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I have been involved with online media since I worked as a newswriter for a market test that became Prodigy Interactive Services 25 years ago. I am also an advocate for people who are suffering from addiction or mental illness. In my opinion, Libba Phillips' Outpost for Hope is doing groundbreaking work in using the Internet to bring together law enforcement, social services and families to help people who are perhaps the most vulnerable in our society: missing persons, including children, who are "off the grid" and often impaired by substance abuse or mental illness.  

Many families have no idea of where or how to get help when a loved one disappears.  They are often frustrated by a lack of information and coordination between governmental agencies.  Ms. Phillips has provided a lifeline to these families by creatively adapting software packages in the Outpost for Hope website that can serve as a model for other nonprofits.   The site is also a catalyst for bringing the issue of the rights of John and Jane Does into the public eye. 

Thom Forbes

   Writer, Advocate ?Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

By Jim Balloch

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ghostly and angular, the image of the young woman's face has haunted Knox County Sheriff's Office detectives for more than 22 years.

There is a slight, quizzical tilt to her head. Her eyes are level and hard, fixed forever in a wary gaze. Her look is of one who has taken plenty of hard knocks and expects more to come.

In the early morning hours of June 1, 1987, at a North Knox County home, her life ended with a 12-gauge shotgun blast to the head.

"There wasn't any ID on her of any kind," said Sgt. Perry Moyers of KCSO's Cold Case Squad. "Not even a wallet. No clues. There was just nothing."

It is just one of thousands of cases of unidentified bodies from around the country. No one knows for sure how many there are.

The FBI's National Crime Information Center lists 7,212 such cumulative cases, including 62 from Tennessee. But NCIC accepts reports only from law enforcement agencies. Medical examiners, coroners and other sources are excluded.

Researchers and criminologists say the actual number is much higher. A U.S. Justice Department study found an average of 4,400 unidentified human bodies reported each year, of which about 1,000 remain unidentified a year after being found.

"My personal opinion is that the real number is in excess of 60,000," said George Adams, program coordinator for the Center for Human Identification, the world-renowned DNA forensics lab at the University of North Texas. "When I call agencies relative to a case and ask how many unidentified remains they have, the number seems to go up."

Undoubtedly, some of those are of people who have been reported missing, but remain unidentified because police do not have enough clues to connect the body to a missing person case.

"We don't know what proportion of (eventually unidentified remains) were missing persons," said Dr. Kenna Quinet, a professor of criminal justice at Indiana University and Purdue University.

But thousands of missing or lost persons are never reported missing, especially if they are on the margins of society - prostitutes, transients, drug addicts, gay hustlers and mentally ill or homeless persons.

"We cannot expect the police to look for victims whose families never even reported them missing," Quinet said.

Quinet refers to this population as: "the missing missing."

"We don't have a good handle on this situation at all," said Libba Phillips, founder of the Florida-based Outpost For Hope, an organization dedicated to raising public awareness about that category of cases.

"There are just too many cracks in the system for these people to fall through," she said - including an occasional reluctance or refusal by a police agency to accept a missing persons report.

Phillips has coined a term for "missing missing" children and teenagers, including runaways whose indifferent parents or guardians do not bother to report them missing: "kids off the grid."

"They are the most vulnerable of these cases, and the most hidden group of missing or lost children," Phillips said.

Quinet, Adams and others agree that such people are often the victims of serial killers, some of whom delay or avoid arrest by preying on people who are not likely to be missed. Most of "Green River Killer" Gary Leon Ridgway's dozens of victims were street prostitutes.

"I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be," he said after he was caught. "I picked them because I thought I could kill as many as I wanted without getting caught."

There is no mystery about where, why or by whom Knox County's "Jane Doe" was killed.

"We know just about everything about this case - except who she is," Moyers said.

It is a case of a choice she made that landed her in the wrong place, with the wrong people, at the wrong time, Moyers said.

She was picked up hitchhiking in Greene County by two men - either at a rest stop or truck stop, depending on which man is telling the story.

"We don't have any idea where she came from," Moyers said. "It could be anywhere."

