Investigating Disappearances

When an individual disappears, you must file a missing person report through your local police department. A private investigator can assist by scouring social media sites for clues, as well as checking financial transactions.


Public appeals and community search efforts are also important. Examining personal belongings can give investigators insight into their habits and lifestyle prior to the disappearance. Other investigative tools include digital forensics, GPS and surveillance technology.

1. Identifying the Person

If a person is reported missing, law enforcement agencies will immediately begin to investigate the case. They will assess the level of risk and this will determine the priority given to finding the missing person.

It is also important to reach out to family and friends of the missing person to see if they know where they are or when they were last seen. If possible, this should be done as soon as the disappearance occurs. This can provide clues and help narrow the search area.

In addition to reaching out to the missing person’s network, it is worth scouring the local community for information. You can start by posting flyers along paths that the missing person is known to travel like routes between home, school, work and grocery stores.

It can also be useful to check with local schools, hospitals and jails in the area as they may have records of individuals who disappear. Often these records are public and can be accessed via the internet.

When searching for disappeared people, journalists should be aware that the process can be distressing and stressful, especially if they are investigating cases of enforced disappearance or working with victims who have experienced physical or psychological torture. Therefore, it is essential to establish a support network that can include colleagues and a therapist.

2. Identifying the Cause

People can disappear for a variety of reasons. If it’s a case of suspected foul play, police will open up a missing persons investigation. Others, particularly those over the age of 18, may voluntarily run away or start a new life without telling anyone. If they haven’t contacted their family and friends in a while, they might be hiding out and trying to stay off the radar.

Some of the most difficult cases to investigate involve enforced disappearances. These are when governments or their agents take a person and keep them hidden for some time, perhaps because they have committed a crime or have been targeted for being a political activist. The people responsible may try to create distance from their actions by obstructing justice or avoiding detection.

When a person goes missing, it has profound impacts on their loved ones and the communities in which they live. Family members can experience emotional stress, guilt and self-blame, especially if foul play is suspected. They may also suffer from financial strain as they struggle to continue the search for their relative or find alternative sources of income.

Missing people are a global problem that requires international cooperation and robust legal frameworks. Many international organizations, such as the Red Cross, work with families of disappeared individuals to reconnect them, provide psychological support and push for national and international policy changes that can help prevent disappearances.

3. Identifying the Suspects

In many cases people hire private investigators to locate family members who voluntarily disappeared or have been missing for a long time. This can be done for a number of reasons including stalkers, abusers or people with criminal intent to harm the person.

The police and other law enforcement agencies often don’t have the resources or will to investigate these cases and they are reprioritised in favour of identified crimes. This can cause a case to go cold and the investigation to lose momentum. A PI can help by conducting a thorough search and interviewing the right witnesses to gather information.

An important part of this work involves identifying all avenues of enquiry and eliminating any alibis. This can include establishing timelines, forensic analysis and behaviour patterns. Investigators must also invalidate the notion that a victim has voluntarily disappeared. This can be a deliberate strategy used by offenders to create distance from their crime and obstruct justice.

This process can involve making public appeals through local media, social media and community notice boards. It can also involve arranging interviews with people who know the victim to gather as much information as possible about their whereabouts. These lines of enquiries can be extensive and include a wide range of electronic footprints such as phone records, diary entries, internet searches and literature the victim has read.

4. Identifying the Evidence

The investigation of disappearances is a complex task and often involves working on highly emotional cases. Whether it is searching in mass graves, or interviewing victims who survived physical and psychological torture, these investigations can be very traumatic for investigators. The best way to deal with this level of stress is to have a good support network, including a therapist.

Identifying the evidence is one of the most important stages of missing persons investigations. The key source of information will be people who knew the missing person well. Interviewing relatives, friends and neighbours and visiting their homes can help to find clues about where the missing person might be. Diaries, online histories and books that they have read can also provide useful insights into their interests and activities prior to disappearing.

Police departments can also use technology to locate missing persons, such as getting search warrants to go through a person’s cell phone records, social media accounts and other online activity. They can also use drones and satellite surveillance equipment to track the movements of a person.

In addition to police agencies, NGOs and other organizations also work on missing persons investigations around the world. Some examples include the International Organization for Migration, which addresses the issue of migrant workers who disappear and has an office in Geneva, and the United Nations’ Enforced Disappearance Convention.