by John Edward Gill
John Walsh doesn’t know that Tinze Lucinda Huels is alive and well.
He also doesn’t know that Alexia Reale is deceased and her remains destroyed.
Walsh, host of Fox TV’s “America’s Most Wanted,” claims a stranger abducted Huels in 1984 when she was 17 and lived with her husband and two small children in Tampa, Florida. Along with officials of his National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (National Center) in Alexandria, Virginia, Walsh claims Huels is still missing, her case open, unsolved, and classified as a Stranger, or Non-Family, Abduction (NFA).
Huels disappeared on the evening of October 27, 1984, saying she was going to do laundry.
Reale, eight, vanished on June 1, 1997, from Sacramento, California. She’s also classified as an NFA.
The National Center is a non-profit, non-law enforcement agency funded with $8 million annually from the federal government and approximately $8 million or more from private donations. Founded by Walsh in April, 1984, with a White House Rose Garden ceremony hosted by then-President Reagan, the National Center classified Huels as an NFA although there was no evidence someone grabbed her.
In 1997, it also classified Reale as an NFA, although again without proof.
But, as with every missing child, Walsh and his National Center never investigated Huels’ and Reale’s disappearances.
Such sloppiness and indifference about missing children makes child abduction seem much larger than it is. After all, the National Center started because Walsh and many others claimed in 1981 that there were 50,000 stranger abductions of children each year. While a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles in The Denver Post pointed out that the 50,000 figure was false, the Justice Department still funded the National Center. It did so, also, without an incident study to determine exactly how many children really were missing, whether as runaways, family abductions, or stranger abductions.
Even police questioned that figure. “We lost 50,000 soldiers in Vietnam over 10 years,” said William D. Carter, a public affairs specialist with the F.B.I. “Most people know someone who died there. How many people know someone who has had a child abducted?”
A New Jersey officer agreed. “Stranger abduction was the impetus behind the creation of the National Center,” said Investigator Martha Maxwell, a missing and exploited children’s specialist for the Ocean County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office. “Without that, there wouldn’t be a National Center.”
Finally, in 1990, the Justice Department released a study which said there were only between 200 and 300 such abductions. More recently, a Washington State Study on child abduction murders found that about 50 to 150 children were abducted by strangers each year.
“The list of children who are abducted and killed each year by someone who is not a family member is relatively small,” said Christine O. Gregoire, Attorney General of Washington State, who headed the three-year study.
Released in May, 1997, Gregoire’s study found that local law enforcement agencies conducting immediate searches was the best way to find and recover stranger-abducted or lost children.
And that National Center itself, in referring to the Washington State study, even stressed that the first three hours were the most important and that many abducted children are killed during that time.
“The vast majority of abducted children who are murdered are dead within three hours of the abduction,” said Carol Monaco, editor of its newsletter, The Frontline, in the fall of 1997.
She didn’t say what her agency could do in just three hours, especially since it’s in the Washington, D. C., area and has no search-and-rescue personnel.
The National Center doesn’t conduct local searches and investigations and doesn’t follow-up on many cases it claims are stranger, or non-family, abductions, as with Huels and Reale. Consequently, it often doesn’t know what really happened.
HuelsTinze Lucinda Huels ran away.
No one abducted her. That night in October, 1984, she went to a Tampa, Florida, nightclub, then left her car and started hitchhiking. She worked as a waitress in Memphis, Tennessee, for three years before moving to Arkansas. Shortly afterwards, she married a new man and took on a different name.
But in April, 1992, her new husband went to police with suspicions about his wife. Huels then admitted that she had left home voluntarily because of problems with her marriage. Police notified authorities in Florida and Huels called her first husband and their children.
Four newspapers in Florida and the Mid-West carried her story.
Yet as of this writing, eight years later, Walsh and his National Center still claim Huels as an NFA and list her case as “open” on their Case Manager’s Contact list and in their Missing Children Forum on the Internet.
And, although claiming it’s concerned with “exploited” children, National Center officials still ignore child abuse, which takes between 1,000 and 2,000 children a year. As with Susan Smith’s children, they prefer to falsely classify abused children as abductions or lost child cases.
RealeAlexia Reale died of child abuse.
