Her name is Tatum Edwards. She was 18 years old when she vanished without a trace in 2021. She didn’t pack her bags or take any family photos or valuables. She only took her laptop, Android phone, and Nintendo Switch. Tatum was living in a nice home in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina, when she disappeared. She turned 18 in February and had just started her first job.
Reportedly, she was close with her family and very involved. She was described as “a beautiful, kind, gentle soul who could sing, play guitar, and had a bright light within her. She was brilliant, and came from a healthy and stable home.” They were a tight family unit, which made her disappearance even more puzzling.
By June 2021, early one morning, Tatum disappeared around 5 o'clock. Her parents woke up that morning only to find her bed empty. That same day, they filed a missing person’s report with the police after inquiring with Tatum’s friends. No one knew anything, and their stories checked out. The police followed up with the report, met with the parents, and reportedly grilled the family about her home life and relationship dynamic with them, but they found no evidence of foul play. Because Tatum was an adult, the police dismissed the belief that something was afoul.
It was then left to the parents to continue digging for answers independently. Tatum’s desktop computer had answers, but the answers only left them with more questions. They learned that Tatum met a 26-year-old man named Doug from a game they both played and then conversations shifted to Discord. Sifting through the conversations, they allegedly found that this man was grooming her, using psychological tactics to “brainwash” her against her family.
Furthermore, they obtained information from her phone records, which showed she made a call to a restaurant in some backwoods town in Texas. Believing she might be heading to Texas to see her aunt, Melinda, they contacted the family member, only to learn she knew nothing of Tatum’s disappearance. That’s when Melinda decided to get involved and hired a private investigator. In contrast, Tatum’s mother decided to take the search to social media and made a missing person post that went viral.
Social media and the private investigator
Then something strange occurred. After Tatum was missing for approximately 3-4 days, she walked into a police station in Avon, Indiana, some 784 miles from home, and had the missing person report dropped.
Therefore, the police concluded her missing person case. They informed the mother that Tatum wants no communication and does not want to tell the family where she is. However, she gave the name and address of the man she left with, which matched the same information discovered by her family.
Meanwhile, the Facebook posts were getting many responses and spreading like wildfire.
That fateful Facebook post reached two women who knew the man in question and confirmed him to be the same Doug from Indianapolis, Indiana. What’s more, they both shared the same story and similar experiences. The stories checked out. They purportedly told Tatum’s mother that this man had an investigation against him for molesting his 2-year-old daughter and allegations against him for molesting his 14-year-old niece.
One of the women just barely escaped with her life with her baby. Her story was identical to Tatum’s story. She explained that he limited her phone privileges and supervised her when she used her phone. She escaped in March 2021, and he began grooming Tatum the next month.
In the Facebook post, the mother states: “I would also like to add to this post that the police have physically seen my daughter and did not tell her about the man she is with. An Onslow County sheriff's detective knew where our daughter was the entire time our family was distraught and worried and decided not to tell us.”
Then in April, the police did a wellness check based on Tatum's information. After that, Tatum briefly contacted her mother in the form of a 45-second audio message from an Android phone. Tatum sounded very slow and sluggish, tired. She didn’t seem like herself.
When asked why she ran away from home, her response wasn’t because she found the love of her life. But rather because she wanted the family to treat her as an adult and stop treating her like a child. This didn’t make sense because she did not indicate that she was unhappy nor exhibited escalating behavior of rebelliousness, indicative that she would decide to leave.
A week after Tatum had the police drop their investigation, the family hired a private investigator out of Indianapolis. After reviewing the evidence and staking out the address where Tatum and Doug were confirmed to have resided, he concluded that this story strongly resonated with all the elements of human trafficking.
The address she was staying at was known to be a high trafficking area. But whether this was a trafficking case or an abusive relationship, he ascertained that she was not in a safe situation, and he does not believe that she would have otherwise left home – and so abruptly, had it not been for the nefarious influence of this man.
The address they were staying in was not an area where most people would just go out and get an apartment. The complex and the surrounding area were notorious for crime, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But a middle-class girl like Tatum would have experienced something akin to culture shock.
In an email between Tatum’s mother and aunt, she relates the professional opinion of the private investigator, saying, “He says a lot of the signs are there that fit the bill of trafficking, He does not feel like Tatum is in love with this person and that she moved to be with him in the way she explained to you.”
She continued to explain the words of the private investigator, saying that how Tatum left shows him this individual does not care about Tatum or her family, and has narcissistic tendencies, is someone that is cunning and calculated.
By now, Doug and Tatum started moving from state to state, living as though on the run.
Tatum’s last transmission with her mother was in the Winter of 2021. She met a man in an internet cafe and asked him to contact her mother. She used the pseudonym April Conner/Connor, the main character of a short story she once wrote, not her real name. Her mother called the internet cafe, and they confirmed she was there daily and sleeping in a car in the parking lot.
And then the trail goes cold.
Thus, our story begins.
Our OSINT investigation
At present, my team at W1nterSt0rm and I began with one searchable item run through a breach report database. It was Tatum’s Gmail address, and it returned 5 results, which included a zip code, hashed passwords, a username, an additional email address, and an IP address – all associated with Android gaming websites. The zip code was for Trenton, New Jersey.
