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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Jose Armando Moreno and Mexico's Teen-Age Assassins

     In the United States, boys as young as eleven have been charged and incarcerated for committing murder. Recently, boys ten and eleven were charged with conspiracy to murder one of their classmates. There have been a few American homicide cases involving children under eleven. In common law America, prior to state crime codes, children under the age of seven were presumed incapable of forming criminal intent. This culpability guideline is reflected in the statutory law of several states.

     In Mexico, kids under the age of fourteen who commit crimes, including murder, are considered too young to prosecute and incarcerate. The Mexican constitution prohibits the government from incarcerating citizens who are under fourteen. Mexican youngsters who are 14, 15, and 16 can be jailed, but not for longer than three years.

     In 2011, a 14-year-old boy only identified as "El Ponchis" (The Cloak), confessed to murdering several people for a local drug lord. The kid admitted beheading four of his victims. The judge sentenced "El Ponchis" to three years in a juvenile detention center.

     Mexican Federal Police, on February 7, 2013, detained 13-year-old Jose Armando Moreno in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas. The boy confessed to participating in the murder of ten people. The killings had been ordered by the head of a drug cartel. Moreno said he had shot six of his victims execution-style with an assault rifle.

     According to Moreno's mother, he had dropped out of school and ran away from home when he was eleven. He survived by selling drugs on the street, and committing contract murders.

     Because of the constitutional ban on youthful incarceration, the authorities had no choice but to release this young assassin back into Mexican society.

     On February 28, 2013, three weeks after being questioned by the federal officers, the boy's bullet-ridden body was found alongside a road in the town of Morelos. His killer or killers had dumped him along with the corpses of four women and a man. The victims had all been murdered execution-style. It's possible that the boy and the others were executed by another 13-year-old kid working for a rival drug cartel.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

The James Nichols Murder Case

     On December 26, 1985, James L. Nichols, Jr. reported his wife JoAnn missing from their home in Poughkeepsie, New York. According to Mr. Nichols, his 55-year-old spouse, a first grade teacher at Gayhead Elementary School in upstate New York's Hopewell Junction, had left the house three days earlier. Mr. Nichols told investigators that she had called home on Christmas eve, but had refused to reveal her whereabouts.

     In an attempt to explain his wife's mysterious disappearance, the husband told police officers that JoAnn had been depressed over the May 1982 drowning of their only son, 25-year-old James Nichols III. The young man had died in a lake in Mississippi. On the Nichols' home computer, detectives found comments ostensibly written by the missing wife that hinted of her intent to commit suicide.

     Many of JoAnn's friends and co-workers, from the very beginning, suspected the teacher's husband of wrongdoing in the case. Mr. Nichols, a hoarder who had filled the couple's basement to the ceiling with junk, was by all accounts an obsessive man with strange habits.

     As is often the case when people go missing, a handful of psychic "detectives" provided investigators with false leads as to JoAnn's fate and her whereabouts. Eventually, the missing persons investigation fizzled-out, and the matter was forgotten. Mr. Nichols, who did not remarry, remained in the house in Poughkeepsie, and continued to fill it up with garbage.

     On December 21, 2012, Mr. Nichols died at the age of eighty-two. The dwelling was in such a mess, a contractor had to be called in to haul off the junk and trash before the place could be put on the market. At 5 PM on June 28, 2013, one of the workers stumbled upon a container that had been hidden inside a false wall in the Nichols basement. The box contained a human skeleton.

     A few days after the gruesome discovery, Dr. Kari Reiber, the Duchess County Medical Examiner, announced that through dental records, the remains had been identified as JoAnn Nichols. According to the forensic pathologist, the first grade teacher had been murdered by blunt force trauma to the head.

     It's hard to image that JoAnn Nichols had been murdered by anyone other than her oddball husband James. For twenty-seven years her body remained hidden amid the junk and debris in this hoarder's basement. Apparently there was nothing, not even his wife's corpse, that this man didn't save.

     While the motive behind JoAnn Nichols' murder remained a mystery, I would venture a guess. Fed up with her husband's hoarding, she had expressed her desire to divorce him. That would mean they would have to sell the house, and in so doing, rid the place of all the debris. To keep his stuff, and possibly to benefit from his dead spouse's Social Security benefits, James Nichols murdered his wife and added her remains to his collection of trash and junk. It's just a theory, and will probably remain so. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

John Douglas White: The Pastor Who Murdered Women

     John Douglas White, the 55-year-old pastor of the Christ Community Fellowship Church located just west of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, lived by himself in a mobile home park in Broomfield Township near the town of Remus. This self-appointed man of the cloth possessed a background more in line with a person serving a life sentence in prison than a preacher of a tiny church in rural central Michigan. Pastor White, a perverted lust killer, had no business living outside prison walls where he could take advantage of women while masquerading as a man of God. He was a predatory sex killer in preacher's clothing.

