How Politics Helped Start the Scandal of Missing Children - page two
by John Edward Gill
Walsh had been a lifeguard and salesperson for a hotel in the Bahamas, but had left that position when his son vanished from Hollywood, Florida, where Walsh, his wife, Reve, Reve's boyfriend, James Campbell, and Adam lived. He'd made numerous public appearances raising "public awareness" about "missing" children since his son's death.
Yet, he sought a larger forum and more chances to raise money for his Adam Walsh Child Resource Center (Adam Walsh Center), which he'd begun after Adam's death. His son's tragedy remains unsolved. Together Howell, Walsh, Child Find, from New Paltz, New York, and others in the missing children field who shared Walsh's views on exploiting this issue, organized a Congressional hearing on missing children that fall.
They chose a select group of witnesses who would tell the politicians and the public only what Howell and Walsh wanted them to hear. Such witnesses didn't mention the need for stronger federal laws on parental abduction. Mickey Edwards, Republican from Oklahoma, and Charles Bennett, Democrat from Florida, had introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to outlaw parental abduction at the federal level. Senator Malcom Wallop, Republican from Wyoming, had introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
But no one at that first hearing mentioned those bills. Neither did anyone mention the need to determine exactly how many children were missing each year. No one asked for more F. B. I. agents to work on interstate parental abductions. No one asked for more state and local police to look for lost or stranger-abducted children. They just spoke of strangers abducting 50,000 children annually and of the need for a national "clearinghouse" on missing children.
On October 6, 1981, the Senate's Subcommittee on Investigations and General Oversight of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, chaired by Hawkins, held the first official hearing on "missing" children. Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat from Massachusetts, was also present, although he didn't make a statement. Hawkins said that she and Senators Denton, Pell, Spector, and Thurmond had just introduced a bill to establish a clearinghouse on missing children. "The system would also track and identify the remains of unidentified victims," she said. "Presently, if the body of a child or any missing person is discovered by law enforcement officials in a community far from his or her home, there is virtually no way for those officials to determine their identity."
Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat from Rhode Island, was the first public official to formally claim 50,000 children vanish each year. Speaking in support of Hawkin's bill, Pell said, "The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that about 50,000 children under the age of seventeen disappear each year in the United States. These children are not runaways, most of whom eventually return to their homes unharmed, or the objects of parental kidnappings inspired by custody battles. These are children who are the victims of abduction and crime, who are taken by adults who want children of their own, molested by other children or by sex offenders, or who are lured into prostitution or child pornography."
Officials at HHS denied making that estimate and Pell's staff doesn't remember which official they spoke to.
Perhaps HHS personnel, whoever they were, spoke of runaways, since most missing children have run away and 40,000 or 50,000 are still gone by the end of each year. But, still, no one since then has wanted to take responsibility for claiming 50,000 abductions of small children annually. And no law enforcement officers testified that day in October, 1981, about accurate figures.
So the number was out, and Howell, Walsh, Child Find, and others made good use of it. "After contacting and speaking with many of the twenty or so individual missing children agencies throughout the country, it appears that statistics indicate that there are over one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000) individual children missing each year," Walsh told the subcommittee. "Approximately one hundred thousand (100,000) of these are runaways and children snatched by ex-parents. "The unbelievable and unaccounted for figure of fifty thousand (50,000) children disappear annually and are abducted for reasons of foul play," Walsh claimed. He went on to say there was no national system to register missing children, explaining there should be such a system and also claiming that there were 10,000 unidentified bodies found each year.
But he didn't give sources for that estimate. And, again, there were no law enforcement officials present to give reliable numbers on either missing children or unidentified bodies. No one pointed out that 50,000 abducted children a year meant approximately eight hundred (800) children missing EACH WEEK.
Kristin Cole Brown, from Child Find, said children should be fingerprinted. "Once the government computer is operational, you can take those fingerprints back down to the local police station where they will be sent to the federal clearinghouse," she said. "If the fingerprints do not match up with those of unidentified bodies, they are made available to hospital emergency rooms and child abuse protective shelters and other institutions with access to children...We would like to see all state child abuse agencies check with our private organizations to see if their abused children match up with our missing children."
No one questioned that infants and small children haven't developed fingerprints at an early age. No one asked how fingerprinting could prevent an abduction or find a child. "What good is fingerprinting if an abducted child isn't brought to a hospital or an abused children shelter? Or if a child is too young for school?" asked Nikki Abbott, founder of Services for the Missing in Gibbsboro, New Jersey, when she heard about that hearing.
