Are you an Armchair Detective?

Jan says, “I specialised in finding Mispers (Missing Persons) for the last five years of my Police career in the UK and, with the exception of two suicides, which we couldn’t get to in time, had a 100% success rate. I thought you might like to hear about some of my fascinating cases, the four cold cases which still bug me to this day and two solved ones, to see how good you would be at playing Armchair Detective. Names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.”

The Coincidental Case of the Estranged Husband

Ken was going through a bit of a rough trot. He was separated from his wife and two daughters, he’d just lost his job, and he was doing some sofa-surfing but was fast running out of friends who were getting fed up with his freeloading. One day he disappeared without warning, but his father didn’t report him as missing to the Police until he received a call reporting Ken’s  car abandoned 200Km away. The father was especially concerned because there were some burnt photos of Ken’s daughters in the boot of the car, and he knew that Ken adored his girls, so he felt this was all totally out of character.

My inquiries revealed that Ken had been travelling across the north of England in a zigzag manner and spending money on his credit card on hotels like there was no tomorrow. I too became concerned when I realised that Ken had abandoned his car just 15Km away from where his wife was in hiding due to domestic violence. It crossed my mind that he might be heading cross-country to kill his family then commit suicide, so I had to visit them and give crime prevention advice as well as elicit information as to where Ken might be.

A couple of weeks later, Ken got arrested in another city for a minor theft, and so I asked him about his thought processes before and during his absence. As you may expect, he had been in a spiral of depression, but then he had started making some dodgy decisions by borrowing from loan sharks. Like many men, he decided to get away so he could think things through; he was literally a “lost” soul. He had no intention of causing his family or himself any harm, which was a relief for all concerned, and it turned out that the family photos had been burned by some hoons who had tried to set fire to his car a few months earlier.

I advised Ken that the secret of a happy life was to find out what your talents are, or something that particularly interests you, and to make a career out of it. This means you don’t necessarily need to be an academic, you might be good at art, music, cooking, computers or sport; and then I told him how to use some software that could identify his ideal career. I said that once he had got a job, it would be easier to get accommodation, and that once he had got himself sorted, his wife might be more amenable to sorting out visiting rights. In the meantime, it would be a really good idea to sign the divorce papers so that everyone could start to move forward. I also suggested he see his GP and get some counselling, and that he might consider volunteering to help others to put his own worries into perspective.

About a week later, I got a “Thank You” card from Ken’s wife, saying that she was very pleased with the way I had dealt with such a delicate matter, and that she was relieved that he had finally signed the divorce papers so she was going to let him see his daughters.

Some three months later, I got a call from Ken thanking me for taking the time to listen to his hopes and fears, and for the advice that I gave him. He had pretty much done everything I had suggested, and he felt so much more positive about the future.

The Serious Case of the Student Bomber

In the second week of July 2006, I had a report of a student go missing. Hasan’s parents were originally from Bangladesh, and they had worked very hard to be able to send him to the local university to study medicine. They stated his grades had dropped recently and he had become quite withdrawn. His fellow students claimed he had suddenly taken a devout interest in the Muslim faith, whereas he had previously shown no interest at all. They also reported he had become fixated with the idea of working at an airport, not being a pilot or steward like most people, just “working at an airport”.

This set off alarm bells for me. Hasan’s absence took place just one week after the first anniversary of the 7/7 Bombings in London, and we were just coming up to the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy in New York where suicide bombers, who had taken flying lessons in the USA, had hijacked planes and attacked the Twin Towers.

I arranged to “ping” Hasan’s mobile phone (triangulate his position from signal towers) and ascertained that he was in an area just south of Nottingham, but his family knew of no connections there. Using lateral thinking to wonder what I would do if I were in his shoes, I realised that Loughborough University was nearby and I quickly established that Hasan had enrolled on the Aeronautical Engineering course for the following semester.

I asked the staff if they had noticed anything unusual about his behaviour, and the replied, “Well, no not really, he’s only just got here, but wait he’s just walking past you can talk to him yourself”. Next thing I’m talking to a man who could possibly be a suicide bomber. OMG, what do I say? I’ve not had any training for this situation. Fortunately, I had already checked with Special Branch and there was no intelligence to indicate he was a terrorist, so I jumped into the conversation feet first. He might want to work at an airport, but I was definitely flying by the seat of my pants!

