I guess I have to admit that I have been drawn in by the Washington Post’s series on the 2001 disappearance/death of Chandra Levy. I’ve been reading each installment as they are published. It’s likeI can’t help it. Before Natalie Holloway, before Elizabeth Smart, before Kristin Smart, before Laci Peterson, before Laurie Hacking, before the Runaway Bride, there was — at least here in D.C. (I don’t know how the story played elsewhere)— there was Chandra Levy.
White Woman in Trouble!
A pretty high school student, knowing the killer is close to breaking through her bedroom door, calls 911 on her PC. Her eyes wide and her heart pounding, she types in her message: “White woman in trouble!” In an instant, her suburban driveway is crowded with cruisers, sirens shrieking and lights flashing, and her wouldabeen slayer is beating a hasty retreat.
And Eugene Robinson has the best working definition.
Someday historians will look back at America in the decade bracketing the turn of the 21st century and identify the era’s major themes: Religious fundamentalism. Terrorism. War in Iraq. Economic dislocation. Bioengineering. Information technology. Nuclear proliferation. Globalization. The rise of superpower China.
And, of course, Damsels in Distress.
But of course the damsels have much in common besides being female. You probably have some idea of where I’m headed here.
A damsel must be white. This requirement is nonnegotiable. It helps if her frame is of dimensions that breathless cable television reporters can credibly describe as “petite,” and it also helps if she’s the kind of woman who wouldn’t really mind being called “petite,” a woman with a good deal of princess in her personality. She must be attractive — also nonnegotiable. Her economic status should be middle class or higher, but an exception can be made in the case of wartime (see: Lynch).
Put all this together, and you get 24-7 coverage. The disappearance of a man, or of a woman of color, can generate a brief flurry, but never the full damsel treatment. Since the Holloway story broke we’ve had more news reports from Aruba this past week, I’d wager, than in the preceding 10 years.
The damsel— the “White Woman in Trouble” — thanks to the Post, is back.
Between May 2001 and September 2001, if you lived in D.C., you either heard about the case or maybe your life even intersected with the case somehow. In our case, We were both members of the Washington Sport Club where she worked out. (No, I don’t recall ever seeing her there.) Later, when we were going through the adoption process, we were required to get copies of our police records. (Or in our case, document that we didn’t have police records.) On that day, it just happened that there was another press conference related to the Levy case.
It just happened that the hubby drove through Rock Creek Park on his way to and from work back then. And he was on his way home the evening Levy’s remains were found. His route took him right by the location where her remains were found. He told me afterwards the area was covered with police and the road was blocked off. In fact, a policeman stopped him and asked him how he got that far in the first place. Evidently, he was that close to the spot where her remains were found, and the police were still investigating the area and getting a handle on things. They didn’t want anyone going in or out of the scene. But since they’d somehow let him in, they let him drive through and come home.
I wasn’t going to write about the Levy case, but the more I thought about it, the more I remembered the other cases above, how much attention they got, and how much attention cases like Tameka Houston and Latoyia Figueroa didn’t get. And then I read this comment on the “Reporter’s Notebook” blog related to WaPo’s Levy series.
I am hoping that the WaPo can run a sidebar during this series mentioning other women missing from the area.
Dawn Holt, missing from Waldorf since 1996
Tiffany Goines, missing from Frederick since 1987
Christine Jarrett, missing from Elkridge since 1991
Elda Vazquez, missing from Columbia since January
Zita Gutierrez, missing from Rockville since 1980
Felicia Aiemsakul, missing from Gaithersburg since 2002
April Jacobwitz, missing from Germantown since 2002
Cynthia Braga, missing from Wheaton since 2003
Kim Mileo, missing from Croom since 1983 (last article the Post wrote on this case was in 1984)
Leanne Faulk, missing from Hyattsville since 1985
Marilyn Chamberlain, missing from Landover since 1998
Winifred Matronia, missing from Laurel since 2002
I haven’t seen any such sidebar from the post, but by the third installment in the Levy series, I began to wonder what other missing persons cases happened in the metro D.C. area at or since Levy’s disappearance, but didn’t get the same amount of attention. I was considering writing a post about some of those cases, so I started doing some research. I ended up at site for America’s Most Wanted, and checked out their section on missing persons. I did a regional search for the mid-Atlantic region, then focused on D.C. According to AMW there’s only one missing persons case in D.C.
So (even though they do have Houston’s and Figueroa’s cases on the site) I decided to write my post as a kind of “sidebar.” It’s difficult, because many of these cases received nowhere near the coverage of the Levy case. So, there’s very little to research, and it’s hard to find more than the basic details of each case. (An investigative reporter could possibly track down family members and friends of the missing, and gather more details. But I don’t have the time or resources to do that.) So, most of it is just summarizing the cases and posting pictures.
Perhaps the one exception is the case of Joyce Chiang.
On the evening of January 9, 1999, Joyce Chiang walked into the Starbucks at Connecticut Avenue and R Street, NW, to get a cup of tea. She lived only four blocks away but she never made it home.
