October 25 , 2014
As if losing a child to kidnapping wasn’t horrifying enough, ineffective law enforcement agencies and predatory private investigators only add to the confusion and pain. Deana Hebert’s long, maddening search for her daughter — and the ex-husband who took her — may be the rule, not the exception.
We’re sitting in a rented Kia minivan, watching a house. We’ve been at it for hours, just staring, and nothing has happened. No one has come in or out, nobody has even walked by. It’s amazing how little can transpire on a sunny Sunday in January on a suburban cul-de-sac in San Bernardino County, California. When the rare car turns down the street, I hold my breath before it inevitably turns into a neighboring driveway.
I’m sitting alongside Monique Lessan, a private investigator hired to find Bianca Lozano, a 21-year-old woman who was abducted by her father, Juan Lozano, 19 years ago. The house we’ve been ogling is an otherwise unremarkable, well-tended beige two-story in a neighborhood of similar-looking dwellings in Fontana, a parched, charmless city 50 miles east of Los Angeles. It belongs to Juan’s cousin “Pablo” (his name has been changed to maintain the integrity of the investigation), whose identity Lozano has been using for years as he’s eluded detection, living in Mexico with Bianca. Lessan’s theory — or one of her many theories — is that Juan and/or Bianca could be in the house today. As she told me yesterday, “It’s my feeling these two have crossed the border and are back in the U.S.”
At the moment, though, there’s no sign of anyone. Three cars are parked in front and Lessan has jotted down the corresponding license plate numbers, but none have moved in the three hours since we got here. We’re in the backseat, partially obscured by the tinted windows — “If we sit in front, it looks suspicious,” Lessan says — studying photos of Lozano and Bianca so we’ll be able to recognize them should we spot them.
That’s all Lessan is hoping for today. She’s considered simply knocking on the door, but ultimately decided doing so could “burn” her — if Lozano isn’t there, Pablo might tip him off, and then Lozano would go even deeper underground.
Lessan has been a licensed investigator for 21 years but hardly fits the traditional gumshoe profile. She’s a woman in a field dominated by men and has never worked in law enforcement or the military. From the minute I meet her, she’s warm and chatty. She’s slender, with long black hair, and today is wearing a black T-shirt, tight jeans, and sunglasses. Her words tend to tumble out in a stream-of-consciousness rush, and she’s prone to darting from subject to subject. Often these digressions slingshot the conversation back to Lessan’s favorite subjects: She hosts a weekly internet radio show devoted to discussing UFO sightings, the Illuminati, weather modification, and the like. On the ride out to Fontana, she casually, almost dismissively, explained how a small group of families, including the Rothschilds, the Clintons, the Bushes, and the Windsors, run the world, and that Dwight Eisenhower shook hands with aliens in 1954.
Lessan has been working on this case since August 2013, and she represents something of a Hail Mary in this nearly two-decade-long search. Bianca’s mother, Deana Hebert, whose Twitter handle is @missingbianca, has exhausted all of her resources and enlisted anyone and everyone she can — the police, the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the DA’s office, the Mexican Consulate, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, her congressman, multiple private investigators, several lawyers, family members, friends, volunteers — to look for her daughter. That they’ve all failed says as much about the slapdash, numbingly bureaucratic — if well-intentioned — system we have in this country for finding long-term missing children as it does about anything else. As Hebert put it, “Nobody wants to be responsible for anything in this case. Nobody wants to be in charge. It’s just me pushing and pushing.”
If you were a parent whose daughter was abducted, how much would you pay for her safe return? Even the most well-meaning PIs must navigate the murky moral quandary of what is appropriate to charge a desperate parent to deliver the very thing in the universe they hold most dear. A friend of Hebert’s paid to hire Lessan — the third PI who’s been on the case — and right now this house in Fontana is her only viable lead. If we see either Lozano or Bianca today, the plan is to call Hebert so she can fly out from Texas to meet the fully grown woman she hasn’t seen since she was her 20-month-old toddler, and to contact Lessan’s friend who works as an investigator for Homeland Security, who could arrest Lozano.
As morning turns to afternoon, Lessan’s getting antsy. She begins to consider going against her original instinct and knocking on that front door — there’s a yearning to do something, anything, to make the time spent feel like it wasn’t a total waste. Just as she’s on the verge of going to the door and potentially ruining six months of investigation, she catches a break: Girl Scouts. Walking down the street are two young girls and a mother, pulling a wagon behind them, going door to door selling cookies.
We duck down in the van’s backseat as the Girl Scouts pass by. They ring Pablo’s doorbell, wait, then begin to walk away, when the door opens. A little girl, about 6 or 7 years old, stands in the doorway. Soon after, a woman who looks to be her mother comes out. Then a third woman emerges, and walks out onto the driveway to inspect the wagon. The third woman has dyed, red-tinged hair and looks to be in her late teens or early twenties.
Lessan crawls toward the front of the minivan and snaps photos of the unfolding scene. From our vantage point, about 20 yards away, this third woman bears a resemblance to some of the photos of Bianca that have been found over the years on various social networking sites.
“Could that be her?” I ask Lessan.
“I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe.”
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