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Investigating the Cleveland missing and rescued women case

On Monday, three young Cleveland women who had been missing for nearly a decade were found alive and, according to authorities, appeared unharmed. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight were kidnapped and held for years as prisoners inside a house in Cleveland. Police arrested the house owner, Ariel Castro, 52, and his two brothers, Pedro Castro, 54 and Onil Castro, 50.

Journalists are already starting to uncover details about the case and the brothers. In the search for further context, property records, background searches and court records will be crucial. Below are some IRE resources, taken out from behind our member wall, to help reporters on deadline. Poynter also compiled a list of resources to help journalists investigating a story like this, including one reporter's explanation of how she used some of these tools for a story.

ESSENTIAL TIPSHEETS

  • Web tools for investigators
    Learn what free online tools that will help you to enhance on your reporting and investigation. Get tips on social media searches, documents, Web scraping and visualizations.
  • Cultivating sources and better interviewing
    Discusses finding sources; persuading sources to help your investigation; getting sources to come to you; taking care of your sources; and tips for better interviewing.
  • After breaking news: what's next?
    This tipsheet is comprised of many useful web links covering topics of aviation accidents, automobiles and trucks, political campaign data, federal spending, U.S. court system, crime, business records, weather and more.
  • Social media tools
    Learn new ways to find sources, background people and companies, and break stories before the competition with this Powerpoint.

 

INVESTIGATING THE PROPERTY

  • Land grab: property records tipsheet
    11 tips for how to find more information on property records, from befriending your local planners, being on a first-name basis with your county assessor, checking delinquent property tax lists, and real estate conflicts of interest. 
  • Local property investigations
    This is a detailed outline of how the Courier Journal did an investigation into one particularly negligent property owner. Schaver also includes links to help reporters out on a similar story. 

 

FINDING PEOPLE

  • Backgrounding people
    This tipsheet provides a list of resources to use when backgrounding individuals. Lyle's is careful to denote which resources are free vs. for a fee. Her list is broken down to include national resources (for the U.S.) and regional resources specific to New York state. She also gives phone service information for several international countries.
  • Tools for the investigative education reporter
    Recommended information ranges from state- and district-generated databases to contact information of school employees.

 

USING POLICE AND COURT RECORDS

  • The Keys to the Courthouse
    The author offers tips for developing the cops and courts beat. He suggests spending a lot of time at the court house and getting to know key players, like judges, baliffs, and law clerks. Burstein also discusses documents like search warrants and probable cause affidavits which are stored at the court house and could lead to good stoy ideas. Finally, the tipsheet includes some story ideas that go beyond the criminal trials one expects from a courts reporter.
  • First Day on the Beat: Covering Cops
    Offers a list of 15 items of vital importance when covering law enforcement - from obtaining lists of sworn officers to securing statistics regarding police officers' use of force. 
  • Unsung documents
    This tipsheet provides information on how to find and effectively use documents in your reporting. It also give tips on working with material once you've obtained it.

HOW TO INVESTIGATE KIDNAPPING
Questionnaires from the IRE Awards archives:

  • Missing: Children at Risk
    This yearlong investigation looked at mistakes police, the federal government and the national news media make in reporting missing children. Among the findings were that many police departments violate federal law by not immediately reporting missing children to state authorities, and that the National Child Search Assistance Act, passed by Congress in 1990, is largely ignored.
  • Vanishing Act
    “Nine-year-old Christian Ferguson went missing one summer morning in 2003 while in the custody of his father”. At first the story received a great deal of coverage, but as the years passed only a few stories covered the disappearance. Further, the public hadn’t heard the account from the police and that they had a suspect in custody, until now. 
  • Gang Rape, Murder and Justice in a Small Town
    "The re-investigation of a 27-year-old murder. For the first time anywhere, the story revealed the details of how Janet Chandler was killed in a gang rape that was shockingly engineered by a jealous female roommate."
  • The Stolen Child
    This is a story of the disappearance of Misty Copsey; currently it remains a cold-case left unsolved. A fall afternoon in 1992, the day Misty never came home from the county fair. This series sheds “new light on an investigation plagued by police blunders”. It also “uncovered the malignant impact of an intrusive bystander’s obsession and exposed the foibles of small-town cops whose missteps and misstatements went unchallenged for two decades”.
  • Missing
    The series examines the Indiana Missing Children Clearinghouse list and the errors and compelling cases it contains. The major finding in day one of the series: the names of 16 children from Northwest Indiana remained on the list for month and in some cases years, even though they were no longer missing because police were not following up in the cases... Day two of the series deals with the issue of child runaways and the limited power existing state laws give the police, courts and parents to deal with the problem. Day three... The Times learned that international law can do nothing to help return children taken to certain countries... 

 

THE CLEVELAND CASE
What's been published so far

DeJesus Family: Gina knew suspected kidnapper Ariel Castro

Suspect in Cleveland Kidnapping Had Contact With Police

Sources: 3 women raped, resulting in 5 pregnancies

Suspect's son wrote about missing Gina DeJesus