The investigators working the case of missing boy Jermaine Mann had amassed “little bits of evidence” over the years, through upwards of 400 interviews.
They knew that Jermaine and his father were somewhere in the northeastern United States. They knew the missing boy had grown up, graduated college, even had a loose idea of where he’d gone to school.
But Ted Davis — the retired police officer whose “unrelenting resolve” was credited in Jermaine’s stunning reunion with his mother this week after 31 years apart — said that, until recently, that just hadn’t been enough.
“We had no names,” Davis said in an interview from his home in Calgary on Tuesday. “We were looking for a needle in a hay stack, and this was a really, really big hay stack.”
Jermaine’s case file with the Missing Children’s Society of Canada (MCSC) was opened in 1987, two days after the 21-month-old toddler went missing during a court-ordered visit with his father in Toronto. Over the years, it was probed by police and the missing children’s organization, and Davis and a team of three fellow MCSC investigators took carriage starting in 2003. Retired from the Calgary Police Service, Davis has been working with MCSC for the past 28 years.
As revealed by law enforcement agencies over the weekend, police at last zeroed in on Allan Mann Jr., now 66, in a small community outside Hartford, Conn., last week. Police allege Mann abducted Jermaine, fled illegally to the U.S., then both assumed aliases, which included obtaining a false Texas birth certificate for Jermaine.
Police say Jermaine had been told his mother was dead.
Mann Jr. is being held in U.S. custody on charges including making false statements, and he will be extradited to Canada and charged with abduction, and faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.
As Mann Jr. was held in jail, Lyneth Mann-Lewis flew down to reunite with her son, now 33.
“Ted encouraged me to be always, always believing,” Mann-Lewis told reporters at a news conference Monday, where she credited Davis’ “unrelenting resolve” with finding her son. “I will forever be grateful for him for everything he has done.”
Quick to give credit to other agencies, including the Toronto police fugitive squad and the United States Marshals Service, Davis said the arrest came through collaboration and a few substantial recent developments.
The “absolute” clincher, he said, was the recent discovery of Mann Jr.’s assumed name. While Toronto police have revealed little about the investigation, U.S. court documents show that in August, police identified and interviewed associates of Mann Jr., one of whom provided Mann Jr.’s fake name: Hailee Randolph DeSouza.
That day, Davis knew an arrest was in sight.
“I knew that we had enough at that time,” he said. “We had a direction to work toward.”
In the ensuing months, as police were closing in — locating Mann Jr. in Connecticut, forensically analyzing photographs and more — Davis didn’t say a word to Mann-Lewis. That risked producing false hope, he said, which would turn to devastation if the investigation hit a snag.
It wasn’t until mid-week last week, as Mann Jr. was being taken into custody, that Davis boarded a plane from Calgary to tell Mann-Lewis in person — alongside Amanda Pick, CEO of the missing children’s organization — that her son had been found.
“You can’t tell someone, after waiting 31 years, over the telephone or FaceTime, ‘Hey listen, I found your son,’ ” Davis said. “You gotta be there.”
Davis was there, too, when Mann-Lewis laid eyes on her son for the first time in more than three decades, travelling with her and Pick to meet Jermaine less than 48 hours after she was told he had been found.
Declaring himself as “not a really emotional-type guy” — “I have my feelings and stuff, but I don’t display them as much as other people maybe do” — Davis nonetheless said the reunion was remarkable.
As they pulled up to the address, he spotted Jermaine sitting on the porch and observed his face, which mirrored the look he’d seen on his mother’s face for two days. There was no doubt they were related.
“Their eyes are so close, and your eyes tell you a lot about a person,” Davis said.
Estimating he’s played a hand in more that 100 reunions between parents and missing children, Davis says helping solve Jermaine’s disappearance holds special significance. That’s in part, he says, because “Lyneth was special.” Like all parents he’s met through his work, she was engaged and dedicated.
What distinguishes her is that her energy never faded after all the years her son was missing.
“Whenever you talked to her you could tell that she was still persistent and passionate about getting her son back,” he said.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis