by DIANE on JULY 13, 2009
How many times have you heard about a missing person case? To be sure there are hundreds of thousands of Americans reported missing every year. Some come right back home. But too often families of the missing either get the horrible news that their loved one’s body has been found or they continue to suffer with the quiet torment of no news at all.
Then there is the group of missing people who aren’t really missing at all. They are hiding. They’re called the “maliciously missing” by a woman who knows the subject all too well. Her name is Maureen Reintjes and on May 19, 2005 she kissed goodbye her husband of 24 years at their new home in Las Vegas, Nevada and he disappeared. No warning, no reason, he was just gone. Jon Van Dyke, a retired Marine master sergeant knew about responsibility, he seemed happy with their new life and
his new job at the CitiGroup Command Center. They’d worked hard getting their home in shape for a pending family reunion. “He would never just leave me,” Maureen thought.
For the next four years Maureen’s anguish over what terrible event must have happened to her husband was compounded by her financial realities. She lost their home and then another one. She was homeless for a while, struggling mightily to make sense of it all. She spent her days working, her nights on the computer setting up an internet presence to help locate Jon, getting military friends and family to help disseminate the news that he was missing. Late into the night Maureen scoured the web sites of coroners across America looking for information on unidentified bodies, not wanting to find Jon among the dead but desperately looking for the truth.
Then, on Maureen’s birthday, May 11, 2009, and one week shy of four years after he chose to walk away, Jon walked back into her life. He offered no real information on why he left or where he’d been. He wanted a divorce. Fresh with this new hurt Maureen is still dumbfounded. “I don’t know how to feel,” she told me. “I have lots of different emotions - but my emotion is nameless.” After her brief contact with Jon and court officers she came away thinking that maybe he’d had a mental breakdown or a stroke, “I was looking at my husband’s body but the man speaking - it was not his personality.”
The harsh reality is, it is not against the law to do what Jon Van Dyke did. Others share Maureen’s anguish. Just recently a man named David Rockney resurfaced in Bartlesville, Oklahoma after having been gone 7 years. He went off to what he told his family was a job interview in a nearby town one day and never came back. His wife, Peggy, and the family battled the pain of loss and uncertainty over Rockney’s fate. Police continued to work his missing persons case whenever there was a tip. Rockney’s disappearing act unraveled when he presented his expired driver’s license to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety so he could get a new one. He now explains his reason for leaving was “personal” and that he survived doing odd off-the-books jobs in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. Peggy has filed for divorce.
Since there is no specific law to stop someone who decides they want to erase the old and start anew there is no relief for the tortured families they leave behind. With the economy as bad as it is authorities fear increasing financial pressures will cause a rise in the number of these maliciously missing cases. No one has the right to simply walk away from mortgage payments, utility bills, child support and other court mandated payments. The problem comes, of course, in locating and bringing to justice those who deliberately disappear to escape the obligations of life.
No telling how many people are in Maureen’s shoes now, combing through corner’s websites and news reports looking for any clue. Imagine their task. There are now estimated to be up to 60 thousand unidentified bodies in the U.S. and no fully functioning one-stop location to check to see if those bodies match with their missing loved one.
A seed of hope has been planted at a publicly searchable repository called the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs.Gov. It’s the first ever registry to combine information on both missing people and found bodies. Sadly, it relies mostly on those in law enforcement who have the time and inclination to enter pertinent information. Not many do. But the public can also enter their missing persons information on the registry in hopes that a match can someday be made. A good first step - with many more to go to help ease the heartache so many American families endure every day.
Missing Persons Awareness and Support Network