Julie Patz testified that on May 25, 1979, her six-year-old son, Etan, vanished. "At ten minutes to eight o'clock on that morning, I walked him to the sidewalk in front of our home in New York City. It would have been the first morning he was to walk the one-and-a-half blocks to the schoolbus by himself. "The schoolbus was clearly visible from in front of our home; there were other children and parents waiting there. I discussed this procedure one last time with my son, Etan; watched him walk the first half block with only one left to go; turned and went back into my home; and that was the last time I saw my son."
Patz said that police helped in the search and stressed the "local police department is the only public agency authorized and trained to find out what happened to our son." She advocated fingerprinting of school children also, but didn't mention the need for more state and local police to look for children like Etan or the need for a national study to determine how many children actually were abducted annually by strangers.
Walsh's testimony, with his claim that his son had been abducted from a shopping center, soon became gospel, with media sources quickly pointing out that a Congressional hearing had determined that there were 50,000 children abducted every year. Other doubtful groups soon started up, using that same figure with no public official or news reporter ever asking where that number came from. No one questioned Howell, Walsh, Pell, or the Department of Health and Human Services.
Two weeks later the number of missing children suddenly jumped to over a million annually.
Walsh, Brown, and Patz, among others, appeared on "Donahue" on October 21, 1981. "There are over a million runaways every year," Brown said. "There are between 100,000 and 400,000 parental abductions every year. And then there are 50,000 children that we simply can't account for. Now, you're talking about just an enormous, enormous problem."
Phil Donahue didn't ask where those figures came from.
He showed names and addresses of Child Find and the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center before station breaks. In late fall, 1981, there was a conference held in Louisville, Kentucky, sponsored by the Kentucky Task Force on Exploited and Missing Children. This group claimed young children were sold into prostitution in Chicago, and that Louisville was one of the training areas for such activity, without citing proof. Walsh attended, along with Child Find, and a brochure came out soon with the picture of a young girl on the cover.
The brochure said 50,000 children were abducted annually for criminal purposes and had a picture of then-Judge Mitch McConnell fingerprinting his own daughter. Inside, the brochure read: "Child exploitation has become a big business and a national scandal." McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, is now a United States Senator.
Charles Sutherland, trustee and head of Search, a private missing persons agency in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, was the first person in this field to question that 50,000 figure. However, he wasn't invited to either the Kentucky conference or that October, 1981, Congressional hearing. But in an August, 1982, issue of his National Runaway and Missing Persons Report, he devoted a full page to the question, "Do Strangers Really Kidnap 50,000 Children Each Year?"
"This (the 50,000 figure) equals 220 children kidnapped for every one million of population," he wrote, "137 of these crimes every day." Sutherland then explained how many children would be abducted according to the population of certain areas, using those false, inflated figures. If a town had 50,000 people, he pointed out, then it would have 11 such child abductions a year. Cities of 250,000 people would lose 55 children annually; metropolitan areas with 500,000 citizens would see 110 children taken by strangers; and larger cities, with populations of 750,000 persons, would have 165 children abducted annually.
"50,000 kidnappings per year?" he asked. "Check this random selection of cities and their 'fair share' (of stranger abductions) if this claim was really true." Using that 50,000 figure and comparing it to the size of various cities in America, Sutherland estimated that Washington, D. C., would lose 165 children per year to abduction; Chicago would lose 1,547; Pittsburgh, 500; Minneapolis-St. Paul, 453; Denver, 330; Portland, Oregon, 250; San Jose, California, 271; and Nashville, Tennessee, 173. Sutherland even selected smaller cities. Boise, Idaho, he pointed out, would lose 33 children annually; Portland, Maine, 51; Des Moines, Iowa, 73; and El Paso, Texas, 97.
"Five-and-a-half kidnappings for every 25,000 people?" he asked. "Seventy-three cases in Des Moines?" He explained that one kidnapping or unexplained disappearance of a youngster was one too many, but that "unsubstantiated and unreal claims shouldn't be called `facts'. "Obviously, when you bring the claim down to local levels, it totally falls apart," Sutherland concluded.
His publication, distributed mainly to law enforcement agencies, didn't have the media's attention, though. And Congress wouldn't ask Sutherland to testify until 1986, when the hoax of stranger abduction was already in place. His 1982 expose of that 50,000 figure was ignored. Still buoyed by politicians and the press, Walsh went to Washington, D. C., in the fall of 1982 to have his picture taken with President Reagan at the signing of the Missing Children Act, which said the F.B.I. had to list missing children in its National Crime Information Center.
F.B.I. officials said the Bureau already was doing that.
Missing Children: next page...
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