Lauren Spierer, 20, is a blonde, blue-eyed IU student from the upscale New York community of Scarsdale. Bloomington resident Crystal Grubb, 29, was a young mother whose extended, working-class family has a history of police run-ins.
Although both disappeared in Bloomington, the search effort and media coverage surrounding the two women differed drastically.
There are an average of 100,000 active missing persons cases in the United States at any time, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. With that many cases, not all of them can receive the same amount of attention.
“Missing White Woman Syndrome” is a term used by media critics to describe the phenomenon behind the coverage of missing persons falling under specific, designated criteria: Caucasian, female, often attractive and blonde.
Missing persons who do not fit this category often receive a disproportionate amount of coverage.
Spierer went missing June 3 after a night of partying with friends downtown.Thousands of volunteers searched Bloomington multiple times a day for the missing student as TV news crews arrived in town. The Indiana Daily Student devoted several front pages to the story.
Grubb went missing Sept. 18, 2010, after she allegedly stormed off angrily from a group of friends with a known history of drug use. In October 2010, Grubb’s body was discovered in a cornfield near North Showers Road in northern Monroe County.
The media coverage and public interest in Grubb’s case was short-lived. Despite being mentioned during the Headline News TV program “Nancy Grace,” coverage of Grubb’s disappearance failed to gain much traction. To date, the IDS has published seven articles about Grubb since her disappearance.
Finances were evidently a struggle for the family, as it announced shortly after Grubb’s body was discovered that it was having difficulties meeting the expenses to pay for a funeral.
Detective Brad Swain of the Monroe County Sheriff’s office, who is investigating Grubb’s murder, said law enforcement personnel have no real way to control the coverage or content the media produce. Maintaining the public’s interest in cases such as that of Grubb is difficult compared to other cases, he said.
“There’s been a great deal of interest in Lauren Spierer’s case for a long period of time,” Swain said.
Swain said because of the working-class demographics of the Grubb family, the methods the family employed to get the word out about their daughter’s whereabouts were perhaps not as sophisticated as in the Spierer case. For example, social media resources, such as Facebook and Twitter, have played dominant roles in the ongoing search for Spierer.
Swain said he believes the individuals behind the Spierer investigation are utilizing the media to their advantage.
Three arrests have been made related to Grubb’s case but on charges of producing methamphetamine. So far, with a lack of physical evidence, the individuals cannot be connected to Grubb’s murder, Swain said.
And despite all the posters, TV news reporters and massive search parties, Spierer’s case also remains unsolved — a similarity the two women do share.