For the Missing: Shattering the Thought of Impossible

Last week, I said that citizens searching Sauvie Island near Portland for evidence in the Kyron Horman case was a good thing.

With today's installment of Missing Person Monday, I offer what supports my believe in these citizen-driven searches.

In a previous post entitled Tent Girl: A Lesson in Tenacity, I discussed how citizen Todd Matthews spent 10 years searching before he discovered the identity of a female homicide victim whose decomposed body had been found in Kentucky in 1968. 

Similar to Todd's accomplishment, Stephanie Dietrich made a discovery that had baffled law enforcement from more than three states.


Case Summary: Sarah and Philip Gehring (formerly missing persons)

In July of 2003, Manuel Gehring of New Hampshire was seen arguing with his children: 14-year-old Sara Gehring and her 11-year-old brother Philip.   Evidently, Manuel feared a custody fight with his ex-wife, so he shot his children and then drove across the country.

Almost a week later, Gehring was arrested in California where he confessed to the killings and told investigators he buried the children's bodies in a remote location off Interstate 80.

Gehring provided details about the gravesite, but stated that could not remember exactly where he had hidden the bodies.

Investigators searched an expansive area of over 700 miles from Grove City, PA (where he had purchased digging equipment) to Iowa City, IA. 

Despite multiple efforts, no trace of the children's graves were found.

In February of 2004, Gehring killed himself while in prison awaiting trial.



Over the summer of 2004, the victims' mother Teri Knight led a five day search for her missing children, and then pleaded with the public for help.

Enter mother and grocery story clerk Stephanie Dietrich of Ohio:

...She has always loved mystery shows like CSI, and since she was familiar with the terrain being searched, figured she could put her sleuthing skills to the test. "I've always been very observant," she says. 

Dietrich chatted with FBI agents and pored through hundreds of pages of online agency reports and news articles for clues.

One report said pollen found on Gehring's clothes and shovel could be from northeast Ohio, so that's where she concentrated her search. Another mentioned landmarks Gehring detailed—including several willow-type trees, a 6-ft.-high wire fence, concrete sewer pipes and gray-colored firewood.

With her dog Ricco for company, Dietrich scoured the area several times a week, taking off work, and eventually focused on a smaller area around Hudson, Ohio.

On Nov. 29 she came across a secluded area she hadn't searched before.

"There was the massive concrete sewer pipe, the green pump surrounded by a chain-link fence, and the pile of weathered firewood," she said.

And when she returned two days later, she noticed something else: A drooping tree that might have looked like a willow in the summer. Ricco lay down under the tree, which Dietrich considered a positive sign.

After digging just a bit, "I hit black plastic," she says. "Then I found duct tape and twigs and I said, 'Oh Lord.' " Dietrich alerted police, who quickly unearthed and identified Philip and Sarah's bodies...

Citizen Todd Matthews matches the identity of a missing woman with the body of a "Jane Doe" that had been discovered 30 years earlier. 

Citizen Stephanie Dietrich locates the remains of two missing children.

Citizen James King finds missing 11-year old Nadia Bloom in a Florida swamp.

What can a citizen do to help with missing persons cases?

Is answering "a lot" enough of an understatement?

*Note: For anyone interested in pollen analysis as evidence and how the technique was used to narrow the search location in the Gehring case to Northeastern Ohio, the FBI and USGS published an excellent 10-page article that can be viewed here.    


Miss Caitlin S. said...

Inspiring to know we could make a difference even in such a grave time (no pun intended). I'm going to go read your Kyron post now.. I just visited his wall of hope a couple weeks ago. Poor little guy.

suz said...

I always wondered if those children would be found. If it was reported by the news, I missed it. Thanks.

Pia said...

wow! it blows my mind how some people are able to do such crimes. thank God the missing are found and for those searching for justice, may they be granted their heart's desire.

SuziCate said...

That is impressive that a citizen solved this.

J. J. in Phila said...

I have become increasing convinced that the public can help solve cases.

This is an outstanding example.

Hilary said...

She sure had inspiring courage. I can't imagine how distressing it would be for a mother to make this gruesome discovery, regardless of it being what she set out to do. She's a strong woman.

Bob G. said...

It is wise that the police never underestimate nor summarily dismiss inforamtion oo assitance from the "average citizen"...
Or that a citizen can be courageous enough to do what they do in order to help the authorities.

Goes to show that ONE PERSON...CAN make a difference.

Excellent post.

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

Kudos to Stephanie! What drive she had.

Stephanie Faris said...

It's amazing to see what they can do with forensics these days. While nobody would ever want to lose a child, when someone goes through it, finding the child, even when the child is no longer alive, can provide some sense of closure that will help to at least somewhat heal the survivors.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

It's amazing how determine some people are to solve these cases even though it isn't their job or their relation who's missing.

Lydia Kang said...

Great to know that ordinary people can help. What a horrible, sad case though.

ladyfi said...

Inspiring to know that people can make a difference.

obladi oblada said...

Thanks for that post. I didnt know the Gehring chidren's bodies were ever found.

Shannon said...

What a sad story, but I am supremely impressed with Stephanie's determination to the case. That's impressive.

Keith Wilcox said...

Wow! That's amazing. Goes to show that the public can sometimes teach the professionals a thing or two. Would seem that the authorities might benefit by seeking outside help more often than they currently do.

Kimi said...

Good news is the bodies are found and mom's instincts helped. I love CSI too and though the stories are fictitious, it helps to get educated. It could help later down the road. Bad news is that the mother will never get her kids back and it's unfortunate the father took their lives. Thanks for sharing the information. I learned something about the pollen analysis. Interesting stuff.

Elena said...

Terribly sad, yet wonderfully inspiring.

Stephen Tremp said...

i don't recall seeing this in the news but we do see a lot. Its disheartening. But thanks to swifter action from law enforcement due to exploding technology these sickos are generally caught before they can kill again. I think this is why we don't hear about so many notorious serial killers like int he past.

Stephen Tremp

CL Beck, author said...

Wow, that is a totally story! Thanks for posting it ... it lets us see we can all help!

Jen said...

Something as simple as paying attention to Amber alerts issued in your area can make a huge difference.

malone8 said...

Feeling inspired by God can lead to great accomplishments.

Like the citizens in your story … they can work miracles.

vixstar1314 said...

It's so hard to comprehend that such horrific actions can take place. But on the flip side it's comforting knowing that there will always be those willing to help others in need. I truly believe that good will always prevail against bad.