I got chatting to Hasan and was pleased to hear that my fears were unfounded. He had simply been stressed out by his well-meaning parents, who wanted to steamroller him into a career for which he had little interest or aptitude. His father was a doctor and so was his grandfather, but Hassan felt this wasn’t the career for him. The reason why he had been going to the mosque was to seek the advice of the Imam about going against his parents’ wishes, because he did understand the sacrifices they had made for him, he just didn’t think he could get them to understand his hopes and dreams. Because he was over 18, I had to respect Hasan’s wishes and simply report to his parents that he was alive and well, but wanted no further contact with them until they could accept his right to make his own choices in life.

Hasan later called me to say he was really enjoying his studies and was glad he had made such a bold decision, and that he had been to see his parents and explain everything in person.

The moral of the story? Don’t jump to conclusions, which is why our tagline is “We Focus On Finding The Facts”.

Jan adds, “I also inherited some intriguing “cold cases”, so I thought the sleuths among you might like to hear about those too.”

The Spooky Case of the Saudi Arabian

Khalifa came to the UK seeking asylum on the grounds that the government of his native Saudi Arabia were trying to kill him. He was given a furnished apartment and lived alone. One day his doctor arrived with a social worker with a view to hospitalizing him to assess his mental health because Khalifa had claimed that he was sleeping in the cupboard under the kitchen sink, and that he was weighing the hems of the curtains down with stones so as to prevent gas seeping into the room. The doctor got no reply, and when the Police came to force entry into the property, they found Khalifa had disappeared.

My inquiries revealed that the Immigration Dept had refused his asylum application a few days earlier, and that he had gone into the Police Station announcing that he was going to go to the Saudi Embassy to see if he could get a new passport to go home to his family.

I contacted the Embassy and discovered that Khalifa had kept his appointment with them, been given a new passport, a plane ticket, and actually been driven to Heathrow Airport. A check with the airline, however, revealed that he did not get on the plane. Spooky!

Unconfirmed reports suggest Khalifa is living within the Saudi community in London.

The Curious Case of the Casanova

Frank was a chef in the Air Force and later transferred to the Army. When he retired, he worked for a time for the Sultan of Oman. Then he moved on to Sri Lanka, where he married his third wife, a nurse. It seems Frank was a bit of a Casanova because in 1997, soon after the marriage, he had an affair with his next door neighbour. When her husband discovered their dirty deeds, a fight ensued in which Frank allegedly stabbed the jealous husband in the stomach.

It wasn’t until after the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, that Jonathan, the son from his first marriage, reported Frank missing to the Police in the UK. Jonathan hadn’t seen his father for 7 years, but suddenly felt compelled to tell us he thought his father may have died in the tsunami, even though there was no evidence for this supposition. It transpired that when Frank went on the run from the Sri Lankan Police, he wrote a letter to Jonathan asking him to bring a dinghy and $12,000 to Sri Lanka. So when Jonathan dutifully arrived a week later at Colombo and handed over the getaway goodies, he asked his father what he intended to do. Frank said he had arranged for some fishermen to take him out into the Palk Strait, and then he was going to row 50Km ashore and start a new life in India. 

I explored the possibility that Jonathan and Peter, the son from Frank’s second marriage, might be wanting a Coroner to declare Frank legally dead, so that they could claim their inheritance.  Inquiries had revealed a rumour that Frank was a millionaire, but I could only find a modest Army pension and put a marker on it in case he ever tried to claim it. Apparently, Jonathan and Peter were not on speaking terms and neither were interested in Frank’s money because they hoped he was still alive. This still didn’t explain the 7 year delay and we never got to the bottom of that.

