Special report: Investigating the missing


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Roosevelt Lassiter Jr. ended up in the missing person’s files of the Birmingham Police Department’s Special Victim’s Unit. Lassiter was one of 412 persons reported missing in 2018.

Detective Erin Valentine Fitzgerald said, “Three hundred and ninety-four of those cases have been closed and only 15 are pending.

At that rate, Birmingham’s SVU is solving 95% of its cases. Detective Erin Valentine Fitzgerald is always searching for a lead, DNA evidence, a breakthrough to solve the mysteries.

Detective Fitzgerald said, “ You know, at the end of the day we want to give the family the information or the closure that they need.”

Detectives closed the Lassiter case with good news for his family.

Fitzgerald explained, “He was located in Florida and as far as we know he’s fine.”

While riding with police Chief Patrick Smith, he told CBS 42 Anchor Art Franklin that his detectives will passionately work a missing person’s case that can often take months, even years to solve.

Chief Smith explained, “There’s nobody that simply drops off the face of the earth, they are somewhere and so we should never ever give up.”

Investigators did not give up when war veteran Alto Griffin mysteriously disappeared last November. The Georgia man, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, was traveling cross country with his wife when he vanished during a stop in Birmingham.

Detective Fitzgerald said, “His wife fell asleep on the greyhound bus and when she woke up she could not find her husband.”

Detectives did find Griffin, unfortunately closing their missing person case, after discovering his body under the interstate near Finley Avenue. 

Sometimes a case goes cold and investigators have to turn to the public.

Fitzgerald said, “By us putting it in the media you know, we may come across a witness or someone.”

That is important because each case has its own set of challenges.

Fitzgerald continued, “Some of the challenges that we have is not getting all the information that we need from the beginning also reporting missing persons in a timely manner.”

It helps that Chief Patrick Smith has increased the number of detectives working missing persons’ cases from six to 11. 

Chief Smith said, “This special victims unit requires people who have a passion about helping and a passion for getting the job done and reaching a resolution.”

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