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New podcast shines spotlight on missing persons and cold cases

'My heart really went out to these families who I knew really had no hope,' says Barrie private investigator behind new project

A new podcast dealing with missing persons has hit the airwaves and the former private investigator who hosts it hopes it helps bring closure to some families.

Whereabouts Unknown deals with cold cases where families have lost hope as they search for loved ones who appear to have vanished. Ellen White is the former private investigator behind the podcast and brings years of experience in tracking people down.

White started as a private investigator in 1984, while working briefly for an insurance company. 

“I was approached by an investigation company that we used for insurance claim investigations whose manager thought I’d make a good PI,” said White. “He hired me and we remain good friends some 35 years later.”

In 1985, at the age of 23, White managed a field office in Barrie for Pinkerton’s.

“Back in the day we were licensed by the OPP. This has changed significantly over the last decade, with the Ministry of the Solicitor General taking over.”

Earlier this year, White completed the newly mandated private investigator's course and last month successfully completed the licensing exam with an 88 percent grade. She is expecting to receive her new licence in the next couple of weeks.  

“Back in the 80’s, when my kids were growing up, I was a private investigator. I left that field because it's really not the best field when you are also raising kids. I was a young mom with three kids under the age of six,” said White. “I always knew I wanted to go back to that profession, but life takes its turns and it took me a while.”

White is currently working as a therapist and life coach but with close family members who are either private investigators or in law enforcement, true crime stories are always being discussed.

“Crime discussions are kind of a family gathering thing with us,” said White. “The passion for the job has always been there and talking about old cases just fueled it.”

White recalled that back when she worked missing persons cases, it was very expensive for families to hire a private investigator 

“You were looking at tens of thousands of dollars in these cases and often the company wants the full amount up front because of the low success rate,” said White. “My heart really went out to these families who I knew really had no hope, so I always wanted to volunteer in that capacity someday.”

About a year ago, White was at a bridal shower when she ran into a former classmate. The discussion turned to the fact that the classmate’s younger brother had been missing for over 20 years. 

“He literally walked out his door and disappeared. Knowing my background and family affiliation, she asked if we could have a look at it,” said White. “Researching his case I realized just how huge the numbers are of these situations.”

After speaking with several families who told her they felt their cold cases were forgotten, the former PI decided to start up a podcast to shine some light on the long-missing people.

The first episode of the podcast centred around Robbie Aho. Aho was 31 when he disappeared on Oct. 12, 2009 from the Marten River area. White said they made the Aho case their first podcast as the 11th anniversary of his disappearance had just passed. 

“He went missing just 15 kilometres outside of North Bay. When I looked at his case, what struck me was that there was another gentleman who is very similar in physical description who went missing just seven weeks apart, within 15 kilometres and who has never been seen since then,” said White. 

Upon a further look at the RCMP missing persons website, White noticed there are 21 people in that area who have never been accounted for. 

Having dealt with several families in the investigation process, White said that one thing has been true of each family she has spoken with. 

“I have not seen a family yet who has accepted it,” said White. "If you listen to the podcast, I ask the Aho parents to tell me what Robbie was like as a young child, and the mom is crying so hysterically that she couldn't answer the question, understandably.”

Helping families get closure is the main reason White started the podcast.

“One of my therapy clients lost her son in a tragic circumstance, and what she said to me was that at least she knew what happened to him,” said White. “That does make it easier for some as others just keep living and not knowing anything.”

The Whereabouts Unknown podcast is recorded out of White’s north-end Barrie home. She admits she is new to it and that while the “first episode is a little bit rough, I’ve brought in someone to assist and it’s going to sound much better.”

Whereabouts Unknown can be found on Facebook here and the link to the podcast is here.