Cold cases: MSP detective earns recognition for her work with missing persons

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Sarah Krebs knew she had been nominated for the International Association of Police Chiefs’ ‘40 Under 40’ Award for outstanding leadership in the law enforcement community.

However, she was surprised won.

“I was pretty shocked. I knew that it was an international award and that there was many applicants probably with more interesting careers than I had had. I was just surprised I was selected out of all the people out there who were nominated for it. I’m truly honored that I was one of their honorees,” said Krebs, of Commerce Township, who specializes in missing persons cases.

Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the MSP, nominated Krebs.“The MSP prides itself in providing service with a purpose. (Krebs) lives our mission and is passionate about helping the families of missing persons find closure,” said Etue.

The awards ceremony was held in Philadelphia on Oct. 23. Krebs turned 40 on October 22. “I was gonna ask if I had to give it back because I turned 40 the day before,” she said with a laugh. “I just squeaked in.”

A Bay City native and 1995 alumna of Lake High School in Pigeon, located in Michigan’s ‘Thumb,’ Krebs graduated from Michigan State University in 2000 with an undergraduate degree in anthropology.
Also in 2000, she graduated from the MSP Academy in Lansing, graduating in early 2001 from the 119th Trooper Recruit School.

An MSP veteran for 17 years, and stationed in both Lansing and Livonia, Krebs is a third-generation cop and a fourth-generation public servant. Her great-grandfather was a fireman for the Detroit Fire Department, her grandfather was a sergeant with the Grosse Pointe Farms Police Department, and her father—like her—was a detective sergeant with the MSP.

Krebs founded the MSP’s Missing Persons Coordination Unit. Its purpose is to provide missing persons and unidentified human remains investigative coordination support to Michigan law enforcement agencies and residents. So far, the MPCU’s efforts have led to the positive identification of more than 70 previously cold cases throughout the United States.

“The MSP did not have an MPCU as most agencies do not. We recognized the need for one because our state has a higher rate of missing people than most states have. We handle all missing juveniles, all missing adults, and all unidentified remains cases within the state. We coordinate our efforts with local agencies to make sure they come home,” explained Krebs.

According to Krebs, Michigan has the third highest number of missing persons cases in the nation with California and Texas at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

“I think one of the reasons is Michigan is extremely rural outside of the Metro Detroit area. It’s surrounded by water and we have three international border crossings. I think it’s a mixed bag. We do have a lot of cold cases. We have a lot of cases where people have been lost in the water—it’s hard to recover those remains. We have a lot of rural areas where people get lost in the woods, especially in the Upper Peninsula. We don’t necessarily find them sometimes for decades or sometimes ever. Those cases add up after a while,” she explained.

Krebs stated that there is also a heightened awareness for missing persons in Michigan, which leads to these cases getting reported.

“We don’t have a lot of cases that don’t go reported to the police; they more often than not do get reported and law enforcement is onboard with taking them,” she said. “That adds to our statistics. So it’s not all necessarily a bad thing.”

Krebs has worked on the Jimmy Hoffa case several times. The labor leader who served as president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union from 1958-71, Hoffa disappeared July 30, 1975. He was last seen at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, where he disappeared and has been missing ever since. Hoffa was officially declared dead in absentia July 30, 1982. His remains have never been found, inspiring many conspiracy theories in regards to his fate. The case continues to be the subject of speculation and rumor.

“It seems every couple of years someone digs up his remains. We do have a high rate of tips that come in about him. It’s definitely the state’s most famous missing persons case. This case is the FBI’s, but we assist them,” said Krebs. “Everyone seems to have a theory where Hoffa’s body’s at, but I don’t. I actually don’t. If I did, I’d be out looking for him.”

Krebs is also credited with founding “Missing in Michigan,” an annual event bringing family members and law enforcement together to help resolve missing persons cases. This event was established in 2011. It was held this past May at Madonna University in Livonia and will also be held at Madonna in 2018.

“I knew that a lot of our cases did not have the DNA we needed to help solve them,” she said. “I wanted to create a way to bring together all the families of the missing with law enforcement, not only to get the DNA but also to recognize those families. I realized that they weren’t being treated as crime victims because they were in this holding pattern for so many years without answers. I wanted a way to publicly recognize them, so we created this event.

“It’s a very long journey for family members. That’s why we try to support them with our groups like Missing in Michigan… These families of missing people, they don’t know if they can grieve or not. They’re not sure if this person will show up for Christmas dinner. It’s a really hard situation they’ve been put in. And probably even worse if they don’t have evidence of foul play; at least foul play gives them direction of where it’ll end. If they don’t have that, if the person just up and vanishes, that can be really hard for families to deal with as well as law enforcement.” 

Krebs also established “ID the Missing,” a DNA collection program that assists in identifying previously unidentified human remains.

“We’re going into the morgue and taking DNA from the bodies. You need DNA on both sides in order for it to work,” she said. “With those two events working together, that’s what’s getting us so many DNA hits in our state.”

She is also an accomplished forensic artist whose composite sketches have led to the identification of numerous wanted persons in major cases around the state.

“I can give family members answers that nobody else could,” she said. “If I do have a case where they come to me looking for a loved one, and if I can actually track down where their loved one is – even if it’s not the exact answer they wanted, even if I’m not finding these people alive and well – if I can at least bring them back home, find where their remains have been, and at least make that connection for the family, it’ll give them an answer. I don’t want to say ‘closure,’ but it’ll end that chapter of searching in their life, so they can move on from it. Sometimes it even leads to justice for that person. We’ve had a couple of cases where, after finding out their identity, we’re able to go ahead to the next chapter, which is prosecution and getting justice for that person in these homicide cases. That’s really fulfilling for me to see.”


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