Retired murder police and university students have started a missing persons’ squad to help families “living on a rollercoaster to hell”.
Three universities will start by investigating the disappearance of four men – one who was only last week officially declared dead 31 years after going missing.
Their help has been welcomed by the men’s desperate mums, one saying it’s “like winning the lottery”.
The mastermind behind the new cold case unit is Dave Grimstead, co-founder of Locate International.
The former inspector and his colleagues are working with Leeds Beckett university, the University of South Wales and University of Central Lancashire.
Any breakthroughs will be shared with the National Crime Agency. “The four cases all involve the family losing their sons over a long period of time,” said Dave, who hopes to increase the unit to eight universities in the future.
He said they also regularly draft in criminologists and forensic pathologists to help them.
The students come from a range of backgrounds including criminology, law, forensic science, police sciences and forensic computing.
Dave Grimstead added: “They will review a case from the start and will speak with family and friends to really understand the person who went missing.
“We are able to work with students who are studying victimology and apply those skills.
“They will review the search strategies to check for any gaps and seek expert advice from a wide range of specialists, including geographic profiling and forensic archaeology.
“They will analyse inquest files, statements, computers and digital equipment and any other information collected by the family.
“Families collect a huge amount of information and can get overwhelmed by it.
“We will collate, digitalise and archive using the same methodology as used in murder investigation – we are able to engage specialists from around the world.
“Each month we will bring teams of specialists together for a virtual case review.”
Leeds Beckett university are taking on the case of Halifax man, Charles Horvath-Allan, who went missing while backpacking in Canada.
Leeds lecturer, Kirsty Bennett, who formerly worked for West Yorkshire’s major crime, said: “The unit will follow the same format as a major incident room, and the skills the students will bring can hopefully identify possible areas of development in Charles’ case.”
Last week Charles was officially declared dead, after vanishing aged 20. He was last seen on a campsite in May 1989.
His mother Denise Horvath-Allan, 71, has been left emotionally and financially devastated by three decades of searching for her only child.
The retired beauty salon owner from Richmond in London, has made 15 trips to Kelowna, in British Columbia.
The mum, who starred in the Missing People Choir on Britain’s Got Talent, said: “The lives of my family have been devastated, surviving thirty-one years without answers; it’s been like living on a rollercoaster to hell.
“The torment, loss and pain of a child missing is unimaginable, especially thousands of miles away from home across the ocean at the other side of the world.
“I will search for my young son until the day I die. “
Talking about the presumption of death hearing last week, she said: “I wanted to scream to the judge ‘he can’t be dead’.”
The mum says she has received little support from Canadian or British police despite her many pleas.
In the end she had to turn detective herself and during one of her visits in 1992, two anonymous notes were sent to her hotel.
The first one said: “Dear Mrs Allan. I seen your add in the paper looking for your son. I saw him in tiny tent town May 26. We were partying and two people knocked him out but he died. His body is in the lake by the bridge.”
The mum paid out thousands for specialist underwater equipment and volunteer divers carried out a search.
Then another note arrived saying they were looking under the wrong part of the bridge.
On day six of the search the volunteers found a body of a male.
As the horrified mum waited for confirmation and her husband flew out to join her, police dumped her in a psychiatric unit.
“I was exhuasted I was manhandled into an ambulance, my mobile phone taken from me and I was taken to hospital,” she said.
“I’d had three hours sleep a night for six weeks.
“I was in a concrete room like a cell and there were very poorly people walking up the hallways.
“When I was alseep they allowed people into my room to leave funeral director cards.
“I refused to speak to a psychiatrist. I told them ‘I’ve got a broken heart not a broken mind.”
Eventually she was told the body was not her son but a gentleman in his late 60s who had taken his own life.
“It’s just amazing that finally someone is going to help.”
Damien Nettles, vanished from the Isle of Wight on November 2nd, 1996 when he was just 16.
He was last seen on a CCTV camera on Cowes High Street just after midnight.
His mum Valerie recalled: “He was last seen with his friend Christopher,
they had started to walk home together but he doubled back into town and said he was going to look for his sister Sarah. “
Later he was seen buying chips and then trying to get on a bus confused.
“He started taking a photo of the bus driver with a little camera, which was never recovered.
“I think he was being silly and he’d been drinking cider.
“I don’t know what happened to my son but something bad must have happened on his way home.”
In 2011 police arrested five men but no charges were ever brought.
“I’m excited (about this unit) by this because these are educated, enthusiastic people.
“We will never let go of the light of the hope that someday we will get answers to sooth our tortured souls.”
Terry McSpadden went missing after going to play darts with a housemate.
The dad-of-two had been paid that day and on their way home popped into Tesco.
Terry, 23, was on tag in March 2007 and it last pinged at 8.45am at the house in Elm, near Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.
One man was charged with his murder, but later the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
His mum, Helen Thrower, said: “Terry was a real character. He was a brilliant dad who adored his two children. Kayce and Carlie.”
Before he vanished Terry claimed he thought he was going to die when someone drugged him then wrapped him in clingfilm as he sat on the sofa.
The friend who he was staying with came home and cut him free.
Because of this incident, as soon as builder Terry didn’t arrive at work, the alarm was raised.
Police charged a man with Terry’s murder in 2012 but the trial collapsed due to insufficient evidence.
His mum, who has been bringing up his two children, Charlie, 15 and Kayce, 17, said: “It’s an absolute nightmare.
“He adored them and he worked extra on the weekend to make sure they got everything they needed.”
The family now live in Skegness and the mum said: “People say to Charlie,
‘God aren’t you like your dad but he’s confused because he doestn’t know what he looks like.
“It’s amazing people are going to give up our time to help us. I just want to know what happened to my son.
“It will be 14 years next March and it’s a living hell…There’s never an end to the grief. “
Chad Gibson has been missing since 19th December 2015.
He was last seen in Newquay, Cornwall around 6 pm on Saturday 19th December 2015.
He was caught on CCTV jogging across a mini roundabout and out of sight.
His mum, Sharon Gibson, 57, said: “He will be missing five years this year.“
She said the night before he vanished he’d met a girl he really liked.
He told me; ‘Mum I’ve really met this nice girl and I really like her.’
Later he was in a pub and was speaking to his pal about this girl.
A man who’d heard their conversation asked how he knew this girl as they had dated.
“He’s a big giant teddy bear 6ft 3in slim with beautiful teeth.
“He doesn’t go out looking for trouble and said: ‘Listen mate I didn’t know’.
Chad was later followed into the toilet and there was a slight scuffle and one of the men took a photo of Chad.
He left the pub around 6pm and he hasn’t been seen since.
The last footage was CCTV of him looking at himself in a shop window.
“Apparently they talked to these men and they didn’t take it any further, his mum said.
“I’m just recovering from cancer and I think it was this that made me ill.
“Cancer is nothing compared to the pain of losing my baby.
“These students are like a blessing to me. I feel like I’ve won the lottery.”