. Where concept becomes action, Shakira's fate rests in the hands of those who write and interpret policy.
Shakira was last seen Saturday night, September 13. She and two brothers attended a block party on East 106th Street. She was still dancing at ten PM. Then she was gone.

Her mom offered a reward - $2,000 - for her daughter's safe return. The neighborhood has pitched in, posting fliers of the missing girl's photograph. Friends from school are searching and knocking on doors. Adults search vacant buildings. By Wednesday the eighteenth, the fourth day since she vanished, there was nothing.

Her mom insists Shakira would not run away. She has no reason to drop out of sight. She is a good kid. No problems in school.

No one at the block dance saw her leave. There were no descriptions, save Shakira's, to publicize. And no evidence of foul play.

On day five, police were knocking on the doors of registered sex offenders in the neighborhood. There are two hundred of them. The police are also looking for a red car, but they haven't said why.

Police defend their decision to not issue an Amber Alert. To repeatedly issue alerts would trivialize them, render them little more than the photographs that once graced milk cartons and found no lost children.

This past August, eleven-year-old Heaven LaShae Ross disappeared on her way to a school bus stop in Northport, Alabama. Cops, choppers, dogs, Feds, and volunteers armed with fliers found no trace of the child. "Shae," like Shakira, did not qualify for an Amber Alert. In week five, the authorities have nothing.

In 1994, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) published a comprehensive law enforcement investigative manual for dealing with cases of missing and abducted children. Offered in bold print is the following:

Officers should exercise extreme caution in "labeling" or "classifying" a missing child case. Classifying a case into a category generally considered as "less urgent" will often affect the way in which initial evidence or information is gathered. Even if the initial information suggests such a classification, it is strongly recommended that officers run "parallel investigations" that take all possibilities into account until the case category is clearly determined.

To paraphrase: when in doubt, assume the worst case scenario. The first two hours after a child vanishes are critical. Potential evidence of foul play (e.g., the description of a red car) may not be available until long after those one-hundred-and-twenty minutes have ticked away.

On April 29, 2003 thirteen-year-old Tabitha Tuders walked to her school bus stop in Nashville, Tennessee. She vanished without a trace. This is month five. Nothing.

The NCMEC manual includes a list of "unusual circumstances" that dictate the use of all available resources. If the child is thirteen or younger, believed to be out of his or her "zone of safety," the child's disappearance deviates from typical patterns of behavior, and/or other factors lead to a reasonable conclusion that the child is at risk, then investigators should hit the streets running.

In those first minutes when the judgment calls are made, give the benefit of the doubt to kids like Shakira, Shae, and Tabitha, and do not underestimate your public. We are not yet desensitized to child abduction.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003 Shakira's body was found near her home. In December 2004, a jury has found Daniel Hines not guilty of murdering Shakira.

John Philpin is a retired psychologist and law enforcement consultant. He is the author of "Stalemate" (Bantam), a true account of child abduction and murder. If you have any information about the cases cited in this article, please call local authorities or the NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST.

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Beverly Potts

Twilight Of Innocence: The Disappearance Of Beverly Potts by James Jessen Badal -- One of the nation’s first highly publicized missing child cases was ten-year-old Beverly Potts, last seen at 9:00 p.m., August 24, 1951, at Halloran Park on Cleveland’s West Side. She and her neighbor friend Patricia Swing had gone to see the Showagon—a troupe of performers that traveled around Cleveland’s parks giving free performances. Patricia had to be home before dark, but Beverly could stay until the show was over. When she was not home by 9:30, her father, Robert, went looking for her. At 10:30 he called the police. Beverly disappeared without a trace. Badal reexamines the events leading to Beverly's disappearance, the police investigation, and the sensational publicity. Interviews with detectives assigned to this open case and examination of police records provide a chronology of false leads and hoaxes in this disturbing case. Badal draws comparisons between investigative techniques of the time and more modern ones and examines the social and historical context in his analysis of the more than half-century of public fascination with this case.


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