Editorial: New cold-case missing-persons investigations team a show of hope, respect
If it's true that, as some authorities say, finding someone who has been missing for more than three years is next to impossible, you might wonder about Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's initiative to create a special unit dedicated to finding people who have been missing for an extended period of time.
But it's hard to dispute that the effort is worth trying.
At a news conference last week, Dart said three investigators have been assigned to work full-time toward solving 170 missing-persons cases that are over three years old. You can find information about many of the cases at the website for The Missing Persons Project, https://www.cookcountysheriff.org/person/.
Obviously, it's not realistic to expect that three investigators, no matter how skilled or dedicated, are going to be able to work 170 cases simultaneously, so initially the department will focus on missing women. And even then, even taking the cases one by one, the task before the team is daunting.
But if it shows results, they will be rewarding indeed.
The daughter of Viola Martin -- a 56-year-old Glenwood woman who disappeared after leaving the house to visit another daughter in Glenwood in 2009 -- joined Dart at the news conference and described the heartache her family has experienced.
"Our mother, Viola Martin, has been missing for 11 years, and it has been the hardest 11 years that my sisters, my family, has had to face," Angela Martin Fields said.
Those sentiments reflect feelings we've recorded periodically over the years when local police departments have solved long-standing cold cases. Of course, families hope the loved ones they've been searching for are found alive and well -- as happened several times, according to Dart, during the department's probes of cases related to mass murderer John Wayne Gacy -- but even if they aren't, the discovery of what happened is an important step toward resolving the questions, doubts and fears of those left behind.
These are families, Dart said, "who have had their hearts torn out."
"(They) have thought at any moment their loved one is going to walk through that door. Our hope is that some of these cases we're going to resolve, so the family will finally have the resolution they never had," he said.
That resolution is worth some extra effort, and, from a contingent of thousands of sworn officers, the assignment of three to concentrate on missing-persons cases seems a reasonable minimum commitment.
Just as important, the project also reflects another feature of law enforcement we've often appreciated following the resolution of difficult cold cases -- a fundamental respect for human life. There may come a time in the investigation of an individual case when trying to get past apparent dead-ends can no longer be justified amid the crush of increasing new cases. But it is gratifying -- and surely a comfort to victims' families -- to know that they never totally give up.
Cook County's Missing Persons Project is an expression of that promise. We hope it meets with great success.