Finding Schrodinger’s Cat: A Modified Thought Experiment to Help Understand Why People Go Missing, and How to Solve Missing Person Cases: Part ONE

When someone goes missing, in most cases, no matter the victim, no matter their age or gender, there seems to be more questions than answers.  Even as technology has advanced over the last 20 years from DNA to cell phone usage being used as tools to aid in investigations, thousands of cases are still unsolved.

In 1935 Erwin Schrodinger devised a thought experiment known as “Schrodinger’s Cat.”  His thought experiment was designed to show problems in understanding quantum mechanics when applied to everyday objects. 

In Schrodinger’s thought experiment the “cat” is locked in a box.  Inside the box is a small amount of radiation that may or may not be released at anytime. The box is closed meaning the observer cannot see inside the box, and only after opening the box will the observer know if in fact the cat is alive, or if the cat is dead upon the release of radiation.  Before the box is opened Schrodinger opined that the cat hypothetically is both alive and dead.  To resolve this requires a direct observation.  One could surmise that the cat is an observer and knows whether or not it is alive or dead, or could argue that the cat is not an observer because it is unable to know without an independent observer whether it has died and the cat is in both states both alive and dead at the same time, until the independent observer opens the box. 

What if however Schrodinger opened the box and there was no cat? Unless the box were a portal into another world, Schrodinger would have to surmise that the cat escaped, someone took the cat when he wasn’t looking, Schrodinger as a result of some psychological or physiological abnormality misremembered whether or not he placed the cat inside the box, or perhaps, Schrodinger is lying about placing the cat in the box. 

From an investigative standpoint, in this case of the missing cat until it is found one could surmise that the cat is both alive and dead also.  Once the cat is found then only will the observer know for a fact that the cat is either alive or has died, and if it has died, one can then attempt to determine the cause of death.

For example, using a cat as did Schrodinger; let’s investigate the case where a beloved family pet in a house of a family of four goes missing. The family lives in a rural area on five acres of land. Their closest neighbor is less than four-hundred yards away in a dilapidated mobile home; they have a dog that has been known to chase after the family cat in the past.  The cat however, is known to venture into the neighbor’s unkempt yard to chase after field mice but this only aggravates the neighbors because a member of the family is allergic to cats and the neighbors complain and it causes a rift between both families.

 On a Monday in July, the family of four does not realize the cat is missing until late in the evening when the family is settling down and preparing for bed.  One could suggest that the cat isn’t missing, because the cat knows where it is, so the cat being declared missing is dependent on someone within the household noticing that their beloved cat is missing. 

One member of the family is adamant the cat is missing and should be searched for immediately. Another person in the family states the cat has a habit of hiding or running off and has done this before on several occasions and believes the cat will turn up as it has done in the past. The third family member who has been at home most of the day states it is possible that while they stepped outside to check the mail the cat may have scurried out of the door, but they do not remember the time nor do they remember seeing the cat after coming back inside.  Meanwhile the family member that first realized the cat is missing blames the fourth person in the household of harboring the cat as a mean-spirited prank, because this fourth member of the household has threatened to hide the cat to anger the person just two days earlier. 

Where is the cat?

The family member who declares the cat missing goes outside and calls for the cat, and even searches the yard, but the cat does not return.

The second family member goes back to bed assuming the cat will return. 

The third family member who opened the door and believes they may be responsible for the cat exiting the house begins their own search and approach the neighbors who claim they haven’t seen the cat, but also go onto state that they won’t allow the family member to search the yard, because they had warned the neighbor to keep the cat out of their yard.   

The first and fourth family member argues and the first family member without consent of the fourth goes into the fourth family members room to search it and finds nothing. 

However, what makes this thought experiment compelling is that in the case of the missing cat there are multiple variables unlike Schrodinger’s experiment where the cat is knowingly in the box and can be opened at anytime by the observer.  Instead, it poses more questions and operates under multiple theories and assumptions and perhaps even suggests that the cat is missing and at the same time is not missing. 

If for example the cat is alive, and is lost, perhaps the cat does not consider itself being lost or missing, just considers itself as being here as opposed to being there.  To take it a step further if the cat is dead, the cat does not know that it is dead. 