     In 1981, John White, then 24, choked and stabbed a 17-year-old girl in Battle Creek, Michigan. The victim survived and White was allowed to plead no contest to assault with intent to do great bodily harm. (In my view, the no contest plea should be abolished.) The judge sentenced White to five years in prison. Corrections authorities let White out on parole after he had served two years behind bars.

     John White and his wife, in 1994, were living in Comstock Township near Kalamazoo, Michigan. On July 11 of that year, 26-year-old Vicky Sue Wall was seen getting into White's pickup just before she disappeared. Shortly after Wall's relatives reported her missing, the 37-year-old violent sex offender checked himself into the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital. In September 1994, police found Vicky Sue Wall's badly decomposed body in the woods not far from her home. Arrested at the psychiatric facility, White admitted strangling the victim to death. The victim and White had had an affair, and she had threatened to tell his wife. So he killed her. (I doubt the police, once they had the confession, conducted an investigation to determine if this was, in reality, the motive for Wall's murder.)

     In the Vicky Sue Wall murder case, the authorities allowed White to strike a deal with the prosecutor. In return for his guilty plea to the ridiculous charge of involuntary manslaughter, the judge sentenced White to eight to fifteen years. At his May 1995 sentencing hearing, White told the judge that Vicky Sue Wall's death had been a "tragic accident." (How do you accidentally strangle someone to death? This judge must have been an idiot.) John White walked out of prison in 2007 after serving twelve years of his sentence. White's wife had divorced him.

     In 2012, Pastor John White was engaged to a woman in his congregation whose 24-year-old daughter--Rebekah Gay--lived a few doors from him in the mobile home park. Because White was a preacher engaged to her mother, Rebekah allowed him to watch her 3-year-old son. She had no idea this preacher watched necrophilia pornography and fantasized about having gruesome, perverted sex with her.

     On October 31, 2012, at six in the morning, John White entered Rebekah Gay's trailer, struck her in the head with a hard rubber mallet, then strangled her to death with a zip tie. After performing perverted sexual acts on Gay's body, White hauled her 5-foot-3, 118 pound corpse in his pickup to a ditch behind a stand of pine trees about a mile from the trailer park. It was there he dumped her body.

     After hiding his victim's corpse, White returned to his trailer where he cleaned himself and his truck with paper towels. He walked to Gay's dwelling, got into her car, and drove it to a nearby bar and parked it there. He had also tossed Gay's cellphone into a dumpster and threw away the rubber mallet. From the bar, White walked back to Gay's mobile home, dressed her son in his Halloween costume, then drove the boy to Mount Pleasant where, as prearranged, the boy's father picked him up for the day.

     Crime scene investigators processed the victim's trailer for physical clues and searched White's mobile home where they found the bloody towels and other incriminating evidence. When questioned by detectives with the Michigan State Police, John White confessed, then led the officers to Rebekah Gay's body.

     On November 1, 2012, John White was arraigned in an Isabella County District Court on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied him bail.

     The church member who had hired John White as pastor, said this to a reporter with The Detroit News: "He [White] was absolutely contrite. All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He [White] was doing a lot of good in the community....He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good, and Satan got to him."

     So, according to one of Pastor White's congregants, White's cold-blooded lust murder of Rebekah Gay was the devil's doing.

     In April 2013, White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Rebekah Gay. The judge sentenced him to 56 years and three months. On August 28, 2013, a prison guard at the Michigan Reformatory Correctional Institution in Ionia, found White dead in his cell. He had hanged himself.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Rebecca Bryan Murder Case

     In 2011, Rebecca "Becky" Bryan, a 51-year-old real estate agent, lived in the Oklahoma City suburb of Mustang with her 53-year-old husband Keith. Keith Bryan, a firefighter since 1981, was chief of the fire department in Nichols Hill, an affluent town north of Oklahoma City. The couple had two grown sons.

     In January 2010, Becky filed for a divorce but didn't follow through with the process. Unhappy in her marriage, she was having an affair with a married man she had met in 2009 at a real estate conference. The two had talked about having a new life together. In early September 2011, Becky texted a message to a friend about inheriting, at some point in the near future, a large amount of money that would allow her to move to another part of the state.

