MISSING DAVID: PART TWO OF A SIX-PART SERIES
Lawman won't let go of Riemens riddle
In his search for David Riemens, the Watertown man missing now for exactly three years, Detective B.J. Stafford said he's driven by compassion, sadness and a plentiful supply of frustration.
Riemens, a gifted stone mason and artist, disappeared in the summer of 2012, a mystery that has baffled police, family and friends.
No one knows whether his absence is foul play, an accident or if the free spirit simply took off unannounced to start a new life.
While the majority of missing person cases are resolved within a week, Riemens' three-year absence is the sole open missing person case in Wilson County.
"Compassion, sadness for the family that has to go to sleep every night not knowing where their sibling is," responded the Wilson County Sheriff's Office detective when asked for the words that best describe his feelings on the matter. "Past that, frustration of just wanting to solve it, wanting to find out what happened.
"There's really no secret. It's an open investigation. We explore every avenue we can. We're not hiding anything. The doors are open, and we're open to any information anybody can give."
Case file swells to 300 pages
At his desk in the Wilson County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation Division office Stafford keeps case file #12-15982 close at hand. It weighs about five pounds and numbers approximately 300 pages and is still growing. He estimates he and his peers have interviewed between 75 and 100 people in their search for leads.
Riemens, who was 60 at the time of his disappearance, stands about 5-feet 8-inches tall and weighs 180 pounds. He has blue eyes, brown hair, a moustache, sideburns and goatee and normally wears a ponytail. He was last seen around midday Aug. 8, 2012. He left his white pick-up truck in the parking lot of the Watertown Dollar General.
Among the facts Stafford has collected is that the stone mason had an appointment the afternoon he disappeared to meet an elderly man, who was going to take him to a rural site to get an estimate for foundation work on a house he planned to build somewhere within a 30-minute drive of Watertown.
He noted that almost all missing person cases come from "someone who has a substance abuse problem, depression, mental problems or simply somebody that is tired of being in the situation that they're in and just want to get away for a while.
"Ninety-eight percent of those turn up in one way or another, whether it be by tracking their cell phone to ensure that they're OK, or phoning home to say, 'I'm fine, don't worry about me.' Some people just don't want to be found," Stafford said.
"But when we reach a point to where we can lay eyes on them, when we know they're OK and not in danger, not doing anything unlawful, at that point we close the case out. That's 98 percent of them.
"Cases like these are different stories. As days go on you can see the frustration of the family, you feel the frustration of working the case, you realize that it's probably something a little bit more, whether it be natural causes, a car wreck or some other means of why he's not here."
Going by the book
Stafford, who joined the Wilson County Sheriff's Department in 2003 and became a detective in 2008, was not the initial detective assigned the case, but took over a few days after Riemens disappeared. He went about his work by the book.
"Our first focus, is 'OK, who was he with? Did he have any friends he might be with? Does anybody know who he might have intended to meet in the parking lot there?' And secondly, obviously, does he have a cell phone, where's his cell phone at? What provider and how accurate are they are far as location for the cell phone?"
Riemens did not carry a cell phone.
"There's a lot of things you go through: surveillance cameras, footage, witnesses, and those views kind of intensify as the days go on," said the detective. "You start picking apart what you haven't done, what you might have missed. As the days go on you figure out, well, this isn't your typical missing person's case. There's probably some validity to it."
Stafford shared that Riemens had made a phone call from a Watertown business in an attempt to make arrangements for a meeting with a property owner for whom he was going to do a job, and there were several witnesses inside a local coffeehouse who had seen him talking with an individual, who may or may not have been his client.
He also told a close friend about this job, and evidence was found in his truck that supported him doing some work at an unspecified location.
Before his disappearance Riemens had withdrawn cash from Wilson Bank & Trust on the Watertown Square, had packed some luggage and told friends that he planned the next day to drive north to visit family in Michigan.
Record was clean
The investigation showed nothing out of the ordinary regarding Riemens' finances, no criminal record and no recent life-changing incidents.
Regarding romantic relationships, Stafford said Riemens, who had been divorced for over 35 years, "didn't date a lot of girls but had some minor relationships with a couple of different girls in town, nothing out of the ordinary.
"He got along well with his family. He seemed to be a person that was in tune with nature. You could obviously tell by his living habits. He was not a very materialistic person. He lived very simple. He was very artistic, very, very talented. I've heard from numerous people he was probably one of the best rock masons that they had ever known," Stafford said.
As for his residence in a tree house on the farm of close friends Laura and Donald Nuessle, the detective said they searched it three times, and, "Nothing looked out of line, nothing looked out of place."
A search of his abandoned truck turned up a sketchbook with drawings and figures. It and a few other items inside the truck were kept as evidence, but none held any clues to help lead the police to where Riemens may have been going the day he vanished.
The detective would love to know the location of the potential job site. One theory is that Riemens left his truck to ride with the client to the work site, so he could give an estimate on performing rock work on the foundation of a house.
Evidently Riemens had been to the site a couple of times previously to purchase some old bricks for his own use. The detective has one of these bricks in the evidence file and keeps a second beneath the seat of his car in case he runs across a site with similar bricks so that he can make a comparison.
Phones open for leads
"Our phones are always open, and we'll meet with anyone or come to you if you have any information," said Stafford. "Our interest is, if he's still out there, making sure that he's OK, alive, well and happy, and if he's not, then find out how that happened."
The public can contact Stafford at (615) 444-1459 or call Crime Stoppers at (615) 444-5245. Crime Stoppers is still offering a reward of up to $1,000, depending on the reliability/importance of the information given.
Stafford confirmed that a private organization used dogs around Riemens' truck in an attempt to pick up Riemens' scent and track his steps, and that family or friends also called in a psychic to help, but neither effort proved fruitful.
He also notes that while police have never had a person of interest, the case is ongoing.
"Any kind of lead comes in, we immediately go out and chase it down until it runs into a dead end," said the detective. "Anybody with any new information, even if they've been sitting on it for the past three years pondering on whether it doesn't really matter, it matters. It takes a couple hours to go out and that one little minute detail that you didn't think meant anything could turn into opening wide and breaking the case."
Leads continue to trickle in, but, says Stafford, "Obviously not as much as in the beginning, but occasionally some new information will come in and that's my priority, track it down--that day if possible."
He also adds, "We do have a DNA profile on Riemens. We have dental records on Riemens. They're nationwide, so if a missing person turns up in Washington state, they can compare dental records and DNA immediately, and all of that is available nationwide."
The detective confessed he heard from the missing man's friends that he had shared with them his dream of hitting the open road, possibly jumping a train, and in fact, he says "that was the theory of 50 percent of the people who knew him, that maybe he just got tired of living here.
"He was a free spirit, decided he didn't want to be here anymore. Not the first time that he'd done it," said Stafford.
Asked if he had a hunch or theory of his own, the detective answered, "I don't. I don't. As a well-rounded investigator you try not to make your own opinions. You try to go on what the evidence is."
Foul play? "Possible. It could also have been a car wreck. There's all kind of ravines and ditches and slopes out there. It could have been a number of things but certainly foul play."
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at email@example.com.
NEXT: Acquaintances reminisce about their missing friend and offer thoughts on what might have happened.