However, at the same time, although the cat is “missing” let’s theorize that the cat was discovered wandering near the road a few yards from the owner’s home.  A passerby notices the cat, and stops and takes the cat.  Although the original owners still classify the cat as missing, the passerby now has the cat at their own home, and yet the cat is considered missing by the family and not missing by the passerby who found the cat. 

Although this is a possible theory, what if on the day the cat went missing early that Monday morning in July, family member # two on their way to work upon backing up accidentally runs over the cat in the driveway.  The family member believing the best course is to bury the cat in secret rather than upsetting the family with the knowledge that the cat is dead. 

In this case, the cat is knowingly dead, as observed by family member two, knows where the cat is buried, but keeps this a secret from the rest of the family.  Again, one can theorize that the cat is “missing” to the uninformed family members and not “missing” to the informed family member and at the same time theoretically the cat is in two states “alive” and “dead.”

In other words, although in Schrodinger’s experiment the cat is knowingly inside the box in both states of being alive and dead until one opens the box and the cat is observed, in a missing person’s case one could argue that the box is missing and to solve the case one needs to first find the box and the problem is determining who is in possession of the box that holds the secrets in solving the case. 

Reasons People Go Missing:

Because in these types of cases it sometimes can seem as if a person has fallen off the planet, we have to rule out these types of fallacies, and narrow our search in order to rule out the absurd (e.g. abducted by aliens). We can accomplish this by determining that in most cases in which a person is labeled as “missing” there are in fact six factors that we can apply to any “missing person’s” case to examine and investigate: (see graph)

Not all cases involving a person’s disappearance involve “foul play.”  There have been many cases in which a “missing person” case has been investigated to find the victim disappeared as a result of:

  1. accidental death
  2.  intentional suicide
  3. suffering from a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness
  4. Runaway on their own volition; absconded. 

Even though foul play is not always related to a person’s disappearance, the investigation cannot necessarily rule out foul play, because again, unlike Schrodinger’s Cat experiment, there is no box to open and observe.  Until observed or discovered, one can surmise that the “missing person” is alive and dead because the “missing person” is in possession of the theoretical “box”.  

When one is a victim of “foul play,” however, there are essentially two common scenarios:

  • Abduction
  • Murder

The perpetrator(s) of these crimes would be in possession of the “theoretical box”.  In the case of foul play, we can also deduce that there are two types of suspects: (see graph)

In the graph above suspects are either:

  1. Known by the victim (e.g. domestic partner)
  2. Unknown by the victim

In the matter of domestic this could include a current or former spouse, someone they’ve been in a relationship with, (past or present) a friend, or a family member, or someone they work with.

In most cases these individuals are the first persons investigated and scrutinized by law enforcement.  Even so, many cases have gone cold only to learn later during the initial investigation, one of those persons was responsible, but because law enforcement was unable to find enough probable cause to arrest the suspect they were powerless to make an arrest.

When a person is a victim of an unknown perpetrator, there are often two subcategories:

  1. Random
  2. Outlier

To better understand the definition of a random perpetrator one can include serial killers and opportunistic predators, to perhaps a robbery gone wrong scenario.

An outlier on the other hand, is someone who perhaps has met the victim, lives near the victim, a friend of a friend of a friend, to someone who has been stalking the victim for a period of time, but is hard to detect and apprehend, because they are on the periphery of the investigation.

Nevertheless, in all cases involving foul play there is always a motive and the two most common motives are: (See Graph)

  1. Sexual
  2. Murder

Everyone is a Suspect; Even the Cat

In 2013, famous illusionist David Copperfield entertaining an audience at a hotel owned by the MGM Grand made a group of volunteer members disappear.  The group reappeared at the back of the studio a few minutes later.  Copperfield had been performing this vanishing act for years as well as greater acts of illusion such as making the Statue of Liberty disappear.

No harm no foul, right? The audience members volunteered to be part of Copperfield’s illusion, vanished, and reappeared, the audience is amazed by the amazing trick, the show ends and everyone leaves the auditorium satisfied and happy.

But that’s not what happened, during the illusion one of the volunteers was injured during the trick. The injured person filed a civil suit against Copperfield, the suit went to trial, and during the trial Copperfield was obligated under oath to reluctantly explain to jurors how the illusion worked.   Essentially the volunteers were co-conspirators to the illusion by playing along with Copperfield’s act. After being called up on stage, then a burst of lights distracting the audience members, stagehands led the volunteers to stairs below the stage where they followed a tunnel hidden beneath the auditorium leading to the back. The light’s come on, and the vanished audience members reappear. Unfortunately, in this particular show, a volunteer fell while traversing through the tunnel and was injured. 

