Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Every day brings a new mystery for Tampa's missing

TAMPA — Wendy Mullins left her apartment about 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 1, carrying her kitten. She waved goodbye to a neighbor and vanished.

A few hours later, her worried roommate called police.

It's a call Tampa police take more than 400 times each year.

Someone disappears. It could be an elderly Alzheimer's patient or an adult who simply wants a new start.

"Missing children, right away we're rolling out the canines," Maj. George McNamara said.

This time, it was a suicide.

A man on his way to work that Monday morning found Mullins under an outside stairway at east Tampa assisted-living facility, a block from her apartment on 21st Avenue. She had a faint pulse but died in the hospital.

Of the hundreds of people who disappear in Tampa each year, most are found safe.

A few remain missing, even for years. Sometimes, police find people too late.

When someone disappears, the call first goes to a Tampa patrol officer, who gathers information from relatives and friends, then calls hospitals and crisis centers.

A missing child is an immediate signal for canines and a search party.

Take the case of Jennifer Marteliz. A bubbly 7-year-old girl, Jennifer disappeared in 1982 from her family's Sulphur Springs neighborhood.

Police immediately brought tracking dogs, helicopters and volunteers to search. Her picture went up on billboards, grocery bags and milk cartons.

Even with all the efforts, she was never found.

In the case of a missing adult, the officer looks for signs of danger: suicide attempts, illness, drug abuse, evidence of foul play.

If someone has disappeared before, the officer looks up the person's ultimate destination and checks that place. "It should be done within a several-hour stretch, easily," McNamara said.

An alert goes out for other patrol officers. Missing children cases go to the family violence and sex crimes division. Missing adults go to homicide.

The files for adults land on the desk of investigator Michael Wirth, 49.

"He takes all these cases personally," McNamara said. "I'm only aware of a few cases of people who have not been located."

Wirth joined the department 26 years ago as a patrol officer.

In 1986, doctors told him he had a fatal brain tumor. He was given three months to live.

"I survived something that many doctors said is impossible," he said.

His experience gave him insight and empathy into people with troubles.

Earlier this year, he located a woman who disappeared from a Hyde Park counseling center. Her family lived out of the area. The woman was in her late 20s, struggling with alcohol and food issues.

When Wirth found her lying on a bench, he persuaded her to return with him to seek help.

The family was so ecstatic that Wirth received an award from the U.S. Senate.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.

Every day brings a new mystery for Tampa's missing 04/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 5:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Buccaneers defense was among NFL's best when its pressure got to the QB

    Bucs

    It doesn't matter how many times they've thrown a football. It doesn't matter how many seasons they've played. It doesn't matter whether they have a degree from Harvard or Central Florida.

    Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy recorded 6.5 sacks last season, but many of his other contributions didn't show up in the box scores. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]

  2. What you need to know for Thursday, June 29

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    See that thing in the water? No? That's the point. It's that time of the year when stingrays are often lurking in the sand, often not visibly. Remember to do the stingray shuffle if you're out at the beach this weekend. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
  3. Pinellas beaches seeing fewer injuries from stingrays, but the summer is still young

    Environment

    FORT DE SOTO — Rebecca Glidden leaned back in her lifeguard chair, watching behind sunglasses as families splashed in the water at Fort De Soto's North Beach.

    A Clearwater water safety supervisor demonstrates the stingray shuffle. Pinellas beaches are reporting relatively few injuries from stingrays so far this year, but they anticipate more as the summer wears on. Officials are reminding beachgoers to do the shuffle when they enter the water and keep an eye out for purple flags flying from the lifeguard towers, which indicate stingray activity. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  4. Weeki Wachee River advocates agree to work to resolve issues

    Local Government

    WEEKI WACHEE — Degradation of the Weeki Wachee River is a complex mix of circumstances, with a variety of jurisdictions holding the authority to fix the problems. That has made finding solutions over the years more about frustration than success.

    A boat and kayak drift into one another as they share the narrow passage near Rogers Park on the Weeki Wachee River in March. Advocates fear too many vessels are damaging the river.
  5. Despite change in Cuba policy, cruise ships sail on

    Tourism

    TAMPA -- It's smooth sailing for cruises from Tampa to Havana, with the first of Carnival Cruise Line's 12 such excursions launching today, two months after Royal Caribbean's initial voyage from Port Tampa Bay to the island.

    The Empress of the Seas cruise ship docks at the Port Tampa Bay Cruise Terminal 3 in Tampa. President Donald 

Trump's new Cuba policy may not hurt cruises to Havana at all. In fact, it may help these cruises. CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times