Adventures With Purpose duo solves cold cases
Divers Doug Bishop and Jared Leisek have now found over two dozen missing loved ones.
In 2018, Leisek, who is based in Bend, began uploading YouTube videos about finding cellphones, wedding rings, guns and other oddities in Oregon waterways. With Bishop's help, the targets turned to cars and then missing people.
"That first car we pulled out turned into over 30 vehicles in about six months in and around the city of Portland," Bishop said. "We started running into human remains, and that's where things shifted. We solved a couple cold cases, and the viewers just took off."
Along the way, the former tow truck driver and amateur treasure hunter have built quite the following, with 2 million subscribers on their YouTube page.
The Adventures With Purpose duo endeared themselves to the Washington County community last month when they discovered the vehicles and remains of longtime educator and local government leader Ralph Brown in the Willamette River.
Brown, who taught in Hillsboro schools for 40 years and served on the Forest Grove school board and as mayor of Cornelius, went missing May 16, 2021. Despite a manhunt that included law enforcement and hundreds of volunteers, Brown wasn't found for nearly a full year. The last ping in the cellphone records was near Newberg and Rogers Landing County Park, where Bishop dove and found Brown's vehicle May 13.
Adventures With Purpose searched for Brown on nine different occasions, including three times near the eventual discovery spot, before locating the vehicle with sonar.
Bishop first dove down through the current and debris and identified the license plate.
Bishop said he thinks wood and other debris had been blocking Brown's vehicle during previous searches around Rogers Landing. The search for Brown, which started about a month after he went missing, was the longest and most costly that Adventures With Purpose has ever completed.
Bishop said their biggest expenses are travel and lodging. Bishop and Leisek also employ a camera crew.
Bishop said the key to their success finding cars is sonar, which they've learned through repetition, trial and error.
"We're teaching ourselves. You can't learn sonar anywhere, there is no school for it. All the magic happens with sonar," Bishop said.
He said fans reach out with cold cases, and law enforcement has started to ask for their help. Earlier this spring, they made a presentation to FBI agents and analysts about their procedures.
Bishop said Adventures With Purpose has turned down multiple television deals.
"The real beauty in what we do is it's community driven. We are able to provide a resource that doesn't exist, and we are able to do it for free," Bishop said. "That is one of the reasons we're not allowed to take any of the television deals we get — it would water down our success. If we didn't care about what we were doing, we would absolutely be on TV, but we can't fake things. We're working with families on sensitive matters. We don't have time to reshoot a scene for 10 times. However it comes out, it just comes out. We might be on the road for 45 days working a case every other day. TV wants us to take 10 days to shoot an entire case."
According to the U.S. Justice Department, 600,000 people go missing every year across the country.
A Washington County Sheriff's Office spokesperson, Sgt. Daniel DiPietro, said his office has averaged 111 missing persons cases between 2017 and 2021, including a high of 144 in 2020. Those totals do not include cases handled by city police departments such as Beaverton, Hillsboro or Forest Grove.
Currently in 2022, the Sheriff's Office has 18 open missing persons cases.
DiPietro said missing persons cases generally fall under three categories: runaway youth, endangered people who are often elderly and disabled, and others who are not endangered nor suspected victims of foul play but still missing. Department policy is to take and file a report immediately to be shared through the statewide Law Enforcement Data Systems and the National Crime Information Center. After 30 days, the Sheriff's Office collects DNA to help identify potential remains. DiPietro said the department generally does not close missing persons' cases, meaning Brown's case was considered active, not "cold," by the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
"It was always an open case. The week or two before he was found, we got a tip on social media from a woman who said, 'Hey, it's a hobby of mine to go through Google Maps to try to find people.' She gave us screenshots, we got a hold of detectives, and they were out there that afternoon. We are following on leads constantly," DiPietro said. "We get a lot of very vague leads to continuously check.
"Search-and-rescue is one of the greatest tools we have. The problem is we need a starting point, so we can start canvassing the area."
DiPietro added the department leans on the community.
"Our best avenue for missing persons is often to turn to the media and ask for help," DiPietro said. "The public and the community are our biggest asset. This is just my personal observation, but I would say 75% or higher of these missing persons are found by aware community members."
Sgt. Andrew Colasurdo of the Forest Grove Police Department said his department does not currently have any active missing persons cases, but so far this year, it has taken 26, some of which have been the same runaway youth multiple times. The department also uploads information into state and national databases and collects DNA if a case drags on.
"The resources which will be deployed on a report of a missing person will be dependent on the specifics of each case. For example, a 17-year-old runaway with no exigent circumstances will be handled differently than a missing 5-year-old. The resources which may be utilized during a missing person investigation include, but are not limited to, K-9s, detectives, drones, search and rescue, social media and air support," Colasurdo said. "Like with most investigations, FGPD will work closely with surrounding law enforcement agencies when investigating a missing person. No missing person case is routine, and missing persons are a priority for FGPD. It is also important to note no amount of time is required to pass before FGPD will begin a missing person investigation."
The Washington County Sheriff's Office search-and-rescue team does have sonar technology, and like Adventures With Purpose, it had previously searched the Rogers Landing area where Brown's body eventually was found.
Bishop said there are some clear differences between how Adventures With Purpose is able to work a case compared to police.
"There will never be enough law enforcement to ever properly search for all missing people. That will never be a thing. They have to justify their resources. They're here to serve the public safety in the most efficient capacity possible, and unfortunately, working a case with a dead end often isn't that," Bishop said. "That's where we come in. We don't have to justify anything. We don't have red tape. That's what contributes to our success. We can work any case we want, as much as we want, when and where we want. That's the difference between us and law enforcement."
Bishop recalls how in February 2021, Adventures With Purpose found the car and body of Antonio Lopez in the Columbia River. Lopez was driving on the Glenn Jackson Bridge when, according to witnesses, he slid over ice, up a snow embankment and into the river. Neither the Coast Guard nor the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office could locate him.
"The way we have developed to read sonar is really rare. Only a handful of people can manipulate sonar like we can. If you're not using specific angles and looking for slight changes in depth, you're going to miss things," Bishop said. "For three or four days, the Coast Guard, the state police, the sheriff, the City of Portland, none of those agencies couldn't find him in 10 feet of water. We found him in 10 minutes."
Since Brown was found in May, Adventures With Purpose already has found a Pennsylvania man who was missing for 19 years.
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