Friday, May 20, 2016

The Real-Life Missing

The May 16 episode of Disappeared is one that I can't let go of. It's the most baffling missing-persons case the Investigation Discovery series has profiled all season.

Often the subjects of Disappeared episodes display unusual or erratic behavior in the days before they go missing or are suffering from depression. Other times it seems likely that a present or former partner is involved.

But none of those appear to be case with 60-year-old David Riemens, who went missing on Aug. 8, 2012, from Watertown, Tenn. He was an affable, talented stone mason who lived in a tree house on the farm of two longtime friends, Donny and Laura Nuessle. He was well liked and well known in the small rural community, and though his lifestyle sounds eccentric, on the episode, called "No Stone Unturned," his friends and family describe him as free spirited but not reckless.

He disappeared the day he was due to drive from Tennessee to Michigan to visit his siblings. According to the show, David went into town that morning to see some friends and run errands before he left. Donny saw him at the farm before noon when he returned to pick up his sketch pad. Donny assumed David was trying to meet with a contractor or a homeowner somewhere in the surrounding area to line up some work for when he got back.

Apparently, David had been trying to get work at a site somewhere in the area — an elderly man had given him bricks from an old barn, and it was while picking up these bricks that David saw a foundation being laid for a house on the property. The elderly man said the house was for his daughter and she was interested in stonework for the exterior. David told friends that when he asked the men laying the foundation how he would get in touch with the contractor, they were very terse and unfriendly.

Donny Nuessle didn't know where this place was, but estimated that it was within an hour's drive from the farm based on how long David was gone on the two previous occasions. The last known sighting of David, according to the show, came later that day. Toni Tatu, a local who knew him, saw him in the parking lot of a Dollar General after 1pm and briefly talked to him.

After that, he appears to vanish. The law enforcement officer interviewed on the show said surveillance video from Dollar General shows he never went into the store.

And police can't pursue inquiries through customary 21st-century technology because David lived largely off the grid. Since he didn't have a cellphone, police can't trace where it pinged after he was last seen, and they can't see who texted or called him just before his disappeared. He didn't have email, so they can't see who he was corresponding with. In fact, a large section of Disappeared focused on attempts by police and David's friends and family to try to identify the construction site David had visited.

Armchair detective that I am, I can't help wondering if they're looking in the best direction. Here's why. 

1) He went missing the day he was supposed to leave town

While not entirely ruling out the theory that David was killed because the construction workers felt threatened by him or he saw something he wasn't supposed to when he visited the site, I wonder if it's just a coincidence that he went missing the day he was supposed to leave for vacation. If you hold a grudge against someone, the perfect time to kill him would be just before he's due to leave town. It could be some time before anyone missed him, so who in town knew he was going away?

2) He could have gone to and come back from the construction site by the time he went missing

Also, in the time between when Donny and Toni saw him, it seems likely that David could have made the trip to the construction site, if it was indeed less than an hour away, and if not secured a job, then at least picked up more bricks, which were found in his truck. Surely he would have unloaded the bricks from his previous visits. They would really weigh down a vehicle and he wouldn't drive seven hours with them to Michigan. The only reason for them to be there would be if he'd just picked them up.

Those who believe his disappearance is tied to the construction site theorize that he met up with someone involved in the project in the parking lot, got in their car and they took him someplace where they killed him and got rid of his body. A police dog tracked the scent from inside David's car to outside the driver's side and around to what would be the passenger's side of a car in the space to the right. That's where the scent was lost, thereby suggesting he got in a car parked next to his. 

3) The scent-tracking results are open to interpretation

But Laura Nuessle said two interesting things about that: He hated to be a passenger in a car and he never locked his doors, and that's how the car was found. And why would he need someone to take him to the site when he'd already been there twice? Plus, if the Disappeared reenactment is to be believed (and I know it might not be), the sketch pad that David went back to the farm for was seen in his vehicle. Why wouldn't he bring that to the site?

Also, the spot where the dog lost David's scent (where the passenger's door of a car in the next space would be) would also be the area where the driver's side of a car parked two spaces over would be. Maybe David got out of his car to speak to the driver of a car parked two spaces over. If I'm parking in a lot that's not very crowded (and I don't know if that was the case; I'm just surmising) I might leave a space between my car and the next one, depending on the size of the spaces and the size of the car I'm driving.

4) His car might not have been at the Dollar General parking lot the whole time

Does anyone know for certain that David's car was at the Dollar General the whole time from around 1pm Aug. 8 until people realized he was missing and later found the car there? Maybe David planned to meet a person there, but not one connected to the construction site. Maybe it was someone he knew for some personal or business reason like borrowing or loaning money, borrowing a camera or some other item that he might need for his vacation. The person could have said they forgot to bring it, but if David follows them home, he'll get it for them. David does, and that's when he's killed. The person returns David's car to the parking lot before anyone realizes he's missing and either walks home (according to Google Earth there are a couple of Dollar General's in Watertown that look like they're within walking distance of homes), someone else picks him up or someone else is in on it and they drive back together. Perhaps the scent the dog smelled going from the driver's side of one car to the passenger side of another wasn't David's, but belonged to the most recent person in the car.

As I said, if you know someone's going on vacation the perfect time to kill them is right before they leave, because they won't be missed right away. And if you know David doesn't have a bank or credit card, you can assume he would have lots of cash with him even if you didn't seem him withdrawing money from the bank two days earlier.

If this is the correct scenario, one thing the killer probably didn't know is that David's bags were still at the farm, so the Nuessles thought something was off within hours when he didn't come back to the farm, but it didn't matter.  The case has remained quite cold.

5) Maybe it wasn't a crime

As I glanced at the Google Earth overview of the surrounding area, I noticed that behind one of the Dollar Generals, the territory looks very rural: lots of grass and trees and a waterway called Beech Log Creek. Could David be there? Could it have been an accident? Could he have decided to go for a walk and fell or had a heart attack? His disappearance really doesn't sound like a suicide, but could he have been hurting for money because the housing market in the area was still feeling the effects of 2008? Is that why he was so eager to have work lined up for when he returned. When someone disappears their personal life can get thoroughly picked apart in an attempt to find out what happened. I don't want to cause his friends and family any pain by suggesting he took his own life. But there are so few clues in his disappearance that it's hard to discount even "abducted by aliens" as a theory.

Here are links to two discussion threads with some interesting thoughts and theories: