Sunday, April 29, 2007

4/29/07 Siblings of the Missing: Special Report, Conclusion

This report is being posted with the permission of the Family and Friends of Missing Persons Unit, (FFMPU) a division of the Attorney General of the Department of NWS, based near Sydney, Australia.

Project Jason agrees with the FFMPU that issues concerning siblings of missing persons have long languished behind the scenes, not unlike the siblings themselves. We hope the series will aid those who support the siblings to have a better understanding and response to their special needs. (My bolding for emphasis.)

30 APRIL 2005


Participants identified opportunities for parents to be informed about the impact on siblings of having a sister or brother go missing. They felt that if parents knew the impacts, they would be less likely to inappropriately use their child as a ‘counsellor’ and more likely to direct their
child to services that might assist. Information could be provided to parents wherever they
contact the service system, but in particular could be included in written material or on web sites that parents of missing children access or provided by counsellors that parents access for assistance. There was also the suggestion that all publications for parents or general audiences should have a section that prompts information sharing to all family members; perhaps a statement such as “This booklet may also be important to .....”.


All participants felt that siblings needed to be able to access information that would help them cope with the loss of their brother or sister. Even if the information was very similar to the information provided to parents, it needed to be packaged appropriately for siblings and
directed towards them. Materials developed for siblings – web-based and written – could describe the stages siblings may go through after a brother or sister goes missing and indicate where the sibling can go for assistance.


Fact sheets need to be available to families of missing people at all agencies that they may access for assistance that help family members to understand:

• what the agency will do;
• what other agencies can do;
• what the family could be doing;
• who the family can contact for different types of assistance; and
• common experiences that the family may confront and how to handle these, for example how to handle private investigators and media and what to consider if putting up a poster about their missing family member.

General community service announcements that help family members to identify agencies that may be able to assist them where also supported. One participant, for example, suggested that there could be a referral to a service at the end of the television program ‘Without a Trace’.


There was also a call for information to be available to people who may want or need to help the family (e.g. grandparents or friends) about what the family is going through and how they may be able to be of the greatest assistance.


Because of the difficulty of accessing information and supports, participants were very enthusiastic about the possibility of a central library of information located somewhere easily accessible to siblings, other family members and friends of missing people. This would hold
copies of brochures and fact sheets as well as other resources like television and radio interviews that are appropriate.


There was a strong message that the roundtable had been really useful to the siblings who participated and that there should be more opportunities for siblings of missing people to have more contact with one another. The idea of regular support groups was not widely supported, because of the logistical issues of getting people together regularly. Instead participants felt that it would be useful for there to be a system of peer support, where siblings could contact other siblings by telephone or email to ask questions, talk about their experiences, etc. This would need to be well coordinated and peers would need to have some training, but might be useful for both the person needing to make contact and the peer offering assistance.


Participants supported the need for a national register of missing people that would assist in a coordinated effort across Australia to find a missing sibling.


Several participants had had very poor experiences with ounsellors who they had turned to for support and so it as agreed that it is important for training and information to be provided to counsellors who may have contact with family members of missing people. Another option is that an experienced agency such as FFMPU could provide a consulting service to counsellors working with a family member of a missing person. A key point for training is about how the counsellor can assist a person in a situation where there is no immediate resolution to the issue causing the grief and loss.


When participants were asked at the end of the roundtable what was their one priority for changes to be made to the service system they identified the following issues:

• educating police (state and national) and the epartment of Foreign Affairs and Trade about how to better work with families of missing people;

• changes to privacy law to make it easier for a family member or agency to track a missing person; and

• a website for siblings containing information on ther siblings dealing with the same type of situation, showing real faces and telling real stories and xperiences.


This important meeting of siblings of missing people clearly meet the objectives of the meeting planners: siblings used the opportunity to talk openly about their experiences and to listen with interest and compassion to the experiences of the other participants; the discussions provided a rich source of information for the FFMPU to take forward in the facilitation and development of services to siblings in the future; and reports of the meeting – both verbal and written – should assist the missing persons sector to understand and plan interventions to better meet the needs of siblings in the future.

