Teleka Patrick case has amateur sleuths taking lead role in public disclosures

Commentary:  It appears that assistance from “amateur sleuths” is the future of investigation and crime fighting… The key will be separating those with valid information from those seeking to plant MIS-INFORMATION.

article spotted on Mlive 

teleka patrick 20kKALAMAZOO, MI – By time the media reported some of the most shocking developments in the Teleka Patrickdisappearance case — the online videos, her apparent obsession with Grand Rapids minister Marvin Sapp, the deleted Twitter posts — it was old news to people such as Brooke Pearson in Virginia and Diahanna Kinley in Ohio.

They are among amateur detectives from across the country who have delved into the Patrick case on websleuths.com, a online forum to discuss missing-person cases and brainstorm about clues to finding the victims.

Since Patrick’s Dec. 5 disappearance, Websleuth members — largely composed of true-crime-story fanatics — have gone to work tracking Patrick’s social media footprints.

In recent weeks, they’ve uncovered her online videos, figured out her various Twitter handles, discovered how to retrieve thousands of deleted Twitter posts,and analyzed the 20,000 Twitter posts to determine which were most relevant and important — developments picked up and reported by the mainstream media.

Websleuthers even figured out the Kalamazoo doctor’s apparent obsession with Sapp days before that development was made public.

“We were ahead of everybody on this,” said Tricia Griffith, co-owner of the website. “Although it’s not me, it’s our wonderful members. … It’s like having a gigantic worldwide research department at your fingertips.”

Although Websleuths tracks dozens of missing-person cases nationwide, Griffith said the Patrick case is one of the most compelling she’s seen in years.

For starters, the victim is young, beautiful and highly accomplished. The case also has a surprising twist: It now appears Patrick, a first-year medical resident, was experiencing symptoms of mental illness that led her to stalk Sapp, a Grammy-nominated gospel singer.

Another highly unusual development, Griffith said, are the Twitter posts, both in terms of their volume and content.

Patrick used Twitter as a daily online diary in which she detailed her innermost thoughts, including the voices in her head that led her to obsess about Sapp.

“You usually don’t see this in true crime, where the victim poured out her soul for everybody to see,” Griffith said.”You can tell this is a wonderful, kind, loving woman who is ill,” Griffith said. “You can’t help but be drawn to this case. You really want to rescue her.”sleuthUntangling the caseWebsleuths quickly picked up initial media reports that Patrick mysteriously disappeared Dec. 5 after working a shift at Borgess Medical Center, and members turned to online resources to look for clues.

Websleuth members soon realized Patrick had a substantial online presence, and  discovered Patrick posted a series of videos in November to an unnamed loved interest.

Patrick’s family said they didn’t know who Patrick was addressing in the videos.  ButKathleen Streitenberger, a retired corporate “skiptracer” — someone who tracks individuals on the Internet — used her professional skills to link Patrick to Sapp.

“I knew she was stalking MS,” Streitenberger said in an email to the Kalamazoo Gazette. Shortly after she posted her finding on Websleuths, the media reported that Sapp obtained a personal protection order against Patrick in September.

Meanwhile, other Websleuthers worked on retrieving Patrick’s deleted Twitter posts, a complicated process that included figuring out Twitter handles such as “MosesBeautiful” and “caligurl203,”  finding a search engine that would retrieve deleted posts, and teaching themselves how to best use the search  program.

In the end, they hit on “an explosion of data,” an estimated 20,000 Twitter posts, said Pearson, who lives in Virginia and works as a federal data analyst.

“Most of these cases, there is very little sleuthing,” Pearson said about websleuths.com. “This one is crazy because there’s so much out there.”

Keith Komos, an IT specialist at the University of Houston, took the Twitter posts and put them into a searchable database, a 740-page document that has since been posted on Websleuths.

Considering the hundreds of hours Websleuthers put into the Patrick case, not to mention the range of expertise of the members, it’s no surprise that Websleuth has been ahead of the media, Komos said.