Twenty-eight year old Chiang was a lawyer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Her work identification was found by joggers the day after her disappearance at Anacostia Park. Her torn jacket and other personal effects were found by FBI agents days later in the same spot. Eight miles away and three months later, a canoeist found her body in the Potomac River. The autopsy revealed no clues as to how Joyce Chiang had died.
JC Young, the DC Police detective investigating Joyce Chiang’s case, says that her death has not been ruled a suicide. In fact, the cause of death remains undetermined.
But when detective Young is asked if she had been a relative of his and he looked at the evidence, would he believe it was murder? Young answered, “Yes, I would.”
Though not nearly as widely covered as the Levy case, Chiang’s disappearance, death, and the discovery of her body were a big story in D.C. More than a few people believe there is some connection between Chiang’s case and Levy’s, but one one knows for sure what happened to either young woman or what person or persons are responsible for their deaths. Their murders (though suicide was tossed about as possibility in both cases, it seems pretty much assumed — clearly in the Levy case, and most likely in Chiang’s case — that both met with foul play.
Their murders have been connected, by some, to that of Christine Mirzayan.
Some have compared the Levy case to that of Joyce Chiang, a 28-year-old who went missing in April of 1999. The government attorney’s body was found floating in the Potomac River in Virginia three months later, and police were never able to close the case.
Chiang was last seen headed towards the Dupont Circle Starbucks, not far from Levy’s apartment. Police said her body was too decomposed to determine the cause of death, so she may or may not have been murdered.
Almost a year earlier, in August 1998, the body of Christine Mirzayan was found beaten to death in the Georgetown section of D.C. That case, too, was never solved. Mirzayan, a respected biologist, was walking home alone from a barbecue to her dormitory at Georgetown University. Her body had been found on Canal Street.
But, these three women are no longer missing. We know what happened to them; or at least we know with as much certainty as is possible (since it’s likely that none of the three cases will be solved unless some person or persons come forward with believable confessions, that can either be confirmed by the amount of detail or corroborated by other parties) that they were killed, even if we don’t know who killed them and how, or where, or why. At the very least, the have been located, and their remains returned to their families. Undoubtedly, there can hardly be “closure” (if there is such a thing) without knowing what happened to their children, and how, and why, and who was responsible. But at last they know where their loved ones are.
Someone else is still missing. (Not to diminish, of course, the pain of the Levy family over her unsolved murder.) And here are some who went missing before, around the same time, or have gone missing since Chandra Levy disappeared.
These are from the list in the comment above:
Dawn Holt disappeared on April 25, 1996. Her last contact to anyone was from a Howard Johnson motel in Waldorf, MD. She was last seen at the hotel, and then disappeared. When she did not return home, a missing persons complaint was filed. Foul play is suspected. Anyone with information about this case should call the Maryland Center for Missing Children (Holt was under 21 when she disappeared), at 1-800-MDS-KIDS (1-800-6375437).
Tiffany Goines was 12 years old when she disappeared on December 5, 1987. She lived at John Hanson Apartments in Frederick, MD. She left home that morning to run errands for neighbors, and did not return home by dinner time, at 5:00 p.m. She was last seen getting into a red convertible. Her mother began searching the neighborhood at 9:00 p.m. Goines mother remained in the area after the John Hanson Apartments were demolished. She believes her daughter was abducted. Authorities have not received new leads in Goines case for some time, and her disappearance remains unsolved. Anyone with information about this case should call the Frederick police department, at 301-624-1227 or 301-694-2100.
Zita Cecilia Gutierrez was 24 years old when she went missing on August 22, 1980, from Montgomery County, MD, where she was last seen leaving the Kentwood Country Club. Known at Cecilia, Gutierrez was a native of Ecuador, and had been in the United States for five years. She was a student at Montgomery College in Rockville, and held down two jobs to pay for her education: one at the National Institutes of Health and another as a cocktail waitress at Kentwood. She left work after her shift at the country club, to meet her fiance and some friends at a nightclub and was not seen again. The following day, her car was found in a parking lot near a bus stop at NIH. No evidence of a struggle was found. Anyone with information concerning this case should call the Montgomery County Police at (240) 773-5030.
Elda Vazquez just went missing this year. She was last seen on January 23, 2008, around 10:30 p.m. leaving her job at Eggspecatation restaurant in Ellicot City, on University Blvd. Authorities believe she was dropped off near her home in the 8700 block of Tamar Drive. It took her roomate a week to reporter her as missing. She didn’t tell anyone she was going anywhere, and didn’t take any belongings. The Post has spent, by it’s own admission, a year researching the Levy case seven years after her remains were found. Near as I can tell, they’ve dedicated about this much space (and time) to Elda Vazquez’s disappearance.
Foul Play Suspected in Woman’s Disappearance
A 28-year-old Columbia woman who disappeared last week might have been the victim of foul play, Howard County police said yesterday, and authorities are seeking the public’s help.