Her poster, as of this writing still on the National Center’s Internet website, describes her as “last seen in the Elk Grove area of California… She is considered to be at risk,” again listing her as an NFA as of June 1, 1997.
But in June, 1999, police arrested her mother and stepfather and charged them with murdering the little girl. A California Superior Court Judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to make them stand trial, even though no body had been found. Alexia’s 13-year-old sister described to authorities how the child died and how her remains were destroyed.
Articles in The Sacramento (California) Bee described Reale’s case during the fall of 1999.
Trial dates were set for August 3, 1999, then changed to October 26, 1999, because the child’s mother pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Now a third trial date is pending.
Yet, despite these charges, that National Center continues to list Alexia Reale as a Non-Family Abduction on the Internet.
These two cases are not isolated.
An extensive investigation of the National Center’s own recovery reports for the past seven years shows that the agency distorts many cases, claiming abduction when children perished because of accidents, child abuse, domestic violence, date rape and homicide, or simply became lost. This reporter found more than 100 cases that were distorted.
According to newspaper reporters and police, F.B.I. agents and state and local police and sheriffs actually look for children, questioning suspects and searching neighborhoods or rural areas, which Gregoire’s study recommended.
National Center personnel don’t join in those searches.
Four children vanished in Illinois during September, 1990, for instance, and the National Center said they were Non-Family Abductions. But they surfaced several weeks later with their mother, who filed for divorce from their father, claiming abuse. Local police didn’t make her return home.
National Center officials not only still claimed her children as stranger abductions, but said they’d “recovered” them. And they listed the “recovery” date as November 5, 1990, which was about a month after their mother went to police.
There are cases where children drowned, no remains were found, yet local police with search dogs determined those children died accidentally. However, the National Center still claims such youngsters as “abductions” and their cases open.
For example, a two-year-old girl in Montana vanished in April, 1980. Her single mother left her outside — unsupervised — for an hour and the child disappeared. Local sheriff’s deputies searched for days and decided she’d drowned in a nearby raging, swollen river. Bloodhounds had followed her scent from her home to that river. They also said there was no evidence of an abduction.
Yet the National Center and Advo, the Connecticut-based mail order company, distributed her photo-aged picture on 57 million postcards in 1994, more than 14 years after she drowned. She’s on their Internet site today, still called an NFA and her case open.
“They’re distributing pictures of deceased children and asking for money to find them,” said Nikki Abbott, founder of Services for the Missing, in Gibbsboro, New Jersey. “That’s immoral and unfair.”
There were distortions of different kinds in those recovery reports.
In April, 1992, a little girl in Indiana perished at the hands of her uncle. Walsh said he’d “recovered” her and that she was an NFA, taken and killed by a stranger, not a family member.
A seven-year-old girl in Florida disappeared in November, 1994, shortly after the Susan Smith case. Police suspected her parents killed her, but Walsh ignored them. “It drives me crazy when police and the media speculate about what might have happened,” he said. “The girl is missing…And that’s all that matters to me.”
He quickly filmed a segment for “America’s Most Wanted,” but never aired it because police soon found her remains and arrested those parents. A jury found them guilty of murder and they were sentenced to life in prison. National Center officials still claimed they had “recovered” her and listed her as an LIM (Lost, Injured, or Otherwise Missing) even though she’d been killed in her home.
They treated Susan Smith’s children the same way. First, they claimed her two boys were abducted, then said they were “lost” when law enforcement found out she’d killed them. Their Monthly Recovery Report for November, 1994, listed Alexander and Michael Smith as “recovered” by them on November 3, 1994, and classified as LIMs.
Yet Walsh and his National Center never address runaway youths, child abuse, date rape and homicide, child safety and accidents, and many other dangers to children, like guns and drugs. Instead they exaggerate stranger abductions, which are rare, but, again, they never look for children.
Their “Monthly Recovery Reports,” which aren’t made public, show that nearly 70 percent of their “recoveries” are of runaway children. Yet the National Center admits it doesn’t handle runways. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center, conceded, “We couldn’t possibly handle the huge number of (runaway) cases and don’t try.”
“All calls on runaways are transferred directly to the National Runaway Switchboard,” said John Rabun, vice president of the National Center.
Yet runaways are sometimes portrayed as abductions, although never investigated by the National Center.
