Karen Philips, mother of missing postal worker Kierra Coles, knows the despair of not knowing where a daughter is.
“I just want her to come home,” Karen said. “This is really hurtful, painful and sad.”
Kierra was three months pregnant when she suddenly disappeared in Oct. 2018.
Chicago American Idol Contestant Angela Martin lost her mother Viola 13 years ago, but hasn’t given up.
“Never lost hope,“ said Angela. “We’re going to have to keep looking for her.”
As the years passed, these families prayed that someone would find their loved ones.
In Sept. 2021, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart formed a task force to investigate 150 cold cases involving missing women. Eight months later, Dart says twelve cases have been solved, three of them with the help of other police agencies.
“We are throwing everything into it,” Dart said. “We have found seven people alive. Three of which I would suggest are the ones that you would consider real finds, in the sense that they were completely missing.”
The task force has chased thousands of tips and even tore down a home where a body was reportedly buried.
“When you’re ripping down buildings and you’re taking cadaver dogs out to the forest preserves, you’re doing these grid searches, it shows people you know, you’re really invested in this,” Dart said.
No one was found at the abandoned house, but investigators discovered women in two other missing cases had died.
Then there was the case of 14-year-old Jane Doe. She ran away from a Department of Children and Family Services facility in Central Illinois seven years ago.
“One of the big things with her case is that we could look into government databases and see that she had an active driver’s license that was issued after she disappeared, “ said Cook County Sheriff’s Detective Lt. Jason Moran. “It appeared on paper that she was alive and out there and we had some addresses in places we could go to look for her.”
Moran is known for his extensive work on John Wayne Gacy cases and he dug in on Jane Doe’s case.
Searching databases for proof of life markers like a court case somewhere or a state ID or driver’s license or utility bill, Moran pieced together some addresses and started knocking on doors. Behind one door, he found Jane Doe, who was now 21.
“She didn’t believe that anyone was searching for her, “ Moran said. “But shortly after that initial shock and the surprise of the police knocking on her door looking for her, she shared with us that she was struggling. That she had a couple of children, young children that she was responsible for and life was hard for her.”
Jane Doe was found, but that was just the beginning according to Pamela Dukes a Cook County victim support specialist who works with the task force to help victims connect with social agencies.
“The first thing she needed is someone to care,” said Dukes. “After that, she needs things like you know, how does she feed herself? How does she feed her children? How does she find a sufficient place to live? Does she have clean clothes?”
56-Year-Old Viola Martin is still missing. NBC 5 Investigates profiled her on our series Scene of the Crime.
She disappeared around Christmas in 2009, but her family has never stopped looking.
“We haven’t found anything saying she’s not alive, so there’s hope,“ said Police Commander Dion Trotter at the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, who leads the team of detectives searching for Viola.
His team is now combing through old cellphone records, trying to establish a timeline of where and what Viola was doing.
“We’re looking at how many times she’d made calls to certain numbers and then we’re looking at the cell towers to see location wise what area is those communications happening, “ Trotter said.
Each case is a mystery with piles of old police reports and possibly a clue buried inside. Many families simply pray for an answer no matter what it is.
Anyone with any information should please contact the Cook County Sheriff’s Department at 773-674-9490 or email at [email protected]