Police, family never give up on the missing
For years after 29-year-old William “Mike” Hogan disappeared in Shrewsbury in 2005, his family held out hope that someday he would come home.
Unfortunately for Hogan’s family and friends, he never returned. His remains were found in 2009 — 4½ years after he wandered away.
But the positive thing was that they got closure. Many families of Vermont’s missing don’t get that and hang on to hope for months, years or even a lifetime.
“At least we could bring him home and give him a proper funeral and a proper burial,” said Hogan’s father, also named Mike. “There was nothing we could do about the fact that he was dead, but at least we could do right by him. Kind of close that portion of his life.”
There are currently 39 missing-person “cold cases” in Vermont, dating back four decades or so.
Maj. Glenn Hall, commander of the Vermont State Police criminal division, said missing-person cases are never closed and are assigned to a detective. If a detective retires or moves into a different role, the case is transferred to another detective.“They remain active cases,” he said. “Every case always has a detective.”
When a person is first reported as having disappeared, a determination has to be made whether he or she is really missing.
Missing children get a more immediate response even though there are a lot of juvenile runaways. But with adults, police said, it’s more difficult to tell if a person just wants to get away for a few days or if something has gone wrong.
Lt. Michael Macarilla of the Vermont State Police, director of the Vermont Intelligence Center, said making that determination can sometimes be difficult because it’s not illegal for an adult to disappear if they choose to.
“There has to be suspicious activity around your disappearance,” Macarilla said. “There’s a very difficult, fine line we have to walk with adults. It’s a matter of looking at the circumstances as a whole.”
Behind the scenes
Jonathan Schaff, 23, of Fair Haven, went missing Jan. 18 after he was in a bar fight in Granville, N.Y., and was last seen walking toward a car across the state line in Pawlet.
A lot of the early interest focused on the bar fight and people involved.
Police have remained tight-lipped about that since initially ruling out any involvement on the part of anyone at the bar, but the investigation has focused closely on the river next to the parking lot where Schaff’s cellphone was found in an abandoned vehicle.
In the early stages of a suspected missing person, investigators will conduct searches of the immediate area and talk to friends, family and neighbors looking for some information.
But behind the scenes, investigators are also getting court orders and subpoenas to look at bank records, phone records, emails — anything that might give investigators a clue as to where the person might have gone or if there had been any hints beforehand or trails to follow after the disappearance.
“We’re going to do everything we can do to find them,” Macarilla said.
Sometimes the answer may seem obvious, but police take nothing for granted.
Sometimes, the trail is cold to begin with.
Michael Hayward Jr., 42, of Hartford was last seen in Enfield, N.H., on Feb. 7.
Police were told that Hayward may have been experiencing a crisis and could be confused.
The next day police found his vehicle parked at the Quechee Gorge.
Maryann Foster, 59, of Proctor disappeared sometime after having dinner and watching television with her longtime boyfriend Feb. 24.
Her boyfriend called police after not being able to reach her on the phone for several days and he went to her house to find she was not there but her purse, cellphone and cigarettes were.
Police hope a new tool will help them in cold cases.
The Vermont Intelligence Center has become the clearinghouse for information on missing persons. A Facebook page at www.facebook.com/VermontMissingPersons was recently launched, which authorities hope will help spread the word about people when they go missing and keep them in the minds of people as the years go by.
Heide Wilbur was 16 years old when she disappeared 23 years ago after she was last seen at her residence in Middletown Springs.
A recent release on the page featured an age-progressed photo of what Wilbur might look like as a 40-year-old woman.
Recently, the page featured Brianna Maitland, who was 17 years old when she disappeared 10 years ago on March 19.
Maitland left her job at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery and was never seen again. Her car was located at a farmhouse on Route 118 in Montgomery.
Police do not believe she left willingly but are awaiting that one tip that will help them solve the case 10 years later.
“We follow up on leads that come in on these cold cases,” Hall of the Vermont State Police criminal divsion said. “With Brianna Maitland, we still get leads on this case. A lot of these cases we’re waiting for that one piece of information that will lead us in the right direction. Cases that are 10, 20 years old, get solved.”
In some cases there are suspicions of foul play, others indicate a mental health issue or other hints, but police often just aren’t sure why a person might have disappeared.
“We explore all investigative avenues we can,” Hall said. “Things would get ramped up if we suspect foul play. We can make presumptions based on information we have, but until we solve it, it’s difficult to say. The ones that are still missing, we don’t know.”
In the Hogan case, the younger Mike Hogan disappeared in Shrewsbury on May 16, 2005, and for years his mother and father chased every tip they received.
The elder Mike Hogan said he chose to be an optimist from the beginning, which he said was a coping mechanism.
“I said to myself that until they bring me a body, Michael’s alive and he’s just out there doing his thing,” Hogan said. “I just decided to be an optimist. That got me through that period of time.”
People are sometimes reported as turning up years after they disappeared, and that’s what kept Hogan’s parents going.
But there would be no happy ending for the family and friends of the younger Mike Hogan.
His remains were found a short distance from where he was last seen in the woods of Shrewsbury. He was found by a hunter Nov. 15, 2009.
Despite his optimism, the senior Hogan wasn’t surprised. He admitted to himself in January 2009 that his son might not come home.
“I just faced reality,” he said. “I said, the reason that Michael has never called is because he is dead. As sad as the call we received from police was, there was joy in it.”
Hogan said he still wanted to recover his body to bury him.
“I wanted to find him and bring him home,” Hogan said. “I was able to do that and I’m grateful for that.”
‘Keep hope alive’
Hall said police stay on the case because it’s important to the family to know someone cares long after the headlines have faded away.
“Sometimes we’re the only hope and voice for the victim and their family,” Hall said. “These cases that go on for years and years unresolved ... We hope they will be resolved and we can provide some closure. The matter of not knowing, it’s hard. We have to keep hope alive that we’re going to keep trying.”
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