Missing-person Web site solves mystery for family
Monday, May 30, 2005
By Hector Castro
Darlene Campos disappeared in 2001, last seen at a family party in Lakewood.
The following year, the remains of a woman were discovered along a creek in the Peasley Canyon area near Auburn.
It was another three years before a King County medical investigator was able to connect the name to the body. Her work solved the mystery of the unknown remains, gave some relief to Campos' family, and led to the arrest of a suspect in her killing.
None of those answers would have surfaced without a new Web site, the North American Missing Persons Network, which went online in January.
"This is the site that allowed me to make the connection," said Dr. Kathy Taylor, a forensic anthropologist for the King County Medical Examiner's Office.
Angela Ellis of Toronto, Canada, developed the network to focus on missing-person cases from 1996 to the present. She had been involved with developing the Doe Network, which collects information on cases from 1996 and before, and said, "I always wanted to start a site of my own for more recent cases."
Volunteers collect information on missing persons from law enforcement agencies in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Sometimes, families of the missing provide the information, Ellis said. So far, about 2,500 cases are profiled on the site.
Campos' case is one she helped solve.
Relatives last saw Campos at an Easter celebration in April 2001, about the time of her 23rd birthday.
As the months passed with no word from her, relatives reported her missing to authorities, but their initial efforts never resulted in a report.
When two years passed with no word, Campos' family contacted investigators again, only to discover that no missing-person report was ever taken. So they filed a report with the Lakewood detachment of the Pierce County Sheriff's Office.
As part of its investigation, the Sheriff's Office should have filed copies of Campos' dental records with the Washington State Patrol's Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit.
Campos was in the middle of a root canal, requiring multiple dentist visits, at the time of her death. Investigators in King County were puzzled there was no dental record in the state files that matched the body they had found.
Asked to explain why the Pierce County detective did not file Campos' dental records with the state, sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said, "We have police reports where the family told us multiple times there were no dental records." He did not fulfill a request for copies of those reports.
"That's ridiculous," said Rebecca Kyser, Campos' sister.
Not only did her family alert the detective to the dental records, but they told the clinic a detective would be picking up the records, she said.
She and other relatives believe Pierce County officials ignored her sister's case.
Without dental records in the state database, Taylor found no match when she checked it shortly after Campos' unidentified remains, dubbed the Peasley Canyon Woman, were recovered in 2002.
But King County officials didn't stop there. They asked the dentist at the King County Jail to check his records for a match with the unidentified remains. When nothing came up, a forensic artist sketched a likeness of what the Peasley Canyon Woman would have looked like in life.
Detectives even asked the manufacturer of the victim's pants to make a new pair, and circulated photos of the pants to local news outlets.
None of those efforts paid off.
Then, on Feb. 28, Taylor was spending time on the Web. A frequent visitor of the Doe Network, Taylor noticed a link to the NAMPN site.
She began trawling through the site and found a photo of Darlene Campos, missing since 2001.
"I looked at her bio and she fit perfectly," Taylor said.
DNA testing ultimately confirmed that the Peasley Canyon Woman was Campos. But Taylor said she didn't need DNA to tell her what she knew in her gut.
"As soon as her picture popped up, I knew it was her," she said.
Even months later, Taylor is emotionally affected when she recalls contacting Campos' family to let them know where the young lady was.
"I'd much rather be calling to say she's alive," Taylor said. "But being able to call and say, 'I know where she is, I know where's she's been and we're going to give you something to bury,' there's an enormous satisfaction in that."
Since that connection was made, King County detectives have arrested Campos' former boyfriend, Tomas Sanchez-Ramirez. Court documents say he admitted strangling Campos during an argument and dumping her near Auburn's Mill Creek.
He is in California awaiting extradition to Washington to face charges of second-degree murder.
Ellis, NAMPN's developer, became interested in these types of cases simply from hearing about missing children when she was growing up. "They always deeply affected me," she said.
She is pleased her Web site aided the Campos investigation. The victim, she said, "has her identity back and her family can move on."
ON THE WEB
For information, go to the North American Missing Persons Network at www.nampn.doenetwork.org