Child sexual assault crimes have reached an unprecedented high in the bi-county area according to law enforcement officials in attendance at the December meeting of the Barry-Lawrence Chapter of Crime Stoppers.
Lawrence County Sherriff Brad DeLay and Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly both indicated that child sex crimes have increased at a greater rate than other types of crimes in both counties.
"I don't know why there has been such an increase," DeLay said. "But these are difficult cases. We have one detective, at this time, who is assigned to nothing but child sex abuse cases, in addition to other duties."
"They take a long time to investigate," added Epperly. "With a shortage in manpower, they are harder to work."
Both sheriffs cited a decrease in the number of Missouri Division of Family Services Child Services workers as an additional complication in investigating these claims and removing children from dangerous environments.
"They have also cut back on the number of hours that the local Child Advocacy Center is open and [investigations that] used to take hours to complete now take days or weeks," DeLay said. "We used to be able to have a child in there the same day we got the report, but that doesn't happen anymore."
Weighing in on the matter were Miller Chief of Police Josh Bruce, Marionville Chief of Police Mike Webb and Aurora Chief of Police Rick Witthuhn, who all indicated that child sexual abuse numbers were up in their municipalities.
"We get probably five reports a month," Webb said. "In a town the size of Marionville, with a population of about 2,000, that's significant."
Local law enforcement officials are also fighting a rash of recent vehicle thefts and burnings in the bi-county area.
"Most of the stolen cars had the keys left in them for some reason," Epperly said. "We recently recovered one in Springfield that had been stolen, stripped and burned."
Another topic of discussion was an apparent increase in the number of e-mail and mail fraud complaints received from area residents.
In October, Purdy Police Chief Jackie Lowe reported a woman was scammed in the amount of $5,000 after someone contacted her online requesting she deposit a large sum of money into her bank account, keep $500 and wire the remainder to an individual in California.
Three days later, the same victim reported receiving a large FedEx envelope containing several fake checks made out for several thousands of dollars. She was again instructed to deposit them in her account and wire funds to an individual out of state.
In November, the same victim called to report a woman from an alleged crime syndicate at her door demanding $10,000 in cash or the return of the fraudulent checks.
Ina H. Johnson, 57, of Pontoon Beach, Ill., was arrested for felony forgery, and the case turned was over to the United States Secret Service.
In a separate incident handled by Lowe, reported an elderly resident was contacted by a person who said he was representing a financial consulting service and promised her free government grant money to make home and auto repairs. The individual requested $7,500 in "start-up" costs.
Lowe said no grant funds materialized, and calls to the company went unanswered.
The same victim was reportedly contacted again about free federal grant money, and this time sent in $2,800 for financial consulting services.
The information has been turned over to the Missouri Attorney General's Office for further action.
Epperly added that a similar scam was occurring elsewhere in Barry County using the well-known Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes name to commit the acts of fraud.
The Barry-Lawrence Chapter of Crime Stoppers offers rewards of up to $1,000 for tips that lead to the arrest of those wanted for felony crimes.
Tips may be submitted by calling 354-TIPS (8477) or toll-free at 1-888-635-TIPS (8477). Tipsters may remain anonymous.
Tips may also be submitted through the Barry-Lawrence Crime Stoppers website at www.blcrimestoppers.com. Web-based tips are ineligible for a reward.