Tangible conclusions to the meeting were that:

• the FFMPU made a commitment to progress the recommendations made by siblings who attended the meeting; and

• siblings agreed to being contacted individually if new siblings indicated that they might benefit from support and the FFMPU counsellor agreed to make the links between siblings with the privacy of all siblings assured.

Project Jason's thanks to:

Families & Friends of Missing Persons Unit
Attorney General’s Department of NSW
P: 02) 9374 3014 / 1800 227 772 (outside Sydney metro)
F: 02) 9374 3020 • E:
ISBN 0 7347 2865 4 July 2005

Friday, April 27, 2007

4/27/07 Siblings of the Missing: Special Report, Part III

This report is being posted with the permission of the Family and Friends of Missing Persons Unit, (FFMPU) a division of the Attorney General of the Department of NWS, based near Sydney, Australia.

Project Jason agrees with the FFMPU that issues concerning siblings of missing persons have long languished behind the scenes, not unlike the siblings themselves. We hope the series will aid those who support the siblings to have a better understanding and response to their special needs.

30 APRIL 2005


Participants were asked to consider whether there were any stages that they could see in their journey. They described distinct initial stages, happening in the first months surrounding the time when their sibling went missing.

This early stage is characterised by:

• intense shock and disbelief;

• an obsession with detail - details that might shed light on what happened and lead to finding their sibling (‘what was he wearing’; ‘what did he say to his friends’; ‘where are the places she loved’, ‘what was he doing in the days, hours, minutes before disappearing’, etc.);

• an all consuming focus on trying to find their sibling – regularly searching places they used to go; an obsession with never missing a phone call, in case it might be them; meeting with friends to search for clues; following up any leads;

• an attempt to try to keep their normal routine going in the midst of a totally abnormal situation, just in case their sibling might make contact with them at school, work, on their normal walk, etc.;

• the gut wrenching experience of ‘seeing’ their missing sibling everywhere;

• expectation that services will really kick in and help to find the sibling (e.g. police) and then disappointment when it becomes clear how little help there really is; and

• constant consoling of other people and putting people at ease.

Just how long this stage lasts is not clear, but the unanimity of the above experiences in this early stage were clear from our discussion.

The traits of subsequent stage(s) were not as easy to define. People described gradually coming to the realisation that there wasn’t anything more they could do, beginning to get tired of dealing with friends and families issues and an emerging interest in their own life again as the key signs that they were moving into a new phase of dealing with the loss of their missing brother or sister.


Participants to the workshop were asked to consider the following question: If you could have the world exactly right for siblings of missing persons, what would it look like to you?. Working with a tool called ‘photo language’ they selected one or more photographs to help them describe what they hoped for. Their responses were evocative, describing a world in which:

• siblings grief was not forgotten and there were many different avenues of support for them;

• siblings had time to reflect on their own as well as opportunities to share their experiences with others;

• services, particularly the police, were actively looking for their sibling;

• siblings left behind could find out easily what to do and follow some kind of process that would ensure they did not lose valuable time or exhaust themselves in a lonely pursuit of their loved one;

• there were clear roles for everyone, and people were working together to find their sibling and support those left behind; and

• siblings were not forgotten and could more easily find a way to get their life back.

Further discussion was then held to pinpoint ways in which the service system could more adequately support siblings of missing people. There were common views about the
need for change in a number or areas, summarised below.

To be continued.............

Thursday, April 26, 2007

4/26/07 Siblings of the Missing: Special Report, Part II

This report is being posted with the permission of the Family and Friends of Missing Persons Unit, (FFMPU) a division of the Attorney General of the Department of NWS, based near Sydney, Australia.

