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After four years, mother still searching for missing Poolesville man

August 10, 2011

New Jersey woman plans to ask FBI for assistance

by Jeremy Arias, Staff Writer
August 10, 2011

John James Morris, one month before his disappearance in July 2007.

The family of a Poolesville man who has been missing since July 2007 has started an online petition to encourage the FBI to investigate.

For four years, Madeline Morris has been trying to find her son, John James Morris, who was last seen July 30, 2007, in the driveway of the home he shared with his boyfriend on Whites Ferry Road. Morris was 38 when his family last saw him.

Morris, a former veterinary assistant with a history of depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, had returned from a week-long visit with his ailing parents in New Jersey when he went missing, according to police.

Having recently ended a 12-year relationship with an older man, Morris had planned to pack his belongings and move back to New Jersey, Madeline said. A neighbor, who police believe was the last person to see him, said Morris appeared to be waiting for a ride in the driveway of the house where detectives later found Morris’s truck, still loaded with his belongings.

While generally content with the Montgomery County Police Department’s investigation, Madeline believes the Federal Bureau of Investigation could bring a renewed focus, resources and attention to the case.

“Somebody knows something down there, I know that,” she said from her home in Brick, N.J. “Somebody doesn’t just disappear into thin air, no body, no nothing. … I just want to have a body back and if someone did do something to him, I want to see justice done.”

So far, the petition has collected nearly 500 signatures, she said. After it reaches 1,000, Madeline plans to present it to the FBI.

Over the years, Madeline became convinced that her son was killed, an idea that Rod Stephens, the Montgomery County detective assigned to the case, has also considered.

“The police department has never officially classified this as a homicide,” he said. “[But] my belief is that John Morris’s disappearance is very suspicious, and it is possible that he was the victim of a homicide.”

The absence of a body or any contact between Morris and his family over the years could suggest foul play, Stephens said. Early on, Morris’s homosexuality was ruled out as a possible indicator that his disappearance was linked to a hate crime, Stephens said.

“There’s never been any evidence of that,” he said. “The only two scenarios we’ve ever come up with is he left on his own and simply vanished, or he was picked up by someone.”

Stephens said the case has been difficult and he would welcome FBI input.

“If they want to get involved, to send an FBI agent over to talk to me, I’d be happy to fill them in,” he said.

Searches for missing people are best handled by local law enforcement, said Special Agent Rich Wolf, a spokesman with the FBI’s Baltimore field office.

“This goes back to, when people hear ‘FBI’ they think, well, we’re going to be better than other law enforcement agencies across the board, and that’s just not necessarily the case,” he said. “Homicides are almost always handled better by local law enforcement [because] they, unfortunately, do it all the time. … Relatively few homicide cases rise to the level of a federal investigation.”

Wolf said anytime detectives request assistance from the FBI, the department responds, but such help rarely results in a full federal investigation.

“If we received a [petition] like that, the very first thing we would do is contact our counterparts at Montgomery County Police,” Wolf said.

In the meantime, Stephens will keep investigating. The file, which he keeps on his desk, is nearly 8 inches thick.

“I’ve put more time into this case than I’ve put into any case in my tenure with the police department … it really bothered me,” he said. “We do have a lot of [missing persons cases] in Montgomery County but this was one where I really thought that I would be able to make an arrest or close the case because, in my mind, there were a very limited number of suspects; I just never did.”

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