The Data-Based Detective
Private eye Marilyn Greene's missing-person 'finds' are based on her unique system. PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — RICHARD RIZZO's ex-wife vanished with their son seven years ago. After an unsuccessful search by the police, Mr. Rizzo assumed his son could not be found.Private investigator Marilyn Greene located the boy in 20 minutes. Ms. Greene listened to Rizzo's (not his real name) account of the disappearance, ferreting out traceable information. Knowing the name and birth date of Rizzo's ex-wife, Greene called an insurance company, a university, and the registry of motor vehicles. Nothing. Greene tried different combinations of the four names she got from Rizzo, and found his ex-wife was using her first and middle names as her first and last. She got a phone number and called. Rizzo's son answered the phone. He was four miles from his father's home. Greene claims she doesn't work miracles, just statistics. Private investigation, like the law or medical professions, should be based on a continuously updated and well-documented body of knowledge, Greene said in an interview near her home in Schenectady. This sets her apart even more than her unusual specialty - or the fact that she is in a profession where women are traditionally unwelcome. Greene specializes in finding missing and lost persons and at her own estimate has solved around 300 cases in her 10 years as a private investigator and 10 years of volunteering. Unlike most private investigators, who say each case is different, Greene says, "We have had the same cases occurring over and over through time. Only our ignorance of past cases keeps us from solving today's." By recognizing patterns of repetition Greene has developed a system of classifying cases she says no other investigators use. "If you called me and said, 'My daughter is 15 years old and she didn't come home last night. I'm worried sick,' the first thing that I would do ... is say 'What is your daughter like?
Determining a category Through this interview Greene would determine what category and subcategory the case fits into. "She was doing really well in school and her grades just dropped recently," might be the response. Does she have a new friend? Where is the new friend? With this information Greene determines that the new friend ran away, too. Past cases show the friend is probably a habitual runner, a subcategory of runaways, running with her boyfriend and the newly befriended girl. "With a habitual runner, what you will find is the need to play the 'big sister' role.... You can't be a big sister without a little sister." Her system contradicts peers like Capt. Vincent Foley, commanding officer of detective services of New York State's Albany City Police. Police there categorize cases, treating juveniles differently than adults, differently than elderly. Foley interviews friends and relatives, but once those sources are exhausted, the case is closed. "You can only go so far with missing persons cases," he said. To Greene, no case is ever closed. Her unsolved cases wait in her home office until she uncovers a case in history or finds a pattern from her own work that solves all cases like it. Wanting to share her method, Greene is writing a self-help manual and teaching a National Association of Search and Rescue course at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. The manual will tell readers: "This is how you can solve your own missing-persons cases. These are the resources. This is what the experts do." This impulse to educate others stems from her frustration with how few people are interested in her method of solving cases. "What people want is a crystal ball, something that gives them the answers to the questions they have. In reality, a lot of work, skill, time, and learning goes into finding the answers." Although the research is hard work, Greene claims that anyone can do it. William C. Dear, a private investigator in Texas who also specializes in missing persons, walks the same path as Greene initially: investigating the place where the person was last seen, interviewing, then doing basic classification. After that, he looks for differences, not similarities. What sets Greene apart from other investigators is her systemization. Mr. Dear knows from 28 years in the missing-person business that often when a person does not have a driver's license, he is living from day to day at a Salvation Army facility or YMCA. Missing people often call home at Christmas or find jobs within their established profession. But Dear has no theory connecting his findings. Greene is a social scientist, always collecting data to prove her theory. A thoughtful woman with cropped hair and a soft voice, Greene is both practical and prideful when talking about her work. What she loves is to solve the puzzle. She gets satisfaction from exercising the skill "of being knowledgable enough to pull the clues out of the rhetoric." Greene first wanted to become a police officer in upstate New York. She says in her 1988 autobiography, "Finder" (co-written with Gary Provost), that she thought this was a natural outlet for the interest in missing people she had had since childhood. After being told she could not become a police officer because she was a woman, she began volunteering with the Adirondack Search and Rescue team. Today she says that is the best thing that ever happened to her.
Lessons learned as a volunteer Her theories and methods grew from what she learned as a volunteer and through the National Association of Search and Rescue. Peggy McDonald, acting director of NASR, an umbrella organization, said the course NASR teaches shows how to use formulas to determine where lost people are most likely to be found and methods of segmenting search areas. This training prompted Greene to look at other types of investigation with the same perspective. "All you can do is evaluate to the best of your ability and to plan based on your knowledge, so that searching can be goal-oriented, as opposed to random," she says. These methods proved effective again in June when an elderly man diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease was found in Pittsfield, Mass., 140 yards south of the nursing home he had wandered from a day and a half earlier. The search took only an hour and 40 minutes after Greene arrived. This case was successful in part because Greene was called in only 15 hours after the man had been reported missing instead of 15 days. Greene said she is often invited to a search as a final effort and often at the insistence of a family member rather than the search's manager. She laments that after decades of knowing of NASR's methods, "the use of the proper resource in the proper order is still the exception, not the rule." But Greene, a pioneer for women investigators, is not blazing a trail in one area: "I don't even know how to turn one on," she says of computers, which are increasingly used in investigations. According to her, "There isn't a single case that would have been solved faster with a computer."