The men drove her back to their Jim Sterchi Road residence. "Basically, (the men later) admitted they were going to rob a house," Moyers said.

The targeted house was occupied by a 23-year-old woman who had recently been robbed. And she had a 12-gauge shotgun. A friend was staying with her.

Jane Doe and one of the men went to the porch and created a ruckus, Perry said. It appears they were staging a fight to trick the resident into opening the door. The women inside the house were on the telephone with a 911 dispatcher when the ruckus escalated, with loud banging on the door and threats, Moyers said.

The resident fired a 12-gauge shotgun through the door, killing Jane Doe instantly.

The two men fled but were later arrested. The only clue they offered to Jane Doe's identity, Moyers said, was that "Tina" and "Illinois" came up during their conversations.

"But we don't know the context of that, if it means she was Tina from Illinois, or she was going to Illinois to see a Tina, or something else," Moyers said.

Either way, "Tina" does not match with the amateurish tattoo "BH" on her upper left arm.

KCSO has checked her fingerprints in several criminal and civil databases, with no results.

Jane Doe had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13 percent. She was in her mid-20s, just under 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed between 100 and 120 pounds. She had brown hair, brown eyes.

She wore an aqua-colored Miami Dolphins jersey number 32, light blue pants, tennis shoes and white socks. There was a silver-colored chain bracelet on her left wrist.

She was missing a lower front tooth. Prior injures, according to the autopsy, suggest normal medical issues or accidents, but not abuse, Moyers said she had a crushed vertebrae that likely caused her back pain; healed fractures of the clavicle and right and left tibia bones, with the left tibia secured by a metal pin; a healed fracture of the fibula, secured by a metal plate manufactured by "Synthes."

A horizontal scar on her abdomen suggests pelvic surgery of some sort, possibly an emergency Caesarean section, said Dr. Randy Pedigo, who was Knox County's medical examiner at the time.

"Those injuries, that medical information, will be far more important in identifying her than the (recreated) image of her face," said forensic anthropologist Dr. Emily Craig of the Kentucky State Medical Examiner's Office.

Craig is a former graduate student at the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center and had a role in developing the computer enhancement of Jane Doe's face.

"Somebody, somewhere, has probably at least wondered what ever happened to her," said Todd Matthews of the Southeast region of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, a new U.S. Justice Department program designed to facilitate the linkage of unidentified remains cases with missing persons reports.

"But the circumstances of this case certainly make her a good candidate to be one of those 'missing missing.'"

Anyone with relevant information may contact the KCSO Cold Case Squad at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Moyers 865-215-3742.

"She's somebody's daughter, and she may be somebody's sister or maybe even somebody's mother," Moyers said. "We would like to get her identified and maybe give closure to a family."

Jim Balloch may be reached at 865-342-6315.

© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

Libba's Lightbulb Theory, posted 10 Dec 2005 11:29 PM by Thom Forbes,

I had an extremely illuminating conversation with Libba Phillips, the founder of Outpost for Hope, this morning, about the astounding amount of under-represented missing and unidentified persons in this country, and the hellish lives they and their families lead. The exact number is impossible to determine, but we were extrapolating seven-figure numbers based on what is reported. These are often people whose families have forsaken them, or have lost track of their whereabouts. Or they are running away from abusive families themselves. They usually fall into the many cracks of our social services and criminal justice system and, because of co-occurring illnesses that are not treated, are often preyed upon by pimps and drug dealers.

In the middle of our conversation, Libba offered "Libba's Lightbulb Theory." I think it is as good an explanation of why families who expect people who are addicted and/or mentally ill to suddenly "get it" and "make good decisions" about their lives are disillusioned, at best. Here's how Libba put it:

"Let's say you go to the hall closet to get a new bulb to put in a lamp. You walk back into the den and replace the bulb and turn on the switch. The light doesn't come on. So you check to see if the light bulb is good, and you make sure that you put it in right, and you check the cord to make sure that it's plugged in, and you test the circuit box to make sure you haven't blown a fuse. All of those things have to add up in order for the light bulb to go on. But it doesn't. The true source of your problem, it turns out, is the wiring. The wiring is the source of the power. If the wiring doesn't work, that's the source from which choices come from, and the ability to make good decisions, and the ability to move forward with some type of hope for a positive outcome."

