Wednesday, January 20, 2010


by Pat Brown

  Once upon a time when someone went missing, posters with their faces (example left) were stuck in store windows, and that was about it. Times have changed and missing people, at least those who can pull heartstrings on television for a large enough portion of the viewing population, become stars (usually their final role). The supporting cast, on the other hand, may go on to book contracts and movie options. Even if no other projects are in their future, they get to be stars of a reality show. Some get a kick out of this, but others suffer painfully in the limelight, desperately giving interview after interview in hopes of finding their loved one.

Add to this mix news hosts and talking heads, all in there for their own variety of reasons. They may wish to keep the public informed, help save a life, promote a cause, sway viewpoints, and make a buck. In truth, it is likely a combination of all of these motives.

Law enforcement also uses this platform to learn more about the victim and the suspects, disseminate information, and hopefully, find the missing person. Their presence in the media can bring positive or negative attention to their department. Some cops just like being on air.

And let’s not forget the audience. They play a part as well. They bring ratings, public opinion, and sometimes tips that actually help solve a case. This media bonanza brings understanding and confusion, facts and misinformation. It is a volatile mix.

Now, the stage is set. Enter the actors. This week’s drama involves missing eight-month-old Gabriel Johnson of Tempe, Arizona. He is the perfect missing baby: white, blonde hair, impish smile. Enter the mother. In her good pictures, she has the look of an angel: soft golden hair surrounding a heart shaped face, a dimple in her chin. But Elizabeth Johnson has added just the right spice to the sweetness. She is a femme fatale with a dangerous streak lurking beneath her innocent looks, and she delivered the best line of the show when she, while on the run in Texas with the child to avoid the custody battle, told the father of the baby: “I killed him.” She went on to give a horrifying description of a cold deceased baby stuffed into a diaper bag and tossed in a dumpster.

The law caught up with Elizabeth in Florida. Gabriel was nowhere in sight. Her grandpa’s car, which she “borrowed” to make her escape from Arizona, was found in San Antonio. One day after the baby was last seen by video camera, Mom jumps a bus, backpack over the shoulder, leaving the vehicle, the baby clothes, and the baby car seat behind in the motel room.

But, now, when the police asked her where Gabriel is, Elizabeth had a new story. She was magically approached by a couple wanting a baby in a San Antonio park and so she gave the child over to them. Abysmally ridiculous story, but apparently believed by a great many people. Why? Second Act! Enter the Smiths.

 A more brilliant twist couldn’t have been thought of in a fictionalized story of a missing baby (and I would have liked to written it and sold the movie rights). The focus, once strictly upon the mentally disturbed protagonist, suddenly shifts to Jack and Tammi Smith, an Arizona couple who met Elizabeth in the airport and quickly became aggressive prospective adoptive parents of Gabriel Johnson. They took Elizabeth under their wing, working with the disturbed mother to hand over custody to them, in spite of the fact that the father of the baby, Logan McQueary, wasn’t willing to go along with the plan. After the baby went missing, the Smiths showed up continuously on television show after television show -- The Today Show, The Early Show, Nancy Grace, Geraldo, Dr. Phil, etc. -- showing little sadness and appearing extremely nervous. They both twiddled their thumbs as they talked, and many viewers commented that Mrs. Smith often nudged her husband or grabbed his leg. They thought she was trying to stop him from spilling some beans. A common feeling among the television audience is that there was something not quite right about the couple. They thought the Smiths had helped hide Gabriel or adopt him out to another couple in some “underground” baby railroad. The police apparently agreed, because they kept saying there were “indications” the baby was alive.

Act Three: The pressure heats up and the Smiths, now still to an extent enjoying the thrill of television stardom, are seeing the other, not-so-pleasant side of fame -- a thing called scrutiny with the surfacing of facts one might wish remained hidden. The police get a search warrant and dig their way through the Smiths' home and computers. Tammi  finally has to admit to everyone that she has not actually been totally honest -- that she helped Elizabeth deceive the courts with false information, including naming her own cousin as the father of Gabriel, even though he never met Ms. Johnson. Then it surfaced that Ms. Smith has a criminal record for forging checks back in Tennessee, and now her tarnished image makes people even more suspicious of her. If she will lie and cheat, how far will she go to hide Gabriel?

All the players are now out in front of the audience, at least most of them, as the father of Gabriel Johnson has kept a low profile. He has done only a few minutes of television, telling his side of the story as to how Elizabeth hurt and neglected the baby, went into violent rages, and how she and the Smiths tried to take his baby away. He was the perfect innocent in the story, and the media purposely kept any negative information about him as quiet as possible. Slowly, some less flattering facts began to leak out, that Logan McQueary is a repeat felon, a burglar, and a parole breaker, and he was still violating the law after Gabriel was born. Still he continues to be cast as the tragic hero who has innocently fallen victim to evil-doers.

