Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fall from Grace

by Pat Brown

It used to be the men who just walked away from it all. The man who went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back was not just a Hollywood movie contrivance. More than one woman could tell a story about a husband who left for the corner market and kept right on going. But those were the days when a woman pretty much knew her fellow had deserted her, and she didn't demand a police investigation that would end up costing the jurisdiction a fortune. And the man just left; he didn't stage his flight as an abduction.

Then along came a bug-eyed spider by the name of Jennifer Wilbanks, the so-called Runaway Bride. Four days before her April 2005 wedding, she vanished. Because she had left no note and made no phone call to her fiancé, and because some of her clothing, clumps of her hair, and a weapon were found, indicating the possibility of foul play, a major search was launched. Most importantly, family and friends swore up and down she had no questionable history of narcissism or attention-seeking, and their daughter would never do such a thing (let's ignore her three arrests for shoplifting and dumping her previous fiance). Sixty-thousand dollars later, Wilbanks turned up claiming she had been abducted, a story she finally confessed was a lie. She claimed she had just gotten cold feet, but this extreme behavior is more indicative of a female psychopath wanting a lot of attention. She got it, a real tough sentence of community service, and a book deal. Woo hoo. And now she is in love again.

Audrey Seiler, another purposefully gone-missing woman, cost the taxpayers $100, 000. The supposedly angelic, straight-A University of Wisconsin student went missing exactly one year before Wilbanks, although she is not nearly as well remembered. Search teams scoured the area for five days until she was found in a marshland, wild-eyed and raving. She, like Wilbanks, claimed she had been abducted. Her parents, like Wilbanks's parents, told police that she was not the kind of girl who would run away or fake her own abduction. Yet she did, and all to get her boyfriend's attention. She got no more jail time than her soulmate, Jennifer. I don't know what she is doing today.

And now, we have Emily Grace. Friends and family started a Facebook page when she went missing this past August. She left behind a couple of children, vanishing after a concert. The search led from her home state, New Jersey, to Celebration, Florida, where she was seen on video at a bank cleaning out her bank account. This 45-year-old woman told no one she wanted to disappear, and her family and friends stated vehemently that this was out of character. Nancy Grace, in spite of her familiarity with other runaways like Wilbanks and Seiler, wanted to believe this time around that the family was telling the truth, that this mother wouldn't desert her kids. Nancy believed someone abducted Emily, forcing her to get her money out of the bank. Many agreed with Nancy that this must be what happened, especially when Emily's personal items -- her dress, her keys, her credit cards -- were found strewn on a golf course by the side of the road like they had been tossed out of a moving car. It was this very same information that led me to believe Emily Grace had staged an abduction just like Wilbanks. Nancy and I had quite a tiff about it on her show! I turned out to be right on this one.

After a month on the lam, Emily is now back home. Isn't that sweet? And the police are filing no charges against her in spite of the fact that three states ran up bucks looking for her. But even more galling than this was when her parents asked that we all respect her privacy and not bother her. "We understand that there may be many questions about what has happened over the last several weeks," her parents said, "but we ask you to respect Emily's privacy during this time of healing and transition."

Questions? You think? How about an apology? And a payment to the police departments?

For all of you families out there with the next Wilbanks, Seiler, or Grace: When your squirrely one goes missing, don't put up a Facebook page begging everyone to get involved with the search, don't tell the police your black sheep never exhibited any behaviors that raised your eyebrow, and please sign a statement that you will be willing to foot the bill if your darling, the one "who would never go off without telling us," shows up tanning herself on a Florida beach with a margarita in her hand.

Finally, apologize to all the future real abduction victims who will get a less-than-enthusiastic, halfhearted investigation because you cried wolf and made us skeptics.

Oh, and to the next woman who wants to run off, for goodness sake, leave a note. And to the ones who actually fake their own abductions, I hope they throw the book at you. Enough is enough.


Delilah said...

Pat, thanks for addressing this hot button issue among families of missing persons. Men and women who go missing on purpose aren't breaking any laws, but, like you said in your post, they do owe society something for the lost dollars and man power which go into searches and investigations.

Good people work very hard to serve the families of missing persons, giving their own time and money towards finding that lost loved one. On top of that, taxpayers dollars as well as private and personal donation dollars are spent on these investigations. Even though there is no law against leaving, there should be some sort of accountability.

Anonymous said...

REALLY? What about women that go missing because they are abused and nobody knows about it.

I would like to see one post where Pat Brown doesnt use the word psychopath.

obladi oblada said...


Maybe the reason that Pat uses psychopath so much is because they are the ones who pull this kind of crap. Call a spade a spade. And the abused women, thats a completely different thing. The women that are talked about here are selfish. Plain and simple and should be prosecuted harshly in my opinion.

Pat Brown said...

Anonymous, abused women who go into hiding do not let their families think they are dead. They tell them they are going away or they call them to let them know they are safe. They don't stage crimes and drive their families, friends, and law enforcement into a frenzy searching for them.

If you think being an abused woman gives one the right to abuse others, waste taxpayer money, and damage future investigations of missing women, then maybe that word I use so much applies to you.

FleaStiff said...

I fail to see why the full force of the law should be thrown against someone who is in reality suffering from mental and emotional stress and for whom a stretch in jail will surely not at all be rehabilitative.

New Mexico could have charged that Runaway Bride, but the NM District Attorney saw nothing to be gained by jailing a woman in New Mexico when she obviously would be better off returning home and sorting things out there.

Leah said...

In the case of Jennifer Wilbanks, she flat lied to her fiance and LE about being abducted and that if what I find horrendous. Particularly because someone fitting the description of her abductors could have been arrested or even worse.

I would like to believe if I was ever stressed enough to want to disappear, I'd call LE first and tell them not to bother looking for me id I am reported missing. The only reason anyone would make up all that BS is for the attention. People who really want to disappear and not be bothered will do so without drawing attention to themselves.

Anonymous said...

I doubt the diagnosis of "psychopath." Probably bipolar disorder, possibly a Cluster B, but I doubt "psychopath." (Is psychopathy still used in the DSM?)

Pat Brown said...

I have little respect for the DSM and its multitude of disorders. We are not really all that different as humans and we don't really splinter off into so many boxes. What we have are different behaviors stemming from varying levels of narcissism, from normal to mild to extreme. By the time you need to stage an abduction to get attention you have a very high level of narcissism and little empathy or concern for other human beings. Psychopathy is simply the very end of the narcissism continuum which signifies to me you are pretty much a piece of work.

Soobs said...

You "have little respect" for a book that has been in use in the Unites States and worldwide for more than 50 years, by actual clinicians? Your choice, but you probably shouldn't go around diagnosing people by one look at their behavior. Or diagnosing people who comment on your blog, because they disagree with you. (your comment, Sept. 14, 6:48 pm)

I would say we are all narcissistic to a degree. Some people also have other mental disorders, but not all are "psychopathic."

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