In a missing person’s case, it often times appears the victim vanished into thin air.  Because of this everyone is a suspect until they can be ruled out even the missing person’s life, lifestyle, and movements are scrutinized.    

Imagine if you will that during an illusionist’s act the magician called forth 10 random volunteers, and after the burst of lights 9 volunteers reappear at the end of the show but the 10th one does not.  In a perfect world, one would assume the auditorium lights would be turned on, the theater sealed, and each and every person would be interrogated by law enforcement.  As audience members and employees are being interrogated, another team of officers searched and cleared the theater, and the audience member is still missing, but everyone who attended the show from audience members to employees and the illusionist are still in the building.  One would have to surmise that the missing person in this scenario is no longer in the building, and left the theater on their own volition, or somehow were taken by someone who snuck in from outside the theater and abducted the audience member against their will. 

We do not live in a perfect world however.  In most cases the clock is against law enforcement especially if the crime was premeditated.  By the time law enforcement become involved, hours, not minutes will have passed providing the suspect opportunity to distance themselves as far away from the crime scene, cover up the crime scene, or create an alibi.

To give an example, on March 24th 1998 while on a Caribbean cruise with her family, 23 year old Amy Lynn Bradley disappeared just before sunrise and the ship docked on the island of Curacao, Antilles. 

Bradley’s family alerted the ship’s Captain soon after realizing Amy was missing, and purportedly asked him to not allow the ship to dock, thereby preventing people from leaving the ship so it could be searched. The Captain of the ship refused, the ship docked, and only after passengers and several employees left the ship was a search conducted.  The Bradley family approached the American Embassy and was able to get the Coast Guard to search the vast ocean in case Bradley had accidentally fallen off the ship, and the FBI became involved and soon after began collecting evidence and questioning passengers and employees.  

Twenty-one years later, Amy Lynn Bradley is still missing, there have been unverified reports suggesting that Bradley was abducted and subsequently forced into sex trafficking. Although, the FBI cannot prove or disprove this theory, one would argue if the Captain of the ship had not docked the ship allowing the opportunity for someone to possibly abduct and smuggle Bradley off the ship, Bradley would have been found as the ship was searched.  Then again, it’s possible even if the Captain had ordered the ship to be anchored and searched prior to docking, Bradley would not have been found because it cannot be ruled out that Bradley accidently fell from her tenth floor ocean view balcony either.

The disappearance of Amy Lynn Bradley illustrates the complications, the confusion, one faces when investigating a missing person’s case.  When a person disappears it creates a paradoxical conundrum similar to Schrodinger’s thought experiment.  Without actually observing or having closure by either finding the missing person or arresting the person responsible, the “missing person” seems to be in a state of being both alive and dead or “missing” and “not missing”.  Because her disappearance happened on a cruise ship in open waters, one would surmise the ship to be a safe environment, or finding her would be less complicated, the fact it did happen demonstrates the difficulties law enforcement faces when a person goes missing in cities and small towns across the country. 

Missing Persons Diagnosed with Mental Illness:

Missing person cases also prove difficult especially when it concerns a legal adult, because the person has autonomy and is under no obligation to inform loved ones of their intentions to leave without notice. The challenge then is to designate whether the missing adult is endangered or victim of foul play.   

It is not a crime to go missing.  In 2009, a married man left his home in NW Arkansas to travel to California to work as a photographer.  A few days later his car was found abandoned on the side of a highway in Texas.  The man’s ID and his phone were found with the vehicle.  The man’s wife knew that her husband had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and in the weeks before he left home had been showing signs of paranoia and was most likely not taking his medications.  The man’s wife filed a missing person’s report and within a few days the man was found walking a highway at night by local law enforcement.  The officer spoke with the man, determined that the man was not in violation of any laws and let the man go. 

After leaving the officer the man went missing, and was not heard from again until six months later when the wife received a letter in the mail from her husband.  He had been placed into a mental health facility using an assumed identity. 

