I thought I might write a bit about the attraction “cold cases” hold for me, ’cause, well, you know…..it’s just a little STRANGE, isn’t it? Yeah, probably. I’m using “cold case” in the context of a standard search and rescue incident in which the subject was never found. They are still out there, somewhere.
First, let me give you a general idea of how searches work. When someone goes missing, an initial or “hasty search” is performed. This typically involves a group of very strong and quick searchers, covering the most likely area the subject might be, based upon the best information available at the time. In maybe 60% – 70% of the cases the subject is quickly found and everyone goes home happy (BTW, I’m pulling these percentages out of my ass to make a point. They are not from anywhere credible). If the hasty search doesn’t find the subject, it gets escalated into a much larger search, eventually bringing in other search teams to assist. This may drive the success rate up to perhaps 98%. But note that there remains some small unfortunate percentage of the time in which the subject is NOT found.
What happens in these cases? The truth is, not much. Authority figures may say things publicly to the extent that, “The searching will continue on a reduced basis”, but that’s almost never really true. Search and rescue teams are mostly volunteers, who have other things to do in their lives or must focus on current cases where lives are in immediate jeopardy. That’s clearly the best use of resources. Very few teams will go back into the field months later and spend much time looking for those they’ve failed to find (I tip my metaphorical hat to those that do). The powers-that-be rely on hunters (who wander all over the landscape) or cross country hikers to eventually stumble upon the remains of the long missing. This could take years, decades or never. And during the interim, the families of the missing are left hanging or go out on ill-fated hunts of their own.
Now I’ve spent a lot of my life looking for “things”. “Things” have included aircraft wrecks, lost mines, meteorites, caves, petroglyphs, ghost towns and pretty much any sort of strange shit in the middle of nowhere. These days, with the all-reaching Innerwebz, there are all sorts of websites devoted to looking for such things and many people out there looking. It’s getting damn crowded.
It wasn’t until I got into search and rescue that I realized no one was looking for friggin’ long lost PEOPLE! Of all the things to look for, wouldn’t someone’s missing family member be maybe the most socially useful? I mean, look at all the crazed people out there wandering around looking for silly geocaches, where people deliberately hide things and others then look for them. Sort of like digging a hole and filling it back up. Why not look for missing humans instead? Wouldn’t that be, oh I don’t know….more beneficial??
Uh, there a good reason, actually why this doesn’t happen. Specific information pertaining to individuals missing in the great outdoors is usually closely held by law enforcement authorities or search and rescue teams. They do not like to share. They feel they have good reasons for doing so. There’s concern, perhaps rightly, that “civilians” traipsing around the backcountry could end up getting themselves in trouble and needing rescue. There may also be a concern that it’s an open case, still possibly criminal, which could be mucked up by unauthorized people. Valid issues, I will concede…..but I would respect them more if the authorities were taking any action with what they hold. But they are not. No one is using the information in the files.
Cold cases in general have a huge advantage in knowing the subject is deceased. Yeah, I know that sounds sort of creepy, but what I mean is that’s there’s not the urgency of knowing someone’s life is hanging in the balance. It allows one to really take time and think about what might have been going through the subject’s mind and where they might have headed based upon topography and environmental factors. In an active search the clock is ticking…..loudly. In a cold case search, there is no clock, there is no rush and there’s no illusion the subject could still be alive.
A cold case search also has another advantage over a fresh, active search. Because considerable ground area has been already covered by the original searchers (who may have been quite good), there’s solid information as to where the subject isn’t. While it sounds sort of obvious, during the original search the ground personnel didn’t have that info and ended up wasting their time searching where the subject wasn’t. Of course they didn’t know that until they completed searching the initial areas.
I consider cold case searching to be sort of a “phase 2” to the search for someone missing. You sit down, carefully review the facts in the case (some of which may only have come to light late in the search), look at the areas already searched, and then head out fresh.
As for me, I sort of fell into this. I like mysteries and challenges. I like doing things that few others are doing. And I like being occasionally useful to society. I was fortunate enough to sometimes gain access to files on various cases. In other instances I know some helpful folks and I’m also pretty good at research. Finally, I have the time, training and physical ability to deal with the challenges of backcountry searching. It’s a good excuse to go someplace interesting (although I suppose that could still be said for geocaching!)
The Bill Ewasko case I respond to on a more personal level. I was on the original mutual aid search. I was part of the overall search effort that eventually failed. I do not take kindly to failing at something I’m invested in. In my mind, that search isn’t done until Bill’s found.
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