In the world of missing persons reports, unsolved mysteries and crime thrillers, the average person will tell you there is one ironclad rule. That rule? Missing White Woman Syndrome.
MWWS refers to the tendency of media outlets to overreact to cases where white women go missing. The reasons for this syndrome are varied, somewhere between paternal instincts to protect women and voyeuristic desire to see women harmed.
In any event, the syndrome is a product of gender inequality, and it often serves to draw attention away from cases that merit more pressing concerns. However, it is not as ironclad as some commentators might believe.
Take the case of Tiffany Whitton, for instance. Tiffany disappeared in 2013 after an altercation with Wal-Mart loss prevention officers. Her background was checkered, and her issues with drug addiction and petty crimes made her case undesirable to mainstream outlets.
On September 13, 2013, Tiffany Whitton was observed by Wal-Mart loss prevention officers for what they viewed as suspicious behavior. The officers believed Whitton was shoplifting, and confronted her. This led to an altercation, and the officers attempted to restrain Whitton. She managed to break free from them and fled. This was the last time she was ever seen.
At the time of her disappearance, Whitton was unemployed, battling an addiction to crystal meth and heroin, and in the midst of a very troubled relationship with her boyfriend, Ashley Caudle. Caudle was with Whitton the night she disappeared: security footage shows him at the Wal-Mart, though he is not seen with her when she is confronted by loss prevention.
According to Caudle, he noticed Whitton’s failure to return home that night. He went to a restaurant where she had worked in the past to look for her, according to eyewitnesses. However, Caudle was accustomed to Whitton vanishing for stretches of time, and so he did not contact her family or the police.
Whitton’s mother, Lisa Daniels, was initially unphased about her daughter’s missing status. Like Caudle, she was used to Whitton disappearing for weeks. In January 2014, however, Daniels went to the police, worried for her daughters’ safety.
Police have been unable to determine what happened to Whitton, though Caudle is a person of interest in the case. For his own part, Caudle is currently serving a sentence on unrelated gun charges. He maintains that he had nothing to do with Whitton’s disappearance, and is actually quite anxious to know what happened to her.
There are no prevailing theories as to what may have happened to Whitton. Her rough background and drug addiction have led many outlets to simply refusing to run her story, a situation her family thinks may have contributed to her case remaining unsolved.
In any event, Whitton remains the rare exception to Missing White Woman Syndrome in recent memory, due to a combination of her personal background and the circumstances of her disappearance.