     On Tuesday night, September 20, 2011, Becky Bryan called 911 to report the shooting of her husband by an intruder. To officers with the Mustang Police Department, Becky described her horrific experience. She and Keith had been sitting on their living room couch watching television when a hooded man in his 20s or 30s entered the house through the garage door and shot her husband, from point-blank range, in the back of the head. The victim never knew what hit him.

     According to Becky, after the intruder shot Keith, he told her that Kieth should have hired him at the fire department. The blond-haired man left the dwelling the way he had entered. He drove from the house in a pickup truck Becky described in detail.

     Keith Bryan died a few hours later at a nearby hospital. On her way to that hospital with a friend, Becky showed the acquaintance a cellphone photograph she had taken that day of her lover's genitals. The friend, stunned by Becky's demeanor, chalked it up to stress. The authorities feared that a madman was on the loose with a grudge against the Nichols Hill Fire Department.

     Detectives, pursuant to routine homicide investigation protocol, swabbed Becky's hands for traces of gun powder. According to the gunshot residue analysis, she had recently fired a gun with her left hand.

     Just hours after the murder, detectives searched the Bryan house. In the clothes dryer, officers found, wrapped in a lap blanket, a .380-caliber Ruger LCP handgun, a spent shell casing, and a left hand rubber glove. (The glove would test positive for gunshot residue.) The blanket contained four bullet holes. Investigators theorized that the killer had used the folded blanket to shield himself or herself from the victim's blood. It tested positive for gunshot residue as well. Detectives noted that the utility room that housed the clothes dryer was not along the path the intruder would have taken out of the dwelling.

     Between the mattress and the box springs in the master bedroom, detectives found the box the Ruger  pistol had come in as well as a box of .380-caliber rounds. A state firearms identification expert identified the Ruger found in the dryer as the gun that had fired the fatal bullet.

     On September 23, 2011, just three days after Becky Bryan informed the police that an intruder had shot her husband, a county prosecutor charged her with first-degree murder. Detectives arrested Becky early that afternoon at the hotel where she was staying. Booked into the county jail in El Reno, and denied bond, the suspect continued to claim that her husband Keith had been murdered by a hooded man.

     The Bryan murder trial began on May 16, 2013 before Judge Gary E. Miller. Assistant District Attorney Paul Hesse believed he could prove, circumstantially with the physical evidence--the blanket, the rubber glove, the .380-caliber handgun identified as the murder weapon, and the gunshot residue on the defendant's left hand--her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor also had a motive: life insurance and a new start with a lover. Blessed with motive and physical evidence linking Becky to the murder, the prosecutor didn't need an eyewitness or a confession. The evidence was circumstantial, but solid.

     After two days of scientific testimony from the medical examiner--a firearms identification expert, an analyst who connected the defendant to the rubber glove through DNA, and a blood spatter specialist who explained the purpose of the blanket found in the dryer--prosecutor Hesse had proven the state's case. For final measure he put on several witnesses on the stand who provided details regarding the defendant's extramarital sexual activities.

     Defense attorney Gary James, without much to work with, tried to keep the intruder theory alive in the minds of the jurors. He presented several character witness from the ranks of the defendant's social circle and family. Her brother testified that "Becky has always been a person who helped people. She was the person who would pick up a wounded puppy." On cross-examination these defense witnesses had difficulty explaining and justifying the defendants inappropriate behavior just after the murder.

     The defense rested without putting Becky Bryan on the stand. Attorney James, in his closing remarks to the jury, tried to paint the detectives on the case as tunnel-visioned and sloppy. The attorney wondered why the crime scene investigator didn't process the clothes dryer for latent fingerprints to rule out an intruder. Moreover, he didn't understand why the police didn't review surveillance camera footage for images of a pickup truck that matched the description provided by his client.

     On May 21, 2013, less than a week after the Bryan trial began, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. The jurors needed only four hours to come to that conclusion. After the verdict was read, attorney James hugged his client and said he was sorry. (The defense attorney was not responsible for the guilty verdict.) On July 9, 2013, Judge Miller, following Oklahoma law, sentenced Becky Bryan to life without parole.

   In March 2014, Rebecca Bryan filed an appeal citing the unconstitutional admission of certain evidence as well as ineffective counsel. She claimed she had been denied a fair trial. On December 12, 2014, justices with the Oklahoma Court of Appeals upheld the conviction.

