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July 1, 2015

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j. patrick coolican:

Search for long lost brother among homeless is ‘like a needle in a haystack’


Leila Navidi

Virginia Fisher Murdoch, who lives in Florida, searches for her brother Kerry Fisher, whom she believes is homeless in Las Vegas, on Owens Avenue in downtown Las Vegas on Monday, May 27, 2013. Murdoch hasn’t seen her brother in more than 25 years.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Missing Kerry Fisher

Virginia Fisher Murdoch, who lives in Florida, searches for her brother Kerry Fisher, whom she believes is homeless in Las Vegas, with the help of Neil Jurgensen, right, who recently left a life on the streets, on Owens Avenue in downtown Las Vegas on Monday, May 27, 2013. Murdoch hasn't seen her brother in more than 25 years. Launch slideshow »

Virginia “Jenny” Fisher Murdoch had a dream a few months ago that her brother is alive.

In the dream, her brother Kerry Lee Fisher, missing from the Fisher family since the 1980s, arranged a simple puzzle, like a child.

Murdoch knows dreams aren’t prophetic, and though she seems almost embarrassed talking about it, she says this one feels different, a supernatural signal that arrived March 25, which, she notes, is the Catholic Feast of the Annunciation.

The signal she’s getting is that Kerry is alive and that his presence has something to do with Las Vegas, the place where people get lost and come to get lost.

“It may not be rational, but I awoke with this certainty that he’s alive,” she says.

So after weeks of Internet research, she’s traveled from Florida to Las Vegas this week to find her long lost brother, hitting shelters and food lines and parks and roadside encampments, armed with a flier of a fairly recent newspaper photo that she thinks shows Kerry, who would be 57 now.

Kerry was the middle of five children who grew up in Dallas and Birmingham, Ala. He was a quiet and sensitive introvert who loved science and rocketry and all-around tinkering.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps. The history isn’t clear, but Murdoch believes something bad happened, that Fisher was a whistleblower of sorts and flamed out. She thinks this episode may have had long-term consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

He bounced around for a few years until he went missing around 1988, his last known whereabouts being Washington state, although his truck was found shortly thereafter in the desert Southwest.

At times through the decades, various family members have searched, becoming most hopeful when they saw an unidentified man in a Las Vegas Review-Journal photo that resembled what Kerry might look like 20 years later. The photo depicts people waiting in a food line at a Las Vegas shelter.

(We aren’t showing the photo because there’s no way of confirming it’s actually Fisher, meaning we might be misidentifying someone and making a serious error, however well intentioned.)

This effort to find Kerry is different: ’“Jenny” — as Kerry knows Virginia Murdoch — is on the case.

She’s talked to local housing officials, Metro Police, the coroner, Catholic Charities and other nonprofit groups, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration. She’s given a DNA sample to see if it matches anyone from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

“I had to do this. My family needs resolution. Any family would,” she says. Both her parents are alive, and she’d like to do this for them.

So far, there’s no evidence Kerry is dead — no death certificate, no media reports. But there’s also no evidence he’s alive — no driver’s license, no known address, no Social Security or veterans benefits.

For a variety of reasons, Las Vegas has a national reputation as a city of the lost. Metro detectives receive about 6,000 to 7,000 new missing person cases each year, with many residents no doubt wanting to be lost.

We begin the search on Memorial Day at a small park known as a homeless hangout at West Owens Avenue and B Street.

Murdoch is showing the photos and handing out fliers with contact info, and immediately she is hit in the face with reality.

“I know where he lives, and he doesn’t want to see you,” says a man who seems delusional, accusing Murdoch of stealing her brother’s Social Security benefits.

Others, gathered under the shade of a tree, are more helpful.

Says one: “He looks like the guy everybody calls ‘Cowboy.’”

Says another: “He’s a friend of mine. I’ve had a few beers with him.”

And a third: “Ain’t that ‘Tony Bologna’?”

Murdoch hoists up a toddler and gives a hug.

A woman tries to cheer Murdoch: “Baby, you’ll find him.”

Another group thinks he can be found at the Fremont Street Experience, either early in the morning or early in the evening. He drinks a bit. Doesn’t talk much. He’s no panhandler; he collects recyclables for money, they say.

We leave the little park, which smells intermittently like garbage but also barbecue from the nearby neighborhood, where Memorial Day goes on like it does for the rest of us.

“God, breaks your heart,” Murdoch says back in the rental car.

“It’s like a needle in a haystack,” she says.

The problem is that the man in the photo she’s convinced is Kerry might not actually be him, in which case she might be looking for the wrong needle in the wrong haystack.

Let’s hope he’s alive and that Las Vegas is the place that reunites the Fishers.

Kerry, if you’re out there, come home.

If you think you know the whereabouts of Kerry Lee Fisher, age 57, height 6 foot 2 inches, blue eyes, call 813-417-7462 or email

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  1. Thanks so much so much for the sensitive story Patrick. And to lovely Leila, thanks for everything.

    Please see Kerry's open-to-the-public Facebook page!

    If you have any information on Kerry, please use the email and phone number provided. I will be more able to answer Facebook comments when I go home. HOME!

  2. Hope you find him. Good Luck

  3. I look like perhaps her brother resembles me. 25 years without contact, best wishes. Might just happen especially if she provides email and phone numbers so when locals think they see him they can contact her--libraries still provide free web access if you can wait out the lines of illegals stealing our services. SPREAD the word that EBT SNAP / food stamps is about the only thing that almost ANY AMERICAN with no income can qualify for. About $186 a month or some portion based on income is a great deal for the homeless--can be used at C Stores. I'm not certain how she would check with Nevada (or federal) Department of Health and Human Services--if they have a "humanitarian" exemption to privacy laws.

    JPC: Are you ever gonna get around to researching and writing about the serious problem of ADULT AMERICANS who are homeless and without relevant government services? We seem to give and give to families including illegal families while ignoring Americans, Vets, in toto. We dump mega-trillions into TANF (ADC), Child Care, preK, k-12, higher ed but DO NOTHING for long term unemployed Americans. We hear suicide rates are up and skyrocketing for LT unemployed in their 40's and 50's. Gee, maybe there's a direct correspondence here.

  4. Another idea: After the fiasco about releasing mental health patients with bus tickets out of here, perhaps Ms. Murdoch SHOULD CONTACT Mike Willden, Director of NV H&HS. There is a spokesperson but who know's the name. Maybe the brother sought or got care at one time or another under his real name and SSN. Mr. Willden is a reasonable man and should be able to find out IF..... Not certain that a web search of "contact Mike Willden Carson City" would do it but there is a State Employees directory with email and phone numbers--can search under Department, then Division..... If need be, the Governor's office or a state senator/assembly person might be interested in FACILITATING FAMILY CONTACT when there is a substantial likelihood that this would decrease State costs such as Medicaid, Mental Health triage. I believe a Ms. Diane Jungworth Comeaux is the Administrator of Welfare/Food Stamps--married to the former J P Comeaux--relatives get ahead in State jobs. Not sure any private investigator could access NCIC with name, date of birth, SSN....

  5. Her extensive internet search did include NAMUS? If not, get on it. Used to be Coroner's John Does now in one database that is searchable.