Act Four: All show hosts, commentators, and television viewers on board! The discussion is at times somber, outraged, questioning, analytical, and, occasionally, amused. Behaviors and personalities are dissected and clashing conclusions argued. I did my bit, except I got booted off a number of shows because of my early harsh take that Elizabeth killed the baby and no mysterious couple or hiding place existed. I never bought Elizabeth’s story that she made up the baby homicide because she wanted to hurt Logan; I believed she offed the baby and then bragged about it. In spite of the fact the Elizabeth was willing to give the baby to the Smiths (to get rid of it and piss off Logan) and, although I believe she is perfectly capable of giving the baby to a stranger in the park, the likelihood of her finding a sterile young white couple almost immediately upon her arrival in Texas strains credibility. Even more so, this couple would have to be willing to break the law and continue to hide the baby in the face of a massive law enforcement baby hunt.

The Smiths did love doing television. As a regular commentator who spends a lot of time in green rooms, I can tell you their behavior really wasn’t that odd. People love doing television, getting to be in the national media on the shows they have always watched and never imagined being a part of, and to be treated like a Hollywood celebrity. The Smiths, even if they were concerned for the well-being of Gabriel, are likely not able to resist the pull of fame. As to Mrs. Smith’s nudges and grabs, also not so strange when you are on television with someone else and both of you have been told to keep it short. Do I think they gave some assistance to Elizabeth that was not so kosher? Yes. Do I think they hid Gabriel? No. It serves little purpose for them and would require finding other people willing to go to a federal penitentiary for kidnapping. 

What about Logan? Do I think he cares about his baby? Sure, possibly, to some extent. Do I think he would be a good father? No. Do I think Logan is telling the truth about Elizabeth and the Smiths? Possibly, but probably with a version that benefits his image.

And then we have Elizabeth. Here is a person I have no if, ands, or buts about. Her absolutely cold demeanor in discussing how she dumped her baby on complete strangers and her calm in the midst of this storm shows me a person with no conscience, no empathy, no sense of right and wrong. She is a psychopath. She is capable of dumping or killing her child as the mood suits her. I think the baby became an annoyance in San Antonio when she had to pay someone to leave him with while she went out, as her CraigsList babysitter stated, “In club clothes” for two hours during the day. In other words, she had to give up money to make money. Maybe she decided it was cheaper to medicate Gabriel while she was off doing her thing, or maybe she simply got angry at having to care for him and ended her bout with motherhood through foul play. The biggest truth told by any of  the actors in this drama is likely Elizabeth’s coldblooded statement to Logan of the blue baby in the bin.

What will be the conclusion of this sad reality show? It remains to be seen. The police are finally admitting the baby is not likely alive. Elizabeth Johnson hopefully will spend the rest of her life in jail and spare us all a long trial. Logan will have to deal with the results of careless mating, criminal behavior of both himself and his girlfriend, and the loss of a son. The Smiths will get a book deal, which will prove that persistence and petty criminal acts pay off.

The trend in reality crime drama is probably here to stay, for good or bad. I just wish it would have a happy ending more often.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you! Great article and insight (that is why they 'pay you the big bucks)

Anonymous said...

Great article! I agree totally!

Leah said...

Sounds like a mix of Haleigh Cummings and Casey Anthony cases. I saw a little of this on Nancy Grace a few days back and I can't see how cops think this baby is still alive. She was medicating the poor kid and was desperate to get rid of him so I wonder why she didn't just let dad have him. Sure Gabriel would have been better off being adopted but if she was treating his so badly I can't believe she cared that much who took him. Must have been wanting money for baby Gabriel. Poor kid....I hope they find him.

California Girl said...

I have actually been waiting for the mother to say she left the baby with Zanny.

E.A. Jurenovich said...

Considering that police records back up Logan's reports of Elizabeth's violence in the home and around Gabriel, and given that court records document Tammi Peters Smith's legal abandonment of the three children from her prior marriage, it seems evident that Logan McQueary (however imperfect) is the one person in this tragic tale who had the best likelihood of being the devoted parent Gabriel needed.

Logan loves that little boy of his, and he has not given up hope that his son may yet be found, despite scornful attacks by media personalities like Pat Brown and countless armchair detectives who think they know "the ultimate truth" of Gabriel's disappearance.

Despite the fact that Elizabeth and Tammi Faye are the ones criminally-charged, Logan has been targeted by all sorts of crazies implicating him in Gabriel's absence, critiquing his interview skills, and accusing him of somehow profiting financially from this debacle. They may have discouraged him from participating in more media opportunities, but they cannot squelch his desire to have his son returned to him, safe and sound. (And that, in my opinion, cannot happen soon enough.)