     

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Butt-Fired Bottle Rocket Case

     The fireworks began at one-thirty in the morning of May 1, 2011 at the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternity house not far from the campus of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. During the house party, Travis Hughes launched, from the frat house deck, a bottle rocket (a fireworks product on the end of a stick) out of his ass. (If I had to guess, I'd peg this kid as a criminal justice or elementary education major.) The rocket man's startled fraternity brother, Louis Helmburg III, jumped back and fell off the frat house deck. According to Helmburg's account of the incident, he ended up lodged between the deck and an air conditioning unit. Both students had been drinking.

     Not long after the fireworks display, the injured student's attorney filed a personal injury lawsuit against the university, the fraternity, the Marshall University inter-fraternity council, the company that owns the fraternity property, and Travis Hughes, the human rocket launcher. The plaintiff asserts that the ATO fraternity was negligent in failing to install a deck railing. As for defendant Hughes, his consumption of alcohol had led to "stupid and dangerous activities." (Hey, don't blame the booze. How many drunks can fire rockets out of their butts? Someday this skill could become an Olympic sport. It certainly would be more exciting than the shot put and could take place at night.)

     In June 2013, a judge dismissed the suit against Marshall University on grounds the plaintiff failed to follow in-house procedures for bringing such an action. The rest of the case, however, stood.

     Given the humorous facts underlying this suit, it appeared frivolous. The outcome, however, would depend on whether or not the fraternity house deck, because it didn't have a railing, was unsafe. Assuming that it was safe, there was still the question of whether the frat boy's ass-launch made him civilly liable for the student's tumble off the platform.

     On November 4, 2013, the plaintiff, through Huntington attorney Thomas P. Rosinsky, a slip-and-fall lawyer who also handled dog bite, DUI, car repossession and drug cases, settled the case with the company that owned the fraternity house. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. If Louis Helmberg III paid a price for winning his case, it was that he would become the butt of every butt joke known to man.

     Travis Hughes, the bottle rocket butt-launcher, now works for NASA. (Just kidding.)

     

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Emmanuel Rangel-Hernandez Murder Case

     In 2001, 5-year-old Mirjana Puhar and her family, in the midst of the Kosovo War, fled to the United States from their home in Stremska Mitrovica, Serbia. The family settled in Charlotte, North Carolina where Mr. Puhar worked as an electrician.

     Mirjana, in the middle of her sophomore year in high school, dropped out. She had been hanging around with the wrong crowd and had gotten involved with drugs.

     At eighteen, Mirjana started to turn her life around by enrolling in a GED program at Central Piedmont Community College. Around this time she became seriously interested in starting a modeling career. She acquired local modeling jobs and worked part time jobs at McDonald's. She also worked in several retail clothing stores as a sales clerk. In the fall of 2013, she earned her high school degree.

     Puhar's first big break in modeling came when she was selected as one of 14 contestants on the television reality show "America's Next Top Model" hosted by Tyra Banks. The 21st cycle of the show premiered on August 18, 2014. (It had been filmed in March and April of that year.)

     Before Mirjana Puhar was eliminated from the TV modeling contest on October 21, 2014, she had an on-screen romantic relationship with a fellow contestant named Denzel Wells. The show featured the fact she, at that time, had a boyfriend back home. That situation defined her character on the program. She finished eighth in the competition.

     On Tuesday February 24, 2015, in a one-story house on Norris Avenue in Charlotte, police officers discovered the bodies of three people who had been shot to death. Mirjana Puhar was one of the murder victims. The other corpses belonged to Jonathan Cosme Alvardado and Jusmar Isiah Gonzaga-Garcia. Investigators believed the triple murder was drug related.

     Police officers, on Friday February 27, 2015, arrested 19-year-old Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez and booked him into the Mecklenburg County Jail on three counts of first-degree murder in the case. According to the authorities, Rangel-Hernandez was a known gang member with a history of violent crime.

     It also appeared that Rangel-Hernandez, as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had applied for and had been granted immunity in 2012 under President Obama's executive order-created program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Under this program, children brought to the U.S. by illegal alien parents can not be deported. Moreover, they are entitled to government benefits.

     The triple murder in Charlotte involving the aspiring model and the gang member who had been granted DACA status raised the obvious question of why this man, instead of gaining amnesty, hadn't been deported.

     On the day of the murder suspect's arrest, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to the secretary of the Homeland Security Department asking for documents related to Rangel-Hernandez's immigration status and his application for DACA immunity from deportation.

