Houston Cold Case Shows How the Answer to Mystery Can be Nearby

Alice Almendarez was 16 when her father, John Almendarez, 42, suddenly stopped calling his daughters just after Father’s Day in 2002.

Although the family had separated, she didn’t believe her father would just disappear without a word – or trace, writes G.W. Schulz, in the new Reveal series, Left for Dead: Inside America’s Coldest Cases, from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Alice Almendarez spent years searching for her father, unaware that Houston authorities already had his unidentified remains. Credit: Jim Flores for Reveal

Jim Flores for Reveal / Special to Reveal, the Center for Investigative Reporting

Alice Almendarez spent years searching for her father, unaware that Houston authorities already had his unidentified remains. Credit: Jim Flores for Reveal

And as it turns out, John Almendarez didn’t just walk away. He died within minutes of the family home, and was pulled from Houston’s Buffalo Bayou on July 2, 2002. “Authorities in the Houston area had all they needed to know that … he was nearby all along,” Schulz writes.

And still the family was left to agonize for more than a decade. The FBI estimates there are some 80,000 people missing on any given day, and 10,000 on a bleak national list of people found deceased without an identity. Obviously, some of the people from those two lists are one and the same.

The Reveal investigation found that neglect, indifference and a lack of will or resources dedicated by police, coroners, medical examiners and others still hinder identifications, Schulz reported. Law enforcement agencies at times have let solvable cold cases languish, only to have citizens piece together answers on their own.

Details about the missing and unidentified dead are recorded in NamUs, a growing but voluntary federal database housed at the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas in Fort Worth. The key word is voluntary, Schulz has explained. Without uniform, mandatory national reporting standards, many of the unidentified simply slip through the cracks.

However, members of the public can search the database and alert investigators to possible matches. NamUs contains thousands of clues, including locations, dates, physical descriptions, photographs taken post-mortem and more. Ultimately, authorities then must decide whether to take the next step and compare DNA or dental records.

To catch up on the Reveal series, please click here.

To see the I-News story, reported in collaboration with Reveal by RMPBS’ Katie Kuntz, please click here.

 

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