How can we help? Can we help?
(Posted with the permission of Phyllis Stewart, Tom’s wife).
The Missing Person phenomena, so horrific for those involved, often having no clues whatsoever as to where the Missing may be. Often numerous scenarios as to what could have happened, often no ideas as to whether the Missing is still alive, or sadly passed away.
Surely The Missing Person Phenomena is one of the cruellest of human conditions, with family and friends in a state of utter turmoil, frantic to keep the search alive, with feelings of guilt when they stop searching, or when they simply pause for rest.
How can we help find the Missing? How can we help family and friends search? How can we help alleviate the horrors felt by family and friends whilst the Missing are missing? Or even, should we help, are we the right people to help? How can the Missing Persons Phenomena become a human condition of the past?
Take the true story of Mr Tom Stewart, missing in Malta since 20th May 2016.
The short story: Unbeknown to his wife, Phyllis, Tom had become increasingly anxious over some building work that had gone awry on their new build apartment. Tom and Phyllis had relocated to Malta after honeymooning there a number of years before. On top of Tom’s hidden building works anxiety, Phyllis then broke her shoulder. Tom had sought help from his doctor, but didn’t take the medication subscribed. It looks like things got on top of him and in his confused state Tom sought help from another doctor.
This resulted in the confusing, stressful, and seemingly inappropriate admission to the infamous psychiatric hospital of Mount Carmel. Both Tom and Phyllis thought they were being taken to the general hospital for help.
Tom was admitted as a voluntary admission. Yet two days after his admission, terrified of the situation he found himself in, and being told by someone in the hospital that he couldn’t leave, Tom took things into his own hands. Tom climbed an orange tree whilst in the garden with Phyllis, scaled the eight foot wall, and presumably, ran off immediately.
Sadly, having been admitted as a voluntary patient, doctors soon told Phyllis that he had always been free to go, free to walk out the front door. Tom was under a different impression though.
Tom is six foot five inches tall. He was wearing the clothes he stood in. He may have had up to seventy euros on him. He may well have been wearing an ICE wristwatch. Tom has type two diabetes and left Mount Carmel with no medication.
In the thirteen months since Tom left the hospital there have been several sightings which Phyllis deems either very possible, or definite. Ten days after Tom went missing, previous neighbours of theirs said they stopped to talk to Tom at a bus stop. They tried to keep him talking whilst they found help, but before help came, Tom was off.
There was a potential sighting in a local supermarket, a supermarket that Tom and Phyllis used to use regularly. Police looked at cctv and discounted the sighting. Phyllis has never seen the cctv footage.
And there was a potential sighting four or five weeks after Tom disappeared on June 27th outside the closed down Hotel Karrane where a lady reported a man sleeping rough outside its front doors. The lady reported this because the man, she said, was very tall. The Hotel Karrane is perhaps seven or eight miles North of Mount Carmel hospital, an easy bus ride, a possible walk. Tom was a keen walker and knew areas of Malta well.
Phyllis and her family have worked tirelessly searching for Tom, close relatives visiting on many occasions. Streets have been scoured, both day and night. Beaches have been searched, caves, abandoned buildings, farmland scoured, but no signs of Tom. Phyllis has a large network of friends in Malta, and they have been an amazing support for her, often taking Phyllis on searches when sightings reported. Phyllis doesn’t own a car.
Phyllis has been on television and has been interviewed for local newspapers many times. Google Tom Stewart Missing Malta and you can read numerous media reports of their true story.
Phyllis has put up a reward of one thousand euros, available to anyone who is able to reveal the whereabouts of Tom.
I met up with Phyllis on Thursday 15th June. I stayed until Saturday June 24th. She kindly put me up for my week’s search. She gave me breakfast and dinner too. She bought me a one week bus ticket that gave me unlimited travel, anywhere on the island. Malta is seventeen miles long and nine miles wide and has one of the highest population densities in the world, supporting around four hundred and fifty thousand people.
I took the search gently, my mantra being, ‘Am I the right person to help find Tom?’
I searched with my focus being that if Tom was still alive, where might he be, where could life support him. Was he living in an abandoned building? Was he able to find adequate medication for his type two diabetes? Was he able to find adequate food and water? And how, if still alive and on the island, was he able to avoid detection?
I gently and without rushing searched beaches and caves one day, farmland and outbuildings another. I hollered his name across valleys, hoping to reach the many abandoned farm buildings that lay on private land. I took a day trip to the small island of Gozo, a twenty minute ferry ride away, and did the same there. Every night Phyllis and I chatted, and over the week or so I was with her Phyllis gave me good insight into Tom’s story, and Tom’s character. As Phyllis said, “Tom is a shy man. He would not like the spotlight on himself”.
I didn’t speak to many people in my searching, but those that I did speak to, sometimes had useful things to say. Some people said they recognised the face, but I fear the timescales were wrong. They recognised seeing the face before the year that Tom had been away. But Phyllis did say that he used to visit the town of Buggiba quite often, on his walks, and this is where the people say they recognised him from.
My searching seemed to make some sense to me, and on my final day I went to the Qawra region of Malta, close to the hotel sighting where the lady said she had seen a tall man sleeping rough out front.
Not knowing the name of the hotel yet I asked a café owner for directions to an abandoned hotel. I was given directions to The Palm Court Hotel, a run down horrible dive of a place, (not the sighting hotel). There were obvious signs that people had used it as temporary accommodation. Windows were smashed, doors wrenched open, mattress’ on the floors, shoes, clothes, beer cans scattered about.
If anyone was seeking shelter, this was a definite choice. It wasn’t the Karrane Hotel though, that was twenty minutes walk away. The Karrane Hotel was closed down, yes, but it didn’t look an easy place to force entry. There was no such evidence.
Phyllis gave yet another interview to the Times of Malta. It was an excellent article where Phyllis was able to appeal directly to Tom, saying please come home, you’ll be safe, no need for Mount Carmel hospital anymore, and your brothers and sisters are desperate to find you. If Tom was alive and on the island and was able to read it this article gave Tom a good opportunity to reveal himself.
We asked the police to please thoroughly search The Palm Court Hotel. They searched it. How thoroughly though I don’t know. I wish I had done it myself. Maybe I will. Maybe I will go back to Malta, just to search that hotel.
Tom Stewart has been missing from his home in Malta for over thirteen months now.
How can we help Phyllis and her Family and Friends get off this conveyor belt of horror? How can we find Tom? Do we have the right to look for Tom? Does Tom want to be found? And Phyllis is under no illusion that Tom may have passed away some time ago.
Surely, as Human Beings, there must be some way of eradicating this cruel phenomena known as “Missing Persons”?
Can we help Phyllis, and all those other people, desperately searching for knowledge of what has happened to their loved ones and friends?
Surely there must be a way.