On television, when no one else can find out who committed a crime, a significant crime like an abduction or a murder, they call in the experts, the people who deal with the big stuff every day.
They call in the FBI.
Johanna Zmuida wants to know why that hasn’t happened for her daughter.
The Orwigsburg mom was not mollified by the answers local law enforcement gave last month for the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of Jennifer Cahill-Shadle, then 48. She was last seen May 15, 2014, in the North Atherton Street Wal-Mart shopping center area.
Ferguson Township Police Chief Diane Conrad and Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller both spoke to media outlets about the ongoing case, the work that had been done on it and the need for witnesses who may have seen the missing woman to speak up and help out.
Zmuida was already frustrated before the remarks. Since then, she and her family have become even more passionate about the need to have more done.
“We are getting nowhere with the police and would so much like to have (this case) handed to the FBI,” Zmuida said.
Ed Cahill was even more pointed about his feelings in a candid post on the Facebook page the family set up to get and share information about the case.
“Our entire family believes that Jenny has been murdered,” he wrote.
He also expressed frustration that the FBI has not been brought into the case.
“This was never done! Why?” he asked.
According to the women in charge of the case, it’s just not that easy.
“The case has been discussed between the agencies and the FBI remains ready and willing to provide any assistance needed,” Parks Miller said. “In Centre County, we have monthly meetings with all law enforcement present and federal agents are at the table and are always willing to provide any investigatory assistance on any cases.”
The FBI’s own information points to a more complicated relationship than television viewers might realize. There are rules, they say, about how and when they can come into another jurisdiction’s case.
“Instead, the investigative resources of the FBI and state and local agencies are often pooled in a common effort to investigate and solve the cases,” the agency’s website states.
Conrad sees that as a plus.
“We in law enforcement have learned that we do a better job collectively by working cooperatively and collaboratively together rather than separately. Resources are an issue for all involved law enforcement agencies at every level and working together is the best way to help bridge that resource gap,” she said.
That’s not a new argument. Other agencies have spoken about the value of keeping high profile cases in local hands rather than kicking them up the ladder.
State College Sgt. Ralph Ralston said in 2014 that it was better to keep Dana Bailey’s case than hand off the borough’s only unsolved murder. He said it was more valuable for one dedicated detective with years of familiarity with the 1987 stabbing to stay on it than have it become one of many cases for someone somewhere else.
But in 2014, another high profile case was turned over.
Bellefonte Chief Shawn Weaver gave the disappearance of Ray Gricar to the state police major case investigators.
Gricar disappeared in April 2005, in the midst of his final term as Centre County DA. Bellefonte helmed the investigation for almost nine years. Weaver asked the state police to take the case.
The family agreed with the decision.
“With the larger organizational resources, and reach, of the Pennsylvania State Police, we hope this may lead us to the answer of what happened that day,” nephew Tony Gricar said.
In the more than two years since the turnover, no new developments have been announced.
“It is commonly perceived that agencies of larger jurisdiction have more resources and are therefore better equipped to handle any case. What may not be recognized is that these agencies also have correspondingly more and often even more serious cases, other priorities and less community contact,” Conrad said.
“It is more often the case, and more productive, that agencies work together, each contributing their particular expertise or resource toward the goal of solving a particular case. That is what we are doing in the missing persons case of Jennifer Shadle,” she said.
But that doesn’t tell the family what happened to Cahill-Shadle.
“Our family does not need or appreciate token attempts to placate. We want to know everything is being done to find answers and assure the public that women’s lives matter in this place called Happy Valley,” said Zmuida’s niece Amy Mekelburg. “Jennifer’s disappearance and how it continues to be handled proves otherwise. It is incredibly sad to know that Jennifer and many other women have become victims of unsolved crimes and the cold cases keep piling up.”
Centre County has few unsolved murders. Since Betsy Aardsma in 1969 in Pattee Library at Penn State, there was only Bailey.
But Cahill-Shadle and Gricar are joined by other missing persons, including Brenda Condon in Spring Township and Cindy Song, also in Ferguson Township.
One missing person has been found. The remains of Susan Bachman, of Julian, were found in 2015, a year after she jumped from a moving car on Interstate 80 en route to Clarion on July 4, 2014.
State police had jurisdiction in that case.
“When will Jennifer’s life and disappearance be taken seriously?” Mekelburg said.