Project Jason agrees with the FFMPU that issues concerning siblings of missing persons have long languished behind the scenes, not unlike the siblings themselves. We hope the series will aid those who support the siblings to have a better understanding and response to their special needs. (bolded statements within the report are an emphasis added by me)

30 APRIL 2005


Siblings of missing people are often overlooked by friends and a service system focusing their care and support to parents. This was a common experience of everyone who attended the meeting. Even the friends of the sibling may focus on parents, asking regularly after the wellbeing of the parent, without understanding the grief and loss being experienced by the sibling.

Overall there is a complete underestimation of the importance of the relationship between siblings and of the pain that a brother or sister might feel when a sibling goes missing.


Everyone present at the meeting described how the loss of their sibling became the ongoing focus of the families’ attentions, with little opportunity for the family unit to joyfully meet for life events. They described how every festive occasion is difficult, as people pretend to be happy, but were not; of the guilt that surfaces whenever anyone is having a good time; of the constant reminder of the missing sibling (‘If only s/he were here’).

Often families have failed to notice or are simply not able to freely celebrate the significant events of the sibling left behind – events such as graduations, marriage, pregnancy - without a reminder of the missing siblings. Siblings described how they have felt invisible and unimportant in the family which continues to focus on the loss of the sibling rather than on the significant life events of the people still connected to the family.


A common theme was of sibling guilt. Siblings feel guilty for many things: because they didn’t see the signs and take action to prevent their sibling leaving; because they haven’t been able to locate their sibling and bring him/her home; because they can’t make everything right for their parents; because they are rebuilding their own life and enjoying life again, and their sibling is still missing.


Every person at the meeting whose sibling had been missing for more then a short while described how they had eventually had to escape from the situation, to find the space and time to look after themselves and get some perspective on the situation. All went travelling – for periods of five weeks to years – and described this as a welcome reprieve; like pressing a ‘pause button’ on the intensity of the experience and the needs of parents.

Travel wasn’t problem-free however. A number described how it seemed to restimulate fears – their own or their parents – that something could happen to them too. The return after a period of travel was not very satisfactory either for most people – having changed themselves
(to varying degrees) but finding their parents and the situation exactly as they left them.


Most of the roundtable participants had rebuilt their own lives to a greater or lesser extent, but all talked about how their sibling would always remain with them in some way. Sometimes, a renewed determination to live their own life to the fullest was not really about the sibling left behind; it was to honour the sibling that had gone missing. Real healing was evident where people had been able to have their own life again – a good and productive life – for themselves and not for anyone else.

To be continued......

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

4/25/07 Siblings of the Missing: Special Report, Part I

This report is being posted with the permission of the Family and Friends of Missing Persons Unit, (FFMPU) a division of the Attorney General of the Department of NWS, based near Sydney, Australia.

Project Jason agrees with the FFMPU that issues concerning siblings of missing persons have long languished behind the scenes, not unlike the siblings themselves. We hope the series will aid those who support the siblings to have a better understanding and response to their special needs. (bolded statements within the report are an emphasis added by me)

30 APRIL 2005


A roundtable meeting of siblings of missing people was held on the 30 April 2005, hosted by the Families and Friends of Missing Persons Unit (FFMPU) InteragencyForum. Five siblings and one guest of a sibling attended the meeting. Of these, there was one man and five women,
ranging in age from 19 to 37 years. Siblings had been missing for a minimum of nine weeks to a maximum of almost 12 years.

Also in attendance at the roundtable were:

• Leonie Jacques and Sarah Wayland of the FFMPU in the NSW Attorney General’s Department;
• Alex Faraguna from the Mental Health Association NSW; and
• Ann Porcino of RPR Consulting who facilitated the meeting and is the author of this report.

The roundtable had the following objectives:

• to give siblings the opportunity to come together, to talk and to listen to each other’s experiences;
• to provide information to the FFMPU about the needs of siblings so that they can develop and tailor services to siblings in the future; and
• to inform services within the missing persons’ sector regarding the unique needs of siblings and the most appropriate forms of future intervention.

