BATON ROUGE, La. - Richard and Avis Smith have been looking for their baby brother Brandon for seven years. National cases like Elizabeth Smart, where missing people were found, feed their hope that they'll see him again.
“It’s human nature to dread the worst happening," said Richard Smart. "I’m sure a lot of people did, but that family never gave up hope and their daughter returned.”
Brandon Wise was 23 the last time they heard from him. He was calling to tell them he'd been arrested.
“What's so strange about it is that when he went to jail my other brother went to bail him out and by the time he went down there, he said he was already released,” Avis says.
Brandon was booked in Orleans Parish Prison for disturbing the peace and criminal trespassing. But at 7 pm on June 1, 2006, the Sheriff's office released him on all charges. This time though, he didn't contact his family, and he hasn't been heard from since.
“One of my brothers was looking on the internet for John Does and he found one that had a similar description to my brother,” Avis explains.
Lab offers hope to those seeking missing family, friends
That's when the family contacted Mary Manhein at the LSU FACES lab. “We work to identify the dead and we are trying to build a comprehensive database for all unidentified and missing people in Louisiana,” says Manhein.
Since she was an LSU grad student, Mahein has been working on unidentified and missing persons cases - a period of more than three decades. Her technique of using clay and Photoshop to recreate faces of unidentified remains has earned her international recognition.
Right now her database includes 100 unidentified remains and 500 missing persons - 200 of those are just from Louisiana.
“We did have someone who met the the exact description - tattoos, gold teeth. My brother had a broken jaw at one point. The other person had the same thing . So we were like, 'That looks exactly like him. That has to be him,” the Smiths said.
It wasn't Brandon.
But his information was added to the lab's ever-growing database.
Every agency has its own database, causing problems
Manhein states, “Our database is the most comprehensive of its kind for a state in the whole country.”
The faces lab is trying to create one list with every missing person in Louisiana. Right now, it doesn’t exist.
Every individual law enforcement agency, like the NOPD or a sheriff's office keeps track of its own missing persons cases.
And Manhein says that’s why there are cracks in the system.
“Sometimes people might have been reported missing 10, 20, 30 years ago. Often that information is lost. Either the detective on the case no longer works there or sometimes the records just get mixed up. That happens all over the state, all over the country,” Manhein explained.
Because of Katrina, New Orleans has its own unique complications.
“A lot of information was lost. Dental records were lost. Whole businesses were lost. Their records got wet, so trying to pull that back together again from many different agencies is difficult,” Manhein points out.
Mahein and her staff of just six and a few graduate students are traveling around the state trying to put all of this information on missing people and unidentified remains in one place.
She's worked on hundreds of cases throughout the years and many have been identified, including one cold case that was 32 years old.
“I firmly believe the more comprehensive our database is and the more we put ourselves out there, the more cases will be solved.”
Richard and Avis are grateful for the help from the FACES lab and they haven't given up hope that Brandon’s case will be solved too.
“It’s a constant struggle but it happens all the time to people everywhere. There is help for you.There is hope and help never lose hope.”
If you have any information on there whereabouts of Brandon Wise or if you have a missing family member you can call the LSU at 225-578-4761.