Originally created 06/03/01

Searches for county's missing continue



If she's still alive, Tiffany Nelson is nearing adulthood.

To honor her approaching 17th birthday, a forensic imaging specialist with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has updated her photo, using computerized age progression to show what she would probably look like today - complete with the thin scar over her left eye.

Wednesday marks seven years since Tiffany seemingly vanished.

She would be 17 in October.

Tiffany was 9 when she left her aunt's house on Getzen Drive in Augusta on June 6, 1994. She rode her bike to a nearby Amoco station to pump air into the tires, then disappeared.

Investigators searched the woods behind the gas station, and a five-man task force went door to door every day for weeks after her disappearance.

Her case even was featured on America's Most Wanted. Officials received several calls concerning the case, but those eventually stopped.

Today, a picture of the little girl with the pretty smile still hangs in the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, where her case is one of five unsolved missing persons cases in Richmond County.

And without new leads, detectives are unable to investigate further.

"In essence, we've used all the resources, so we have to wait on new information," sheriff's Lt. Jack Francisco said.

The computerized age progression - performed every two years until the missing person's 18th birthday - is done in hopes of generating new leads or new publicity, according to Steve Loftin, a forensic imaging specialist at the national center in Alexandria, Va.

"It keeps the case alive," he said. "It's not forgotten. After all the media hoopla, the cases tend to just slip back into the file until an investigator gets something."

While it is uncommon for people missing this long to be found, it is not beyond the realm of possibility, Mr. Loftin said.

"If it's a stranger abduction, the chances are slim that they are still alive," he said. "(But) we've had some that were gone 20 years and they showed up."

An average of 86 missing persons cases are filed monthly with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. There were 345 cases in the first four months of this year.

About 95 percent are cleared before the end of the month, usually within a 24- to 48-hour period. Many are juvenile runaways or adults who decide to leave their family members, Lt. Francisco said.

But sometimes a missing person never turns up, and the family must deal with the unknown.

"It's the questions that will never be answered. To go all your life and not have the questions answered is emotionally distressing," Lt. Francisco said. "They would like to have closure."

The following are summaries of the four other missing persons cases still open in Richmond County.

Sadie Edney was 75 when she walked away from a south Augusta personal care home in May 1992.

The disappearance of the elderly Alzheimer's patient sparked a massive search and included the use of K9 units that tracked the woman until her scent disappeared by a roadside.

A caller reported seeing a woman matching Ms. Edney's description on Georgia Highway 56. Her family believes someone picked her up and gave her a ride.

Danny Birchfield disappeared in 1991. He was last seen leaving his Stoneybrook Drive home with two other men.

He left behind his wallet. At the time of his disappearance, he was caring for his roommate's elderly mother, who died two weeks later.

Family members say they believe the terminally ill man might have left town to spare his family the pain of watching him grow weaker and die.

But they said it was uncharacteristic of him to vanish without contacting his family.

Two years later, his family reported him missing.

Michael Reynolds, 21, walked out of his girlfriend's Hephzibah home in 1991 and disappeared before reaching his Stone Road house not far away.

Judson Fielding left his jacket behind despite the winter chill as he waved goodbye to his four children in 1994. After leaving the Delta Manor house, he vanished.

The ex-Marine was pulling himself out of a downward spiral of drugs and crime when he disappeared, his family said.

He had spent two years in prison on a drug conviction and then moved in with his mother, Voicy Philpot of Augusta. She last saw him when he left to go visit his children.

In a 1997 interview, Ms. Philpot said she believed someone killed her son to prevent him from testifying in an impending trial. But she said she still holds out hope that he is still alive.

"I couldn't tell them where to look for him," she said in 1997. "I couldn't tell anybody anything. But someone knows something."

Anyone with information about a missing person can reach the Richmond County Sheriff's Office at 821-1020.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.