By Vince Sturla, Dateline Producer
What would you do if a friend went missing while traveling in a foreign country? How would you find him? Who would you call? Where would you begin your search? This was the reality John Elwin's friends were in during the months following his disappearance -- caught up in a scenario that seemed scripted by Hitchcock.
Making this all the more confusing and unsettling was that the case unfolded slowly. Suspicions surfaced gradually. John Elwin had been missing for more than two weeks before his friend Luis Soltren got a call from Elwin's girlfriend, asking him to join her in an ad hoc investigation into where her boyfriend could be.
John Elwin was nothing if not well-loved by his friends. That thought kept recurring to me as I worked on this story.
Soltren, a self-employed building contractor with a business and family to look after, spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars of his own money to find out what happened to Elwin. It was a search that led all the way to the Philippines. Even for professionals, conducting an investigation in the Philippines can get to be a rather complicated affair. Mountains, jungle and rebels, spread over more than 7,000 islands, make it a difficult country for detectives with that country's National Police to traverse.
For example, a key location in the story was about 120 miles north of Manila. It took our Dateline team and me nearly 8 hours to drive there.
One of the Philippine investigators, Lt. Cresencio De Asis, kindly offered to guide us to the spot -- an area infiltrated by the New People's Army rebel group. Lt. De Asis had two bodyguards but given the area we were traveling to was told by his commander to take three more.
An hour later, De Asis's superior had second thoughts and decided to err on the side of caution by sending seven more soldiers for protection.
Nonetheless, for safety's sake, we were told it would be best if we left the area before nightfall.
It was a challenging area and an even more challenging investigation. In the end, I'm not sure if the mystery of Elwin's whereabouts would have been solved if it hadn't been for the efforts of Luis Soltren, Elwin's girlfriend, Kristen Flood, and their team of amateur sleuths.