When Viola Martin went missing from south suburban Glenwood, her family assumed it was a relapse.
“My mom did have a drug problem. But she was clean for five years. We thought it was probably just a little relapse. And [after] three days … she’d come back home,” said Martin’s daughter, Angela Martin-Fields.
That was Christmas of 2009. Now, Martin has been missing for nearly a dozen years.
Martin’s case is the focus of a new effort from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to try and bring closure to some of the area’s hundreds of long unsolved missing person cases. The new initiative is a response to sustained public concern over murdered and missing black women in Chicago.
Dart is reassigning three detectives from the county’s Special Victims Unit to focus exclusively on missing person cases that are more than three years old. He’s calling the effort the Missings Persons Project. Dart said in addition to those three detectives, other members of his office will be lending their DNA expertise when helpful.
The sheriff has also set up a website and a tipline.
The detectives are starting their efforts by looking for Martin and five other long-missing women from the area.
“Our goal is to help the different families, the families who have had their hearts torn out, the families who have thought at any moment, their loved one is going to walk through that door,” Dart said at a press conference Wednesday. “Our hope is that some of these cases we’re going to resolve so the family will finally have the resolution they never had.”
Dart said they are going after cases more than three years old because that’s when law enforcement agencies typically stop actively looking for missing persons.
Dart’s office said there are 170 such cases in Cook County. The oldest dates back to 1930, but Dart said the detectives will be focusing on women who went missing in the last 20 years.
“We’re gonna be working with any law enforcement agency in the county that is actively engaged with the case, if they either don’t have the resources, or they have run the case out as far as they feel they can, we will be working on that case ourselves,” Dart said,
The majority of the 170 missing people are minorities, according to Dart’s office. There are more men on the list of long-unsolved cases than women, however Dart said the detectives will be focusing their efforts on missing women because they are more vulnerable and more at risk to be trafficked.
Commander Dion Trotter of the Special Victims Unit will oversee the three detectives.
Trotter said in investigating older cases, they look at what detectives already did on the case when it was first reported and look for holes that could be filled in by modern technology like DNA and cell-phone tracking.
Martin-Fields said the new effort to find long-missing people gives her a renewed hope about finding her mom.
“Right now my sisters and I, whatever it is, we need closure, but we’re hoping for the best,” Martin-Fields said.
Martin-Fields said her mother, who goes by “Poochie,” is the most genuine and caring person “you will ever meet.”
“She has great grandkids that she hasn’t met yet. And it’s time for us to find her and it’s time to bring her home,” Martin-Fields said. “So we’re asking Chicago, our hometown, to please help us.”
People with tips about missing persons can call the sheriff at 773-674-9490 or email CCSO.MissingPersons@CCSheriff.org.