When missing-persons investigators take on a case, they have nothing but a blank slate. There is no crime scene, like in homicide or narcotics cases. No body to examine, or drug route to track. No informant. No evidence.
Sometimes, it has been weeks since a loved one disappeared. Other times, it's months. Often the caller has only a vague notion of where the person was last seen or might be headed. In the most difficult of circumstances, relatives have needed help looking for a family member who "stopped calling a few years ago and might have once lived in South Austin — or wait, maybe it was North — they're not sure," Gann said.
"We have to start from scratch: building who this person is, asking what are their habits, where would they often go," Gann said. That is when the little things matter most: Did she or he have a favorite place that friends can remember? What words were exchanged before the disappearance? Was the person right-handed or left?The vast majority of missing persons cases involve juvenile runaways. The good thing is that in most cases, they will be located or come home on their own volition. The more difficult cases often involve missing adults.
Not every police agency has a dedicated missing persons unit. One important resource for any police agency in Texas that is working a difficult missing persons case is the Texas Department of Public Safety's Missing Person's Clearinghouse. They can provide invaluable assistance in working these cases.