Missing Persons Investigations

When someone goes missing, it is vital that you start searching and gathering information immediately. This can include contacting friends, neighbors and colleagues. It also involves checking the person’s cell phone and virtual footprint.


It is also important to make public appeals and utilize social media platforms. You should also check with local area hospitals and emergency rooms to see if the missing person has been admitted.


While not all cases will progress to interrogation, if there is evidence that a missing person may be at significant risk of harm, the investigator may decide to move from an interview to an interrogation. Knowing what to expect, and the essential steps to be taken, can help investigators successfully manage this transition.

A key element of both interviews and interrogations is rapport building. By establishing trust and understanding, investigators can promote productive conversations that result in truthful and precise responses. Proficient communication and questioning techniques are also essential, using open-ended questions to stimulate discussion and attentive listening to encourage an honest response.

Some cases of disappearance involve criminal networks that operate across national borders. These networks engage in activities such as drug trafficking, wildlife smuggling and resource theft. This activity can be violent and infiltrates communities at local, regional and global levels. In these cases, corruption is often a factor. This can mean that authorities are paid off by criminal groups and are unable or unwilling to investigate the crime.

If a journalist suspects that a case is in this category, it is important for them to liaise with their local police force early on, especially if the child has been missing for more than 24 hours. For children, it is vital that they are offered a Prevention Interview or Safe and Well Check (see below) which provides the opportunity for them to talk about the circumstances surrounding their disappearance in a more detailed and supportive intervention than the initial police checks.


Missing person investigations are one of the largest non-crime police demands (Babuta and Sidebottom, 2018). Often they are the result of serious crime or harm, including abduction, criminal and sexual exploitation, or suicide (Yong and Tzani-Pepelasis, 2020).

Investigations of missing persons involve a wide range of methods. They include examining the disappearances from all angles, such as looking at a person’s digital footprint (emails, social media, GPS data) and conducting interviews with friends and family. Officers may also assess the risk level of a missing person. This helps them determine how urgently and intensively they should search for a person, particularly if they are likely to be at particular risk of harm or death as time passes since their disappearance (Missing People, 2014; DfE, 2014).

As investigations progress, law enforcement agencies often release public appeals and engage in community searches for the disappeared. This can be effective, especially when a case involves international collaboration. The International Organization for Migration, for instance, can help address the issue of missing migrants by providing data and promoting policy development. It can also assist in cross-border investigations by disseminating Yellow Notices to police forces across the world, the aim being to locate them (Missing People, 2014). High-profile cases can attract the attention of individuals who claim to have psychic or extrasensory powers, putting pressure on law enforcement to concentrate searches in certain areas.

Gathering Information

Using a variety of methods, investigators seek clues to locate the missing person. They search the area where they were last seen and interview people who know them. They also use technology like GPS, drones and digital forensics. They often work with local law enforcement agencies and international police organizations such as Interpol to coordinate cross-border investigations.

They may also publish information about the disappearance to help the public find the person. This can include creating and distributing flyers with any image of the person. They also use social media and the press to spread the word.

Some investigators also seek out private citizens to assist in their search. However, it is crucial to check the credentials of those seeking out a disappeared person. Stalkers, abusers and others with ill intent may hire private investigators to locate vulnerable people for their own nefarious purposes.

Families of the disappeared can suffer from significant financial strain, especially if they must travel or hire private investigators. They can also be left in legal limbo without a death certificate, which means they cannot access bank accounts, settle estates or make decisions about dependents. They can also become depressed and withdrawn. Educating yourself about missing persons can help you recognize the impact that disappearances have on individuals, families and entire communities. You can also support organizations that are dedicated to the cause by making donations or volunteering.


Once a missing person case is reported, the authorities take the lead in investigating and managing the matter. In some States and Territories, dedicated Missing Persons Units are involved to help coordinate the investigation and offer advice.

The first step in investigating a disappearance is usually to assess the risk level, which will determine the urgency and resources allocated to the case. Police officers must also take into account whether the case falls within a criminal category, such as burglary or kidnapping, which will change the investigative process.

In many cases, family members will be asked to provide information that can be used in locating the missing individual. This includes a current photo, a description of the missing person’s clothing and appearance, the last known location of the missing person (including street address and house number), phone or pager records, and internet access history. The investigator will also check social media accounts for any posts that might indicate a voluntary departure or suspicious circumstances.

Unlike cases of abduction and murder, which can be triggered by various factors, an enforced disappearance is typically the result of state-sanctioned actions against individuals or groups. This kind of disappearance is a serious human rights violation and can be investigated by local and international organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has long been involved in addressing this issue by locating disappeared people, providing psychological support, and advocating for policies that address the root causes of disappearances.