Advertisement
A photo from inside the New Jersey State Police forensic laboratory. The New Jersey State Police are hosting a "Missing in New Jersey" event this month at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and are encouraging the family and friends of missing persons in the state to attend and provide investigators with potential new evidence that could help lead to their loved ones. Police could use new evidence such as hair samples, dental records, biographical information and DNA samples from relatives to crack some of the state's old and new missing persons cases. (Photo: Courtesy of the New Jersey State Police)

New Jersey has approximately 1,100 long-term missing persons cases that have never led to an address, a door or a body.

The state’s morgues and paupers' graves also hold more than 300 unidentified deceased. They have never been named, or had their stories told, despite the latest forensic science.

Together, these are among the most stubborn mysteries in Garden State history. The New Jersey State Police are now hoping to solve some of them through a special upcoming event.

“Missing in New Jersey” is for the families and friends of the vanished, who continue to seek answers.

The event invites families to help investigators get more information to heat up the trail on cold cases.

It mixes the latest biometrics and investigative techniques, including DNA and dental records collection, along with the human element for the grieving.

The goal, according to the NJSP’s Missing Persons Unit, is to get a DNA swab or a hair from a brush—or even just a name—which may crack a case. The hope, they added, is to assist families in a kind of limbo.

“We can’t solve a puzzle if we don’t have the first piece,” said Lt. Louis Andrinopoulos, head of NJSP’s Missing Persons Unit. “In many cases, it’s just knowing about somebody being missing.”

The official logo of the "Missing in New Jersey" event, to be held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick on May 20, 2017. (Image: Courtesy of the New Jersey State Police)

“It’s not a uniform-heavy event—the event is really designed for the families,” added Det. Sgt. Joel Trella, also of the unit. “It’s imperative on all of us to get answers.”

The event asks family members to come to the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University on the afternoon of May 20.

They are encouraged to bring their story, no matter whether the person has been missing for weeks, or decades. They are also asked to bring whatever evidence they could have to assist investigators. That could be biographical information, like military service records. It could also be dental records or just a dentist’s name, or a brush with the hair of the missing person. But in the case of biological relatives, they will have the best identifiers right on their person—literally.

“The best piece of DNA you can bring is yourself, if you’re biologically related,” said Trella. “We need as much family help as we can solve missing persons cases.”

A degree of hope will be offered to the families, as well. One featured speaker will be Maureen Himebaugh, whose son disappeared from near her Cape May County home one afternoon in November 1991. He remains missing to this day—but she has continually held out hope that she will get answers, according to local news reports. The event will conclude with a candlelight vigil for the gone.

Also of paramount importance is that citizenship or legal status will not be questioned, added Andrinopoulos. The objective is simply to get answers to the unanswered—and to have families comfortable with helping law enforcement, no strings attached.

“The key is that it’s about giving closure to the family members,” said the lieutenant, a veteran of the unit since 2005. “The goal is to let them know they’re not alone.”

A photo from inside the New Jersey State Police forensic laboratory. There are approximately 1,100 long-term missing persons cases and 300 cases of unidentified remains currently in New Jersey. Police are hoping new evidence such as hair samples, dental records, biographical information and DNA samples from relatives collected at this month’s upcoming “Missing in New Jersey” event could crack some of these cases. (Photo: Courtesy of the New Jersey State Police)

MICHIGAN BEGINNINGS

The “Missing” event in New Jersey has a precursor that has had some striking success.

“Missing in Michigan” was first held in 2011 at Ford Field in Detroit. That inaugural event drew some 500 people, and 42 families, to the stadium. This year’s event was held last weekend in Livonia, and hosted several hundred people and dozens more families.

Over the seven annual events, more than 70 identifications have been made from some of the toughest cases, said Sarah Krebs, the detective sergeant at the Michigan State Police who founded the event.

“These cases won’t go cold if we don’t let them,” Krebs said recently.

Krebs told Forensic Magazine that the Michigan event immediately started making investigative connections. And it has provided the template for a growing number of states, including New Jersey and Illinois, both of which are hosting their first events on May 20. New York City's Missing Persons Day is also scheduled for the same day, featuring many of the same resources and a similar collaboration between the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other agencies, according to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Other locations include California, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, Colorado and Arizona, among others.

Krebs said the event makes connections that may not otherwise be made, with standard law enforcement procedures.

“It’s really neat, to see the idea spread,” Krebs said. 

“Missing in New Jersey” will be held May 20, from 1 to 5 p.m., at Rutgers' Student Center, 126 College Avenue in New Brunswick

Advertisement
Advertisement