Tomorrow Gone: Missing and Murdered Children
Part 1 of a Series
by: Jon Crane

Saturday Ramblins, Vol. 2, No. 5 (March 6, 1999)

Too many times in the last year this service has sent out an "Extra" post that began, "Another child is missing." Four times to be exact. Four times too many. Christin Lamb, Maddie Clifton, Mikelle Biggs and Erica Baker. Christin and Maddie were found dead. Mikelle and Erica are still missing. And with each loss, a little bit of tomorrow is gone.

These little girls represent just a tiny fraction of the children who have gone missing during the last year in the United States. We look at their pictures – the smiling innocence in their eyes -- their trusting faces. They look like any one of dozens of children. They look like my children. They look like your children.

In some cases a missing child is the result of a parental or family abduction. In others, it is a run-away child. In too many cases, it is a child taken by a predator to satisfy some deep, aberrant drive. In far too many cases it results in the death of the child. Take the case of Christin Lamb of Powell, Wyoming.

On the warm Sunday evening of July 19th, 8-year-old Christin was riding her red scooter less than a block and a half from the home of her grandparents. When she failed to return by 10 p.m., her mother contacted the police. Within an hour a search team was assembled and looking for the tiny redhead.

When no trace of Christin could be found in her neighborhood, the search widened to the surrounding community with search dogs brought in to assist.

Meanwhile, a hundred feet from her grandparents' home, Christin already lay dead in a trailer belonging to a 22-year-old man's ex-wife. James Eric Peterson was babysitting his stepdaughter and son. Peterson has a history of sexual offenses including one involving a minor. It is believed he invited Christin into the trailer (he claimed to police to have had sex with her on a previous occasion). I'll spare you the details at this point, but the child was sexually assaulted before her death.

To cover his crime, Peterson placed Christin's body in an army duffel bag and then placed the duffel bag inside of a large garbage bag. He dismantled her little red scooter. This man then carried the garbage bag and scooter and threw them in the trailer park's communal dumpster like so much rubbish for disposal.

Christin's broken scooter was discovered in Powell's landfill on the 3rd of August. Her tiny body was discovered two days later.

On October 27th of 1998, Peterson pleaded guilty to four charges in connection with Christin's abduction, molestation and murder. By doing so, he avoided the death penalty but will spend the rest of his life in the Wyoming State Prison with no possibility of parole.

Horrified? Outraged? You should be. Here was a man with a history of sexual misconduct who was not registered under Wyoming's Sex Offender statutes.

Then there was the case of Maddie Clifton of Jacksonville, Florida, also 8. On the evening of November 3rd of last year, Maddie left her house intending to go play with friends. A week later, she was found dead, taped under the frame of a waterbed belonging to her 14-year-old neighbor and playmate, Joshua Phillips. Maddie had been stabbed nine times, including twice in the neck, and had been hit in the head with a baseball bat. There was no evidence of sexual abuse and police are still not discussing motive.

Two dead children: one by the hand of a sex offender with a record, the other by the hand of a child, neighbor and playmate. How do we protect the Maddies and Christins of this world? What do we do to ensure our children's safety? Do we write more articles like this? Do we shake our heads and say, "What a shame"? I believe there is far more we can do.

We can start with a little review of the facts regarding sex offenders. The victims of more than 60% of imprisoned offenders are under the age of 18. Approximately 4 in 10 of imprisoned offenders reported that their victims were under the age of 12. Most sex offenders are not in prison. In most places the presence of convicted sex offenders is largely unknown to the members of the community. Some offenders who remain untreated for their disorders, have a high likelihood of repeating their offenses. The system that should oversee such offenders in communities is overwhelmed with work. State-sponsored treatment programs have been under attack and are beginning to disappear across the country. **

Would correcting any or all of the above problems have saved Maddie or Christin? There is no answer to that. Is there anything that can be done beyond shaking our heads? Yes. In part two of this series, we will look at a comprehensive model for a sex-offender policy. It is something you and I can work for in our respective states and maybe make a difference: a difference that might save the life of one child. That one child is my child. That one child is your child

** This information is summarized from A Model State Sex-Offender Policy and reprinted with permission of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). © NCMEC 1998. All rights reserved. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® is a registered service mark of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.