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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Investigators patiently keep missing persons' cases active

Thursday, June 16, 2011

At the epicenter of missing persons cases are members of law enforcement.

From the initial report, to the days, months -- even years -- that follow, detectives with the Shelbyville police and the Bedford County sheriff's departments become the contact point for the families' questions -- and frustrations.

"I understand the families' frustration," said SPD Detective Sgt. Brian Crews "They are doing exactly what you and I would do if our loved one was missing -- making sure that the police followed up on leads and didn't forget that their loved one is missing."

By jurisdiction, the SPD oversees the cases of Antonio Taylor and Bobby Smelcer. Because the crime scene associated with the Shelley Mook disappearance is outside the city limits, the BCSD has jurisdiction. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is assisting the departments with the Smelcer and Mook cases.

"To have an agent open a case on a missing person, we must have a request from the district attorney general, otherwise we may be only be acting in an assist capacity for a local agency," explains Kristin Helm, TBI public information officer.

On popular television series cases are investigated by passionate detectives who appear to be working one case at a time. Evidence is collected meticulously, processed immediately and the guilty apprehended, all in the space of an hour-long segment.

In reality, cases are like a complicated jigsaw puzzle -- with the manufacturer delivering pieces by mail at irregular intervals.

Some cases are more challenging than others.

"The frustration that has come from the Smelcer case is there have been very few pieces of that puzzle that have been put together so far," said Crews of the lack of evidence or witnesses.

In terms of forensics, this is most often where the TBI enters the picture.

"From the beginning we utilized the TBI crime scene unit to assist us in processing Smelcer's residence," said Crews.

"The resources TBI has that local law enforcement does not is expertise in forensics because of the state's crime lab," said Helm. "Many times forensic evidence turns out to be vital to an investigation and conviction."

Locally, the departments make use other resources as well. "We have utilized volunteer organizations such as the Bloodhound Search and Rescue team to assist in the search of areas that we have been led to through our investigation," said Crews.

"I can assure you that if there is a resource available that would help bring these missing persons home we would do everything in our power to utilize that resource or make it available."

There are days that little is being done on a case due to lack of new information or clues. In the Smelcer case, the SPD and TBI have begun re-interviewing people they spoke with at the beginning in hopes that something will be discovered or remembered that was not revealed.

The three cases are not without an impact on the investigators. Privately they will tell you about their own sons and daughters, sisters and brothers.

After almost 12 years of investigating the disappearance of Taylor, and fielding monthly phone calls from his grandmother Lillie Buchanan, the case is personal to SPD Detective Pat Mathis, who wishes for news that would help the family find the closure they seek.

For Crews, the Smelcer case is personal as well.

"I have encouraged my victim's family to look outside the police department for peace during this time, the true peace that only comes from a personal relationship with Christ.

"I have encouraged them to do as I do and rely on their faith to see them through this difficult time and pray that what has happened to Bobby will be revealed," said Crews.

Rewards offered

The reward for information concerning the disappearance of Antonio Taylor stands at $3,000.

The reward for information concerning the disappearance of Bobby Smelcer stands at $5,000.

Contact the Shelbyville Police Department at 684-5811 or anonymously at Crimestoppers at 685-4300.

The reward for information concerning the disappearance of Shelley Jones Mook is $10,000. Contact the Bedford County Sherriff's Department at 684-3232.