Connecticut Missing Persons Unit Makes Progress; Cases Drop from 243 to 166 in 2 Years

By Sullo, Michelle Tuccitto | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), February 17, 2014 | Go to article overview

Connecticut Missing Persons Unit Makes Progress; Cases Drop from 243 to 166 in 2 Years


Sullo, Michelle Tuccitto, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


Michelle Garvey of New London disappeared in June 1982, just days before her 15th birthday, and police believe she ran away from home.

A month later, her remains were found in an open field in Houston.

But it would be three decades before police positively matched the body found in Texas to Michelle, whose death was ruled a homicide.

Finding out Michelle's fate was a collaboration of the Connecticut State Police Missing Persons Unit and authorities in Texas. Detectives with the unit got a DNA sample from Michelle's family to enter into a national database. Texas officials had exhumed the body to get DNA samples. In January, state police announced a match had been made.

The case is just one of the success stories for the Missing Persons Unit. Two years ago, state police indicated they were revamping the unit to include more investigators, with major crime detectives from multiple districts.

While there have been successes like this one, many state families are still waiting to find out what happened to their loved ones. Police say they could always use additional help, due to the number of cases.

State police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said the unit is "doing well."

"The unit recently solved a (Connecticut missing person) case with Texas. The unit has been very successful, and they are working on a number of cases."

Vance declined to say how many investigators are assigned to the unit, citing policy, but he did say it is staffed with detectives solely focused on solving missing person cases.

"We are always in need of additional personnel to complement the team," Vance said.

The unit has had other successes.

- Detective Joseph Butkowski helped solve the case of Kenneth LaManna, who disappeared in 1980. Investigators noticed similarities in the case of a skull found in 1981 with LaManna's, and the remains were positively identified as LaManna in 2012 after forensic testing.

- Detective Tanya Compagnone was involved in identifying a man fatally struck on Interstate 91 in Meriden in 2008 as Phat Quy Mai of Massachusetts. That case was solved in 2012, after information was entered into the same national database.

The database, the U.S. Department of Justice's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, known as NamUs, is at www.namus.gov, and anyone can search it to match the missing and the unidentified.

When the unit was revamped in 2012, NamUs listed 243 missing people for Connecticut and 41 cases of unidentified remains. As of mid-February, there were 166 missing persons listed for Connecticut, and 21 unidentified listed.

The Missing Persons Unit investigates old and new cases. It is primarily for missing person cases in communities covered by state police, but is also available to assist municipal police.

According to Vance, the team worked with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, State Forensic Laboratory and other law enforcement agencies to resolve about half the unidentified remains cases on NamUs over the last two years.

Positive identifications were made through DNA analysis. In some cases, remains were deemed to be historical in nature, and not connected to a missing person case, Vance said.

One case of unidentified remains was added in 2013 to the database, following the discovery of a female in Vernon.

Of the 21 remaining unidentified cases, 19 are being investigated primarily by the state missing persons team, while two are being investigated by other law enforcement agencies with the team's assistance, Vance said.

In 2013 alone, the team assisted or investigated 57 missing person cases, with assistance provided to other law enforcement agencies, NamUs, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Vance said. It monitored 885 Silver and Amber alerts that year.

The unit investigates new missing person cases too; it was involved in investigating the disappearance of Alyssiah Marie Wiley in 2013. …

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