Anette Marie Beaman was a 15-year-old girl who allegedly was abducted by a stranger in July, 1996. The National Center claimed it “recovered” her in February, 1997, and still listed her as an NFA.
But police in her hometown of Winona, Missouri, said the girl had runaway voluntarily and had returned voluntarily. She was not abducted.
Officials at the National Center claimed 13-year-old Jessica Woehl as an NFA and as a “recovery” on April 17, 1997. The Nashua, New Hampshire, girl disappeared on March 25, 1997; however, she had run off with a 22-year-old man she’d met in person during February, 1997. They’d made contact several months earlier through the Internet; he’d given her presents and they had seen each other a couple of times before running away together.
“She went with him willingly,” said Adam Woehl, her 16-year-old brother.
Boyfriends sometimes kill girlfriends, but their victims sometimes are classified as Non-family Abductions.
Angel Ormston, 17, of Mentor-on-the-Lake, Ohio, disappeared the night of July 31, 1992. Of course, the National Center listed her as an NFA, only three weeks later, on August 21, 1992.
Local authorities found her body on December 15, 1992, and two weeks later arrested her boyfriend, Mark Sotka, 19, of Chardon, Ohio. Sotka had been a classmate and lover of Ormston’s in high school. During February, 1993, he admitted to killing her. He said they’d gone out that night in July and had driven to his home, where they’d often made love. But that night they’d argued. She’d told him she was pregnant, but couldn’t have an abortion because she was underage and her mother wouldn’t have allowed it.
“After hearing this, I went crazy,” Sotka said, “and hit her in the face with my fist. She fell down and went unconscious. I figured I had to get rid of her somehow. I ran to my garage and found a knife. I stabbed her twice.” Wrapping her body in a sheet, he bound her with rope and green duct tape and put her in the trunk of his car, he pointed out. Then he drove to an isolated area of Perry Township and left her in a ditch.
Judge Paul Mitrovich sentenced him to 20 years to life.
The National Center still listed Angel Ormston as an NFA.
Heather Kleiber, 13, of Charlevoix, Michigan, also lost her life because of a trusted family acquaintance, but the National Center still claimed a stranger abducted and killed her. Last seen on August 16, 1990, at a party, she accepted a ride home from someone she knew, but she didn’t return home that night. Walsh featured her as a stranger abduction on “America’s Most Wanted” in December, 1990. About 50 million postcards were sent out, claiming abduction.
Police found her body on May 4, 1991, in a nearby creek.
In November, 1991, the young man she trusted confessed to killing her and went to jail for life. National Center reports still claimed her as an NFA, listing her as missing on August 24, 1990, and “recovered” on May 13, 1991.
Sometimes, homicides happen in the victim’s home, but, again, the National Center will claim abduction and list those victims as “recoveries” in its monthly reports.
In fact, that National Center even claims it “recovered” Heather Dawn Church, who they claimed vanished from her home on September 17, 1991, in Black Forest, Colorado. Law enforcement authorities recovered her remains off the Rampart Range Road west of Colorado Springs, Colorado, on September 13, 1993.
Police identified her killer in March, 1995, through fingerprints found in her home. The man had lived about a half mile from the Church’s house and admitted he’d murdered her as he burglarized her home.
Both the National Center and “America’s Most Wanted” had called her a Non-Family Abduction even though she’d been killed at home by a neighbor. The National Center’s September, 1993, recovery report claimed she’d been “intaked” on September 19, 1991, and “recovered” on September, 14, 1993, still claiming her an NFA.
That report admitted the recovery date “indicates when NCMEC (National Center) was notified of the recovery.”
National Center officials even confess they reclassify cases after local police find out what really happened.
In a study of 210 child homicides and accidental deaths, for instance, National Center personnel had to reclassify 93 cases after contacting local authorities in states and cities where children perished. There were numerous times when the National Center said strangers abducted and killed children when such children died at the hands of someone they knew.
In fact, its study concluded that the majority of missing children “were abducted by people they knew.” Further, “the results have shown that a commonly held teaching — ‘beware of strangers’ — is incomplete. Children need to learn that it is not always strangers who can hurt them, but that it could be someone they know and/or care about.”
Called the Deceased Child Project, this study looked at children who disappeared and died between April 2, 1982, and August 8, 1992, and was completed in May, 1994. It involved 143 homicides and 67 accidental deaths. Based on information which the National Center received from local and state law enforcement, the Project uncovered still more hoaxes — where parents claimed abducted or lost children when such children perished because of other causes.
