Missing: Madeleine McCann, Esther Dingley, Alex Batty and Charles Horvath-Allan
Denise Horvath-Allan has been desperately looking for her son Charles for 32 years. In 1989, at the age of 20, the Brit went missing while backpacking in Canada. Despite police investigations and a total of 16 visits by Denise to Canada, Charles was never found. He was finally officially pronounced dead in August last year.
“The search for Charles swallowed up my life,” says Denise, who is now 71 and lives in West London. “It drained my soul. It was terrible. I still fight for justice for him every day.”
Charles had been camping in the town of Kelowna, British Columbia when he was last seen in May 1989.
During his trip he had been in regular contact with his family in the UK. You should all meet in Hong Kong later this summer. But the last message Denise got from her son was a fax in early May. She never heard from or seen him again.
Although Denise has now accepted that her son must be dead, she causes her emotional agony not knowing what happened to him.
“It gets worse or more difficult over time, especially since I know I’m running out of time,” she says.
“If you don’t know what happened, it torments your brain all the time. What did you do to young Charles? Why did they kill him? Was he screaming for his mother?
“I’ve always believed that if I worked hard enough and long enough, I would find out the truth about his fate. But I think after 32 years the chances are getting smaller.
“Unfortunately, in recent years I have had to put up with the fact that I might go to the grave without knowing the answers.”
Denise made frequent trips to British Columbia for the past three decades – the last was in the fall of 2018 – meeting with police, handing out Charles posters, and interviewing locals.
To fund her search, she sold her beauty salon business where she lived in West Yorkshire and used up all of her savings.
Now she only has one Facebook page devoted to finding Charles.
“We spent a disproportionate amount of money on the search,” she says.
“We have lost everything. Most families who have a missing loved one look until they can no longer financially or until they are too old.”
Denise Horvath-Allan’s son Charles was officially pronounced dead last year
According to the government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), an average of 600 British citizens go missing abroad each year, most in countries popular with British tourists.
Spain is by far at the top of the list, with 102 British people reported missing there last year alone.
Other countries are Thailand with 36 Britons missing in 2020, France with 29, USA with 27, Turkey with 23, Germany with 18 and Australia with 17.
Certain cases, such as that of three-year-old Madeleine McCann, who was kidnapped from her parents’ vacation home in Portugal in 2007, sparked numerous media campaigns. Others hardly see the daylight.
The FCDO advises anyone concerned about a UK national missing abroad to file a complaint with the local police in the UK as well as with the police abroad.
“We provide essential consular assistance to thousands of Britons who need assistance abroad each year,” a spokesman said.
“This includes helping families and friends of British people who have gone missing abroad, liaising with local authorities and liaising with volunteer organizations who can offer further help at an incredibly troubling time.”
Some cases have productive media campaigns
LBT Global is one of those voluntary organizations that work with the FCDO. Dozens of missing British travelers are featured on their website, lbt.global.
Many of the cases there are heartbreaking: Alex Batty, for example, who went missing with his mother and grandfather in 2017 after a holiday in Spain at the age of only 14.
Or 37-year-old Esther Dingley, who was reported missing for nine months after hiking in the Pyrenees last year and whose body was not found until August this year.
A study published earlier this year by the University of Portsmouth shows that 60 percent of Britons missing abroad are male, with most falling into the 31-50 age bracket.
Missing persons cases within the UK are usually resolved within the first 48 hours. However, with overseas cases, people tend to be missing for much longer.
The research was carried out by Dr. Karen Shalev Greene, director of the University’s Center for the Study of Missing Persons.
She explains how most Britons who disappear abroad – over a third of the cases – do so through misunderstandings, misunderstandings, lost documents or simply losing touch with their families.
Other disappearances include people with mental health problems, children kidnapped by their parents, asylum seekers, refugees and runaways.
A smaller number of cases are people traveling to meet a romantic partner or people fleeing domestic violence.
Dr. Shalev Greene points out that fortunately, foul play is rarely a factor and that most people go missing because of poor communication.
Even in the age of global cellular coverage and social media, travelers often forget to check-in at their families’ homes.
“Unless the person who is missing, has been kidnapped, lost, injured or has been the victim of a crime, they will not consider themselves missing because they know where they are,” she explains.
“They don’t assume that others will care or miss them.”
Dr. Shalev Greene has some advice for Brits traveling abroad: “We want to emphasize the importance of communication. Remember loved ones may be concerned. Being able to communicate will save you worry and police resources.”
Michael Porter is someone who knows this all too well. For twelve years, he has been urging the Greek police and judicial authorities over the disappearance and murder of his 53-year-old mother Jean Hanlon in Crete in 2009.
Jean had been working in a hospital in Dumfries when she decided to start a new life in a warmer climate and moved to Crete in 2003.
She disappeared six years later after meeting an unknown man in the port city of Heraklion. Her body was found in the port four days later.
Michael says local police tried to dismiss it as accidental drowning, despite wounds indicating there had been a fight.
Jean had broken ribs and a punctured lung.
In 2019, after Channel 5 aired a documentary about the crime, some witnesses came forward. But the investigation did not bring about a breakthrough.
Michael even wrote to the Greek Prime Minister to shed some light on the case.
“The twelfth anniversary of Mom’s murder is over and we are still no closer to justice,” said Michael, 36, an actor from London.
“The pandemic may have held things up and added additional fighting, but we are still fighting for justice and we are determined to make it happen.”
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With the lockdown in travel restrictions on overseas travel easing further this fall, many Britons will be heading abroad again.
At the Center for the Investigation of Missing Persons, Dr. Shalev Greene it is inevitable that this will coincide with an increase in disappearances.
What impresses her most about all of the cases studied is the tragedy in the heart of each one. “The human story behind every missing case is always very moving,” she says.
“We are always aware of the impact a missing case will have on the relatives who report it.
“Missing people are not just a number. They are a person and a life.”