Upon his return home and back on medications, the man shared his story with his wife and explained that he abandoned his car because he believed he were being chased by the CIA.  For six months, he lived on the streets, and had somehow made his way a hundred miles south from where he had abandoned his car to Dallas where he lived under an overpass near the downtown area.  He told of stories in which he would be detained by police for his abnormal behavior and taken to hospitals but without identification or insurance the hospitals would release him back on the streets. 

It wasn’t until he was admitted into a hospital and doctors began treating him for schizophrenia and once stable on the medicine the man became aware of his situation and reached out to his wife. 

Although there is a happy ending to this man’s story, it illustrates how a person on their own volition can go missing, and even if they have been diagnosed with a mental illness Law Enforcement are under no obligation to take the missing person into custody if when found the person has not committed a crime or considered to be in danger to himself or others.

The man in this case made a choice to abandon his car, even if the reason for doing so was based on an irrational belief that he was being chased by the CIA and believed his life was in danger.  One could argue that the man did not leave on his own volition, and instead was abducted by his own paranoid ideation and as a result should have been considered as “endangered”; nevertheless, the man had discontinued taking his medications, which most likely caused the paranoia and although his loved one’s believed he was endangered and should have been taken into custody and taken to a hospital for evaluation, the man was under no legal obligation to take his medications and therefore law enforcement was under no legal obligation to consider the man as missing or endangered and instead believed he had chosen to leave of his own volition even if the paranoia was irrational and set off by his preexisting schizophrenia. 

If in this particular case if the man’s family had gone to court and filed for guardianship they may have been able to give Law Enforcement leverage to take the man into custody based on a courts order, but not necessarily. For example, in 2017, another man also diagnosed with schizophrenia was dropped off by his family at a local homeless shelter.  During the investigation by shelter officials to help find the man housing, it was learned that the family members had legal guardianship over the man making it impossible for social workers to get the man assistance because the man was unable to make decisions on his own without the consent of his legal guardian.  Adult Protective Services were contacted and APS, made the social worker’s aware that they would be in contact with the legal guardian, but the process of taking the legal guardian to court would be difficult. 

After social workers learned the man had a court ordered legal guardian they contacted local police to determine if the man could be taken back to the home by police, but police refused to assist without a court order ruling that the legal guardians were obligated to take the family member back into the home.

However, after reaching out to the legal guardians shelter officials were able to establish that the legal guardians had no intentions to assist the family member in finding suitable housing, this gave social workers more leverage to press APS to take custody of the man, and as a consequence within a few weeks, APS were able to find housing for the man. It took over three months for this to happen.  Fortunately, during that time period the man did not leave the shelter or was asked to leave the facility because he may have gone missing as a result. 

Both these examples have happy endings, but this isn’t always the case as in the disappearance of Sarah Rogers a 29 year old artist from Barrington, New Hampshire. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. In December 2004, after an argument with her husband, the husband attempted to take the keys from her, but was unable to do so, and Sarah left the house in her vehicle leaving her 2 year old son behind. 

The husband contacted Rogers’ family and they reported her as missing and endangered.  Her car was found by State Police a few days after she went missing and she had left her cell phone inside. Two days after Sarah left home the police entered her information in the National Crime Information Center. 

Three months later Sarah’s body was discovered in the woods not far from where her car was discovered with the engine still running, the driver’s side door open, Sarah’s purse found in a snow bank near the car, and footprints leading away from the car.  Sarah Roger’s most likely died from hypothermia.

Unlike the two aforementioned cases where both persons were found alive and found housing, cases like Sarah’s are more common when a person suffering from mental illness goes missing. Statistics verify this, and show that 75% of missing adults who are located are deceased when found. 

This statistic does beg the question as to whether or not person’s who go missing who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are not theoretically victims of “foul play.”  If the missing person is motivated to run as a result of being paranoid caused by mental illness, if they are provoked to react by running during a manic episode, they believe their lives are in danger, causing them to put their own lives in danger by running from what they believe is a real threat and the threat should be taken seriously.

 The argument must be made that in these particular cases if someone is reported missing that has a pre-existing mental illness they should be treated as if they are victims of foul play and an alert issued the same as a “Silver Alert” for those over the age of 65 who are considered endangered.   

To take this a step forward, if at a bar, a bartender is obligated by law in most cases to take steps to cut the person off from drinking and attempting to take the person’s keys preventing them from leaving their facility and driving while intoxicated. 

