TV One’s ‘Find Our Missing’ takes on the mysteries that didn’t get the headlines

January 17, 2012

“Find Our Missing,” a handsomely produced 10-part docu-series about unsolved cases, premieres Wednesday night on TV One, and it is not nearly outspoken enough about its cause: It’s a show about cases of black people who vanished suspiciously and who, for reasons that should probably embarrass producers at local and national news operations, never got the same amount of media attention as their white counterparts.

This discrepancy has been pointed out many times over the years by minority groups that track media coverage. Most watchers of TV news (and readers of newspapers and online news sites) have probably noticed it, too, if perhaps only subliminally. Missing white women just get more press, often to an extreme, as do missing white children — especially cherubic toddlers from sunny states.

According to TV One (a cable network focused on programming for black adults), blacks make up nearly a third of the nation’s missing-person cases, a number demographically out of proportion.

But “Find Our Missing’s” main mission isn’t media criticism or a social harangue — especially since the first two cases seen here received a considerable, if belated, amount of local coverage. Rather, in the manner of “America’s Most Wanted,” it encourages viewers to come forward with useful information. Everything you need to know about “Find Our Missing” is in that second word: our. The series keeps its outrage just out of view; its foremost concern is for the missing, as well as their friends and relatives.

Hosted by “Law & Order” alum S. Epatha Merkerson, “Find Our Missing’s” first case should be familiar to Washington Post readers: It follows the February 2009 disappearance of Pamela Butler, a 47-year-old federal employee who was last seen in her Brightwood home in Northeast Washington. (The segment features interviews with Post crime reporter Paul Duggan; a future episode will focus on the case of Unique Harris, whose 2010 disappearance was written about in a Style section article by Monica Hesse.)

In Butler’s case, detectives are stumped by a dearth of evidence that would suggest she was killed at home, or even attacked and kidnapped. Her boyfriend at the time, Jose Rodriguez-Cruz, is interviewed for the show — although he insisted on being silhouetted — and says he had nothing to do with her disappearance.

The first episode also looks at the case of an Oakland, Calif., 5-year-old named Hasanni Campbell. Hasanni vanished from an alley parking lot in broad daylight while under the care of a foster father, whose story about what happened comes across here as deeply suspect.

“Find Our Missing” is curiously restrained in this regard, shrugging its shoulders with ambivalent doubt. Nancy Grace-style ferocity and judgment are not the point here, nor even is a John Walsh-like determination. “Find Our Missing” is a quiet and even forlorn voice that speaks for the silent.

Find Our Missing

(one hour) premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on TV One.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation.
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