I am a detective who investigates the coldest of missing person cases. Families who are desperate to find lost relatives petition me for answers when others have found none. However, I feel as though I can never meet their expectations. If I find the missing person dead all I can give is an account of what might have happened. The worst cases are those where something inexplicable has occurred. An incomplete chronology can be devised, but after the facts run out (and they always do) there is a void.
Take one of my current cases as an example: on October 31st, Student 1 finished attending lectures and returned to their Rawson Street accommodation; later Student 2 finished their lectures and joined Student 1 in their flat; a mutual friend of the two students also received an invitation to watch films (Ringu & Videodrome) that night, but did not attend; a neighbour of Student 1 reported being woken by singing of songs from A Nightmare Before Christmas later that night. Neither two students attended classes the next day, and have not been seen since. No signs of struggle or intent to disappear were found.
Even if I confine myself to the realistic, the plausible, there are many gaps where extra events & motives can be inserted. If I wander into the fantastic for an explanation, then what? Were they both consumed by the television set? I think not, but I have no evidence that gives me the authority to rule that out completely.
Any account I give families may by chance describe what happened, and coincidences do happen, but my scenarios, correct or not, are still gross simplifications. For me and these families there are only hollow conclusions. Even if they are reunited with their loved one, there is still an emptiness. People always want to know more than can be told. How can we know exactly what has happened to someone else? Maybe we can learn enough to feel an empathy, but not everything about an experience can be shared.
So, what I do when I meet each new family is sit with them at the table in my office. I make them a drink and put a paper copy of their relative’s file between us. Then I assure them that I will do the best I can to find them, but the chances of success are low. At this point they tend thank me for my honesty. After this, to tease out additional information, we talk about the missing person. At the end of the meeting I say that while there seem to be three possible outcomes (I find them dead, alive, or I fail to find any trace) there is really only one. No matter what the outcome of my investigation is, any of the stories that I tell to these families will never be substitutes for lost time with loved ones.
My “success rate” compared to my colleagues is said to be unusually high.