David Hartman’s teenage daughter, Jackie, was found three weeks after being murdered. But the Gilbert father’s searching is far from over.
Hartman is now helping Stephanie McNeil of Ahwatukee Foothills in her search for her missing brother, John Spira of Chicago.
And, Hartman and McNeil are leading an effort to start an Arizona chapter of a nationally renowned agency, Texas EquuSearch, which helps locate missing family members, including missing adults.
Both Hartman and McNeil say adults who are reported missing are often overlooked and thought to be people who just took off and abandoned their families.
But often, there is foul play involved, and time can be just as important in finding adults as it is with finding lost children, they said.
“When you see a man, you just assume they might be wrapped up in something shady,” McNeil said. “Their character comes into issue.”
Spira, 45, was reported missing Feb. 23 and was last seen in his office in West Chicago, Ill., about 7:15 p.m. In September, the building was burned to the ground, a day after a billboard seeking the local musician was posted outside.
Jackie Hartman, a nursing student, was killed in late January, after agreeing to go on a date with a man she’d recently met. Because she was 19, she was treated as an adult, and suspicions were raised about whether she was actually missing, David Hartman said.
But in the end, more than 300 volunteers in the community gathered to support a search of the desert. Her body was discovered Feb. 18.
Hartman wants to take the support he received from the community during that search and the education he received on how to conduct a search, and aid other families whose loved ones are missing.
He has a walk planned for late February, near the anniversary of Jackie’s body being found, to raise money for the Jackie Hartman Foundation. That money will go toward a college scholarship for nursing students, aid to families searching for missing loved ones, and toward advocacy efforts for new laws to help find missing adults faster.
“In our case, we’re focusing on adults,” Hartman said. “Twenty-four hours can make a huge difference if somebody is being held captive.”
The nonprofit Texas Equusearch, originally named for its use of equestrians to search vast areas, assists in missing persons cases nationwide. The group wants to start a chapter in every state in the next three years, Texas Equusearch case manager Cindy Wisdom said.
The group is there “when you are in a position like David (Hartman) was, when you know your child is gone and no one is there to help because of their age,” she said. “It definitely draws people together.”
For information on Texas Equusearch, visit www.texasequusearch.org. Call (877) 270 9500.........
Re: John Spira
CHANNAHON TOWNSHIP -- The bones that washed up on the banks of the Des Plaines River near Channahon last spring were found with some Gap blue jeans the same size John Spira wore.
In the pocket of these blue jeans was a pair of guitar picks which Spira, an accomplished blues guitarist, very well may have been carrying. Along with the guitar picks was Orajel toothache medicine. The St. Charles man happened to have had a tooth pulled just before he vanished in February 2007, and Orajel is something he would have on him.
After the remains were found in May 2009, the state police took over the death investigation due to early suspicions that they might be that of missing Bolingbrook mother Stacy Peterson.
But once tests determined the bones belonged to a man with a slight build -- Spira stood 5-foot-9 and weighed 160 pounds -- they connected the dots and determined there was a good chance that the remains were the St. Charles man.
Then DNA testing conducted at the state police crime lab proved the bones weren't Spira's, punching a hole in the once-promising theory.
Or then again, maybe it didn't.
Checking DNA results
Late last year, after the state police crime lab ruled out Spira as a possible match to the bones found on the shore of the Des Plaines, the remains were shipped to the University of North Texas Health Science Center's Center for Human Identification. So was a DNA sample provided by the DuPage County Sheriff's Department that the state police used to compare to DNA from the bones. At the time, a source explained the need for further testing by saying "there are enough similarities that they're double-checking their work."
DNA testing is supposed to be infallible, at least as far as excluding identity. So why would the law need to check their work at a university lab 1,000 miles away?
For one thing, Spira's sister, Stephanie McNeil, questions the validity of the sample the DuPage County Sheriff's Department supplied for the test.
McNeil said the DuPage County Sheriff's Department took DNA samples from her and her mother, Maggie Spira. McNeil said she was told the DuPage County cops also took samples from a toothbrush and hairbrush found in Spira's home.
Dawn Domrose, the spokeswoman for the DuPage County Sheriff's Department, said her agency obtained a sample from Spira's toothbrush and entered it in a national database. But McNeil fears her brother's DNA is not on that toothbrush.
McNeil said her brother and his wife, Suzanne Spira, were in the midst of a contentious divorce but still living in the same house throughout the "tumultuous" time leading up to his disappearance.
After John Spira disappeared, his wife handed the toothbrush to the police. But McNeil suspects it might actually have been someone else's toothbrush.
"They need to redo it," McNeil said of the DNA comparison to the bones from the Des Plaines River.
"It's totally unreliable," she said of the sample off the toothbrush supplied by her brother's wife.
Even Suzanne Spira, who now lives in Orchard Park, N.Y., conceded the toothbrush might not belong to her missing husband.
"I can't say that for sure," she said when asked if she was certain she gave the police John Spira's toothbrush. "I don't know."
Suzanne Spira suggested the toothbrush may have belonged to John Spira's girlfriend, before enigmatically adding, "John traveled a lot."
Suzanne Spira also took issue with McNeil's characterization of her divorce as "tumultuous."
"That was not the case," she said.
In any divorce, "there's going to be some hot moments," she admitted, but added, "There was no fisticuffs."
McNeil wants the bones from the Des Plaines River to be compared to the DNA samples she and her mother provided. She also wants the samples she and her mother gave to be tested against the toothbrush to see if it actually contains her brother's DNA.
"That's the only way I can be completely satisfied that this is not John," McNeil said. "I have to know the right DNA sample was used."
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