We all have our guilty online pleasures. Be it cute cat videos, makeup tutorials, recipes you’ll never cook, celebrity gossip, and such. For me, I went down the internet rabbit hole and found myself hooked on YouTube videos of volunteer divers solving missing persons’ cold cases.
Using fairly basic equipment like fish finders, they are aiding law enforcement agencies and granting closure to families by bringing their lost loved ones home. While some of these teams may not like being categorized as YouTubers, many of these groups are funded only by YouTube monetization, donations, merch sales, and the occasional reward payment. YouTube is just one means that enables them to finance their amazing work.
Here are ten missing person cases that have been solved by YouTube dive teams.
10 Jed Hall: Missing since 2018
In the early morning hours of January 22, 2018, 16-year-oldwas reported missing in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Jed left a note behind indicating that he may attempt suicide; however, a journal was also found detailing plans to run away from home. Despite ongoing searches, his disappearance remained unsolved for over four years. Amazingly, the cold case was solved within 20 minutes by YouTubers Adventures with Purpose (AWP).
“We came into this like we come into all cases,” AWP diver Doug Bishop explained. “We determine if someone is missing and if someone is missing with a vehicle. We specialize in sonar the way that law enforcement doesn’t have the capability. Do we have a cellphone ping, a last known location? Locations that are frequented, etc. That’s how we base the waterways that we need to search, and that’s how we choose those waterways.”
Using a cellphone ping as a starting point, AWP started searching an area of the Snake River. Just 20 minutes later, they were able to locate Jed’s vehicle under about 2.5 meters (8 feet) of water, roughly 68.5 meters (75 yards) away from a boat ramp. The Idaho Falls Police Department later confirmed that they had positively identified that the human remains found in the rear of the vehicle were Jed’s.
9 Ruth Hemphill: Missing since 2005
Miriam “Ruth” Hemphill, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was 84 years old when she disappeared on July 22, 2005. Three months earlier, her daughter was found dead, and her death was ruled a suicide. Bill Hemphill told police that his wife Ruth had left a note about their daughter’s death, and he also found a newspaper clipping his wife had cut out concerning a person who drove into a lake.
Bill felt certain that his wife was dead and that she’d driven her car into one of the lakes in the area. Police agreed that this scenario was likely to be correct, but numerous searches were unable to turn up any sign of Ruth or her car.
The case attracted the attention of Jeremy Sides, whose YouTube channel is “Exploring with Nug.” He explained, “I pretty much just went there and just started sonaring the river until I found some cars. We started finding some cars and the third one we found was hers.” He’d found her vehicle in Melton Hill Lake, and when it was pulled out, human remains were located inside.
Sides has said that he just wants to bring some closure to families of cold case victims. “It feels good to be able to help someone. It’s always been in my blood to want to go beyond myself to help somebody else out.”
8 Nicholas Allen: Missing since 2020
While most of those in law enforcement are more than happy to accept the assistance of the likes of AWP and other volunteer dive teams, sadly, that’s not always the case.
In February 2020, 17-year-old Nicholas Allen disappeared. His cellphone was switched off, so it could not be tracked, but his vehicle was seen in the vicinity of the murky Yadkin River. The family, frustrated by the apparent disinterest of local law enforcement, reached out to AWP. “My gut feeling just keeps telling me he’s in that river… Something bad has happened to him,” Trudy Bernstein, Nicholas’s aunt, said.
Using information provided by the family, AWP used sonar and found the vehicle less than two hours after arriving at the river. However, when they notified local law enforcement of the discovery, the now-viral video shows the officer arriving on the scene displaying an appalling lack of empathy toward the family and outright hostility toward the AWP dive team.
In response to the public backlash, Sheriff Richie Simmonsto both the family and AWP. Saying in part that the officer’s abrasive attitude was “not empathetic or kind to the family of Nick, and also was not welcoming or appreciative to Adventures with Purpose. Please know that the interaction you had with our investigator does not represent how we train our officers, and his actions are not in accordance with our expectations. There are no excuses for this type of behavior.”
7 Jan Shupe Smith: Missing since 2021
A Florida family waited ten agonizing months before discovering what happened to 59-year-old. She went missing on April 2, 2021, driving her little green Kia Soul. The family reached out to AW), who searched for Smith’s car in several bodies of water in the Lakeland area of Polk County.
AWP was about to suspend their search when a Polk County deputy informed them that Smith had been in a minor traffic accident on the day she went missing. This pointed them in the direction of a small retention pond in a new housing development, about a mile from the crash site. Within mere minutes of arriving at the shallow algae-filled pond, Jan’s car was discovered, and a body was located inside. It was hidden just 46 centimeters (18 inches) under the surface of the water.
Smith had gone missing at night, and she reportedly had poor night vision. The neighborhood was also under construction, which could have led to her being confused about her surroundings, causing her to accidentally drive into the unmarked, unfenced pond at the end of an uncompleted road. “This was a tragic accident, and our prayers are with the family,” Polk County Sheriff, Grady Judd, stated. “We’re grateful for Adventures with Purpose working with us in locating the vehicle.”
6 Timothy Robinson: Missing since 2008
AWP and several other similar dive groups did not initially start out solving cold cases. AWP’s Jared Leisek started his YouTube channel to document his progress toward his goal of diving to pick up 2,000 pounds of trash littering waterways in a three-month timeframe.