Whilst this report attempts to summarise some of the key findings from the roundtable, it cannot do justice to the wide-ranging, significant and at times emotional discussions that were held in this six hour meeting. The siblings who attended were generous in providing their time on a beautiful Saturday, open in retelling their experiences and thoughtful in listening to one another.


The first session of the meeting was an opportunity for each sibling to share aspects of his/her experiences with the group as a whole. The session started with each person ‘mapping the journey so far’ – the highs and lows, where they got help, where they didn’t, etc. – on a piece of
cardboard. People were then invited to share any aspect of what they had written or drawn with the rest of the group.

What emerged were moving stories of individuals and their struggles. Whilst each story was unique, there were significant common elements between the stories. The group talked about these common elements and agreed that their collective experiences could be useful
for others to understand, particularly those seeking to provide improved services to siblings of missing people.

The following were described.


A key issue and hardship for most people at the meeting was that their parents had, and in most cases continued to, relied heavily on them for support. People at the meeting explained how parents regularly and repeatedly sought solace from them and how they had to act as a counsellor, without any skills to do so, to help their parents cope and continue to function.

The impact on the sibling of this dependence is substantial. People described how they were unable to deal with their own complex array of emotions associated with the loss of their sibling; that they had to ‘keep it together’, so that their parents wouldn’t have to worry about them too. In a kind of role reversal, the siblings became protectors and confidants of their parents. Even when siblings were able to show their own emotions, parents often simply did not have any energy left to assist them and in the absence of any other supports, this left the sibling with limited outlets for themselves.

Siblings at the meeting described the sense of fatigue and despair associated with always being available to a parent, even many years after the sibling has gone missing.


A number of people at the meeting described how they felt torn by competing emotional responses from each of their parents. In all situations described, the mother was the more outwardly emotional and needy of support, with the desire to keep talking about the situation and the missing sibling. During the roundtable there was less discussion about the role of fathers and some suggestions that many remained quiet and withdrawn during the process or primarily focused on the practicalities of searching. There was also some concern about siblings noticing the deteriorating physical and mental health of fathers which was attributed to the stress of ‘not knowing’.

In these situations people described how they felt pulled between their parents, with an overt focus going to the mother whilst the father, usually not able to easily verbalise, was left on his own, potentially falling apart inside.

To be continued.....

Sunday, April 15, 2007

4/15/07 Considering a Private Investigator, Part II

You have made the decision to hire a private investigator. What do you need to know?

By Steve Bronnum

Part 2

Are you dealing with a legally licensed private investigator? This is a really good place to start. You would be amazed at how few times I was ever asked to produce my identification. Thousands and thousands of investigations over the course of many years and I doubt that I was asked to show my identification more than 50 times. So ask, and look at the picture on the identification. Make sure it matches the person who is offering the identification. Write the license number, name, address, who the issuing government entity is for your records. Then contact that government entity to confirm the authenticity of the license.

There are a lot of people who work, or worse yet, worked for licensed investigator. That doesn’t make them a licensed investigator. Remember in many states you have to successfully complete three years of employment with a minimum of 2,000 hours of documented investigative work per year in order to be eligible to apply for a private investigation license. Just the fact that you worked as an investigator for a licensed investigator doesn’t get the job done. You as a family of a missing person, need the actual licensed investigator. Of course, he or she will have employee investigators who work under their license and control and direction, but it is the licensed investigator or Qualified Manager who is the responsible party. I hope that helps a bit.

Of course, you can always create a list of information or documentation that you need from any given private investigator and ask them to submit that information before any further consideration.

If you have been contacted, I would strongly urge you to, “Just say NO!” This would not include any investigator who is affiliated with any reputable non-profit missing person assistance organization or law enforcement agency assuming you can locate such a person.

