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Susan Small was missing. Age 32, heavy build, tattoos on her left hand, pierced tongue, blond hair.

The cops didn't flag the case as suspicious.

"They said they get a lot of these reports every day, and unless they have something solid, they weren't going to follow up on anything," recalled her sister, Connie Baptiste.

Small's brother followed up with the police two days later. He stressed that his sister would never have disappeared and left her two children at home with her boyfriend.

Finally, three days after the first missing-person's report was filed, Baptiste placed an emergency call to 911 and pleaded with police to visit her sister's house because Small's boyfriend wouldn't let any family members in.

That day, the Buffalo police found Small. Her body had been cut into pieces and left in her West Side home.

When an adult in Western New York is missing, the disappearance rarely makes headlines. Many cases don't even warrant a detective's notice.

A few recent cases, however, have riveted many people's attention.

Yolanda Bindics, the Jamestown woman and mother of four who went missing Aug. 10, has been the subject of an intensive search and investigation.

Michelle Piwowar, the Hamburg woman and mother of three, went missing Oct. 23 and was found dead last Thursday after her husband led police to her body.

These two cases stand among more than 3,000 adult missing-persons reports filed over the last 18 months with police departments in Erie and Niagara counties, according to the state's Department of Criminal Justice Services.

The vast majority of these missing adults eventually turn up, though in more than half the cases filed with Criminal Justice Services, it initially categorizes the missing person as having disappeared under suspicious or dangerous circumstances.

In Erie County, roughly 92 percent of all reports filed for missing adults are canceled because the person is found, according to the data. The percentage is even higher in Niagara County.

More often than not, missing adults resurface on their own or have obviously left voluntarily. That's why police officials say that while they look into each missing-persons report, not all cases warrant a search or major investigation.

Baptiste, Small's sister, said the police expressed little interest in assisting her family when they called for help. She said she stressed to the authorities that her sister's disappearance was truly unusual and so did her brother.

"I just had the impression that unless we looked for her ourselves, there wasn't anything they were going to do," she said, "like I was pretty much wasting my time."

Small's body was found Oct. 25, 2003 -- about three weeks since she had last been seen by family members.

While Baptiste faulted the police for not investigating her sister's disappearance right away, she acknowledged that by the time the police were contacted, it was probably too late to save her.

Small's live-in boyfriend, Michael Anthony Morgan, 26, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He is slated for trial Nov. 22.

Marlene Kovacik, a Buffalo police technician who processes all missing-persons complaints for the city, said that as of August, Buffalo's missing adults accounted for roughly a fourth of reported missing-adults cases in Erie County.

Yet despite the overall number of reports, she said that in her experience, fewer than 20 city cases involve people who are still considered to be missing under strongly suspicious circumstances.

Adult disappearances are challenging on several levels, police said.

While juveniles often go missing because they are runaways or caught in custody disputes, adults often disappear for an even wider variety of reasons.

They may have mental illnesses, be fleeing a troubled home situation or simply be too irresponsible to alert family members or co-workers of their plans to stay with a friend or to take a trip.

In fact, Kovacik said, it's common for fighting spouses to report each other missing when one or the other stays away from home for a day or two to drink or gamble.

"They're mad at each other so they go off and report one another missing," she said. "Over the years, you see a lot of that."

In some cases, the circumstances of an adult's disappearance is simply unknown, said Lt. David Mann, commander of the Buffalo Police Department unit that follows up on missing-persons complaints.

Police and family members are often left to speculate whether the person who's missing has voluntarily left the scene or been the victim of foul play.

A person's lifestyle often influences the police's decision-making regarding a person's disappearance, Mann said.

One notorious case in Vancouver, British Columbia, has made headlines across the continent. Police believe that pig farmer Robert "Willy" Pickton may be linked to the disappearance of nearly 70 drug addicts and prostitutes from the city.

The Vancouver Police Department has been heavily criticized for brushing off the missing-persons reports for these women, which spiked from 1997 to 2002, as well as clues and petitions for help from victims' family members and friends.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police was eventually called to help with the investigation. It pulled much of the information it needed to go after Pickton from the city Police Department's files, according to news reports. Pickton was arrested. His trial is expected to begin in the spring.


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