Still missing: Families, officers deal with painful, unsolved missing person cases
By Chloé Morrison
of The Daily Times Staff
Originally published: October 04. 2009 3:01AM
Last modified: October 03. 2009 11:58PM
There isn’t a day that passes that Matt Hearon doesn’t think about his missing father, Michael “Mike” Edwin Hearon.
“All we do is think about it and talk about it,” Matt Hearon said. “It is very consuming.”
Every year, thousands of people disappear. Their bodies are never found, and they don’t contact their families. The situation can debilitate families and stump investigators, and there are some common misconceptions about reporting a missing person, officials said.
Mike Hearon, 51, has been missing since August 2008. He was last seen leaving his Bell Ranch Road residence on an ATV. After a five-day search, his ATV had been located but Hearon was nowhere to be found.
With help from pledges from community members, the family has recently increased the reward to $35,000 for information that leads to finding out what happened.
Family members said Mike Hearon was an active member of the community, a social person and a family man. He always kept in contact with his family.
“We don’t think he is off in Mexico somewhere,” Matt Hearon said. “We don’t think it was an accident. There was some foul play involved.”
The family will not be able to rest until they find answers.
“If it is 10 years, and we still don’t know, we are just going to keep on doing what we can,” Matt Hearon said. “We just need that one piece of the puzzle.”
Ten years gone
For Maryville resident Jennie Dixon, it has been 10 years and she still doesn’t know what happened to her missing daughter.
“It’s terrible, especially around birthdays and holidays,” Dixon said. “She disappeared in 1999.”
Her 33-year-old daughter, Patrica “Trish” Jane Dixon, was last heard from on Aug. 11, 1999. She likely disappeared from Knoxville, family members said. She had recently lost her job when she disappeared and was transient, sometimes staying in a hotel, Jennie Dixon said.
Trish Dixon’s aunt, Gayle Williams, said her niece may have been involved in drugs. She also said Trish called her son, who was living with his grandparents, every day.
“Her son spoke to her on Aug. 11,” Williams said. “His birthday is the 12th, and she told him she’d be at the birthday party the next day, even if she had to hitchhike. My theory is she was hitchhiking and she got killed. I always thought she would have called her son if something hadn’t happened to her.”
Last year, 778,161 missing person records were entered into National Crime Information Center’s Missing Person File, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Web site. That number shows a 4.5 percent decrease from 2007, according to the site.
But Capt. Warren Headrick, with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, said missing person cases are becoming increasingly common, in part, because the population is increasing.
Four Blount cases
There are about four missing person cases in Blount County that have remained open for about 25 years, Headrick said.
Headrick said there is a common misconception that a person can’t be reported missing for at least 24 hours, but there is no time limit. He also said there is no rule about who can report someone missing.
“Anybody can report someone missing,” Headrick said. “They don’t have to be directly related.”
When someone is reported missing, typically an officer will meet the person who made the report and get as much information as possible about what the missing person was wearing, where they were last seen, their lifestyle and what they look like.
Headrick said law enforcement agencies are also working to be proactive in solving missing person cases by using technology. For example, in the four unsolved cases in Blount County, authorities have given DNA from the missing person’s mother to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation so if a body or bones are found, the TBI already has information to compare to see if the missing person matches up with the dead person.
“So many people are missing, and so many dead bodies are found,” Headrick said.
Education is another important part of being proactive, he said.
‘You want closure’
About 70 percent of those reported missing in Blount County are juveniles, so school resource officers work to build relationships with students to help prevent runaways.
Senior outreach groups also work with elderly people, who sometimes wander off, Headrick said.
Although it is rare for someone to be found after being missing for a long period of time, families and officers continue to want answers when someone disappears.
“You want closure for yourself and you want closure for the family,” Headrick said.
The Dixon and Hearon families said they want closure also and continue to search for information.
“The main thing I want — if anybody knows anything — (whether Trish) is dead or alive. We just want to know,” Williams said.