Let’s talk about the money for a minute. Hourly rates, daily rates, flat fees plus expenses for mileage, telephone, faxing, photocopying, photos, video tape or digital images are all routine in the investigative industry. Hourly rates can be as low as $20 an hour to $250 an hour or more. But of course, the hourly rate doesn’t mean anything without knowing just how many hours you are going to be paying for. It’s possible that the $250 an hour person will be able to accomplish the mission in 5 hours. While the $20.00 an hour person may charge 80 hours of hours. I’ve recently heard rates quoted at $100.00 per hour. Considering I charged $55.00 to $65.00 in the early 90’s that’s probably about right: somewhere between $80 and $100 an hour.

Just how much time is it really going to take? On the front end there is no way of telling. You might also want to consider the fact that the investigator has a lot to do with determining just what information you get and when you get it. So having a competent ethical professional is a must. In fact, I have personal historical knowledge of investigators using this simple and easily understood ploy to justify stringing cases out for months of even years. They would literally say, “When you get more money saved up, let me know and I’ll do some more investigation on the case.” That really shouldn’t work for you!

What’s the answer? Well part of it is reports: Regular, detailed, complete reports from the investigator on exactly what they have been doing, what they have learned, who they learned it from, and when they learned it. Make sure that your investigator has committed specifically to the work that they are going to do for you and that they report it to you on a timely basis. In the case of something happening really rapidly, they can call you to advise of their activity, but this must be followed with a written report as soon as is reasonable.

When do you pay? I would suspect that most investigators will request an upfront fee. Their position is, I’m working for someone who might not want to pay me later. My suggested position: Half now and half after they have completed and fully reported on their assignment to your satisfaction. The understanding being they get the balance ONLY if you are satisfied.

On to the list:

Have them send you all pertinent information about their PI license (i.e. the number, assigning authority, etc.).

They need to give you their real physical office address (never a P.O. Box), business telephone number, cell number, etc.

Have them confirm whether they have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Of course you will want the number and the authorizing agency so you can authenticate the license. In many states, like Washington State where I have my personal permit to “carry a concealed pistol”, a criminal background check must be successfully completed through the United States Department of Justice before the license can be issued by the King County Sheriff’s Department. So, in my case, just because of the fact that I have this license allows you to know I have not been convicted of any crimes, nor am I wanted for any violation that would exclude me from receiving a license to carry a concealed pistol. That’s a nice thing to know when you are hiring an investigator.

Please note that in many states obtaining a license to carry a concealed weapon is just about impossible. So, not having such a license in the state of Washington would bother me. In New York State or California, lots of good folks could not get a permit to carry a concealed toothpick. One last note, being authorized to personally carry a concealed weapon may not necessarily translate to carrying one in the course of investigative work. In Washington State for example, a completely separate permit must be obtained for carrying of a weapon in the performance of investigative work.

Have them give you a signed declaration about whether they have ever been convicted of a crime, successfully sued by a client, and if they have ever had their investigative license suspended or revoked at any time.

They will need to provide you with a current proof of insurance. Routinely, this will be a certificate from whoever insures their agency for “Errors or Omissions.” If they do not have such a policy, then you don’t want them. Every insurance company requires this certificate before allowing an investigator to contract with them. Your interests are even more important than any insurance company’s, don’t you think? Ask them for the official certificate of insurance from their E and O insurance provider and then call the provider to confirm its authenticity. I used to have copies at my office, but you can call the issuing agent and have a certificate created with your name on it and sent to you, thus verifying coverage.

You can always request a resume from the investigator. I certainly would. I also would ask for a history of the investigative agency, who they employ, and what their backgrounds are, as that would very nice to have as well. Effectively, anyone who would have access to your confidential information and be involved in anyway in the investigation for your missing loved one should be identified.

Find out why this investigator would be a good choice to work on the location of your missing loved one. Do they have special expertise? Have they had training in locating the missing? etc., etc.

If they are former military….ask them for a copy of their “DD214” (DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty). This document will provide proof of their service and what type of discharge they received from the military. Anything other than honorable should cause you to begin to wonder….

If they are former law enforcement….ask them who you need to contact with their former department, agency, etc. to obtain verification of their service. Quick note: You must require an official source of information, a friend who is still on the department, as an example, would not be acceptable. You want the personnel department and an official communication.

