What happened to Joshua Guimond?

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The following analysis by Julie Seifert, at the time a senior psychology major at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., was published as the Your Turn column “Guimond analysis maintains mystery” in the St. Cloud Times on November 20, 2007.

Nov. 9 [2007] may have seemed like an ordinary Friday night, but it held special meaning for me. It marked the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Joshua Guimond from St. John’s University.

My interest in Josh’s case took root in the spring of my sophomore year when I became part of a criminal psychology study group on campus. Subsequently, I have taken it upon myself to examine what may have happened to Josh using the tools of criminal investigative analysis.

One of the investigative tools I’ve acquired in my study of criminal psychology is the “psychological autopsy” — a procedure used to establish the circumstances of a person’s death when the cause is uncertain.

Because there is no evidence that Josh is deceased, I am approaching my analysis of Josh’s disappearance as an “equivocal missing person analysis,” using the four elements of the psychological autopsy.

Voluntary disappearance

The first possibility to consider is natural causes. This could be either voluntary, such as when someone leaves on their own volition, or it can be due to an involuntary psychological condition, such as a dissociative fugue (a combination of amnesia and running away from one’s problems).

Looking first at the possibility that Josh may have left voluntarily, the truth of the matter is that it takes a great deal of planning and considerable sophistication to stage one’s own disappearance and for the fraud to remain undetected for five years.

There is no evidence on the hard drive of Josh’s computer that he researched staged disappearance and there were no suspicious transactions on Josh’s bank or credit card accounts before or after his disappearance.

The temperature at the time of Josh’s disappearance was in the upper 30s, dropping during the night to the upper 20s, yet Josh was last seen wearing only a hooded sweat shirt, with no jacket or gloves.

He was without his glasses and his car had not been moved from where he had last parked it.

Taken together, these facts indicate that Josh was not prepared for any journey other than the short walk from Metten Court to his room in St. Maur House.

A mental breakdown

The most plausible involuntary “natural cause” condition would be the rare disorder known as dissociative fugue.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a fugue is diagnosed when an individual experiences a sudden disturbance in life that causes him or her to unexpectedly travel away from home, accompanied by confusion about personal identity and the assumption of a new identity.

However, my investigation revealed that Josh was a high-functioning, emotionally stable individual and found no evidence that Josh had experienced a sudden disruption in his life before his disappearance. In short, it seems highly unlikely that Josh would have developed such a condition, though it cannot be conclusively ruled out.

An accident

The next element of the equivocal analysis is the possibility of an accident.

Investigators — like most students, faculty and people who followed the case in the media — assumed that Josh had fallen into one of the lakes on campus. But a drowning seemed increasingly implausible when no body was recovered after extensive searches and no body surfaced in the spring.

Finally, six months after Josh went missing, the Trident Foundation, said to be the top underwater search team in the nation, conducted a definitive search on campus and ruled out the possibility that Josh was in any lake on campus.

Suicide

Another element in a comprehensive analysis is suicide. For Josh to have taken his own life is the least likely of all the explanations for his disappearance. It is highly unusual for suicide victims to take measures that would prevent or delay the discovery of their remains. Moreover, there is no evidence that Josh was suicidal before his disappearance, nor did he have any history of attempted suicide or suicide threats.

Murder

The final element to examine in any missing person case is homicide. The common causes for homicide are personal, economic and sexual.

A personal cause in Josh’s case would be if he had an enemies or someone with a grudge against him. Drug or gambling debts might constitute an economic motive for murder. There is no evidence that personal or economic motives played any role in Josh’s disappearance.

A sex crime

Occasionally, murder has a sexual motive. This is a difficult motive to establish because it lives in the shadows of someone’s fantasies, where it cannot be observed, except indirectly through reports of sexual misconduct involving other victims.

As we enter the sixth year of this unsolved mystery, we can all do our part to keep Josh’s memory alive by not forgetting what took place in our community the night of Nov. 9, 2002 — thus keeping alive the hope that one day we’ll know the truth about what happened to Josh on that fateful night.

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