Each returned item can also be searched, which in this case, returned more information. Therefore, I searched the IP and username and returned the same results. This was directly associated with her active Gmail account. This meant she still uses it. Later on in the investigation, her mother admitted that she had been paying the cellphone bill for Tatum in the hope that she would reach out to her when she was ready.
The IP address wasn’t associated with a router or through an internet service provider. It belonged to Verizon Wireless. It was the IP address associated with a mobile phone. We were able to ping the address with no packet loss. In other words, the address was live.
This didn’t mean it necessarily belonged to her mobile phone. However, when we resolved the address, it pinged off of cellular towers and gave us interesting locations consistent with someone moving off the grid, away from society.
Plugging the coordinates into Google Earth, the location was just outside a McGuire Air Force base in Trenton, New Jersey, out in the woods – only 14.3 miles away from where she used to attend high school at Northern Burlington School! She attended the school before they moved to North Carolina. Ostensibly, the area would have held importance to recent memory for her.
This was a huge breakthrough.
The next time we pinged the IP address, the geographical location showed Tatum had moved from that site and was now in Camden, New Jersey, only 34 miles away from the first location by car and only 40 minutes from Tatum’s high school. It showed what appeared as if she was squatting in an abandoned building away from people, perhaps. I ran a search for cell towers and antennas, only to learn that it was the location of an antenna. However, it meant she was moving through the area.
We wondered what would bring her back to the area of her old hometown. The family just couldn’t believe Tatum would return without notifying anyone. Again, there were still more questions than answers. Later in the investigation, I learned from her mother that their old house was only 10 minutes away from the base itself. This location was a relatively short car drive away.
We needed to notify the police under a different pretext than checking up on what we believed was a kidnapped or emotionally manipulated young woman. She was vulnerable – even the private investigator’s notes clarified that emphasis. However, we left Melinda to that task while we continued to plow through data, weeding through false-positive metadata, which has a way of confusing the investigation.
Melinda couldn’t remember Doug’s last name, other than that it began with the letter “H.” Hunter? No, that couldn’t be it. Nevertheless, we found it. From there, a whole world opened to us.
Now that we had a confirmed first, middle, and last name and DOB (date of birth) we shifted the search to Intelius, which returned a trove of information from the public database, mostly false-positive metadata. Address history. The names of two women who lived with him. Family connections. The works. Little did we know we were about to hit a gold mine.
Connecting the dots
Next came records showing legal disputes, mostly traffic violations, evictions, a divorce, and a pending child support case. Not only did he discover his ex-wife’s name, but that of two ex-girlfriends who once lived with him. I found them all on social media and connected with one of them, Ms. Brittany Kosovo. The things she had to say were nothing short of chilling. She corroborated everything and more.
Brittany showed strong knowledge of the case and communicated with Tatum’s mother, which was reflected in the viral Facebook posts. She described Doug as a deranged, “textbook narcissist” who was mentally and emotionally abusive and prone to threatening to murder her.
“He’s convinced Tatum to run away from her family and get on an airplane to move in with him in our old apartment in Indianapolis shortly after I’d escaped him,” she said.
She continued further, painting an elaborate portrayal of the man who seduced Tatum from the safety of her home. “Right before I’d left, I was told rumors about multiple different things he’d done, including grooming his niece and something about his cousin.”
On January 1st, 2023, a young 16-year-old Canadian girl reached out to her on Discord, which is the same platform that Doug met Tatum on. She contacted Brittany, asking for help because Doug was targeting her for a “relationship” and attempted to manipulate her into sexually engaging with him.
What’s worse, she explained that his niece informed family members that she saw signs of him being sexually inappropriate to his own daughter, “but she’s been so brainwashed and groomed by him that she doesn’t want to open a case against him.”
When I asked if she thought Tatum was still with Doug, she noted that if that were the case, it would be an abusive and controlling relationship. However, she claimed she was contacted by “friends of friends” of Tatum’s that she had run away from him and is in California now. “I strongly believe that she’s safe away from him at this point,” she said. Based on her testimony and what we gathered from the triangulations, the team agreed that Tatum was no longer traveling with Doug.
What’s more, I found Doug on Discord. I found all his online accounts. We were also given Tatum’s gaming ID for some of the gaming apps she uses.
The conversation provided a wide array of new leads. But the most vital lead remained the same. Triangulation. The GPS chip in Tatum’s phone. This utilizes the device’s IP address assigned by the cellular network. The first location remained true.
Our researchers uncovered a new location, only 5.3 miles and 10 minutes away by vehicle from the first location we found. Sadly, it was a cellular tower. But it painted a picture that told us she was in Burlington County and was close to her old home, her old school, and the military base where her father was once stationed.
A hacker’s Amber Alert system
This investigation will continue, but not without the help of the rest of our team. The family created a Missing Person photo for us. Our next step ‘is to enumerate a list of businesses with the radius of her movements and probable areas we believe she might visit for shelter, food, and WiFi.
I started researching the businesses within those areas using Google Earth and sending them her Missing Person’s photo via text, email, and fax.
Once that task is finished, we will launch our own homebrew “Amber Alert” system by mass distributing her photo and information to every number by SMS in the area code, prefix, and local exchange of the locations we know she’s visited. Maybe by then, the police will take an interest in her disappearance and bring Tatum home.
That aside, I reassured Brittany that we would see to it that, even once Tatum is found, we would track Doug down, too. After all, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Every piece of data, when put together, forms a map, a timeline, etc. Each nexus point brings us closer to the truth.
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