After four months, authorities have little evidence in Lindsey Baum case

October 31, 2009 

  • What are the chances of finding a missing child?

    There are about 58,000 “non-family” child abductions in the U.S. every year, according to Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

    About 90 percent of those children are returned alive after about 24 hours, usually after being sexually victimized, he said.

    Of those children abducted annually that aren’t returned in about 24 hours, only about one-third are killed, Allen said. Two-thirds are returned alive, he said.

    Allen said there’s a misperception that children believed to have been abducted who are missing for extended periods of time aren’t ever found alive, “and that’s just not true.”

    There is real hope that Lindsey's still alive, he added. “It’s important to realize that just because it’s been four months, that doesn’t mean there’s not hope Lindsey’s out there,” he said.

    High-profile missing-children cases that have ended with the child being found alive include that of Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002 and found alive nine months later, and JC Dugard, abducted when she was 11 and found 18 years later in Antioch, Calif., earlier this year.

    There are 100 to 120 abductions of the category Lindsey’s most likely falls under, involving children believed to have been taken, held for ransom, kept for an extended period or killed, Allen said.

    The Center for Missing & Exploited Children helped get the word out about Lindsey’s disappearance early on, Allen said, and has more than 400 private-sector photo partners helping distribute her picture nationwide. For example, every Wal-Mart in the nation has Lindsey’s photo on its public bulletin-board, he said.

    The key to finding Lindsey is persuading someone to come forward with information, Allen said.

    “We firmly believe that someone knows where Lindsey is,” he said.

    Jeremy Pawloski, The Olympian
  • HOW TO HELP A $10,000 reward has been offered for information that leads to finding Lindsey Baum. Anyone with information may call a tip line at the Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Office at 866-915-8299.

MCCLEARY - Police Chief George Crumb said he used to look out his office window from the police station on Summit Road and see Lindsey Baum walking with her regular group of friends.

“She was pretty much a daily fixture of the area,” Crumb said of Lindsey, who was 10 when she went missing not two blocks from the police station as she walked to her home from a friend’s June 26. “She seemed to be, you could even say, the leader of the little group.”

Before she disappeared, Crumb thought nothing of noticing Lindsey - in this small town of about 1,500, all the locals know the neighborhood children by name.

“It wasn’t unusual to see her along with everything else,” Crumb said.

As summer has turned to fall, more than four months have passed with no sign of what happened to Lindsey. Residents say the girl’s absence, and the fear of what might have happened to her, have the entire town hurting.

“I totally think it’s affected the whole town,” Diana Hasbrouck, co-owner of Rain Country Restaurant, said between serving customers Wednesday, standing with a half-full pot of coffee in one hand. “See the streets right now?” she added, gesturing toward the empty sidewalks outside the restaurant. “That’s the way it’s been all summer.”

McCleary no longer is a town where people leave their doors unlocked, said Willa Smith-Creamer, a cook at the restaurant.

“People are more apt to keep their kids inside now,” said Smith-Creamer, 33, a lifelong McCleary resident. “I used to leave my doors unlocked all the time, and now I don’t.”

The weekend of Lindsey’s disappearance, the McCleary Police Department’s four-officer force gave way to detectives with the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office who are now in charge of the investigation, supplemented by FBI agents from Seattle.

The investigation has been thwarted at every turn by a lack of physical evidence and no clues about how Lindsey disappeared.

Lindsey vanished after leaving a friend’s home on Maple Street by herself shortly before 9:15 p.m. to make the half-mile walk across town to the home she shared with her mother, Melissa, and 12-year-old brother, Josh, on Mommsen Road.

The last confirmed sighting of Lindsey was about 9:15 p.m., when a resident driving through town saw her walking on Maple Street between Fifth and Sixth streets – about the halfway point of her journey home.

At first, investigators explored the possibility that Lindsey had run away from home or that she might have been hiding in the woods after a dispute with her brother over a bicycle. That possibility soon was ruled out.

“Certainly, someone facilitated her disappearance,” Grays Harbor County Undersheriff Rick Scott said during an interview in his office in Montesano, about 18 miles west of McCleary. “We believe that she was taken. We believe her to be the victim of foul play.”

MANY TIPS, FEW CLUES

Scott said investigators have slogged through thousands of leads and tips. There have been eight to 12 “persons of interest” at various points during the investigation, but none panned out, he said.

And the tips keep coming. Chief Crumb stood in the reception area at the McCleary police station Wednesday. He was the only one there to answer the phone, and he jotted down information from a tipster as he cradled the phone between his shoulder and head.

“Well, there’s been no suspects; there’s been people of interest,” he told the caller.

Crumb said any tip the department gets about Lindsey’s disappearance is forwarded immediately to Grays Harbor County Detective Polly Davin, who is assigned full time to the case.