By taking steps to prevent a person with a pre-existing mental illness from leaving or apprehending a person and holding them until they can be seen by a doctor is similar to a bartender or a friend taking the keys from someone who is intoxicated and preventing them from hurting themselves or others. 

Missing Person with Intent to Commit Suicide & Accidental Deaths:

It seems an impossible task to determine that a person is suicidal. One can assume that a person is at risk for suicide, but even in cases where a person has attempted suicide or expressed suicidal ideation, a family can alert authorities. However, in most cases, it is up to a doctor to determine whether or not to detain an individual “against their will” by placing them under psychiatric care under a 5150 order. Nonetheless, even in these cases, within 72 hours, the person will most likely be released, unless the doctor’s evaluate the patient and determine the patient is still at risk. Even then, the doctor most likely will have to take the matter to court to seek the court’s permission to keep the person detained and prove the person is still at risk.  If the court agrees with the doctor’s it is under tight restrictions, meaning that only in the most severe cases will hospitals actually take the matter to court, and the stay may only be granted for a short period. With that said, the courts nor can the hospital forcefully make the patient comply with the treatment, in order to hold that person against their will and comply with treatment the patient would have to be declared incompetent.

If a person goes missing with intent to commit suicide, these cases are problematic because the individual may go to great lengths to distance themselves from being discovered making it impossible to find the decedents remains. 

Because of this, it is difficult to rule out “foul play”, because the missing person has created the distance and gone to great lengths to go undetected, and in many cases will not express their intent to commit suicide prior to their disappearance. 

Cases like this often go unsolved until someone unintentionally finds the missing person’s body and  only then can the case can be resolved.

Accidental deaths are similar to those who go missing with the intent to commit suicide.  The cases involving missing persons who died accidentally are often not resolved until a body is recovered, and in many cases they such as missing persons with intent to commit suicide the decedent’s body may never be recovered. 

Missing Persons: Their Own Volition VS Absconded:

People who go missing on their own volition do so for various reasons; whereas a person who has absconded may do so due to warrants for their arrests most likely disappears in order to evade capture. 

 Those who have absconded to evade capture are going to go to great lengths to avoid being found, yet at the same time although a person has warrants for their arrests still may be victims of foul play. 

The same analogy can be noted with individuals who leave on their own volition. Although they may have disappeared intentionally, it does not mean they were not at the same time being lured to leave by someone with the purpose of harming them. 

Determining if a Missing Person is a Victim of Foul Play:

In cases in which a crime scene is known and a body is found, cases still go unsolved.  However, with a crime scene and the body, investigators are able to determine cause of death, the possible motive of the suspect, whether the suspect was organized or unorganized and create a forensic profile of the suspect.  Whereas in a missing person’s case investigators are tasked with having to determine if the missing person is a victim of foul play often times without a crime scene.

Unfortunately, it seems only when working a case backwards can we explain the motives and movements that led to the circumstances of someone being reported as a missing person. Even with advancements in technology, law enforcement is still bound by rules and procedures that can in some respects drag the case down while they wait for evidence to be examined, track down false leads, or even if they have a credible lead, it does not meet the standard of probable cause to execute a search warrant or make an arrest. 

In examining this statistically, according to the FBI in 2017 out of 651,226 missing person reports made during the year, 587,711 were cancelled or cleared.  As of 2017, the FBI reports that 88,089 missing person’s cases remain active.

the 88,089, 35% of those active cases are juveniles under the age of 18 that percentage moves to 46.6% when the definition of juvenile includes anyone under the age of 21. Utilizing the 2nd set of statistics, we find that missing adults over the age of 21 make up 53.4% of active cases.

During a 2012 interview on NPR with Todd Matthews, the director of communications for National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS) he stated: “In 2012, we had 661,000 cases of missing persons; and that’s just from that one year. Very quickly, 659,000 of those were canceled. So that means those persons either come back; in some cases, located as deceased persons, maybe never an unidentified person; or just a total misunderstanding. So at the end of 2012, of those 661,000 minus the canceled, we had 2,079 cases that remained at the end of the year as unresolved.”

These statistics seem to confirm that in most cases when a missing report is filed it is quickly resolved and dismissed. This adds to the difficulty in determining whether a person has gone missing of their own volition or is a victim of foul play.

The fact that 88,089 cases remain active is troubling.