There were approximately 30 cases where the National Center originally claimed strangers killed children, then learned differently from local police.
“For example,” the Report read, “on April 28, 1992, NCMEC received a call from the mother of (two boys, ages eight and ten)
reporting that her sons had gone to the park to play and were supposed to be home within an hour. When the children did not come home, their father went to the park to look for them.
“The case was intaked by NCMEC as a Non-Family Abduction (NFA).
“Three days later, the case manager was contacted by law enforcement with the news that the boys had been located — deceased — in the river near the park where they had been playing. The coroner had determined that the cause of death was accidental drowning.”
National Center officials immediately reclassified those boys as LIMs and as “recoveries” on their monthly reports.
Also from that Project, there was another example of false reporting. “A mother called on July 5, 1992, saying that her seven-month-old daughter had been abducted from her husband’s truck while he was offering roadside assistance to a stranded motorist,” the Project read.
Again, without waiting for local authorities to investigate, “the incident was intaked by NCMEC as a Non-Family Abduction.
“On July 28, 1992, the case manager received a call from law enforcement with the news that the child had been located in the woods near the site of the abduction — deceased — and that the father was the suspect. He had, in fact, confessed to the crime.”
That case manager then reclassified that child’s demise as a Family Abduction, not as child abuse or homicide.
This child’s death was yet another example of how the National Center doesn’t investigate missing child cases, which its Project admitted. When learning from police about a missing child, “the case manager assigned to the case continues to follow NCMEC’s standard operating procedures…until informed by law enforcement as to the resolution of the case,” that Report said.
“We don’t do investigation,” said Ben Ermini, director of case management for the National Center. “We don’t go into it as thoroughly as the local authorities.”
“NCMEC is dependent on law enforcement and parents to let us know about a recovery (or) location,” said John Rabun, vice president of the National Center.
Again, National Center officials stress the need to call local police first. The National Center lists guidelines on the Internet (APBNews.Com) on “What To Do When Your Child Is Missing.” In a section headlined “Taking Action,” it says the first step to take if a child is missing is to “immediately call the police.”
National Center officials write that parents should tell police what their child was wearing, as well as that child’s age, height, weight, etc. “After you have reported your child missing, listen to the police’s instructions and respond to their questions,” they go on to say.
Yet, Walsh, Allen, and Rabun claim they’ve “recovered” more than 49,000 children since 1984.
“Such dishonesty and distortion scares parents and children needlessly and wastes tax dollars,” said Abbott, founder of Services for the Missing.
Four polls taken in the last 15 years showed that families feared stranger abduction more than any other problem facing their children. In 1995, for example, Pizza Hut commissioned a national survey which revealed that 87 percent of parents questioned said that concern that their child would be reported missing for more than a day was their biggest worry as a parent. Yet encouraged by the National Center, and because so many parents worried about child abduction, many doubtful groups and businesses around the country received media coverage and raised money by fingerprinting and photographing children. Walsh’s own Adam Walsh Child Resource Center, in West Palm Beach, Florida, for example, boasts it has fingerprinted more than 50,000 children.
“Fingerprinting never found anyone,” said Charles Sutherland, publisher of Search Reports, a publication about missing children and adults. Search is in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. “And videotaping hasn’t found anyone, either.”
Now Walsh promotes DNA fingerprinting, which identifies bodies, but doesn’t find missing children who are alive.
Critics feel the National Center’s not looking for children wastes valuable resources. For instance, more funding for police databases with names of convicted criminals might have saved a California girl’s life.
Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old girl, was kidnapped and murdered from her Petaluma, California, home in 1993 by a man twice convicted of violent crimes. But local law enforcement authorities didn’t know that when they questioned him on an unrelated trespassing complaint shortly after the girl’s abduction.
Because of a lack of funding, the state’s Violent Crime Information Center wasn’t operating when she was taken, which was Friday night, October 1, 1993.
Sheriff’s deputies in Sonoma County picked up Richard Allen Davis, 39, about one-and-a-half hours after her abduction. They ran a criminal check on him, but didn’t find those convictions, so they let him go.
