One Of The Missing Is Found

Originally posted March 17, 2009

Every once in a while, there’s a story in the newspaper that gives me the chills.

Today, it was about a deck of cards featuring the faces of the murdered and missing, a man who recognized one of those faces, and a girl from the St. Paul suburbs who went missing in 1982 at the age of twenty-three.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The deck of cards was an educational tool put together last autumn by Cold Case Unit of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), showing the faces of Minnesotans who were either murdered or went missing years ago. It’s a technique that Minnesota borrowed from the state of Florida, and it’s led to seventy tips coming into the state bureau’s offices.

One of those tips came from a man who grew up in the St. Paul suburbs. He thought that the face on one of the cards looked like that of a young woman who lived down the street and disappeared in 1982, when he was ten years old. The face the man saw on the card was actually a reconstruction of a face based on skeletal remains.

In 1989, according to reporter Bill McAuliffe of the Star Tribune staff, mushroom hunters came across a skeleton in a wooded highway median south of the city of Wabasha, Minnesota, more than seventy miles southeast of St. Paul. The remains could not be identified, but the coroner judged the unknown woman to be the victim of a murder. When the BCA put together its deck of cards, technology was used to create the reconstruction of the woman’s face that was put on the four of diamonds.

As he scanned the cards on the bureau’s website, the man who had been ten years old in 1982 thought that the reconstructed face looked like that of Deana Patnode, who’d gone missing then. He turned out to have been right: Genetic technology has helped verify that the body found south of Wabasha was Patnode’s. Now the BCA has a name to put on its murder victim. And Deana Patnode’s family knows at least a little more than it did and can lay Deana’s bones to rest.

Missing person cases have always fascinated me. I’m not sure why. The only connection I can think of is tenuous: When my Uncle Russ, my dad’s brother, did a family genealogy back in the 1960s, he found a fascinating tale. Sometime in the late 19th century, maybe in the 1880s, a girl in our family – about twelve or so, I think – was sent on an errand from the family farm into town. The only thing that family records reveal is that she never came back. That snippet of a tale has haunted me ever since, and – I now realize – was the seed kernel for a novel I’ve been working on sporadically for a few years.

It must be horrendously hard for the families of those who go missing. Comparatively, death is much kinder. Those who die leave a vacancy, yes, but those who go missing must leave a vacancy doubled by questions. I sometimes wander through the files at The Doe Network, an online center for missing and unidentified persons, shaking my head in woe and in amazement at the numbers of the missing and of those found dead who are unidentified. For every family that finally gets some answers, like the Patnodes, there must be hundreds, maybe thousands, whose questions float forever.

(I’m sorry for this ending up as grim as it has, but I write what I think about. And I’m almost reluctant to append music to this, not wanting to seem frivolous. But sharing music is what I do. The lyric content of these don’t always match this topic, but the titles do.)

A Six-Pack of Missing, Lost and Gone
“You’re Missing” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising [2002]
“The Lost Children” by Julie Felix from the Clotho’s Web sessions [1972]
“Lost” by the Church from Starfish [1988]
“Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” by the Walkabouts from Satisfied Mind [1993]
“When I’m Gone” by Jackie DeShannon, Atlantic session, Hollywood, January 15, 1973
“Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash [1969]

Session data for Jackie DeShannon track added July 5, 2013.

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