Each and every number represents one person who is missing and may or may not be a victim of foul play.  As mentioned in the beginning of this section, when investigators have an active crime scene and a body, the case may go unsolved but they are able to collect evidence, data such as DNA and fingerprints, and perhaps create a profile of the suspect and identify whether or not the killer was organized or unorganized. 

When there is no crime scene, it is difficult to then operate under the assumption that one case involving a missing person can be utilized to better understand the motives behind a similar missing person’s case.  For instance, if several missing persons are reported from one geographical location, law enforcement may recognize a pattern. However, when a person goes missing from one geographical location, the case may seem similar to another missing person case that happened in another geographical location, this may give insight for investigators working the case.  It does not mean however, that for example in:

Hypothetical Case 1: A woman from the east coast goes missing; the husband is the primary suspect; after investigating, the husband is arrested and found guilty is relevant in understanding a similar case such as:

Hypothetical Case 2: A woman from the west coast goes missing; the husband is the primary suspect; after investigating the woman is found to have been abducted and murdered by unknown male, and husband is cleared as a suspect.

In 2017 the CDC reported: Over half of the killings of American women are related to intimate partner violence, with the vast majority of the victims dying at the hands of a current or former romantic partner, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today… About a third of the time, the couple had argued right before the homicide took place, and about 12 percent of the deaths were associated with jealousy. The majority of the victims were under the age of 40, and 15 percent were pregnant. About 54 percent were gun deaths.

The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) also seems to support the CDC statistics:

…Women are most likely to be killed at home by a current or former male intimate—that is, a husband, boyfriend, ex-husband or former boyfriend. Making this point, the UCR data from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s found that a female is more than 2.5 times as likely to be shot by her male intimate partner as to be shot, stabbed, strangled, bludgeoned, or killed in any other way by a stranger…More recent UCR data for the years 1980 to 2008 reveal that less than 12 percent of all female victims were murdered by strangers… The data reveal that females are almost six times more likely than males to be killed by an intimate partner… The same data reveal that female victims were involved in nearly 64 percent of all intimate killings and 82percent of all sex-related killings.

While this data does suggest that there is a distinctive pattern in regards to women who are murdered are most likely killed by an intimate partner, we know that abductions by unknown individuals and abductions by outliers not only happen, we know that the abductions are not only disturbing but can happen in broad daylight, in public places, and within a few seconds a person can be subdued, taken and never seen again. 

One of the most disturbing cases of the aforementioned scenario happened in 2007 when 18 year old Kelsey Smith disappeared from a Target parking lot at a mall in Overland Park, Kansas. Investigators reviewed surveillance footage and were able to confirm Kelsey Smith had been in the store shopping, and watched her check out and leave the store, get in her car and drive away. A couple of hours later however, her car was viewed returning to the mall, dropped off outside of Macy’s and a person seen leaving the vehicle and heading out of the parking lot.

As investigators focused on Kelsey’s movements once departing the store and walking to her car, they slowed the speed of the camera and noticed a flash darting towards Kelsey as she opened the door to her car.  The video is horrifying to watch, but proved that Kelsey was most likely abducted and a victim of foul play. Once investigators had this evidence they were able to go back and track the teenager’s movements through the store and noticed a white male, around 20 years of age, stalking her as she shopped for a present for her boyfriend.

Minutes before Kelsey checked out of the store, the man left the store ahead of her. It was speculated that he had most likely went outside and either back to his truck to obtain a gun, and then lay in wait to subdue the young girl as she entered her car. 

It did not take long for investigators to identify the truck the young man was driving and broadcast it on local television.  Four days later, after receiving a tip from a neighbor who recognized the truck, 26-year-old Edwin Roy “Jack” Hall was arrested. 

On the same day Hall was arrested, after a legal battle with Verizon Wireless to obtain cell phone records, Verizon using cellular data were able to triangulate the last location Kelsey’s phone “pinged” and lead authorities to the location of her body.

The case is a terrifying reminder that apex predators exists and can and will attack a person without premeditation, without prejudice, without empathy, and take someone’s life for their own personal gratification.

Hall had no adult criminal record. Although as a juvenile he had been charged with assault, there is no evidence suggesting he was capable of committing this heinous act.  He was married and a father of a four year old son at the time of the crime. 

