Those who work in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Adult Missing Persons Unit have seen it all, says the Los Angeles Daily News. “The most fascinating, the most horrific cases, stem from a missing-person case,” said Carmine Sasso, head of the six-person unit. “These are not the kids that run away.” Nearly half of the 3,500 people who go missing every year in L.A. are mentally ill, including those who have Alzheimer’s disease. A separate unit handles missing children.
In most adult cases, the missing return. Ninety to 95 percent of the calls clear themselves up. But sometimes the cases can drag on for years. People searched doggedly for weeks in the hills around UCLA to find a star medical student. Years of wonder and worry passed. Then detectives got a call that he had shown up in a downtown department store, using his long-dormant credit card. When they arrived, he was at the counter buying a gift, looking well-groomed and healthy. He was fine, and all he wanted was for detectives to leave him alone, take him off the missing list and not tell his family where he was. Unlike most reports the police investigate, being missing is not against the law. There is no crime scene to investigate, no victim. Just absence. “It is like a big jigsaw puzzle that someone just drops on the table,” Sasso said. There is no rule that says people must wait 48 or 72 hours to report someone missing. And these are not the cops who take fingerprints or save someone from a fire. It’s not glamorous work.