Upon requesting their resume and/or history of their agency's clients:

If they tell you they can not reveal the names of their clients for reasons of confidentiality they might have a point. However, if they work for major corporations, insurance companies, financial institutions, local governments, charitable foundations, etc., they can definitely give you this information, and you could most certainly confirm their association with the company or governmental agency without any issue of breaching confidentiality. I routinely provided a listing of the corporations and governmental organizations I contracted with, but never the cases files or specific information about any particular case. Routinely, I would provide a contact for each of the companies or organizations I worked with so they could be contacted and provide a reference.

Ask them who will actually be conducting the investigation for you. Yes really. Who in their company? Who with other investigators they might contract with, etc.?

Find out what capabilities their agency has. Do they have photographic, video and/or digital imaging equipment? Do they have a web site? Do they have surveillance capable vehicles (i.e. a vehicle that an investigator can remain comfortably concealed within without moving for 10 hours or more at a stretch and not be seen by neighbors or passers by). Real surveillance experts do not work out of passenger cars. Many investigators and law enforcement officers, even Federal Agents do, and that’s why they are frequently getting “burned.” For real surveillance professionals they wouldn’t think of sitting in the front seat of a car (with or without a partner) drinking and eating as they watch the target.

Of course, there is a lot an investigator can do without needing a surveillance capability. However, we routinely used surveillance especially on targets who we intended to interview directly at a later point. There are many times when surveillance conducted correctly can be a very valuable capability. I would only use investigators who did not have this capability for specific pre-assigned tasks. You will find that most ex-military and law enforcement don’t have any surveillance background. You will also find that surveillance is routinely considered drudgery and work for the less mentally skilled, just like you will find that many departments consider the missing persons detectives positions just about the lowest rung on the departments ladder. Often these people are not considered capable for the big leagues like: Homicide, Organized Crime, Gang Units, Robbery, etc, etc. I think you know where I’m heading with this.

Hopefully this gives you a little better idea of what you need to evaluate an investigator. If you are going to give up large sums of money, which is the reality that you are facing, make sure it’s to a competent professional. Remember, if you don’t like them when you interact with them, don’t hire them. They are not better than you and they most certainly are not magical. The best are dedicated professionals who have knowledge, experience and capability which they will use to do their very best to locate your missing loved one.

One last thing:

Create a contract. Write up what you expect, when you expect it, the requirements for reporting to you and how much you will be paying. Do that and have an adult witness the signatures on the contract.

Hopefully this will be of some assistance. Good luck and all the best!

Steve Bronnum

Our Note: Also ensure that the PI is technically advanced. There will be numerous reasons why PC/Internet skills come into play in an investigation done in today's world. You should also take into consideration if the PI has skills and hobbies similar to that of the missing person, or that they have a keen understanding of the same.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

4/14/07 Considering a Private Investigator, Part I

What you should know if you are seriously considering hiring a private investigator

Part 1 of 2

This short series is written by Steve Bronnum, the publisher and co-host (along with Kelly Jolkowski of Project Jason) of the Missing People Podcast and the website

Steve’s biography:

Steve first became involved with law enforcement and investigations as an Explorer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in 1977. Thereafter, he served with an air traffic control unit and later as an Intelligence Analyst with the USMCR, leaving honorably in 1987. In 1982, Steve began his professional investigative career with an Orange County, California private investigative agency who conducted investigations specific to missing and parentally abducted children. Thereafter he joined another Southern California investigative agency where he handled a wide variety of investigations until 1985. At that time, he became a partner and Qualified Manager of Horne and Bronnum Investigators.

