Fort Bragg Man Missing Since January; Family Seeks Answers

[Photograph provided by Fort Bragg Police Department]

Duane Lawrence called his mother on the night of January 29, 2019, at approximately 6:00 pm. He was at the Fort Bragg Dollar Tree purchasing a flashlight. This conversation between Duane and his mother would be their last.

According to Sergeant Thomas O’Neal, Fort Bragg Police Department would not be informed of Duane’s disappearance until March 28. Duane was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS) Duane’s classification as a transient and the span of time between his last contact with family and the filing of the missing person report would make collecting information on the case complex. FBPD sought surveillance footage of Duane at the Dollar Tree but learned “the tapes were recycled” regularly and any footage of Duane had been deleted. Dollar Tree employees had no recollection of his visit.

FBPD executed a search warrant on Duane’s phone. The records confirmed Duane’s last phone call with family was on the evening of January 29. The phone continued to be used throughout the following day. One of the calls Duane made on January 30 was to an “online college” where he was attempting to enroll. Sgt. O’Neal explained that in his experience some “individuals having difficulties will attempt to enroll in out-of-state, online colleges looking for the potential of a more stable life and the financial aid rewarded to students.” The final call was made at 10:06 pm where Duane attempted “to contact a local homeless/transient friend.”

[Photograph from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System]

Sgt. O’Neal was able to identify every single phone call/text message Duane made proceeding his disappearance except for two numbers which appear to be related to the same individual: (707) 800-3093 and (707) 595-2241. The FBPD press releases states: “The owner of those phone numbers could not be identified due to the numbers originating from an internet-based phone service or Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) software which revealed limited information for the owner(s).” Upon contacting these two numbers, callers are met with identical voice mail messages spoken in a woman’s voice.

Cell tower location data also elicited information regarding Duane’s movements before he disappeared: According to law enforcement, “[T]he calls were possibly made somewhere northwest of the 200 Block of Walnut Street in Fort Bragg. This could have placed the cell phone in the area of the Paul Bunyan Thrift Store, however, cell tower location data is not always accurate.”Duane’s bicycle was located by a family member near the dumpsters at the Paul Bunyan Thrift Store. The family member retained possession of the bike intending on returning it to Lawrence when he was contacted. Sgt. O’Neal reported that multiple individuals had recounted “that he had last been seen at the Paul Bunyan Thrift Store where he was sleeping in the dumpsters. He added the dumpsters “were a common sleeping area for the area homeless because it was dry and often full of soft fabrics. Since then, an enclosure has been built around them to deter campers.” Investigators contacted Waste Management to explore the possibility of Duane being inadvertently placed in a dump truck. Waste Management “was extremely cooperative” and their personnel reviewed hopper footage from the specific trucks that run that route and were confident Duane was not.

Bank account records indicated Duane’s last known purchase was at the Safeway in Fort Bragg. Sgt. O’Neal explained, “those records are not always accurate because the dates indicated by the bank can sometimes be from earlier.” Sgt. O’Neal collaborated with Duane’s family and in April they went to “common homeless encampments” searching the premises for any sign of Duane. He explained that Fort Bragg is only “2.3 square miles so law enforcement is well-aware of the where the homeless are usually located.”Before his disappearance, Duane’s health had been declining. Brenda, Duane’s sister, described how his addiction issues had returned in November 2018. Sgt. O’Neal recalled talking with a transient friend of Duane’s who suggested his mental health was on the decline because “in the middle of grabbing a cigarette, he forgot what he was doing.” Another friend of Duane’s who had let him stay on his couch told Sgt. O’Neal he had taken Duane to the hospital on January 26 for issues related to his addiction.

In the weeks before his disappearance, Duane had documented interactions with both Santa Rosa Police Department and Mendocino County Sheriffs Department. Sgt. O’Neal could not go into details regarding those interactions but assured us that “none of them led to an arrest”. He added that Duane had never caused any issues for FBPD: “Duane was a friendly guy. I got to know him because I work a lot with our local homeless community. He was involved in homeless services, he helped out. I never had any issues with him. In our investigations, I have yet to find anyone with any ill will towards Duane.”

According to Duane’s sister Brenda Gallegos, her brother was raised in Ukiah. When he was a resident in the Ukiah, a friend of Duane’s named Donna described how he worked as a woman’s In-Home Support Supervisor. That woman, Marilyn Van Kirk, would die in October 2014 after her apartment caught on fire. No foul play was suspected in her death.

Brenda recalls how throughout her brother’s life, he struggled with addiction and had relocated to the Fort Bragg area seeking rehabilitation services. After completing rehabilitation, he “got housing and work in Fort Bragg helping other addicts.” Unfortunately, “his addiction took over again and he became homeless last November. He stayed on friends’ couches and tried to seek help with his addiction.”

Brenda remembers her brother’s “passion for drumming” and his “kind and loving soul.” His mother Donna remembers how “He always appreciated anything I would do for him. He was a really good person. When I told him ‘I love you’ he said ‘I love you more’.” Duane’s family desperately seeks closure; Brenda said, “I think he’s out there somewhere waiting to be found. I just want him to be laid to rest in the family plot.”

[Photograph provided by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System]

According to the FBPD’s press release, “Duane Lawrence is approximately 5’09” tall and he weighed approximately 180 pounds when he went missing. Duane has brown hair and blue eyes and commonly maintained a full-beard prior to his disappearance. Duane has a tattoo of a dragon near his right shoulder.

Sgt. O’Neal urges anyone who knows of Duane’s whereabouts to come forward: “Anyone with information related to this investigation should contact Sergeant O’Neal at (707) 961-2800 ext. 120 or by e-mail at toneal@fortbragg.com. Anonymous tips may be left on the anonymous Crime Tip Hotline at (707) 961-3049.” Other reporting options include contacting Cold Case Mendocino at coldcasemendocino@gmail.com, message via Facebook, or call in a tip at (707) 560-1543.Cold Case Mendocino works hard to tell the story of the missing and murdered. If you appreciate our efforts, please consider donating.

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