Man devoted to finding missing persons
The discovery of the remains of a North Fort Myers woman who was missing for 25 years has brought to light the fact that many missing people could be in the water, sometimes for years, with little chance of their remains being discovered.
A North Fort Myers man is hoping his nationwide group can help find some of those persons.
Dan Griffith is with a group called Team Watters Sonar Search and Recov-ery, a non-profit group whose mission is to bring loved ones who are lost in Florida’s waterways home to their family and to assist law enforcement agencies in the recovery and preservation of evidence.
The group is based in Illinois, which is where owners Tammy and Dennis Watters reside, but has a team in Florida which includes Griffith and two others from Winter Garden and The Villages.
Unlike the man who discovered the remains of Rita Sue Zul in a pond near the Lee County Civic Center with a fishing line and magnet, Griffith said his group uses slightly better technology to perform its job.
“We have sonar that we use on our boats as well as a portable unit which is on a remote-control boat that we use in smaller bodies of water,” Griffith said.
The Florida group started in 2013 when Griffith bought a boat and equipment and got involved. Griffith was qualified in search, but not in sonar, he said.
Griffith said he got together with Team Watters and started training on the Caloosahatchee River, since that was where Zul, who was reported missing in 1990 after she failed to return home from a party at Marina 31, was suspected to be. They also were looking for a missing North Fort Myers man, Dennis Lee Brown, who was reported missing in 1983.
“We started to scan the entire Caloosahatchee from Fort Myers and Lake Okeechobee, and the first car we found was at Route 31 directly across from the old Marina 31 in a canal,” Griffith said. “We thought for sure we had Zul then.”
Griffith dropped a magnet down in the water, which stuck to metal. When brought back up, it had red paint flakes on it, leading them to believe they had her.
But when they pulled the car out, it turned out to be an ’80s Chrysler Lebaron convertible that had been stolen and driven into the water to hide the evidence, Griffith said.
“We found another car in Hendry County that was pulled and was another stolen vehicle, as well as a large boat,” Griffith said. “It was a saga for us to find her. We’re just happy she’s been found and that Chelsea Green was recovered.”
It was Green searchers with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office dive team were looking for on July 20 when volunteers, who also were looking for Green, discovered the car Zul had been driving in a nearby pond.
Green’s vehicle and body, meanwhile, were pulled from the river just days after she was reported missing after she did not arrive home after leaving a friend’s house.
Team Watters covers everywhere from Ohio to Texas, where there are more than 10,000 cold cases on missing persons. Griffith said Texas and Florida are among the leaders in missing persons. Florida alone has about 1,000 cold cases.
There have been some successes. In late February the group found Lisa Hayden-Gordon, a piano teacher from Fort Lauderdale who had been missing for about a month, in the New River.
Over the past 10 years, Team Watters has resolved 78 cases. The group does not charge law enforcement or families, nor does anyone in the organization get paid.
“This is what we do. This is our passion. We’re trained and up to date on all the latest technologies available,” Griffith said.
Team Watters is seeking donations to be used for Team Watters search missions, equipment, fuel, food, lodging, and expenses.
To make a donation, contact the group on their website www.teamwatterssonar.com