Elda Vazquez was seen getting into a cab about 10:30 p.m. Jan. 22, in a parking lot outside an Ellicott City restaurant, police said in a statement. Police said detectives think that Vazquez got out of the cab at her home in the 8700 block of Tamar Drive, but her roommates told police she did not come home that night.
Local news has covered her disappearance at least once.
Anyone who has information concerning this case should contact the Howard County Police Department at 410-313-2200.
Ganignunt “Felicia” Aiemsakul disappeared on March 4, 2002. She was enrolled at Montgomery Community College in Rockville, MD, and worked at a Red Lobster restaurant. She was last seen at about 2:00 a.m. that morning, walking home from her boyfriend’s home on the 8200 block of Goodhurst Dr., in Gaithersburg, MD, after they’d had an argument. Since then, family and friends have not hear from her. Police interviews with her friends, an extensive search of her boyfriend’s home using search and rescue dogs, and helicopters have yielded no information about her fate or whereabouts. Aiemsakul’s parents believe her boyfriend was involved in her disappearance. Her cell phone and credit cards have not been used since March 3, 2002. Her case remains unsolved. Anyone who has information this case should contact Montgomery County Police Department 301-840-2419.
April Jacobowitz disappeared on May 13, 2003. At the time of her disappearance she lived in Germantown, MD, but had moved from that area in late 2002. Jacobowitz was estranged from her family, but kept in touch with her two children, who lived with her parents. She was reported missign on March 13, 2003, after missing one of her children’s birthday parties; something her family said was unusual for her. Anyone who has information concerning this case should contact the 5th District Investigative Section of the Montgomery County Police Department at 301-840-2347.
Cynthia Ribeiro Braga went missing on June 30, 2003. Braga lived on the 10700 block of Georgia Ave., in Wheaton, MD. Her last known contact with anyone was a phone call to her father in Brazil on the day she disappeared, something she did every day. Her adult daughter, who lives in the Wheaton area has not hear from her since her disappearance. In 2005, police learned that her husband, Robert Ferreria Braga, had assaulted his girlfriend, held a knife to her throat, and told her that no one would ever find her body. Police now have reason to believe he may have been involved in his wife’s disappearance. Anyone with information concerning this case should call the Montgomery County Police at 301-279-8000.
Kimberly Mileo was last seen at 11:00 p.m. on June 8, 1983, departing from a friend’s residence in Croom, MD. She’d spent the day with her boyfriend and another friend’s family. Mileo and her boyfriend argued throughout the day, before departing for his parents house. Mileo’s family grew concerned when she did not return to their home the following morning. Mileo’s boyfriend she left his home around 2:30 a.m. on the 9th. He’d been awakened by broken muffler on her vehicle as she departed. Her vehicle was later found by her boyfriend, 10 miles from his house, on the 11th, locked, abandoned, and facing in the opposite directions of Mileo’s parents home. A friend of Mileo’s boyfriend said he’d seen the car there, abandoned at 3:15 a.m. on the 9th. There were no signs of struggle, and the undamaged car contained Mileo’s purse, one of her sandals, and a single rose her boyfriend had given her. Mileo disappeared without taking her personal belongings, and leaving her bank accounts untouched. Anyone with information related to this case should call the Prince George’s County Police Department at 301-772-4925.
Leanne Faulk, of Hyattsville, MD disappeared on November 17, 1985. She was last seen the day before, somewhere in Oxon Hill, MD. It’s believed she went to visit her boyfriend’s family, to retrieve some money, accompanied by an unknown man later said to be an African American man named “J.J.” or “Jay.” Her apartment showed no signs of forced entry, and all of her belongings — including her purse — were left behind. The case is being investigated as a homicide. Anyone with information concerning this case should contact the Prince George’s County Police at 301-240-7562.
Marilyn Chamberlain, a former federal employee, was last seen on November 2, 1998, at the corner of 7th and D Streets SW, in Washington, DC and the L’Enfant Plaza metro station. She was headed for Pentagon City, VA, on her way to the Federal Credit Union at the Pentagon. She is known to have conducted a transaction at the credit union, and also paid a bill at Sears. She may have been seen later the same day riding the Metro in Landover, MD. Anyone with information concerning this case should call the Prince George’s County Police Department at 301-699-2601.
Winifred Joan Matronia, a retired C&P telephone employee, was last seen in Laurel, MD on January 1, 2002. She wasn’t reported missing until August of that year, by an aunt who had grown concerned after not hearing from her niece for seven months. Police arrived at her apartment, to find all of her belongings still there. Her rent had gone unpaid for seven months, and her bank accounts were untouched. Police did find several men’s t-shirts believed to belong to a man she had been seeing. She is believed to be in the Caribbean or Florida. Anyone with information concerning this case should call the Laurel Police Department at 301-498-0092.
Of course, these are not all the missing persons in the Metro D.C. area. But as long as the Post continues its series, I may continue spotlighting some of those other cases here.