The group was doing a live stream of an environmental cleanup project on the Willamette River in Oregon in May 2020 when they pulled the car belonging to missing 56-year-old Timothy Robinson out of the water. Unbeknownst to AWP, Robinson had vanished in November 2008, having left a suicide note saying he intended to drive off a boat ramp. Twelve years later, the live stream was quickly cut when the AWP team realized that the vehicle had human remains inside.
Edward’s niece Jessica was surprised to receive a call from detectives after the discovery and was pleased that the family could finally have some answers 12 years after he disappeared. “Thank you for bringing closure to this family. It’s been a long time, and now he can finally be put to rest. Thank you, and God bless,” she said.
5 Brian Goff & Joni Davis: Missing since 2018
Ohio resident 66-year-old Brian Goff was the full-time caretaker of 55-year-old Joni Davis, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury several years earlier. They were last seen leaving a Pizza Hut on June 18, 2018, then they disappeared.
While taking a break from looking into another cold case, Chaos Divers decided to see if they could locate the missing couple. Team member Lindsay Bussick later described how the team found them one mile south of where their cell phone pinged. “When the vehicle came across the sonar, there was no doubt what it was.” Goff and Davis were found in the Ohio River in their submerged Oldsmobile, still strapped in by their seatbelts.
While authorities are unsure exactly how the vehicle ended up in the water, they have confirmed that they have ruled out foul play. Local councilman Jack Regis theorized, “One of them could have had a health problem at that time. Nobody knows that answer, and we’ll never know,” he said. “It’s just a shame, but at least the families got closure finally.”
4 Carey Mae Parker: Missing since 1991
Young Texan mother of three,, was just 23 years old when she vanished without a trace in March 1991. After more than 30 years, the mystery of her disappearance was finally solved in February 2021, when AWP located her vehicle submerged in the waters of Lake Tawakoni.
The road was closed, and part of the disintegrating vehicle was recovered from the water, matching the description of Parker’s car. AWP returned to the lake several months later and conducted a grid search, recovering the rest of the vehicle, as well as human remains. They also located some items of clothing and a child’s bicycle. Parker’s sister, Patricia Gager, explained that on the day she disappeared, Carey was planning to buy a bicycle for her son’s 6th birthday. “She will still have to be identified through DNA, but I have no other reason to believe [it’s] not her,” she explained.
7 Samantha Hopper & Her Babies: Missing since 1998
An Arkansas woman, 20-year-old, was almost nine months pregnant when she and her two-year-old daughter Courtney were reported missing on September 11, 1998. Hopper was on her way to drop her daughter off before going to a concert in the city of Little Rock when they disappeared.
Chaos Divers and Adventures with Purpose joined forces to bring resolution to the 23-year-old mystery. Using information from the family about Hopper’s habits and schedule, they narrowed down possible locations and split up to search possible locations of interest, scanning different areas of Russellville Lake. Around an hour into the search, they located the vehicle in the lake, submerged in about 3 meters (10 feet) of water.
As the vehicle was being recovered, human remains were found inside. Hopper’s surviving daughter, Dezarae Carpenter, was relieved that her mother and siblings could finally be given a proper farewell. Chaos Divers later posted on Facebook, “while it was gut-wrenching to have to see the tears stream down their faces as they were told the news, it was also incredibly heartwarming to see the smiles on their faces and the weight release from their shoulders knowing they were potentially bringing their loved ones home.”
2 Erin Foster & Jeremy Bechtel: Missing since 2000
When best friends 18-year-oldand 17-year-old Jeremy Bechtel disappeared without a trace on April 3, 2000, the rumor mill in Sparta, Tennesee, went into overdrive. But their families knew that something was terribly wrong. “Just a nightmare, man. Just a total nightmare,” described Erin’s father, Cecil Foster.
Months turned into years, and eventually, Sheriff Steve Page decided to revisit the cold case. Starting over, Page said he came across one piece of paper that changed everything. It was the initial missing person’s report filed by Erin’s family. Details in the report seemed to suggest that authorities had been looking for the missing pair on the wrong side of the county. When Exploring with Nug’s Jeremy Sides expressed interest in the case, Page knew exactly where to send him. Following Page’s hunch, Sides used sonar to scan a section of the Calfkiller River. Just 4 meters (13 feet) below the surface of the water, he located the Pontiac Grand Am driven by Foster.
The car was recovered, and the remains of both Erin and Jeremy were found inside. After over two decades, Sheriff Page was able to tell the families what had become of their children. All indications are that it was just a traffic accident, and they simply ran off the road. “I don’t think I believed it even though he’s got the license plate in his hand,” Erin’s father said.
1 Janet Farris: Missing since 1992
It turns out you don’t necessarily need any training or even specialist equipment to do this kind of thing. Sometimes all it takes is a little luck and good timing. In British Columbia, Canada, 13-year-old Max Werenka was using his GoPro in Lake Griffen when he and a group of visitors to the lake located a car containing the body of 69-year-old Janet Farris, who was reported missing in 1992.
Farris disappeared while driving from Vancouver Island to a wedding in Alberta. “Two weeks later, we received a phone call from that family in Alberta asking why she never came to the wedding,” Farris’s granddaughter, Erin Farris-Hartley, explained, “So she had actually been missing for two weeks with nobody knowing.”
The GoPro footage that Max provided to the RCMP clearly showed an upside-down car resting on the rocky bottom of the lake. When the vehicle was recovered, authorities finally knew what had happened to Janet. “I think the worst thing was not knowing,” her son, George Farris, explained. “We kind of assumed that maybe she had gone off the road or fallen asleep, or tried to avoid an accident or animal on the road,” he said, adding that “given a sad situation, it’s the best of all outcomes.”