A man named John went missing in 1994. His family says he was a “Deadhead” at the time, or a fan of the Grateful Dead. He traveled from concert to concert, they said.
Then, in 1994, John went missing. His mother said they thought he may have been scared at the time from his alleged involvement in an illegal marijuana growing operation.
That was the last they heard from him, at least until October 30, 2016.
On Saturday, a man walked into the New Haven Police Department to turn himself in on what he said was an outstanding warrant. The man, John, was wearing a button-down shirt and a tweed overcoat, and looked well kept, police said.
When police ran John’s name through the system, they couldn’t find any local warrants out for his arrest, but a “strange hit” did pop up out of North Carolina. That hit said to call a specific number if the man was ever found, but when police tried it was disconnected. The reason for the hit was undecipherable, police said.
With no indication that the man, who called himself John, had ever done anything wrong, the police officer he was speaking with, lock-up detention supervisor Lt. Brendan Hosey, gave him some options for shelters nearby and said he could leave. The man tried to convince Hosey that he was wanted, but there was no evidence of it.
“It was strange,” said Lt. Hosey. “Most people who turn themselves in only to find they’re not wanted walk away elated,” but John spent time trying to convince Hosey he was a wanted man.
Meanwhile, an officer in Kent, New York, part of Putnam County, noticed the query into John pop up in the national criminal database. The officer knew John’s family, and knew they had been searching for him for more than two decades. He reached out to John’s mother, who lives in Carmel, New York.
On Monday, John’s mom called the New Haven Police Department to speak to Lt. Hosey about the query he had entered. She said John was her son, and had been missing from Kent for 22 years.
There was one big problem though: Hosey had sent John on his way after not locating a warrant, and he had no idea where he’d went.
But Hosey was determined to find him. He called the department’s Family Services Unit, and was teamed up with Detective Dana Martin and Officer Lizmarie Almedina. Together, they went out for hours to shelters across the city to try and find John, but had no luck.
John’s mother, two sisters, brother and cousin drove to New Haven on Tuesday after hearing that their loved one may finally have been found. They described John as a “Deadhead,” but that didn’t jive with the man Lt. Hosey had met. The family showed Hosey the most recent photo they had of John, and while it could have been him, he wasn’t sure.
The family was told they’d be contacted if John was found, but then decided to head home after feeling out of luck.
Before they left, Martin says that John’s brother asked if the department’s surveillance camera would have recorded John coming in. “He wanted a photo of his brother – a brother he expected he’d never see again.”
The family left, but the hanging result wasn’t good enough for Detective Martin and Officer Almedina. They went out again on their own to try and find John, and after jumping at several possible candidates they passed on the street, they found one who they really thought could be him. They stopped the man, and were shocked by the result.
The man put his hands up and asked if he was in trouble, and if the police were there about the outstanding warrant. John was told he wasn’t in trouble, they just wanted to talk to him. They handed him the photo John’s mom had provided from 22 years ago, he looked at it, folded it four times, and held it to his chest.
John’s family was called and they quickly turned around. When they pulled up to the department, John’s sister, Liz, jumped out of the car and ran across the street to meet her long-lost brother, who recognized her right away! The officers stopped traffic to get John’s elderly mother and the rest of his family across, and they reunited.
John asked questions, such as where his father was — he died, and John recognized that “He’d have been very old,” and lowered his head — but a short time later said he had to go.
Where on earth could be more important for John to go such a short time after reuniting with his family?! The truth was, he was staying at a shelter, and he had to be there by 4 p.m. if he wanted to get a bed for the night.
He hadn’t considered that the reunion with his long-lost family could be so permanent. They said he could come home, back to the Hudson Valley, with them, and he took them up on the offer.
“Instead of meeting relatives with tragic news, these cops were able to leave work that day feeling wonderful,” the New Haven Police Department said in a statement.
The family is doing well, police say, and they’ve kept in touch.
Sometimes, a tragic story can have a happy ending.