Tips come in all the time, Crumb said, but many are vague or of little to no evidentiary value. For example, Crumb said, someone walking in the woods notified police after discovering a shoe, thinking it might have been Lindsey’s. It turned out to be the wrong size and appeared to have “been out there forever,” Crumb said.

AMATEUR SLEUTHS

Crumb and Scott said the case has drawn a number of amateur sleuths who haven’t necessarily been helpful. Crumb said that over the summer, someone went to the McCleary assessor’s office, got the names and addresses of everyone who lives on Maple Street, and posted that information on a message board devoted to Lindsey’s case, leaving the impression that any of those residents could have been responsible.

Crumb said that although posting such information online is legal, “it’s inappropriate.”

“I wish they’d tone that down,” he added.

Scott said some who have posted information about Lindsey’s case on the Internet have created “suspects du jour” who have had “nothing to do with anything,” he said.

“I think there’s a fine line between wanting to help and being irresponsible, and some people have crossed that line in making speculations and opinions that become accusatory.”

Calls also have come from residents who suggest someone they know could be responsible, Crumb said. Many of these calls seem to have more to do with an individual’s personal issues with someone than evidence connected to Lindsey’s disappearance, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of calls like that, unfortunately,” he said.

Crumb recalls that when he moved to McCleary in 1994 to take the police chief job, his daughter would ride her bike around town when she was about Lindsey’s age.

“We don’t have as many kids walking around as in the past. It’s on everybody’s mind,” he said.

Things won’t get back to normal in McCleary until the case is solved, Crumb said. But he fears it might remain unsolved until after he retires.

“It’s not going to go away,” he said.

MASSIVE SEARCH

In July and August, law enforcement officers and volunteers “tipped McCleary upside down” in a massive search for Lindsey, Scott said. The search included helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft from the State Patrol and search-and rescue-dogs from throughout the Puget Sound area, he said.

“I would find it hard to believe that you could find a piece of ground in McCleary that didn’t have one of their footprints,” Scott said.

Detective Davin said that during the first few weeks of the investigation, between 40 and 50 law enforcement officers were working on the case, including FBI agents.

Police spoke to every resident and searched inside and outside more than 150 homes on or near Maple Street, Scott said.

Detectives have reviewed records of people who used credit cards at downtown businesses during the period in which investigators think Lindsey disappeared, such as the Shell Station on Summit Road, Scott said. They even got a list of cell phones whose signals bounced off McCleary’s lone cell phone tower the evening of June 26, he said.

Linda Cunningham, the owner of McCleary Video on Simpson Avenue, said FBI agents have interviewed her three times about Lindsey’s visit to the store with friends an hour or so before she disappeared.

“They (investigators) talked to everybody in town,” she said. “They looked through everybody’s house at least twice.”

Cunningham said her store used to be filled with children renting DVDs and video games after school. However, “as soon as Lindsey got kidnapped, parents stopped letting their kids go around,” she said. “It’s hurting businesses, too. I don’t blame the parents.”

Cunningham added, “I feel so bad, but there are times I just want it to end. I like to think she will just come home. We just want her to come home and try to be a normal town again.”

HOLDING OUT HOPE

Lindsey’s mother, Melissa, answered the door with a cough at her Mommsen Road home Wednesday. Her son, Josh, a seventh-grader at McCleary Elementary School, was home sick with the flu. Lindsey’s German shepherd, Kadence, poked her nose through the door and Melissa Baum came outside for an interview.

She is steadfast in her belief that Lindsey is alive and will be returned home safe.

“I know my daughter’s going to be found,” she said. “I’m frustrated. It’s been four months and two days.”

Everyone in McCleary who has ever come across Lindsey – Chief Crumb, Cunningham, Kara Kampen (whose Maple Street home Lindsey was visiting June 26 to play with her friend Michaela) describe Lindsey as sharp, precocious for her age and talkative.

Lindsey had left her cell phone charging at home the evening she went missing.

When police viewed Lindsey’s MySpace page after her disappearance, they learned only that she had an affinity for the popular movie “Twilight,” a story of vampires set in Forks. A forensic search of her computer showed she had had no Internet communications with anyone whom she might have met without telling her mother, police said.

Melissa Baum said she’s sure whoever took Lindsey knew her, saying her daughter is too smart to get into a stranger’s car. If someone tried to hurt her, she’d fight back, Melissa Baum added.

Police did not issue an Amber Alert after Melissa reported her daughter missing at 10:50 p.m.; Melissa Baum says they should have done so. But Crumb and Scott have said that police do not have authority to issue an Amber Alert unless they know a child has been taken and they have concrete information to issue to the public – such as a car or suspect description – that can aid in a child’s recovery.

“We didn’t have that,” Scott said.

There is talk among law enforcement officers in Washington of changing the requirements for Amber Alerts so they can be issued in cases such as Lindsey’s, Scott said.

