In 2004 Timothy Carney vanished while on his way to church. And although his car was later found dumped by the roadside, the vehicle contained no clues as to his whereabouts. So it was that Carney’s family searched for seven long years in vain for their loved one. Then came a breakthrough. But when the missing man was finally found alive and well, his relatives’ relief surely gave way to dismay. Why? Because Carney appeared unwilling to speak to the very people who had looked for – and loved – him.
According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS), more than 600,000 people disappear in America annually. And in 2014 NamUS reported that approximately 90,000 individuals in the U.S. are missing in the United States in any one period. Of that figure, moreover, around 60 percent are adults.
When a person is first reported missing, however, it is important that the relevant authorities act quickly. That’s according to Amy Dobbs, who formerly worked at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio. “The first 12 to 24 hours are the most critical in an active missing persons investigation,” she said to USA TODAY in 2014.
And Dobbs went on to explain why that narrow timeframe is so crucial. She added, “The longer it takes for a case to be reported and become an active investigation, the less likely a positive outcome will occur.” However, when it comes to children, the window of action is even smaller.
In the case of a missing minor, you see, the first three hours after their disappearance are of particular importance. Unfortunately, 76 percent of children who are killed following abductions die within that window, as claimed by a study released by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office in 2006. But that harrowing statistic paints a bleaker picture than is perhaps warranted. After all, only approximately one child in every 10,000 who are reported missing is actually discovered deceased.
Nevertheless, the facts and figures on child abduction in the U.S. make for concerning reading. It may be distressing to learn, for instance, that more than 424,000 reports of missing children were logged at the FBI’s National Crime Information Center in 2018. Thankfully, though, most cases involving missing minors are solved within just hours. And, in fact, fewer than 10 percent of child disappearances in the U.S. can be chalked up to abductions.
Indeed, several explanations have been provided as to why children may go missing in the United States. These include abductions by family members, acquaintances and strangers as well as so-called “runaway/thrownaway episodes.” Minors may also disappear involuntarily after getting lost or injured or by disappearing in “benign explanation situations.”
And, naturally, missing children cases tend to tug on the public’s heartstrings – more so than in instances when adults suddenly disappear. Perhaps that’s because people assume grownups are more able to care for themselves; it’s worth noting, though, that when individuals go missing, they tend to already be in vulnerable positions.
Some of the most common reasons for an adult disappearing include mental illness and escaping domestic abuse. Uncontrollable natural factors – such as disasters, floods and famine – can also play a part. On the more sinister side, however, a person may be deemed missing after they have been kidnapped, abducted or even murdered.
That said, people can disappear for seemingly none of these reasons and leave no clues in their wake to help those who are looking for them. On these occasions, it may also appear that there’s no hope of seeing the missing person again; indeed, they may practically seem to have vanished off the face of the Earth. Still, in rare cases, individuals return in the strangest of circumstances.
And one such occurrence came after the disappearance of Lula Cora Hood. The single mother from Galesburg, Illinois, vanished in 1970 following an argument with her family; in the process, she also left her 15-year-old daughter at home. In fact, Hood’s disappearance mystified police until 1996 – when the authorities believed that they’d made a breakthrough.
It was in that year, you see, that human remains were discovered in a brickyard in Galesburg. And as these were presumed to belong to Hood, her missing person’s case was consequently closed. Yet there would be a surprise in store. When in 2009 the mom’s family requested that new DNA technology be applied to the remains, it was subsequently discovered that they were not Hood’s.
Then in another bizarre twist, Hood was eventually located in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2011. By that point, she was a mom to 14 kids and was herself 84 years old. And while no explanation was given as to why she had vanished, it was suggested that her lifelong struggles with mental health may have been a factor. Nevertheless, Hood’s daughter Grace Kivisto was happy to learn of her mother’s fate. “I’m going to see her as soon as I can,” she told WQAD in 2011. “I can’t believe it!”
Another person who seemingly vanished without a trace was Arthur Jones, who worked for the Chicago Board of Trade. In 1979 the father of three disappeared after telling his wife he had an unexpected meeting. After he dashed from the house, though, he wasn’t seen again for decades.
And in the wake of Jones’ disappearance, a dark secret emerged: the dad had sold his seat on the Board of Trade to help pay a gambling debt worth $210,000. Furthermore, in the run-up to Jones vanishing, another trader called Carl Gaimari had been murdered – leading authorities to suspect that the missing man may have met a similar fate.
But due to a lack of leads, the case involving Jones’ disappearance soon went cold. As a result, he was declared dead in the eyes of the law in 1986 – seven years after he had gone missing. Still, this was definitely not the end of Jones’ story. In 2011, you see, he was found very much still alive.
In that year, investigators found Jones living under a fake name in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he was working at a casino. But it may well have been better for Jones if he had remained under the radar. After he had been found, you see, he was charged with a number of crimes, including burglary, fraud and using another person’s ID.
But while the discovery of some missing people may provide closure to their family members, there may still remain some mystery surrounding their disappearances and lives thereafter. And that’s exactly what occurred in the case of Petra Pazsitka – a German student who went missing in the town of Braunschweig in 1984.
At the time of her disappearance, Pazsitka was expected to attend her brother’s birthday party. But as things turned out, she never arrived at the event. A subsequent manhunt proved unsuccessful, too, and so Pazsitka was legally asserted to be dead in 1989 – with many people believing that she had been murdered.
In 2011, however, Pazsitka’s story reemerged after a burglary took place in Düsseldorf. At that time, a woman named Mrs. Schneider subsequently called the police to report the crime at her home. And, it turned out, she had a secret. Yes, the individual later confessed that she was in fact Pazsitka, although cops were initially reluctant to believe her claims. In the end, though, the woman was able to prove her true identity.