“This is where crowd-sourcing comes into play,” he said.  ”These amateur investigators have the advantage of time, interest and focus that reporters and law enforcement don’t have.”

 Websleuth community
Websleuths started in the 1990s as an online forum to discuss the Jon Benet Ramsey murder case.
The website was purchased in 2004 by Griffith, who now co-owns the site with Susan Pruitt.Websleuths is credited with finding a vital clue in the Casey Anthony case and helping solve the 2009 murder of Abraham Shakespeare, a Florida laborer who won $32 million in the lottery.Websleuths has about 67,000 registered members, Griffith said, and about 25,000 to 30,000 people — some members, some visitors — go onto the site on an average day. About 60 percent of the website participants are women, she said, and their average age is 35 to 64.
Kinley and Pearson are typical Websleuthers: Both are 40-year-old single professionals who can’t get enough of true-crime cases.
“This is my hobby, this is my passion,” said Kinley, who lives in suburban Cincinnati and works at home as a IT contractor. “I sit with two computers all day — one for work and one for Websleuths.”
Kinley, who is biracial and identifies as African-American, was initially drawn to the Patrick case because it involves a highly accomplished and deeply religious African-American.And now because of the Twitter posts, Kinley said, “I’ve gotten to know her in a way that I’ve never gotten to known any missing person.”

Pearson agrees the Twitter posts have made this case particularly interesting.
“It’s very clear she is very intelligent and well-spoken,” Pearson said. “Her personality really comes out. … Her voice is so compelling. You feel you know her.”
Another Websleuther closely following the case is Tammy LaCoursiere, a 45-year-old college student who lives in Sault Ste. Marie.
LaCoursiere started following the case because it occurred in Michigan. But the realization Patrick may have mental illness strikes a deep chord: LaCoursiere had a son who suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2008.
LaCoursiere also had someone close to her who experienced erotomania, the psychiatric disorder where someone believes a stranger is in love with him or her.
Patrick’s Twitter posts, in which she describes her certainty Sapp is secretly in love with her, sound achingly familiar, LaCoursiere said.
LaCoursiere’s acquaintance ended up in a psychiatric hospital and was treated with Invega, a medication that Patrick mentions trying. “I didn’t know if she would come back,” LaCoursiere said about her acquaintance. “But she’s 100 percent now.”
She’s praying for such a happy ending for Patrick.
“What really tugs at my heart is here is someone who needed help but didn’t get it,” LaCoursiere said. “She’s such a beautiful person through and through. I hope we find her.”
Search continues
Websleuth members continue to brainstorm on the search for Teleka.On Thursday, a Websleuth member posted that she mailed a copy of the missing-person poster on Patrick to “every homeless shelter and food pantry within a 10-mile radius” of where the car was found along I-94 near Portage, Ind.”If no one knows what what she looks like and that’s she’s missing, she’s can’t be ‘rescued,’ ” the member wrote.Another focus now is looking for more Twitter accounts. Although they have found tweets dating back to April, Patrick made references to a Twitter account she deleted before that.

Some Websleuthers also theorize Patrick may be in hiding and using a new Twitter account, and point to a tweet with clues to the name of a new handle.

“She meant to start another account and left clues, but we haven’t been able to put it together,” LaCoursiere said.Kinley said she feels a little guilty about reading the Twitter posts because Patrick reveals so much, but she’s also convinced their work could help crack the case. 

“I’m not a voyeur and I know my motives are pure,” Kinley said. “I totally believe the social media stuff will lead to finding her, regardless of the outcome.”

All three women are among dozens who continue to spend hours every day discussing the Patrick case on websleuths.com.

“Is it an obsession that I’m obsessed with somebody else who is obsessed?” Pearson asked wryly. “And she’s sick but I’m not? Right. Hmmm, well, I’ve thought about that.”Julie Mack covers K-12 education and writes a column for Kalamazoo Gazette. Email her at jmack1@mlive.com, call her at 269-350-0277 or follow her on Twitter at kzjuliemack.

You may also like...