Examining the murder of Kelsey Smith, one must accept that there are in fact more suspects involved in missing person’s cases that fit the profile of someone like Edwin Hall–A person that kills because the opportunity presents itself. Or in Hall’s case, became so engrossed mentally to hurt someone for his own personal gratification he did not care if there were camera’s watching, he did not care if anyone caught him in the act, and this makes a person like Hall extremely dangerous because they do not necessarily seem to fit the profile of a predatory killer.

How then do we better understand the mind of predatory killers that are seemingly opportunistic, but in most circumstances do not fit the profile of predatory killers such as infamous serial killers?

The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics defines a serial killing as: involving the killing of several victims in three or more separate events. Psychologists have been able to examine and study serial killers and determine that not all but many serial killers have certain traits that often times start in childhood.

To better understand missing person’s cases, especially those involving foul play, if we follow the modified Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment in which one opens the box and the cat has vanished, one cannot rule out that the missing cat has been abducted from the box.  If Schrodinger were to investigate and learn that several cats have gone missing from the area, he may be inclined to believe that a serial cat burglar is living in the vicinity.  However, if no cats are reported missing, his only clue may be to examine the box and look for evidence.

Schrodinger is able to swab the box and find DNA, fingerprints, and outside the box he finds footprints leading away. When Schrodinger examines the evidence he finds no matches. 

With the evidence placed in a database, years go by and still there are no matches leading to the suspect.  Schrodinger may opine that the suspect has died, or perhaps the suspect has never committed a crime afterwards wherewith the suspect’s prints or DNA may be placed into the database. 

Then imagine when Schrodinger examines the box there is no DNA, no fingerprints inside the box, or no footprints leading away from the box.  If this happens to be the case, Schrodinger would be hard-pressed to prove that a crime had occurred and would have to consider that the cat somehow was able to escape the box on its own without assistance or worse, had been abducted.

Out of all circumstances in which a person may go missing, they all seem to share a common thread:

  1. If a person goes missing on their own volition whether as a result of intent to harm themselves, mental health, they go to great lengths to distance themselves from those who have reported them missing.
  2. If a person has gone missing as a result of foul play the abductor/murderer will go to great lengths to distance themselves from authorities.
  3. Even in the case of where the victim has gone missing as a result of an accident, it can appear that the victim is going to great lengths to stay hidden, however, they may be unable to communicate to others they’ve been in an accident and a perfect example of this is the disappearance of Tanya Rider.

After Tanya Rider went missing after leaving work in September 2007, her husband reported her missing but according to the husband when he reached out to police one department stated it was out of their jurisdiction and referred him to another department who informed Mr. Ryder they could not classify his wife as a missing person because she was an adult and was not considered suicidal. 

Tom Rider asked police to to track her through her cell phone but according to Mr. Rider his request was denied because she was not considered missing. Investigators had noticed activity from Mrs. Ryder’s bank account after she was reported missing giving them the false impression that Mrs. Ryder had gone missing on her own volition and the husband had to prove that they had a joint account and it was he using the bank account.  He then offered to take a polygraph and only after his adamant insistence that something was amiss did police determine that his wife may in fact be missing and endangered.

By analyzing her cell phone data, they were able to determine that her signal was coming from a tower less than five miles from where she was last seen.  Investigators searched the area and found Mrs. Ryder’s car had wrecked twenty feet off the road into a ravine, the car concealed by shrubbery.  8 days after she was reported missing, within a few hours of investigators tracking Mrs. Ryder’s cell phone they found her alive, but in critical condition. 

Therefore, even in a case like that of Mrs. Ryder’s in which she was involved in an accident, it appeared from the investigators standpoint she had purposefully gone missing, and if they hadn’t acted on the cell phone evidence she would have succumbed to her injuries. 

One could argue that in the case of Mrs. Ryder police may have believed Mrs. Ryder was escaping a bad relationship, and her husband was using the police to track her when she didn’t want to be found.  Nevertheless, at the same time, one could argue that whether or not, they could have still tracked her down, and if they were correct and she did in fact leave on her own volition were not obligated to inform her husband.

But this seems to be the rub, if all missing persons cases have a common thread in which it appears that when one goes missing of their own volition, with intent to commit suicide, as a result of an accident, or mental health issues mirrors the actions of perpetrator who has abducted or murdered a person reported missing, that all missing persons cases should be viewed as a result of “foul play” until proven otherwise.

