Missing Persons: Mishandling
Cw: violence against women, homicide, missing persons
The world we live in is often unpleasant and scary. The fact is, whether people want to believe it or not, the way our society handles certain cases of violence and wrongdoing is terrifying. Police departments are rightfully undergoing mass scrutiny in how they operate and who they serve. After all, it has been ruled the supposed “protect and serve” champions actually have no constitutional duty to protect any of us. Of course, depending on our placement in society, we might be more apt to be protected.
By now, we all know the United States is colonized land that was intended to protect wealthy cisgender heterosexual white men, and it generally serves that population well.
But when it comes to incidences of violence toward non-men, we see many systemic “failures”. I put failures in quotations because it isn’t really a failure if a system is not designed to serve and protect someone for it to, well, not protect someone.
I’ve always been fascinated with cases involving missing persons. And after becoming a survivor of stalking, I have to admit, I’m quite fascinated in that as well.
When you look at these cases and they involve women, you can expect several “missteps” from police departments that only aggravate the matter.
Let’s start with Jennifer Kesse. On January 23, 2006, Kesse, who was 24 years old, vanished in thin air. Kesse is an “attractive” case and certainly falls into our society’s frantic love for missing white woman syndrome. This cultural indifference to missing women of color, of course, does not make Kesse’s case any less tragic, but it is noteworthy. However, despite the specifics of her particular societal privileges, Kesse still has not been found 14 years later.
The Orlando, Florida resident seemingly had it all. She was a smart woman and particularly, a very safe woman. She always had a can of mace with her everywhere she went and constantly communicated with her family, who lived a few miles away in Tampa, Florida. Employed as a financial analyst for Central Florida Investments Timeshare company, she had been performing quite well and had experienced several promotions in her first year. The University of Central Florida grad even owned her own condo in Orlando.
Every night, it was routine for Kesse to call her boyfriend, Rob Allen, before bed. He lived a few hours away in Fort Lauderdale. January 23 was no different. Around 10pm, they spoke with one another, although they apparently had an argument.
The next morning, the routine queen did not make her traditional morning phone call to Rob, but he assumes she is just running late for a meeting. And she is. Her management grows very concerned when she is uncharacteristically absent and reaches out to her family. When her parents cannot get a hold of her, they take the drive to the condo and are able to gain entry with their spare key. Nothing seems out of the ordinary, though. Her car is missing for its assigned parking space and her house is in good order, as usual. It even appears she was there just that morning, clothes laid out on the bed and a damp towel in the restroom. Only thing out of the ordinary was she had left her can of mace on the kitchen counter. Her purse, wallet and cellphone were all missing.
Certain something was wrong, the Kesse family called the Orlando Police Department around 3pm. When the police arrived on scene, they immediately invalidated the family’s concerns by stating: “Oh, she’s an adult, she had a fight with her boyfriend, she’ll be back,’ and they left,”
The family did not take that sitting down. Around 5pm, the family had fliers made up with Kesse’s picture and submitted it to various local media outlets. Friends and family all gathered to the streets to pass out fliers to drivers at intersections. Normally, local media waits for a police report, but Shannon Butler, working for WFTV in Orlando, took the story and thus, the media sensation was born.
On January 26, three days since Kesse’s last known sighting, her 2004 Chevy Malibu was found parked in an apartment complex less than one mile from her residence, completely abandoned. Security camera footage at this complex shows, on January 24, at 1pm, an unidentified person of interest got out of her car and leaves the complex. Unfortunately, the security footage does not leave much room for detail on who this individual was.
Note the time stamp. 1pm. The police were called at 3pm by the family and they dismissed the case, so the family brought it to mass attention by that evening. Although 1pm is before the time any report had been made, in missing persons cases, time is of the essence. By the time any formal detective work occurred on this case, the person of interest had already handled anything they needed to handle, we can speculate.
It doesn’t mean for sure that had they responded to it at 3pm that they would have found the answers — but it certainly would have been more likely.
But what about Mitrice Richardson? Born April 30, 1985, Richardson disappeared on September 17, 2009, at the young age of 24, the same age as Kesse. Richardson’s case is daunting for many reasons. For one, she is a young Black woman, also a lesbian and she is also living with mental illness at the time. In 2008, the Los Angeles resident completed her degree in Psychology from California State University and was a model and beauty pageant contestant.
On the evening of September 16, 2009, Richardson traveled to Geoffrey’s restaurant, which was in Malibu and was apparently described as having odd behavior.
Richardson eventually made her way out to the parking lot, where she was spotted in a staff members vehicle, sorting through their compact discs. The story goes, when asked what she was doing, she responded in gibberish! Witnesses in the restaurant, according to Bring Mitrice Justice’s account, stated Richardson was acting bizarre, speaking to patrons about her originating from Mars and that she had come down to avenge the late Michael Jackson. During this time, Richardson had racked up an $89.51 tab and had no means to pay it. Although she called her great grandmother on the restaurant phone, and her great grandmother agreed to pay the tab, the manager refused and instead called the police department.
The Malibu Lost Hill’s Sheriff Department arrived and assessed her with a field sobriety test, in which determined she was not intoxicated. Despite this, Richardson, who had no prior interactions with the law, was arrested for defrauding an innkeeper and two counts of possession of marijuana. Her car was impounded.
She would later be released from jail at 12:38 am on September 17 and was released without access to her vehicle, cash or her cellphone. Prior to her release, her concerned mother contacted the Sheriff’s office several times. Her mother was deeply concerned about her and wanted her tested for psychological distress, based on the description of the the erratic behavior at Geoffrey’s.
According to Richardson’s mother, the police department promised that Richardson would be safe and that she would not be released until Richardson’s mother could arrive, but that did not happen. The Sheriff’s spokesman said this: “She exhibited no signs of mental illness or intoxication,” said Whitmore, explaining why she was released. “She was fine. She’s an adult.”
The police are the last confirmed sighting of Richardson. Their absolute negligence and lack of concern for Richardson’s health and humanity are absolutely, in my opinion, to blame for Richardson’s fate. Tragically, Richardson was found August 9, 2010 in Monte Nido, California deceased.
Despite the fact that the family has been adamant about receiving information about the cause of death, the police refuse to cooperate and, as such, to this day, the family has no full closure. They are unsure of how Richardson died and the Sheriff’s office has taken no level of accountability for their missteps that led to Richardson’s safety becoming entirely compromised.
The family has continued to rally for full accountability and release of information pertaining to the Richardson case.
Had police taken Richardson’s health and humanity seriously, and allowed Richardson to stay in custody until the arrival of a trusted family member, or had they attempted to get a trusted family member involved at the restaurant before ever taking her in custody, Richardson may be with us today.
And while we cannot know for sure, had police taken Kesse’s disappearance seriously from the beginning — we could have knowledge as to the whereabouts of Kesse.
These are only two examples, out of many, of families continuing to suffer at the hands of negligence and violence.
Information from both sources originally gathered from Investigation Discovery’s “Disappeared” with additional insight from above linked sources and Wikipedia.