A true missing person case is rare. Most don’t even merit an investigation. It is not a crime to make yourself disappear. I’m sure each of you have fantasized about making your great escape and just starting over.
I know I have.
The ones that catch our attention are those that have possible foul play involved.
The case of Karen Belding was not your typical missing person case. Most of these cases involve people who are on the outer fringes of society or have special needs.
They are either drug addicts who disappear for a few days to get high or persons who just don’t know better.
Karen Belding did not meet either of these criteria. Not even close.
Karen was a 67 year old woman living in a nice townhouse with many friends. She earned her living as a resume and life coach helping people get that perfect job they always dreamed of. She had no known enemies and was living a good life.
Until one of her close friends realized she had not heard from her in a couple weeks.
This prompted a friend to check on Karen at her home. It had been almost two weeks since anyone had spoken to her. The first thing they noticed was that Karen’s green Ford Taurus was not there. After getting no answer at the door, management was contacted and provided a master key.
They cautiously opened the door and went inside.
As usual, it was immaculate!
No sign of any disturbance, fight, struggle, or any other noticeable observation that would make one take a step back. There were only two things that didn’t square with the scenario in front of them.
Karen was missing and on the kitchen table was a half consumed cup of coffee and an open book.
The police response
The police were called immediately and a full blown missing person case was initiated. I had recently been assigned to major crimes as a violent crimes detective. I and another detective were assigned the case.
We immediately starting checking the no-brainers like phone records, friends, family members etc.
Every possible lead or follow up led to nothing.
We essentially performed an autopsy on the life of Karen Belding. Like a pathologist looking for cause, we opened every conceivable aspect of Karen’s life. What we uncovered was the following;
Karen Belding was predictable and boring.
She was an accomplished member of the community who specialized in resume building for her clients.
Karen had many friends and seemed content with her life. She also had no known enemies or anyone that would do her harm.
As the days began to tick away with no answers, the tension within the investigation tightened. It didn’t help that family and friends were becoming impatient and questioning our ability to find her. It was also decided about this time to ramp of the coverage of the case in the media.
With the added media reach, leads began to increase exponentially.
And they were all dead ends.
A candle light vigil
The tension reached its apex when a candle light vigil was scheduled by family and friends.
I decided to attend, along with one of our intelligence analysts, to see if anyone had any further leads or information about the case.
The facilitator of the vigil began to speak.
The language and mood of the message was somber. The speaker, more or less, was conceding that Karen was probably dead. She also laid the blame of not knowing what had happened squarely with the police and its investigation.
I had to sit there and take it.
In every big case, there will always be those who second guess your efforts. Or worse, say something like “if I were working this case I would….”. The vigil came to a close with a singing of “Kumbaya” (I swear, I’m not making this up).
After the vigil, I walked to my car and drove back to police headquarters with the same thing I started with. Nothing.
It was not long after the candle light vigil where this case got weird.
What happened to Karen?
With the advent of technology, it has become increasingly more difficult to make yourself disappear. Living in this world usually leaves a digital footprint from which one cannot escape.
Unless your name is Karen Belding.
I will not get into specifics but we used the United States Secret Service to assist us in this case (they do way more than just protect the President). Even with the their high speed fancy technology, were unable to lead us to her.
She had not used her bank or cell phone since her disappearance. She had not made contact with any friends or family. The case was going nowhere.
It was at about this time the psychics started calling.
A shallow ditch and room 37
I’m not here to dismiss psychics. Being a “Pisces” myself, I believe that certain people posses a heightened intuitive sense. To call a detective and tell them they see Karen lying in a shallow ditch is another.
At first I thought it was another detective joking with me. That was until I started to hear from more of them.
One caller, who immediately declared himself a psychic, asked if I were the detective working the missing woman case. With a deep sigh I acknowledged that I was. In a low, almost whisper, he described a re-occurring vision he kept experiencing since the case was made known.
In his vision he could see a vacant room or home. He also said that he kept seeing the number 37.
I amusingly let my supervisor know about the phone call. He didn’t find it as funny as I did.
Two assisting detectives were immediately sent to the complex to follow up on this lead (it feels strange even typing that). To our amazement, the detectives did locate a vacant townhouse, number 37, on the property.
The detectives checked this address and found nothing.
In the next few days I received several calls from self avowed “psychics” claiming to know what happened to our missing person. Most would confidently tell me that she was in great danger, held against her will.
One said that he she was dead, lying in a ditch somewhere near her home.
And they were all wrong.
A homeless shelter and a google search
We had followed up on every possible lead.
The missing person case of Karen Belding was going no where. Family and friends would check in with me to see if anything had changed. Some were understanding and cooperative.
Some were not.
As a detective you need thick skin when dealing with your average citizen who has watched to many episodes of Law and Order or other crime shows.
About 3 weeks into the case one of our staff assistants announced over the PA that a call was holding for me about the case. I begrudgingly took the call (hoping it wasn’t another psychic).
The caller identified himself as a homeless shelter manager from St. Louis, Missouri (if this were a movie script it would then say cue “eye roll” by detective).
The manager then bluntly told me that he had Ms. Belding at his shelter!
I immediately swung around in my chair to see if I were being pranked. It appeared to be a legit caller. The manager explained that when processing Ms. Belding he had an odd feeling about her.
He decided to do a Google search on her and… Bingo!
His intuition was confirmed!
After making the confirmation, I spoke briefly with Ms. Belding on the phone. It was surreal. I’m no psychic but I thought for sure she was dead!
And she was not happy that she had been found.
Vindication and aftermath
The family and friends of Karen Belding were shocked. And angry. Especially when I told them that she did not want her location revealed to them.
Karen Belding was not dead and was not a victim of a crime. And she was no longer a missing person.
The family refused to believe that. Even after she was located. One even told the press that we were holding information from them.
And I completely understand their hurt and doubt. It’s hard to swallow the fact that someone wants to disappear from you and this life.
She almost pulled it off.