In 1986, he established his own agency, which he incorporated during the following year and became the President of Bronnum and Associates, Inc. an investigative agency. Bronnum and Associates, Inc. provided investigative services to many fortune 500 companies nationally, as well as many local city governments throughout Southern California. Additionally, Bronnum and Associates, Inc. provided Pro Bono investigative services to assist in locating missing children and adults. Steve conducted and/or supervised thousands of investigations and testified in court extensively. He trained and supervised numerous investigators and published an industry newsletter called the Investigative Review. Steve was a licensed investigator and qualified manager in both California and Washington State and was also a licensed insurance claims examiner in Texas.

Recently, we asked Steve what he thought about private investigators and their place working with the families of the missing. We asked this question because many families experience frustration in the investigative process, and feel that they may need to turn to other resources. If they are able to pursue this, we want them to be armed with the neccesary information in order to make a good decision, not just in hiring a PI, but in who they hire.

Steve begins:

Where do I start?

My heart grows heavy and my anxiety grows even as I contemplate this extremely difficult situation. So, if it bothers me this much I can only imagine what you are going through if you are a loved one of a missing person.

Your loved one is missing. Law enforcement has done whatever they have done, but your family member is still missing. Searches have been conducted, flyers put out, information put on the web, vigils held, everything you can think of, but still nothing.

Law enforcement doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go.

You consider hiring a private investigator. Maybe somehow they can help. Maybe they can find things out that law enforcement either hasn’t found or won’t talk about.

What do you really expect from a private investigator? Among the many steps in making a determination about utilizing a private investigator is to determine exactly what your expectations are. This is easy. You want your missing loved one found. Could it be that simple? Let’s talk about some of the dynamics of conducting a missing person’s investigation from an investigators point of view.

First, invariably an investigator has been brought in to the case long after the investigative avenues of first resort have been pursued. Frequently, law enforcement has reached a place where they appears unable to proceed, lots of information (including direct evidence, witnesses, etc.) have all been worked and secured by law enforcement. At best, a private investigator is coming into a situation where a lot of people have already been doing a lot of hurting, talking, thinking, hoping, and guessing.

Second, unless an investigator is intimately familiar with the law enforcement working with the case AND that agency is willing to provide him or her with their case files, investigative notes, and interview transcripts (not to mention a listing of all the evidence obtained to date)…..there is little chance that an investigator is going to be able to marshal anywhere close to as much information as even a “lethargic” law enforcement investigation will have already obtained and evaluated.

Third, if there was anyone out there who had information they wished to volunteer, then you would already have it and you wouldn’t need a private investigator. There are many, many excellent private investigators throughout the country with a multitude of backgrounds ranging from former FBI and Secret Service agents through all levels of federal, state and local police and of course the military. Still other investigators have no law enforcement or military experience but have been involved in various forms of insurance investigations, etc. As with any large body of people, there are always the more questionable individuals.

Let’s talk a little about why an investigator would want to work a missing persons’ case. I’ll give you a slightly jaded list of my thoughts with the most likely reasons starting at the top.

Notoriety: Getting themselves a reputation, maybe a shot at a newspaper article or to be interviewed on a radio or better yet, television show. As a quick perusal of the internet will show many such “investigators” get interviewed whether they are successful or not.

Money: In any given state there can be licensed investigators by the tens of thousands or in larger states hundreds of thousands. Routinely only a small percentage (it could be as low as in 1% or 2%) of those individuals actually make a regular living providing professional investigative services. And the majority of those are working in the insurance field. So, for most “PI’s” getting any amount of money is a good thing. But they aren’t the investigators who are actually working professionals. Would you want to give your hard earned money to someone who says they are an investigator, who may in fact have a license, but isn’t able to make a living providing professional investigative services?