“I don’t disagree with Melissa that there’s some frustration in the whole Amber Alert thing,” he said.

Crumb noted that the vast majority of missing-child cases involve simple misunderstandings – a child forgot to tell a parent about sleeping over at a friend’s or left home after a dispute.

Melissa Baum said it’s difficult to see Lindsey’s old playmates around town. Lindsey’s dog Kadence only recently began gaining weight after refusing to eat anything for two weeks after Lindsey disappeared, she added.

Melissa Baum said yellow police tape blocks her family from entering Lindsey’s room because investigators want to preserve her scent for search dogs, which already have scoured the wooded areas around McCleary. Scott added that investigators want to keep Lindsey’s room untouched because there might be items in Lindsey’s room that later will become evidence, or that can be used to collect a DNA sample belonging to Lindsey.

“My life is standing still,” Melissa Baum said. “Everything’s off. It’s changed our whole life.”

WEEKLY SEARCHES

Melissa Baum now is in charge of the volunteer searches in and around McCleary every weekend. Searchers took Halloween weekend off; three weekends ago, the search team included more than 70 soldiers from Fort Lewis who scoured the wooded areas around McCleary, she said.

Crumb said that even though the searches have covered a lot of ground, the vastness of the forests and swampland around McCleary makes it impossible to say definitively that searchers have checked every place where Lindsey could be.

McCleary’s location near several highways increases the number of locations where an abductor could have taken her, Scott said. The roads out of McCleary include state Route 8, which leads to U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 5; and state Route 108, which leads past Little Creek Casino toward Shelton.

Melissa Baum said she knows investigators are doing all they can but is frustrated by the lack of progress.

“I just feel like it’s taking too long,” she said. “I don’t know what I expect them to do that they’re not doing.”

Melissa Baum said she had a run-in in July with the most publicized of the “persons of interest” in Lindsey’s disappearance, a man in his early 20s who worked at a retirement home on the street where Lindsey last was seen.

Melissa Baum said the man followed her in a vehicle as she drove on Maple Street. She called police, and officers pulled the car over, court papers state.

The man said he thought Melissa Baum’s car was suspicious, “so he followed it around, thinking it might be connected with Baum’s disappearance,” the search warrant affidavit states.

Melissa Baum said of the episode, “I don’t trust anybody anymore.”

Scott said enough residents had notified police of the man’s odd behavior to spur investigators to obtain a search warrant for his and his family’s properties in McCleary on Oct. 2.

According to the search warrant affidavit, the man told conflicting stories about his whereabouts the night of Lindsey’s disappearance. He first told police he was working at the retirement home, but his former supervisor there said he was suspended the night of June 26.

He was a suspect in an attempted rape of a child in McCleary in 2000, the affidavit states, and he told a friend after Lindsey’s disappearance that “he could not believe that a girl had been taken and cut up and dismembered.” The friend told police that he “was obsessively talking about Baum and what had happened to her; specifically, that he believed she had been kidnapped and murdered.”

Nothing of evidentiary value was found during the search, although Scott is reluctant to say that the man – or anyone else – has been cleared in Lindsey’s disappearance. A Seattle TV station’s helicopter taped the police search of the property and aired it on local newscasts, but Scott said the man is only one of the eight to 12 people who have been investigated as “persons of interest” at one time or another during the investigation.

“I’m reluctant to say that anybody is 100 percent cleared because I don’t have any evidence,” Scott said.

The man whose property was searched has said his family will sue the sheriff’s office.

FALSE SIGHTINGS

Law enforcement officers also have had to contend with false sightings of Lindsey, Scott said. Early in the investigation, one of Melissa Baum’s family members called to report that she thought Lindsey was in the back of a car headed west on state Route 8, he said.

Police assumed it was a legitimate sighting because it was reported by someone who knows what Lindsey looks like, he said.

“Multiple units from multiple agencies set up to converge on the vehicle,” Scott said. “I’ve got guys doing 100 miles per hour, setting up to intercept this car.”

It turned out that the woman didn’t actually see Lindsey; she had information from a psychic that Lindsey was in the back of a car that looked like a vehicle she later spotted on the highway, he said.

Scott said the example illustrates not only the family’s desperate search, but also how police have to respond rapidly to every tip, because they never know which one will be the break that leads to finding Lindsey.

National media attention focused on Lindsey’s disappearance has helped get her picture out across the country, Scott said. Her disappearance has been covered by three national news networks, as well as “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “America’s Most Wanted” and “Nancy Grace,” he said.

However, national attention also has led “to false sightings all over,” Scott said.

“It’s problematic because you take a lot of resources to deal with that,” he said.

Lindsey last was seen wearing a blue, hooded, long-sleeve shirt, blue jeans, black shoes and a mismatched bikini-style swimsuit, court records state.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465

jpawloski@theolympian.com

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