Still, it must be noted that the rationale behind the previous statement is in response to the lack of data explaining the circumstances behind the missing person’s cases that are resolved and subsequently purged from the database.  Perhaps the statistics should show data as to how the missing person’s case was resolved (e.g. percentage of those who came back on their own volition, found alive, found deceased, etc) and the investigative steps taken to find the missing person once a person is listed in the national database.


Another common thread when investigating a missing person’s case is finding closure.  As in Schrodinger’s thought experiment until the box is opened and the contents inside observed, the observer cannot know, but only theorize if the cat is alive or dead, and until the observation is made one can hypothesize that the cat is simultaneously both alive and dead.

Families, friends, loved one’s looking for closure cling to hope that their loved one is alive and well, and many will never give up looking or lose hope and will come to the end of own their lives never knowing and never having the closure of bringing their sons or daughters,  mothers or fathers,  husbands or wifes, or sisters or brothers home.

The answers are out there.  Whether the loved one has disappeared of their own volition, or has been a victim of foul play, someone knows the answers, and holds the vital clues to resolving the case and bringing closure to these families.  Someone is in possession of the “box”, that holds the clues in resolving the mystery.

Advancements in Technology:

One of the latest advancements in technology being utilized by police is Genealogy DNA.  This new type of DNA analysis has been used to solve several cold cases by entering DNA from an individual into a database and comparing it to the DNA from a crime, and linking the DNA sample to a person through their family tree. 

It has already been used to solve several cold cases and hold murderers accountable in a court of law:

In both of these cases however, there was a crime scene or a body in which DNA and evidence was collected. In missing person’s cases, often times this evidence does not exist until after, at least in the cases of foul play, a body is discovered. 

Regrettably if a missing person is a victim of foul play, the person’s responsible have no intentions of providing the answers.  Most missing person’s cases often times are resolved to this day when someone happens to come across a body partially hidden in a wooded area.  In rare occasions the case is resolved as a result of someone coming forward with information years later after overhearing a conversation by the suspect.

Just recently, 12 years after a missing person’s case stunned the small town of Ocilla, Georgia in 2005 a tip to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations led to the arrest of two individuals.  In 2005, 30 year old Tara Grinstead a beloved high school teacher, and beauty pageant coach, vanished from her home.  Local police were baffled and had little evidence to provide answers, except for a latex glove that was found in Grinstead’s yard. 

Although Law Enforcement was able to extract DNA from the glove, they were unable to match it to anyone in their database.  Investigators interviewed several individuals acquainted with Grinstead and took DNA samples but none were a match. 

In 2017, all that changed when investigators received a tip from a female who claimed her boyfriend confessed to playing a part in Grinstead’s disappearance.  After interviewing the boyfriend, Bo Dukes, he confessed to the GBI and informed them that his friend and former roommate Ryan Duke had killed Grinstead after she walked in on him trying to break into her house.  Bo Dukes assisted Ryan Duke in disposing of Grinstead’s body on an orchard farm Bo Dukes’ family owned and operated.   

With this evidence Bo Duke was arrested and charged with attempting to conceal a death, hindering apprehension and tampering with evidence and soon after, they arrested Ryan Duke for murder, and collected his DNA and made a match to the DNA found in the latex glove. They also learned that Ryan Duke knew Tara Grinstead when he was a student at the high school she worked. 

Ryan Duke went undetected as a suspect because he was an outlier and evaded arrest until his co-conspirator made a tearful confession to his girlfriend who then in turn alerted authorities.

One could argue that if Ryan Duke had not involved another party to assist him in covering up the crime scene who would later implicate him, this crime may have never been solved or it would have taken even longer than 12 years for the DNA evidence to catch up to him. 

Otherwise, it seems that in most cases, unless a body is discovered, or guilt overwhelms a suspect into confessing to a crime, it all comes back to old fashioned detective work, working the streets, analyzing data, interviewing potential suspects, and attempting to find probable cause to obtain search warrants.  Yet, in most cases Law Enforcement are forced into an almost impossible predicament of being one step behind the suspect who always seems to have the advantage because they lack empathy for the victim and they have had time on their side to cover up evidence and conceal a body.

In part 2 of this modified thought experiment individual cases will be examined by attempting to find the missing person by finding the box.

Published by Chad Ard

Author, Editor

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