Monday, October 3, 2011

The Heartbreak of Missing Persons

by Julia Buckley

In mysteries, a missing person can make a plot incredibly compelling. We want to know what happened to that person--did they disappear intentionally? Did they have an accident? Or did they meet with foul play? In a crime novel, the answer is usually foul play, and we devote hours and hours of reading to getting that satisfying conclusion. The missing person is, as a rule, either returned to his or her loved ones or determined to be dead. We readers have answers, and we have closure.

But if you visit the FBI website devoted to kidnappings and missing persons, you will see an endless array of faces, the majority of them belonging to women and children. Some of these missing people have been gone for decades; some have only recently disappeared. All are reminders that, while fictional mysteries can be satisfying for the very reason that we are guaranteed an answer, real-life mysteries are devastating because we are not.

The faces of the children are particularly heartbreaking. One little boy, who was taken from the yard in front of his grandmother's house, is developmentally disabled, and does not speak. Another little girl may have been taken by her own father, who had no rights to her and against whom her mother had a full restraining order. And I still recall seeing the case of two little girls on the news--Diamond and Tionda Bradley--who disappeared from their Chicago neighbourhood while supposedly on their way to the park. The girls' story received extensive media coverage ten years ago, and they have not been seen since. Tionda was ten; Diamond was three.

Another picture links to the story of the latest young woman to disappear in Aruba. Robin Lynn Gardner disappeared from the idyllic coastline in August. There has been no sign of her since then.

Real mysteries are not satisfying, and I cannot imagine being the family member of someone who is missing. How do they find the strength to endure their own suffering, as well as the imagined suffering of their loved ones?


Diane said...

It is a scary scenario that breaks hearts and sometimes families. Particularly when it is a child who has disappeared.

In 2007 Sandra Parshall's first published mystery involved just this issue. Except it was the abductee (or one of them) who figured it out. And about a year ago there was the young woman in the news who had figured out that she had been abducted as a baby.

Sadly they don't always fit back in with their original families. The people who do this are monsters, no matter what they give as their reason.

Diane said...

By the way, Sandra's book is 'The Heat of the Moon'. And my 11 year old granddaughter just finished reading it. She liked it so much that she leant it to a friend last weekend. Beats vampires 7 werewolves, etc, and keeps them on the lookout for bad people.

Anonymous said...

Diane, I've read Sandra's book, and I agree it is excellent. It's interesting that you mention it from the point of view of the abducted--I guess I always focus on those left behind.

Julia Buckley said...

Sorry, that comment was mine, but I forgot to sign in. :)

WS Gager said...

Many times ideas for books are drawn from real life experiences. I don't think as writers, we can ever truly get the horror and angst that parents and loved ones go through. Wish I could wave a magic wand and find all the lost children and return them home. I feel a strange affinity for Walt Disney.
W.S. Gager on Writing

Julia Buckley said...

I know what you mean, Wendy. By the way, another great book about a lost child is John Harvey's FAR CRY (not to mention Elizabeth George's FINDING JOSEPH).

Some really powerful reading there.