"Many time families have the feeling that the light is going to come on, but if the wiring in the brain isn't right, if the chemistry has been altered by disease, it's just not going to happen unless that wiring can be fixed."

Are you a family with a lost loved one?  We invite you to take a look at our Family Resource Kit that includes critical 'Now What?" Recovery Planning guidelines.  Being prepared for what to do after a person with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance abuse issues has been located may be the key to your success story.


What happens when a non-custodial parent kidnaps her son? Or a college student vanishes after a night out with friends? Or a middle-aged man seemingly drowns in calm waters? What do family members, friends, and law enforcement do when a beloved goes missing? In The Last Place You’d Look: True Stories of Missing Persons and the People Who Search for Them, author Carole Moore explores an array of missing persons' scenarios, using real life stories, to uncover the various ways that people go missing, the efforts made to retrieve them, the emotional fallout for family and friends, and the difficulties and challenges such cases present for all involved.

Moore covers parental abductions, intentional disappearances, stranger abductions, the missing and mentally ill, runaways, foul play, and other situations where people go missing. In addition, the criminal justice approach to missing persons is discussed, as Moore looks at the science of missing persons (DNA, forensic dentistry, etc.), resources for family and friends, national organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and other groups involved in searching and recovering loves ones. Here, readers will discover how people are found, how missing persons' cases are treated, and how and why some stories have happy endings and others do not.

Carole Moore was an investigative journalist and radio talk show host before becoming a police officer for 12 years. She left police work and has resumed her career as a writer, writing extensively on law enforcement issues. More information can be found on her website

This guest blog illuminates the excruciating and unrelenting pain that results from NOT receiving timely and effective treatment for severe mental illness.  Our thoughts are with Libba and for the safe return of her sister.

My 25 year old sister Ashley disappeared in the spring of 1999 from a life on the streets in Tampa, Florida.

She was struggling with bipolar disorder and drug-addiction when she became homeless and then vanished without a trace. My family repeatedly appealed to law enforcement authorities to file a missing-persons report over the course of the next four years without success. A family friend intervened and contacted state government officials and eventually an official report was finally taken in December of 2002. By this time we had no idea if my sister Ashley was dead or alive. 

My family and I would eventually learn that during the years Ashley was unreported as missing, she had been exploited by pimps and predators on the streets, hit by a car, beaten, and arrested several times.  As we continued our search for her, my mother Michelle attempted to file the Baker Act three times with limited success.  The judge agreed the case had merit and approved the Baker Act but because Ashley had no address, law enforcement officials would not look for her.  We were never able to get The Baker Act facilitated to get Ashley into a safe location and obtain treatment.  She remained lost.   

In February of 2003, Ashley was located in North Carolina.  She had little memory of her four-year experience, had a broken eye socket and was eight months pregnant. We attempted to find the right treatment for her, but she refused to get any voluntary long-term help. We hoped for the best as she and her newborn baby moved in with my parents knowing that without proper medication and treatment, it was a matter of time before she would be gone again. Ashley did disappear again almost one year later.  After she was found, she had another baby, got on medication to treat bipolar disorder for a few months, and then tragically, disappeared once more.    

This chronic and unacceptable outcome leads me to ask why isn’t a more effective system in place that could prevent years of suffering for families who so desperately want to help a lost loved one with mental illness? It is my belief that if my sister had been acknowledged as ‘missing’ ten years ago and if involuntary treatment options had been available and facilitated; Ashley and her children would not continue to be at risk again today. 

As a result of my experience, Outpost for Hope was created, in an effort to inform society about ‘missing, missing persons’ who may be lost on the streets due to mental illness and/or addiction as well as to extend support to their families.  We are pioneering a new path to bring attention to those who are lost among us and to demand better options for their survival.  We hope you are inspired to join our efforts.  To learn more, please visit  

Libba Phillips
Founder of Outpost for Hope