     On April 28, 2015, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeb Johnson admitted to members of Senator Grassley's Homeland Security Committee that Rangel-Hernandez "should not have received DACA." The head of Homeland Security also said that notwithstanding this "tragic case," DACA was a good program. Pressed by Senator Grassley who wanted to know how Rangel-Hernandez acquired immunity under Obama's program, Secretary Johnson said, "the entire workforce that deals with these cases has been re-trained to make sure they identify trouble signs, such as suspected membership in criminal gangs."

     The Rangel-Hernandez case is yet another example of why most Americans no longer trust that government bureaucrats will protect them.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Brett Seacat Arson-Murder Case

     In 2011, 35-year-old Brett Seacat, a police instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, lived with his wife Vashti and their two boys, aged two and four, in Kingman, Kansas. During the early morning hours of April 30, 2011, a fire broke out in the Seacat house in the small south central Kansas town of three thousand. Brett and the boys got out of the dwelling unharmed. Vashti Seacat, found by firefighters in her bed with a bullet in her brain, did not.

     According to Brett Seacat, he had been sleeping on the living room couch when, during the middle of the night, his wife called him on her cellphone from the master bedroom with instructions to get the boys out of the house. He ran upstairs to find the master bedroom on fire. When Brett lifted his wife from the bed, her body was limp, and she was bleeding from a bullet wound to her head. Because the room was breaking out in flames, Brett left his wife and rushed to save the boys.

     Arson investigators determined that someone used gasoline as an accelerant to set fires at several points of origin in the Seacat master bedroom. Criminal investigators with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) assumed that the arsonist had shot the victim in the head before torching the house. Since the Seacats were in the midst of a divorce, suspicion immediately fell upon Brett Seacat as the arson-murderer.

     On May 12, 2011, two agents with the KBI interrogated Brett Seacat at the Reno County Sheriff's Office. The session lasted seven hours during which time the suspect admitted that he had purchased software to track his wife's text messages and her GPS location. He told his questioners that he had threatened to move out of the house with the boys if his wife proceeded with the divorce. The day before her death, Vashti had served her husband with the divorce papers.

     During the interrogation, Seacat also conceded that on the day before his wife's sudden and violent death, he was in his office at the training center destroying computer hard drives. He said he understood why the investigators considered him a suspect in his wife's death and the arson, but insisted that she had set the fire before shooting herself in the head. According to the suspect, this was an arson-suicide case, not an arson-murder.

     In describing his discovery of the fire and his wife's body, Seacat said, "I remember hearing my own voice inside my head saying, 'dead.' Then all of a sudden it sort of came to me, 'dead, fire,
kids.' "

     In the course of the prolonged interrogation (the suspect was not under arrest), Seacat showed no emotion, and on several occasions laughed with his questioners. The KBI agents made it clear they didn't think Seacat's account of that night made any sense. Why would Vashti risk her children's lives by setting the fire, calling him on the phone, then climbing into bed, pulling up the covers, and shooting herself in the head? Moreover, Brett had no traces of soot from the fire, or blood from his wife, on his clothing. The suspect responded to this by saying: "I'm with you on that. It doesn't make sense at all."

     Agents with the KBI, on Friday, May 14, 2011, arrested Brett Seacat on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson, and two counts of child endangerment. A magistrate set his bail at $1 million.

     On May 23, 2013, the Seacat murder trial got underway at the Kingman County Court House in the town of Kingman. Following the opening statements by the attorneys on both sides of the case, the state began presenting its evidence with testimony from the medical examiner, arson investigators, and the KBI agents who had interrogated the defendant in May of 2011.

     On May 30, 2013, the state put Karen Roberts on the stand. Roberts, who worked with the defendant at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, testified that on the day before Vashti Seacat's death, the defendant had asked for an overhead projector to be pulled out of storage. According to the witness, Seacat spent the entire day locked into his office. (According to prosecutors, the last handwritten entry in the victim's journal, a message suggesting suicide, had been forged. Pursuant to this theory, Seacat had used the overhead projector to practice writing in his wife's hand. Seacat claimed that he needed the device in connection with a fraud investigation he was conducting.)

     KBI forensic scientist Chris Riddle, on May 31, 2013, testified that he had found traces of gasoline on the defendant's trousers. A state forensic document examiner revealed that the last entry in Vashti's journal was not in her handwriting. The expert could not, however, identify the defendant as the forger.

     Joy Trotnic, one of Vashti Seacat's co-workers, took the stand and said that on the day before her death, Vashti had expressed concern that her estranged husband would not move out of the house as promised. "Do you think Brett would burn down the house with me in it?" she asked.

