The closing panel at CrimeCon 2023 over the weekend included a group of victims’ families who had all started advocacy campaigns or charitable organisations as they struggled with their own pain. It was a common topic there, as it was at many previous conferences.
But it also applies to everyday individuals, like Florida mom Whitney Sich, who formed an online true crime sleuth group while unable to move or communicate and whose recovery from an unanticipated stroke in 2020 happened to coincide with it.
Sich founded A Voice for the Voiceless, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to bringing attention to cases, and the True Crime Sisters, a network of Facebook groups devoted to missing individuals and other significant cases.
“I got into true crime when someone went missing from my community,” she told Fox News Digital over the weekend at CrimeCon 2023 in Orlando.
The 38-year-old stay-at-home mother’s health deteriorated just as they were beginning, though.
She said, losing her voice and mobility, “I had a stroke.”
She claimed that despite this, she wished to support her neighbourhood. So she created a Facebook group and started printing flyers for missing people.
“I was learning to walk and talk and spreading awareness and building a community, and the Facebook group that we made gained like 15,000 people,” she said. “And then that kind of turned into other missing people, families looking for help, and we’ve been doing that for years now.”
Her organisations raised awareness, held vigils, and devoted many hours to independently analysing instances.
“It took away all of my abilities, and I had to come back from it,” she told Fox News Digital. “I’m a mom, so I wanted to be a mom again and hold my boy. I had to learn how to use my arms again and learn how to use my legs and talk again, so I could say, ‘I love you.’”
She claimed that while she has been physically recovering, her online work has resulted in actual repercussions for criminal suspects.
Authorities claim that Leila Cavett, a 21-year-old Georgia mother, disappeared from a trip to South Florida in July 2020.
Shannon Ryan, a self-described “witch doctor” who was later detained in connection with the case, posted a status on Facebook referring to Cavett as his “apprentice,” according to Sich. He then allegedly attempted to cover it up when she vanished.
“He originally included the presumed murder victim in his Facebook post, and then he edited the Facebook post,” she said. “We found the edited Facebook post, and the edit history showed that she was included in his original Facebook post. So she was with him.”
She claimed that they informed the FBI of the information and named Ryan, 42, as a possible suspect. The FBI has been contacted by Fox News Digital for comment.
In May 2021, Florida police detained Ryan after discovering Cavett’s 2-year-old son strolling around barefoot and wearing a soiled nappy.
There is no sign of her remains. On the security footage, she was last seen sitting in Ryan’s car’s passenger seat.
According to court records, Ryan is presently being detained in Broward County and will shortly stand trial on allegations of second-degree murder, child negligence, and tampering with evidence.
According to Chloe Schafer, a private investigator located in Tennessee who claims to have contacted Sich online more than a year ago, Sich’s organisations have also assisted families and authorities in finding missing people who are still alive and safe. They have worked together frequently ever since, she said.
“I’ve worked a ton of runaway cases where we helped the family either physically locate them or helped lead law enforcement to them,” she said.
In addition to receiving praise for providing information that resulted in significant breakthroughs in a case, true crime sleuths have occasionally come under fire.
An FBI-led search team discovered Gabby Petito’s remains close to where her van was last seen in Wyoming in 2021 after a handful of travel bloggers posted dashcam footage of the incident.
Jenn Bethune, who runs the travel blog “Red White and Bethune” with her husband, started looking through the video from her trip to Grand Teton National Park after she received a social media message from a person asking anyone who may have been in the area in late August 2021 to review their photos and videos.
Around that time, the family had been there, and it came out that they had passed by Petito’s van, which her alleged killer Brian Laundrie had later driven to Florida without her.
According to the FBI, Laundrie shot himself in the head days after police showed up at his door looking for Petito. His remains were discovered just over a month later in a marshy nature reserve close to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida. Police discovered a handwritten confession nearby in a waterproof bag.
“Awareness matters, and there’s the multiplier effect,” Sich told Fox News Digital. “So if one person posts a flyer, which is what my organization does, if we post a flyer, and you see it online, please share it. Because if you’re from an area where that person’s missing, someone might find that person because of that flyer.”