Mike Heine/The Week
Donna Lenz Wright/The Week
(Published Jan. 26, 2007, 9:38 a.m.)
Kelly Nolan-a 22-year-old UW-Whitewater student.
Mahalia Xiong-a 21-year-old UW-Green Bay student.
Francine Tate-a 50-year-old Madison woman.
They didn't know each other, but they had one thing in common.
Both college students were found dead weeks after last being seen. Tate ran away and was found alive near Phelps, more than 200 miles north of Madison.
Each case drew national media attention and had hordes of police and volunteers out looking.
Why? Because their circumstances were different than the majority of reported missing person cases, police say.
Most missing persons are found, usually rather quickly, said investigators for the Walworth County Sheriff's Department.
"I have to assume that it's unusual for these people to disappear," Dana Nigbor, Walworth County Sheriff's Department captain of investigations said of the three recent Wisconsin cases.
"Typically, we may have people with mental health issues that leave their home, or people from bad homes," Nigbor said. "These appear, at least on the surface, to be educated women. It's unusual for them not to be in touch with family. That's what prompted the large response from law enforcement."
Most missing-person cases are juvenile runaways who are usually found within one or two days, Nigbor said. Most of the time it's the runaway returning or calling home that closes the case.
Usually, investigators find reasons for the absences-a poor home life, arguments with parents, dementia, depression, drug or alcohol binges, or a family or friend who leaves the area, taking someone with them.
When a search begins
The scope of a search is determined in large part by the circumstances, investigators said. When police agencies get a missing-persons call, they send an officer to interview family and friends and search places the person is likely to go to.
There's no waiting for 24 or 48 hours before getting serious about it. An officer is sent as soon as one is available.
The gravity determines investigators' next steps. The more serious it is, the more resources are thrown into the case.
A Teletype is sent out to area police, and descriptions are often broadcast on police radios, Nigbor said.
If the missing persons are believed to be in danger, the case is also entered into state and national online databases so they are available to other police departments. Juveniles who disappear are entered on those databases right away.
The sheriff's department can issue fliers for its cases, splashing the missing person's face around the community.
An unexpected missing person receives more attention. Often, the age or ability for a person to care for his or herself is a factor in the scope of the search, Nigbor said.
"If we get a call from someone that says, 'I've lost my 4-year-old. I can't find them,' everybody's out there," she said.
Such cases require an inside-out search, said Elkhorn Police Chief Joel Christensen. Responding officers search the immediate area where a child was last seen and move outward from there. Oftentimes a child was just hiding or wandered to a neighbor's house.
"They like to go a lot of places they're familiar with; a friend's or neighbor's (home)," Christensen said. "Quite often that's where they head."
Searches that last longer may include retrieving a person's fingerprints and dental records, checking with hospitals and coroners offices and interviewing family, friends, co-workers, schoolmates, teachers and anyone else who may have had contact with the person.
Rare, but serious
Cases with unusual disappearance circumstances are rare, Nigbor said. The last such case investigated by the Walworth County Sheriff's Department was when Wanda Greenlee of Walworth failed to arrive where she had been expected. She was found murdered in a remote area near the Fontana municipal well in late 2001.
"That started as a missing person. When that complaint came in, there was suspicion all over the place," Nigbor said. "Her vehicle was found at Menard's in Janesville. She left to be with her boyfriend and didn't return.
"Is there a line in the sand that says this is what we do during this situation or this is what we do in that situation? Yes, but we also relied on common sense that we needed to do more on this one," Nigbor said.
After juvenile runaways, the most common type of missing person is one with mental disabilities who leave a controlled environment, such as a group home, Nigbor said.
"Chances are we find these people very quickly," Nigbor said. "It's just more obvious when they're out and about. They're not able to take care of themselves sometimes. Even walking down the road draws attention, or they try to break into someone's house because they get scared."
(Janesville Gazette Reporter Frank Schultz contributed to this report.)
Wisconsin's missing persons
As of July 1, 2007
--- Missing persons in Wisconsin: 1,173
--- Missing children (17 and younger): 914
--- Missing adults (18 and older): 259
--- Male: 424
--- Female: 490
--- Possible abductions: 98
--- Male: 136
--- Female: 123
--- Possible abductions: 113
--- Missing persons with disabilities: 64
(Source: Wisconsin Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children and Adults)
Local missing persons
--- The Walworth County Sheriff's Department lists the following cases from January 2006 to the present, all found safe: 109 missing children, 73 missing adults and 172 runaways reported.
If your child is missing ...
--- Immediately call or go to your local law enforcement agency and file a missing persons report. When a child is missing and believed to be in danger, there is no 24-hour waiting period in Wisconsin.
--- Bring a recent color photograph of your child, their fingerprints, a hair sample, blood type, physical description and a description of the clothes they were last wearing.
--- Report the missing child to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by calling 1-800-843-5678. The center can issue e-mail alerts, distribute posters with your child's picture and information nationwide and provide support and other resources.
--- Contact other non-profit missing child organizations or state clearinghouses in adjacent states to register your child as missing.
--- Contact the U.S. State Department's Passport Office at (202) 647-0518 in case a suspected abductor tries to apply for a passport to leave the country.