     Connie Suderman, the Seacat marriage counselor, told the jurors that the defendant had called her shortly after Vashti's death. According to this witness, he said, "I killed her. Vashti is dead and it's my fault." In describing her conversation with the defendant that day, the therapist said, "I wouldn't say in hearing his voice that I thought he was distressed in any way. He was quite calm. I didn't hear sadness. I didn't hear tearfulness or crying or expressions of surprise or horror or words of exhaustion."

     According to the marriage counselor, Vashti Seacat had indicated that her husband "wasn't doing well" with the pending divorce. "She [Vashti] told me that he [the defendant] had awakened her from her sleep and told her that he had a dream that he had killed her.

     On June 6, 2013, after the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Roger Falk put his client on the stand. The defendant explained that he had melted two laptop hard drives after he had arrived at work that day to protect against identity theft. He said he had planned to sell the computers. During his testimony, the defendant spoke with ease, and occasionally smiled at the jurors. While portraying himself as a loving husband and father, the defendant admitted that he had threatened to expose his wife's alleged affairs, wreck her career, and take away her sons if she divorced him.

     An expert witness named Gene Gietzen testified for the defense that the pair of trousers the defendant had been wearing on the day in question had been improperly packaged by a KBI arson investigator. As a result, this evidence could have been contaminated.

     On Monday, June 10, 2013, the prosecutor and the defense attorney made their closing arguments to the jury of five men and eight women. The next day, the jury returned its verdict: guilty of all charges. At Seacat's sentencing hearing on August 5, 2013, the judge sentenced Seacat to life in prison.

     

Monday, August 8, 2016

Where is Tiffany Michelle Whitton?

     On March 7, 2011, 25-year-old Tiffany Michelle Whitton, a resident of Marietta, Georgia within the Atlanta metropolitan region, showed up in Dalton, Georgia with two other women and a man named Matthew Stone. That night, Tiffany, Tracy Chambers, Casey Renee Cantrell, and Matthew Stone broke into a woman's house and terrorized her with a tire iron. The victim managed to lock herself into the bathroom and call 911. Before fleeing the dwelling, Tiffany and her crew stole the woman's purse that had been lying on the couch. It contained $60.

     When questioned by detectives, Tiffany claimed the owner of the purse owed her money. She and her friends had gone to the house to collect what was hers. Investigators suspected that the victim and the four intruders had been in a drug deal. Tiffany, a user of illicit drugs, had paid the woman for pills, and when the supplier didn't deliver the goods, Tiffany and her friends raided the house to get her money back.

     A prosecutor charged Tiffany and her accomplices with armed robbery, burglary, and possession and use of drug-related objects. Following her guilty plea, the judge gave Tiffany a probated sentence.

     Tiffany, a former Hooter's waitress in Kennesaw, a suburban community north of Atlanta, disappeared on September 13, 2013. The mother of a 6-year-old daughter was last seen at two in the morning in the parking lot of a Walmart store not far from her home in Marietta, Georgia. Since that night she has not made contact with family members or friends. She was last seen with her boyfriend, Ashley Caudle. (A few weeks after Tiffany Whitton's disappearance, police arrested Caudle in a meth raid at his mother's house where he lived.)

     The missing woman's mother created a Facebook page called "Find Tiffany Whitton."

     On February 20, 2014, Marietta police officer David Baldwin, in referring to the multi-tattooed, five-foot-two-inch, 100-pound Whitton, said, "What really worries us is that she literally vanished without a trace."

     In July 2014, detectives executed a search warrant at Caudle's mother's house in Marietta where workman dug up her back yard looking for Tiffany Whitton's remains. The searchers came up empty handed.

     So, what could have happened to Tiffany Whitton? She could have run off to start a new life. However, because of her daughter, that didn't seem likely. It was also unlikely that some abductor was holding her captive. If dead, she could have killed herself in some remote location, or accidentally overdosed on drugs. If none of these events took place, someone may have murdered her. As a drug abuser, Tiffany rubbed shoulders with unsavory and dangerous people. Did she fail to pay a drug dealer? Did her criminal associates come to believe that she was a snitch?

     If Tiffany Whitton was murdered, her case will not move forward until someone who knows something about her disappearance calls the police, or someone stumbles upon her body. Finding a person who is dead is a lot more difficult than finding someone who is alive. Moreover, where do you even begin to look for a corpse?

     As of August 2016, Whitton's whereabouts remain unknown. There have been no arrests in the case.