Having checked with the Sri Lankan and Indian Police, I could find no proof of life. Privately, however, I have four theories from a thousand possibilities as to what may have happened to him:

  • Maybe the jealous husband or his family found Frank in hiding, bopped him over the head and buried him in the foundations of the swimming pool that was being built at the time.
  • The fishermen possibly saw that Frank had lots of money, bopped him over the head and dumped him and the dinghy overboard.
  • Frank, who was in his 60s, would have a hard time rowing 50Km at night and avoiding shipping, so there is every chance he may have capsized and drowned or been attacked by a shark, or, and this is my favourite:
  • The dinghy could have got swept out into the Indian Ocean and, given Frank’s history, he’s probably now with wife No 4 sunning himself in the Seychelles!!!

Jan adds: “Here’s an interesting postscript about another person who was found ten years after the Boxing Day Tsunami.”

The Awful Case of the Afghani Abandonment

Farzad was in his 50s when his village in Afghanistan was bombed and all his family were killed, except Azar, his 14 year old son. Father and son took a hazardous overland journey across Asia and Europe and eventually arrived in the UK, where Farzad claimed asylum. They were given a house in Bradford but, a few months later, the Immigration Dept denied the claim.

Two nights after receiving this news, Farzad said goodnight to his son as normal. Next morning, Azar woke up to find his father had disappeared without leaving a note to explain where he’d gone or when he was coming back. Azar tried to carry on his normal routine, but without being able to collect the welfare cheque, he was soon out of food. The neighbours realised something was amiss and called the Police. Azar, who couldn’t speak a word of English at that time, was placed with foster parents.

Four years later when the case was allocated to me, I managed to track down Azar through a string of foster parents to ask him if he had heard from his father or had any idea what may have happened to him. Sadly, he was still in the dark. However, I have to say that Azar was a remarkably well-balanced young man considering the ordeal he had been through. He could now speak English very well and was destined for university to study medicine. All I could do was take a DNA sample from him in case Farzad’s remains were ever found.

The Haunting Case of the Husband and the Hospital

Bernadette & Graham (their real names) had been sweethearts at school, married fairly young and had a couple of children, Fiona & Matthew. Although Bernadette was a nurse and Graham was a porter at the same hospital near their inner city home, times were hard for them financially. So when he started drinking heavily and gambling, it was no surprise that arguments between the couple became heated and sometimes violent. She finally filed for divorce and later remarried a guy called Guy.

One day, Bernadette & Guy are celebrating Christmas when Graham came into the same pub. Next thing, bish bash bosh, Graham hits Guy over the head with a bottle leaving him with a 6cm wound, and Graham ends up serving 3 months inside.

18 months later, Graham goes on a Friday night pub crawl in his neighbourhood. He leaves one pub at 10.30pm on his own, and most probably took a shortcut through the grounds of the hospital, the very same one he and Bernadette used to work at, and should have arrived at the next pub to meet his friends some 5-10 minutes later. He never showed up.

Needless to say, when I received the case 8 years later, the trail was well and truly cold. I did all the routine checks with banks and phones etc and could find no proof of life. Matthew, now an adult himself, had heard rumours that Graham was living in another city 80Km away, and had a new family. Personally, I don’t think Graham was the type to plan a bigamist relationship but, even if he was, people don’t usually leave like that at that time of night, they go during the day and take a suitcase and maybe even leave a note.

Although Guy’s alibi checked out, my money is on either Guy’s associate, a loan shark or a bookie wanting their pound of flesh, and that Graham is currently part of the foundations to the new hospital wing which was being built at the time. Curiously, when I spoke to the builders, they said they were very puzzled why they were using so many trucks full of concrete to pour the foundations, and then when they double-checked the plans they realised it was all going into a disused railway tunnel which ran straight under the hospital grounds. Sadly, both ends of this tunnel had been sealed up and there was no way we could get sniffer dogs to search the area, so this case remains a mystery.

The one thing I could do, apart from giving emotional support to the family by keeping the case alive, was to arrange for age progression software to be used to produce a photograph of what Graham would look like after the passage of time, and to ask my supervisor to authorise a new Press Release.

 

Footnote: They say a good copper should detach himself from his cases, well, I must’ve been a bad one for caring because these ones still puzzle me to this day and, even though I’m retired from the Force and on the other side of the world, if there was a way to solve these mysteries and give the families closure, then I’d certainly do that.