Missing Persons Investigation

Most missing person investigations are initiated at the request of local law enforcement. PI’s can help in these types of cases by performing criminal background checks and conducting interviews with those that know the missing person.


A PI can assist police in finding missing people whether they have voluntarily disappeared or been abducted. These cases are usually entered into the NCIC system in the categories of juvenile, endangered, disabled or other, involuntary and catastrophe.

Investigating a Missing Person

When a person goes missing, the first step is to file a report with your local police department. This will initiate an official search for the individual and provide law enforcement with crucial information that may aid in their investigation.

A comprehensive missing persons investigation should include license plate scans, social media searches, interviewing friends and family, and visiting places the person frequently visits or has visited in the past. Diaries, online history and literature can also provide useful insights into the person’s activities prior to going missing.

Missing persons investigations are among the most difficult assignments peace officers face, especially in cases involving children and adults. These cases require balancing the need to find and identify the missing person with respect for the person’s privacy and rights.

Many people go missing intentionally, including avoiding alimony or child support payments or hiding from dangerous criminals such as gang members or drug cartels. In some cases, the person disappears to commit suicide.

Regardless of the circumstances, a missing person is considered to be in danger and needs to be prioritized by law enforcement agencies. Depending on the severity of the case, some cases are referred to federal law enforcement agencies for assistance. The FBI’s involvement is determined on a case-by-case basis and includes manpower for searches and interviews, investigative assistance for crime scene analysis, and assistance with forensic analysis of evidence.

Identifying the Person

The first step in a missing person investigation is to identify the individual who is missing. This is often done by contacting the person’s family and friends. It is also important to check the person’s home, workplace and any other places that they regularly visit. If the person has been missing for a long time, their family may want to consider filing a missing persons report with local police.

If the person is known to have social media accounts, review them thoroughly. This may include checking the feeds, photos posted and the people who follow them. It is also a good idea to contact local infirmaries and hospitals in the area where the person was last seen, as they may have records of individuals who have been admitted.

You can also check if the person has been incarcerated by contacting your local jail or prison. You can also use an online database called NamUs, which allows citizens to upload information about missing persons and provides research assistance to law enforcement agencies. If the person is considered critical (for example, they have a medical condition), it is important to open an investigation as soon as possible. This will help increase the likelihood of finding them alive and well. However, it is important to remember that not all missing persons investigations result in a body and that there are cases where a person is identified but their fate remains unknown.

Identifying the Location

In a missing persons case, the investigator needs to be able to identify where the person went. This can be done by gathering information and conducting interviews. It is important to keep in mind that this process can be very complex and may take a long time. It is also important to be thorough in your search. The more details you have, the better chance you have of finding the person.

The first step is to collect as much relevant information as possible about the disappeared person: any official or reliable identification documentation (passport, national ID card, driver’s license, employment security access cards, etc.), photos, genealogy descriptions, distinct physical features, social history/lifestyle (associations, nicknames or political aliases, hobbies), et cetera. Ideally, this information should be electronically stored in the missing person case file.

Depending on the context, the next step will be to orient the Search processes either towards searching for a living person (health facilities, detention centres, refugee camps, centres of adoption, human trafficking networks, border or immigration services interaction, etc.) or, if death has been verified, to identifying unidentified persons and sites (mapping of human remains sites, reconstruction of networks, exploiting implicit links).

This is a dynamic process which involves both forensic and non-forensic actors (health practitioners, forensic scientists, investigators, police officers, judicial operators, disaster managers, military personnel, local populations, etc.) The performance of each actor is vital, as the chain only as strong as its weakest link; a poor outcome at one stage can derail the entire effort.

Identifying the Cause

When a missing person disappears, it’s important to identify the cause of their disappearance. This can help investigators determine whether foul play is involved or if they need to focus their efforts on locating the person’s remains (in the event of death).

Missing persons investigations are complex, and each one varies depending on the circumstances surrounding the disappearance. These factors can impact the scale and complexity of the investigation, as well as its success in locating missing people (or their remains). In addition to local law enforcement agencies, there are many international organizations that specialize in this type of work. They help re-establish family links, provide psychological support, and push for national and international policies that address the issue of missing persons.

In most cases, a missing person’s disappearance has a significant impact on their loved ones. They may feel guilt and self-blame, especially if the disappearance is a result of a mental illness or relationship issues. They may also become socially isolated or stigmatized in their community.

For families, it’s important to remain vigilent and report suspicious activity to your local law enforcement agency. It’s also a good idea to keep a current picture of your missing loved one with you at all times, and to document the information you receive from authorities. You can also help by signing up to receive missing persons alerts and supporting policy initiatives that address the issue.