Still Missing: The Investigation

For the IDS’s coverage of the one year anniversary of a missing IU student’s disappearance, I worked with another reporter to provide one-year updates on the community, the family and the investigation.

I wrote about the official search for Lauren Spierer, which grew to include the Bloomington Police Department, the FBI, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Team Adam, the State Police, the IU police, the Sheriff’s Office, Texas EquuSearch and thousands of volunteers — all of whom have still not found the missing young woman.

The Investigation

Police learned of Lauren Spierer’s disappearance about 12 hours after she was last seen.

Her boyfriend, Jesse Wolff, reported her missing at 4:30 p.m. June 3, 2011. He hadn’t seen her all day, he said, and she had been out with friends the night before.

Bloomington police began canvassing the area where she was last spotted, a handful of blocks between the intersection of 11th Street and College Avenue and her apartment at Smallwood Plaza. The part of town was a maze of construction at the time — sites of what are now completed, high-priced apartment buildings. Officers talked to witnesses, checked area hospitals, viewed surveillance photos and video.

The next day, Lauren’s parents, Robert and Charlene, came to Bloomington and filed their own missing person report. Police met with them, and the Spierers began to search, too, eventually recruiting thousands of volunteers. Police remained tight-lipped to the media, the public and even the Spierers about what details they knew, if any.

On June 7, Lt. Bill Parker of the Bloomington Police Department stood in front of a crowd of reporters, cameramen and concerned — or at least curious — citizens.

Press conferences are not a common occurrence at the BPD headquarters. Media are usually dealt with through small daily meetings between a sergeant and one or two reporters. This was different.

Parker said officers and volunteers continued to look for Lauren but were limiting the search to the area for now.

“Unless we get a credible lead, we will not look in other counties,” Parker said before releasing a few details of what has now become common knowledge to the thousands searching for Lauren.

Someone had allegedly last seen Lauren at 4:30 a.m. June 3, he said. Lauren had left her cell phone and shoes at Kilroy’s Sports Bar after hanging out in the bar’s manufactured beach area. Police had recovered her purse and keys along the path between a friend’s apartment and her own. There were no suspects, but there were persons of interest.

That night, Bloomington police used battering rams to bust through the doors of Smallwood Plaza’s security and mail rooms. A crowd gathered around the building as police guarded the entrance. Inside, officers snapped photographs of both rooms before carting out three computer towers and four CD cases.

At a press conference the next day, Parker explained that police had tried to serve a search warrant to obtain the building’s security footage.

“At some point when we were trying to serve that search warrant, we were denied access,” Parker said.

Smallwood Plaza representative Chad Mertz said there simply was not an on-site staff member with a key to the rooms when police issued the warrant.

“We needed to obtain video footage,” Parker said. “We need to have it ourselves in evidence form.”

The security footage wasn’t the only evidence police were working to properly catalogue that week. Unknown to the public at the time, Bloomington police had searched the Dumpsters in the area of 11th Street and College Avenue immediately after Lauren was reported missing. Then, police determined that all Bloomington waste is sent to Sycamore Ride Landfill in Pimento, Ind., near Terre Haute.

Police had the area in the landfill designated for Bloomington waste sectioned off and secured, preventing any further waste from being dumped there. Then they began trying to work out the logistics of the search: the plan for providing food and water, how many personnel would be needed and what agencies would be involved.

And there were plenty of agencies to choose from. As the search grew and the publicity intensified, Bloomington police received help from the FBI, Team Adam of the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, the Indiana State Police and renowned horseback search group Texas EquuSearch. The department had already worked with the Indiana University Police Department and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

In addition, a private investigative firm led by former New York City Police Department detective and media personality Bo Dietl met with Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff, hoping to “partner” with the department, though Diekhoff was not receptive to the idea.

“It was evident from the discussion that at least part of their intention was to harass certain individuals,” Diekhoff said. “Obviously, that is not something that our department can sanction.”

The search continued that summer, as did the press conferences — more than a dozen of them in total. Lakes were searched. The driver of a white pickup truck seen on surveillance footage was sought but later ruled out. A segment on “America’s Most Wanted” generated 40 tips. Names of the persons of interest were published in Lauren’s hometown newspaper.

Soon, the story of Lauren’s last night out was public knowledge.

Lauren left her apartment at Smallwood Plaza and met friends at Kilroy’s Sports Bar. She briefly returned to Smallwood with another IU student, Corey Rossman. A physical altercation reportedly occurred with some of the complex’s residents, and the pair left.

Lauren and Rossman then allegedly went to Rossman’s friend’s apartment at 11th Street and Morton Avenue. Lauren reportedly decided to return to Smallwood at about 4:30 a.m. and was allegedly last seen at the intersection of 11th Street and College Avenue, just a few blocks from her apartment.

As summer dragged on, the press conferences stopped and the public searches were called off. In August, police had finally figured out the logistics of the landfill search. For nine, 12-hour days, officers combed through more than 4,100 tons of trash. The hot, foul smelling search yielded no new clues.

In September, Kilroy’s Sports Bar was cited on two alcohol-related charges in relation to Lauren being served there the night of her disappearance. A report was sent by Indiana State excise police to the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission for review, and Sports could face a fine and suspension or revocation of its permit to sell alcoholic beverages. Indiana State Police Cpl. Travis Thickstun said a decision has yet to be made.

Later that month, police heard from Bo Dietl again when, on a New York morning talk show, he referred to Chief Diekoff as “Gomer Pyle,” a dim-witted auto mechanic featured on the “Andy Griffith Show.”

“I met with the chief, and all I can say is, thank God for New York detectives,” Dietl said.

He later apologized for his remarks during a radio interview with Don Imus.
The next few months were marked by relative silence from the BPD, interrupted only by inquiries to other departments whenever a body was found in nearby areas. Ten such inquiries were made before the year anniversary, Bloomington Police Cpt. Joe Qualters said in a release Thursday. Similar inquiries have been made regarding missing person and murder cases.

By the six-month anniversary, Bloomington police had received 2,400 tips about Lauren’s disappearance, some coming from sources as far away as a psychic in California.

In the following six months, police received only 200 more tips.

Qualters said detectives have conducted hundreds of interviews, though few of these are known to be with the persons of interest. He said the department still receives “two to three credible tips” a week.

“Some place significance on the date marking one year since Lauren disappeared,” Qualters said. “But the passing of time has not deterred the effort or commitment on the part of the Bloomington Police Department to provide answers to Lauren’s family and the Bloomington community.”

Read the full story in the Indiana Daily Student.

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