Frauds: In many states anyone can call themselves an investigator, a security or recovery specialist or a bounty hunter, and there is little or no regulation of such individuals. In many states there are actual licenses required, but they may require little more than a payment to the state. In the three states with which I am most familiar California, Texas, and Washington State, all require specific periods of experience working for a licensed investigator who is a “Qualified Manager” (California State). That is a person who has the necessary training, experience and has passed the testing required for that level of license. In California the requirements were not less than 2000 hours of documented investigative work, per year, for a period of not less than 3 years. After the necessary experience is documented, then a real test of actual investigative and legal knowledge and skills is required. Better still, many who take the test do not pass. So, this does give you some hope that a licensed investigator at least understands the investigative basics required to pass the test. That doesn’t mean, however, that he or she has any knowledge, training, skill, or aptitude in locating missing people. I was tested and passed the private investigator tests for both California and Texas, and to the best of my recollection there wasn’t a single question about missing people. Sadly, I fear most people who say they are experienced and trained in the location of missing people are simply not telling the truth.

Just before you think I have totally jumped of the train…hang on a minute.

They Care: There was a time when I and a number of investigators whom I trained, volunteered our time, equipment, and expertise to conduct missing persons investigation. We did not do this often and we focused on missing children who were parentally abducted. Our services were provided only to the parent who held legal custody and only then if the parent who had taken the children or children had a felony kidnapping warrant issued for their arrest. These cases were very expensive to conduct. Still they were dramatically more easily pursued than the case of a missing child or adult under suspicious circumstances. For example, we almost always had family members on the non-custodial side who knew where the offending parent might be or had some form of contact with them. This is just one example of many potential vines of information which can be followed to support the successful return of the child or children in a parental abduction case. Most often in a missing adult or child (outside of a custodial dispute issue) you have a lot less information to work with.

There is another category of investigators who might legitimately be interested in providing real investigative support to your family. They are those who have retired from law enforcement and are able to volunteer their time. Although, this can be problematic in some situations…unless an investigator can really invest the time, travel, and effort required to really get into an investigation, then it’s hard to expect real results.

Unfortunately, in many situations where you are working with volunteer investigators, even if they are the best at what they do and do everything they can, the odds were against them from the start. All too often this leaves the family bitterly disappointed and angry with a person who was, after all, volunteering their time and efforts. In the case of area searches and search and rescue activities, getting flyers out and spreading the word, volunteers are wonderful. When it comes to actually using a private investigator, you need a committed professional who committed for the long run. May you have the best of luck and find someone who really can provide the kind of investigative services you deserve.

Okay, so you have decided that you really want a private investigator on the case, no matter what. Who are you going to call?

“Talent is everything….training and experience are good too!”

You can start with the internet or the yellow pages, maybe get a referral from a retired police officer who you know has an investigative license, or the very worst possibility, you decide to go with someone who has contacted you and offered to help because they have heard about you in the media. If that happens, make sure you have your maximum sham detectors working.

Let’s talk. A retired anyone is already retired, make sure that you are both clear on exactly what they will be doing and when they will be doing it. Another point to consider is this, is that you could be the best police officer in the world and not have a clue about locating missing people. Depending on which words you use to search on the internet you could get millions of hits. The last time I checked, over 15 years ago, there were over 200,000 licensed private investigators just in the state of California, even assuming 20% of them are really, really good locators of the missing you’re still left with a lot of interviewing. Remember, even if someone does have the right background, training, plus the aptitude for locating missing people, and they are independently wealthy AND committed to put in the energy and long term interest in the case, the odds are overwhelmingly against them. Why? As we alluded to earlier, few private investigators have more training and assets than the police detectives who have already been working the case. There are a lot more reasons why the odds are against a private investigator locating your missing loved one, but we will need to talk about those issues at another time.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t try? No, we as a community, I as a former licensed investigator, Kelly as the President of Project Jason, you as a family with a missing loved one, must come together with real solutions to this very tragic reality.

I am absolutely sure there are some wonderfully talented investigators out there who have exactly the right skills and experience to do the job. Hopefully if they are not already employed with various law enforcement agencies throughout the country, you will be able to find one who can help you and your family to locate your missing loved one.

Steve Bronnum

Part II of the series will cover the steps to take if you have decided to use a private investigator. Project Jason would like to thank Steve for generously sharing his time and expertise in this area. Be sure to go to the Missing People Podcast site and listen to the compelling stories of the missing.
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