Pazsitka said that she had moved all around Germany and lived under a number of false identities since she vanished. However, she offered no insight into why she had disappeared in the first place. Nor did she have any longing to reconnect with her family, who had been grieving for over 15 years.
And there are some similarities between Pazsitka’s reemergence and that of Timothy Carney, who was found in 2012 after seven years of being “missing.” At the time that he had vanished, Carney was 25 years of age and living in an apartment in Butler, New Jersey. He shared the residence with Roy Anthony, who was actually the last person to see Carney prior to his disappearance.
Before Carney went missing, he had also allegedly called his boss to tell them he was running late for his shift. The man never turned up to work, however, and his car was later discovered abandoned near a road situated on the border between Newark and Elizabeth.
And following Carney’s mysterious disappearance, his mother and father – Phyllis and Ed – understandably dedicated themselves to searching for their son. To this end, they worked with the Kristen Foundation – a national organization that helps to locate and bring home missing adults. The foundation was created in 1999 and is named in honor of Kristen Modafferi.
Modafferi had herself disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1997, shortly after she had moved to San Francisco. The young woman was due to start an art course at the University of California, Berkeley, although on the day that she vanished, she had worked a shift at coffee shop Spinelli’s in San Francisco’s Financial District.
And while at work, Modafferi had told colleagues that she was thinking about visiting Baker Beach after her shift – possibly to go to a party at the location. Then she was later spotted with an unidentified blonde woman in the mall, after which she was caught on CCTV withdrawing cash from a bank. When a roommate revealed that they hadn’t seen Modafferi in several days, though, the 18-year-old was reported missing.
Sadly, more than 20 years on, Modafferi has not been found; the blonde woman with whom she was seen is also yet to be identified. And so while Modafferi’s family have had no good news of their own, they have nevertheless attempted to help others find answers in their own missing person cases via the Kristen Foundation.
The Carneys were no doubt hopeful, then, that the Kristen Foundation could help them locate their missing son. Working alongside the organization, the family placed billboard appeals along Route 23 on a number of occasions. The massive adverts explained that Carney was missing and contained contact details for the public to call if they had any information.
But despite the efforts of his loved ones, there was no sign of Carney anywhere, nor were any leads as to his whereabouts. Seven years after Carney’s disappearance, though, there was an unexpected breakthrough in his case that would leave his family shocked.
Yes, after all that time, Carney had been safely located. The news was later reported by New Jersey news site Tri-Boro Patch, which had obtained a statement from Captain Jeffrey Paul on the matter. Paul gave the message on behalf of Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi.
“Mr. Carney was reported missing on September 28, 2004,” Paul explained in the statement. “He was subsequently located on September 23, 2011, and as a result was cleared from the missing person’s database. Mr. Carney was found alive and well but did not wish to disclose his whereabouts.”
That’s right: much to the horror of Carney’s family, the formerly missing man was unwilling to reveal where he was. And, reportedly, his loved ones believed as a consequence that he was being influenced by a person or organization into not making contact. In particular, it was suspected that Carney had been pressured by members of a church – one, in fact, that just so happened to have links to the road on which his abandoned car was found.
Indeed, Joan Petruski – founder of the Kristen Foundation and Modafferi’s mother – told Tri-Boro Patch that Carney’s family assumed a religious organization known as Gospel Outreach were behind their son’s reluctance to contact home. The Christian group is led by pastor Jim Lethbridge and has previously been accused of poaching members from their families.
Carney’s mother substantiated this claim by alleging that her son was a member of Gospel Outreach prior to him going missing. Furthermore, she asserted, the church’s leaders had appeared controlling to her. And on one occasion, it has been said, the Gospel Outreach higher-ups had even come to visit Carney’s aunt with him when she was sick in hospital, since they had had suspicions that the young man was lying about his plans.
The situation described by Carney’s mother is similar to that outlined by Bahaa and Saffa Barsoums, whose daughter joined Gospel Outreach in the late 1990s. At the time, she was 21 years old and a college student. But her family claim that she changed after joining the church. In particular, she became eager to please its leader, Lethbridge.
Revealing the fears they had for their daughter, in 2006 the Barsoums told WABC, “If he asked her to kill me, she will kill me… I believe that if he asked her to do anything to make him happy, she will do that.” Her mother, Bahaa added, “Our daughter is not our daughter anymore… our daughter is a different person.”
Kevin Wilke was once part of the church, too, although he ultimately left as a result of Lethbridge’s actions. “The family members outside the church are looked at as enemies,” he told WABC. “There is a conspiracy that they are looking to take down the church.” Wilke added that if a member was to contradict the church, they would then be “ostracized.”
Nevertheless, while they were given limited details about their son’s whereabouts, Carney’s parents believed that he was residing in Chicago, Illinois. “We know where he is, and his family knows where he is, but we don’t really know what’s in his mind right now,” Petruski explained to Tri-Boro Patch. “Hopefully, he’ll stay put where he is.”
And though Carney’s family were, according to Petruski, “as perplexed as anybody else” over his reported reluctance to contact them, they were nonetheless happy to have finally found him safe. The Carneys weren’t frustrated that they’d searched for their son for seven years, either, since they now actually had some form of closure on the matter.
“We’d rather have him alive and well than any other circumstances.” Petruski told Tri-Boro Patch, speaking on Carney’s family’s behalf. “The family is happy about that. And I don’t think they hold anything [against him] other than they’re happy he’s alive, and they’ll work from there.”