Police, public officials, and missing children advocates have speculated that Polly still might have been alive when those deputies first questioned Davis.
And after taking him in, they would have learned about Polly’s abduction. Calls to the California State Police headquarters in Sacramento would have confirmed that he was on parole for those other violent crimes.
“Davis would have been had cold if that system had been in place,” said David Collins, who founded the Kevin Collins Foundation in San Francisco, California.
Polly’s remains were found by Petaluma police and F.B.I. agents on Saturday, December 4, 1993, near Cloverdale, California, about 35 miles north of Petaluma. Davis was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
Many times, however, police find children alive, despite the National Center, “America’s Most Wanted,” or claims of “Non-Family Abductions.” Local authorities ignore television, postcards, posters, etc., and use old-fashioned detective work.
Ten-year-old Katherine Beers, from Mastic Beach, New York, supposedly disappeared on December 30, 1992, from an arcade in Nesconset, New York. Both towns are on Long island. A long-time family friend, John Esposito, 45, who said he had taken her there, called police at five p.m. that day, saying she was missing.
Suffolk County police began a search, but no one in that arcade remembered seeing Katherine. They talked to neighbors, notified the New York State Police, and questioned Esposito.
On Friday, January eighth, 1993, Walsh featured her on “America’s Most Wanted.”
“In cases like this, we really like to get the child in the media,” said Ermini. All the public attention is exactly what’s needed to help locate Katie, Ermini pointed out.
Because of television, there were alleged sightings of Katherine in upstate Duchess County. Two witnesses claimed they saw her in a Hyde Park shopping Center and gave a description of the man seen with her.
But police kept questioning Esposito and even searched his house.
About three weeks after she vanished, in January, 1993, local police found Katherine alive, in a dungeon built under Esposito’s garage. She’d been there the whole time. It was a soundproof concrete bunker and officers had to raise a one hundred pound block and crawl through a narrow tunnel to reach the child’s prison.
He pleaded guilty to kidnapping in June, 1994, and was sentenced to fifteen years to life in jail.
Technically, Esposito was not a family member, but he was no stranger. Katherine’s mother, Marilyn Beers, considered him family. He had taken Katherine many times to toy stores and video parlors.
The National Center, of course, listed Katherine as a “recovery” in its January, 1993, report, still claiming her as an NFA.
Since its founding in 1984, the National Center has received more than fifty million dollars from the U.S. Justice Department. “How many other children, like Katherine Beers, could have been found if that money had gone into hiring more police?” Abbott asked.
She pointed out that National Center officials just get their information from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and state police and then classify missing children any way they (National Center officials) like.
“Until the government cuts off funding for the National Center, the Nation’s families will continue to be frightened and mislead,” said Abbott.
Yet despite such criticism, distortions continue. As of this writing, the National Center’s website still carries pictures of Huels and Reale as Non-Family Abductions.
And in January, 1998, Family Circle published pictures of 50 missing children. One child, two-year-old Ke Shaun Vanderhorst, was listed as a stranger abduction from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. But a year earlier his mother, Tina Vanderhorst, pleaded no contest to selling her child for $500 to buy cocaine and was sentenced to between two-and-a-half to seven years in prison for abandoning her son. Her child hasn’t been found.
Another child, seven-year-old Michael Hughes, from Choctaw, Oklahoma, was abducted by his stepfather, Franklin Delano Floyd, in September, 1994. Floyd has been captured, but young Michael remains missing. However, both the magazine and the National Center still listed the boy as a stranger abduction.
In its “Recovery” reports, the National Center listed 14-year-old Karen Lofland, from South Hadley, Massachusetts, as an NFA and then as a “recovery” on January 5, 1997. However, Massachusetts authorities said the girl willingly ran away with Jimmy Ray Legate, 41, on September 19, 1996.
Legate had been living with the Loflands for some time. He’d told the family he was 21 and down on his luck, but had been ordered to leave the house when the girl’s parents learned their daughter had become romantically involved with him.
FBI agents and local police found them in a Portland, Oregon, apartment. In December, 1998, a Massachusetts court sentenced Legate to up to eight years in prison after he pleaded guilty to statutory rape.
As usual, no one from the National Center accompanied those law enforcement authorities when they found the pair together. Yet National Center officials still claimed they’d “recovered” the 14-year-old girl.
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