Over a career spanning 7+ years and 12,000+ investigative hours, still the toughest case I ever worked on was that of a missing child – my own daughter. It was a case I worked on for more than a decade, spanning half a dozen states and a multitude of slammed doors, a broken justice system, and a shattered heart.
My investigation started before I became a intelligence & investigative analyst. It began shortly after my soon to be ex-wife informed me our relationship was over and sent me to the curb. I was 2,000+ miles away from home, having just moved from California to the middle of Misery…I mean Missouri. I literally went from a sunshine paradise right into a frozen tundra. Of course, I had done it for love, only to be betrayed and discarded.
My first experiences with the family court system in Missouri took place during the divorce proceedings. One thing was made painfully obvious and clear to me by my attorney: the courts will not like you simply because you are male. Discrimination in family court is not only an accepted reality, it goes almost entirely unchallenged across the country. The media won’t cover it. Law enforcement ignores it. And in family court, one person, the judge, has absolute authority and control.
Without going too much into detail, over the course of the next several years, I dealt with a mother who domestically kidnapped my child. Because the mother was the one who kidnapped the child, police departments in multiple states refused to allow me to file a report. It was a domestic issue, they told me. With no police report, I could not file a report with the FBI.
None of this stopped child support from collecting. In fact, they were emboldened by it. They often collected between 60-70% of my pay, making money off the interest. I was forced to pay for medical insurance my daughter had no way of using. Long story short, there were times I lived on less than a $1k a month. However, I never gave up. After several years of wondering the Midwest, I came back to California and stumbled upon a job in investigations.
I quickly learned the ins and outs of the insurance industry. From the different kinds of insurance, to understanding fraud, and every aspect of my company’s firm. I set records for speed and accuracy in their data entry department. Before long, I worked at nearly every position at the place and won a nice employee of the year award.
Using my newfound resources, not to mention years of dealing with courts from various states, I searched for my little girl across the internet. And man, the tools I had were incredible. OSINT. Digital forensics. Still, there’s a reason so few missing children are found. It’s rough. And even looked hopeless. Law firms had offered to take my case, but only for a $25k or more retainer, and it would be up to me to find her, with nothing guaranteed.
The case was blown open when I came across a random video of my daughter…now much older…surfing not far from where I lived. I was stunned. She had been not too far from me. See, I had tracked her from Missouri to Oregon to Washington to Utah, all while living in Illinois, Indiana and Alabama. This bread crumb led me to a family court case involving one of my ex’s ex-husbands. I got hold of the court documents…and was floored.
My daughter had been abandoned by her mother and was living with her former stepdad. To make matters more complicated, the former stepdad had petitioned for guardianship in probate court. It was now or never. I didn’t have the money to afford star studded attorneys. But I had truth on my side, and over a thousand pages of evidence I had collected for the better part of a decade.
I won the probate with ease. The case was then sent to family court. And yes…I could have won that too. The court investigator was stunned by the amount of work I had done. The sheer volume of evidence and research…she hadn’t even seen that on criminal cases. But time was against me. It had taken me far too long to find her. I was given a choice: exact justice and hurt my daughter, or forgive and let her go. But by letting her go, she could heal. By pressing forward, I would cause damage to her.
This is a long case study, I know. It was the most difficult case of my life. I used every available resource. I proved my case beyond any reasonable doubt. I actually had two massive law firms opposing me and both were bewildered. In the end, I chose the option of forgiving and allowing my little girl that opportunity to heal. Yes, it breaks my heart. But it would have broken it more to see her have to go through anymore pain. I kick myself for being too late, but there’s nothing more I could do.
Morale of the story? Investigations often hinge on that one little clue, that overlooked detail, that tiny bread crumb. And sometimes life won’t be fair. The waves will be a bit rough. For this, I’m thankful for my relationship with Jesus. He’s my crutch, my wheelchair, my entire hospital. Yes, life can be dark sometimes. But never lose hope. Keep pressing, keeping digging, keep climbing. Upwards and onwards. Don’t become a prisoner of your past, allowing bitterness to chew away at your dreams. Forgive. Move on. And never, ever, ever give up. One day at a time, friend.