(Source: Wisconsin Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children and Adults)
On the Web
--- Wisconsin Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children and Adults: wimissingpersons.doj.wi.gov
--- Amber Alert Wisconsin: amberalertwisconsin.org
--- National Center for Missing Adults: www.theyaremissed.org
Missing person cases investigated in Walworth County
--- Ruth Egnoski was 18 when she disappeared in 1966. Private investigators hired by the family said she took a bus from Delavan to Chicago, but they lost her trail there.
Police found Egnoski's driver's license and Social Security card in the custodian's office of Wileman Elementary School in Delavan in 1973. Her father worked there as a custodian, school officials told The Janesville Gazette.
In the mid-1980s, a school employee found two blue hard-sided suitcases hidden above the suspended ceiling in the custodian's office, according to newspaper reports.
In 2002, police dug a 12-foot-wide pit behind 1014 Center St., Delavan, the house Egnoski lived in since it was built in 1962. Her family sold the home in 1971. Police found a crawl space under the family room of the house but no evidence connected to Egnoski's disappearance.
--- William Brooks of East Troy disappeared in the 1930s. Local lore says he often fished on Lake Beulah.
He failed to show up at the Wilmers Point boat landing one day. A rowboat with a paddle Brooks made was found beached on the north shore of the lake, directly across from the landing.
In August 2005, two divers found human bones 57 feet deep in the lake. Coins from the 1930s were found nearby. Authorities believe the bones could be Brooks, but the Walworth County Sheriff's Department does not have the resources to conduct DNA testing to verify the suspicion. That would require exhuming Brooks' deceased mother or sister to get necessary DNA from the female side of the family.
"We suspect it's that person," Capt. Dana Nigbor said. "We took the investigation as far as we could for a missing persons case."
--- The unidentified remains of a white man were found along Bowers Road, about a mile from Alpine Valley Music Theater, on March 26, 2002.
The man is believed to have been between 40 and 55 years old and between 5-foot-7 to 6-foot-2.
The bones were probably there for three to 10 years. Investigators believe a blow to the head killed him, and the case remains an unsolved homicide. The man's description did not match anyone missing from Walworth County, Nigbor said. However, people sometimes go missing and aren't reported, she added.
--- Larry L. Zink of Delavan has not been seen since Sept. 27, 1995, according to the missing persons Web site charleyproject.org. His car was found abandoned in a gravel pit 40 miles north of Pickle Lake, Ontario, Canada, according to the Web site, which spelled his last name "Zinc."
The Walworth County Sheriff's Department's issued Zink a verbal warning for a traffic violation in 1994, Nigbor said. It was the last known police contact with him. Zink would be 69 now. Ontario Provincial Police are investigating.
--- Georgia Jean Weckler, an 8-year-old girl from Fort Atkinson, was last seen May 1, 1947. She was dropped off at her home after school by a neighbor. She got the mail and was walking up the driveway and was never seen again, according to newspaper accounts and charleyproject.org.
Several witnesses reported seeing a black 1936 Ford in the area that afternoon. Police once considered notorious serial killer Edward Gein as a suspect because he had a 1937 black Ford, according to the Web site.
Fifty years later, former Delavan Town Chairman Ed Lindloff said he believed Weckler is buried under a city floral shop and greenhouse off Highway 11. He was working on a nearby farm when the shop was being built in 1947 and said he saw two men put an object about the size of a child in the ground and cover it with dirt, according to newspaper reports.
--- Dawn Brossard, of Burlington, was 29 years old when she was last seen on Oct. 24, 1997.
Her body was found July 11, 2003, at the bottom of Geneva Lake in 120 feet of water. She had been chained to a weight.
Police have called the investigation a homicide, but the case is still unsolved.
Her estranged husband, David, is the last known person to have seen her alive. He told police he talked to her in the parking lot of State Financial Bank in Burlington and left, last seeing her walking toward her car, according to past published reports.
The sheriff's departments in Walworth and Racine counties continue to investigate.
--- Wanda Greenlee, of Walworth, disappeared Nov. 23, 2001, and was found dead on Dec. 23 near the Fontana municipal well. She had been shot and bludgeoned on the head.
Her boyfriend, Gerald A. Kamlager, is serving a life sentence for her murder.
Greenlee's pickup was found four days after she was reported missing in the Janesville Menard's parking lot. She told family members she was going there to meet Kamlager and never returned.
Greenlee was 40 when she disappeared.
--- The public originally thought 88-year-old Hedwig 'Heddy' Braun went missing in February 2003. In fact, she was kidnapped and held for $3 million ransom by Reinier A. Ravesteijn, a family friend.
Ravesteijn was sentenced to 45 years in prison and 12 years supervised release.
Braun had been kept in a utility trailer for four days, keeping herself alive by pressing fast food hamburger buns against her skin to stay warm.
She asked investigators, 'What took you so long,' when they found her on Feb. 8, 2003. Braun died at age 89 in 2004.
--- Kerry A. O'Brien-Krueger disappeared Dec. 6, 1989, from her home in Burlington. She told her husband she was going to Wyoming for a business trip as a fill-in for another employee who couldn't make it.
Her employer did not have any employees scheduled for out-of-state travel and the tradeshow she said she was going to did not exist, according to charleyproject.org.
Investigators believe either O'Brien-Krueger or her husband were lying about the trip. No one is certain if Krueger left on her own or if foul play was involved, according to charleyproject.org.
O'Brien-Krueger was 31 when she disappeared.
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