ST. LOUIS – Kyrstin Whitter has been in an emotional and legal quagmire since Aug. 30.

That was the last day she spoke to her husband of 17 years, George Whitter. Then he went missing.

She fears the worst, especially since Randy Greenman, the man with whom George Whitter was last seen alive, was found murdered, his body dumped in a Jefferson County, Mo., subdivision under construction.

But to credit card companies, mortgage holders and insurance companies, George Whitter is not dead. The bills he once helped pay still pile up. His insurance and Social Security benefits aren’t available because he has not been declared dead.

And even though she can’t afford to keep their house, she isn’t sure if she can sell it. That is, if she could even think about letting it go.

Facing these sorts of questions can be just as difficult as answering them, says Kelly Jolkowski. About four years ago, Jolkowski founded Project Jason, a nonprofit to provide support and resources to families of missing people. There were 50,930 active missing adult cases in the United States as of Jan. 31, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center reported.

Jolkowski has yet to add a legal expert to the tools she offers to the hu ndreds of families nationwide who seek her help. She can only share anecdotes about legal issues with family members such as Kyrstin Whitter. For example, one woman recently had to divorce her missing husband to sell the house she couldn’t afford without him, Jolkowski said.

Most families must wait seven years before a missing relative can be declared dead, she said.

But for many families, the act of divorcing someone, declaring them dead or selling their belongings when they are missing evokes a sense of defeat, Jolkowski said.

About six years ago, Jolkowski’s 19-year-old son vanished from her Nebraska home shortly after finishing his chores. Jolkowski and her husband had co-signed his car loan, so they had to make the payments in his absence.

They learned if they published ads in the newspaper declaring the car was abandoned, they could legally sell it. However, they did not. “We couldn’t do that, we didn’t have the heart to do that,” Jolkowski said. The car is paid off and still sits in their garage. “Selling it, to us, made a statement of, “We don’t think you’re coming home.”‘

Jefferson County sheriff’s detectives said they have several persons of interest in the case of Randy Greenman’s murder and have served search warrants in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

“We’re following several different leads right now,” said Lt. Dave Marshak. “The general consensus is that we’re doing this investigation as much for the Whitter family as we are for the Greenman family.”

Whitter believes her husband is a victim.

He worked for Greenman several years ago as a bouncer at a bar Greenman managed in south St. Louis. At more than 6 feet tall and more than 250 pounds, with tattoos covering most of his arms, Whitter’s appearance could be menacing, his wife said.

The night he disappeared, he called his wife to say Greenman was giving him a ride home. He asked her to get him some fast food. Earlier that day, he told her he couldn’t believe he was going to turn 36 on Sept. 1 and it seemed like yesterday they were childhood sweethearts at Holy Cross Lutheran School.

The couple married in February 1990. They lived near the Mississippi River on the block where Whitter grew up, most recently in the home where he was raised.

Now, she divides her time, staying with her parents and returning to the home she shared with her husband. She fears being alone. Finding her back window broken recently didn’t help.

She dreads how the memories hit her the moment she steps inside the house. She smells the sweet incense and candles they used to burn. She sees his clothes hanging in his closet.

A friend accompanied her to the house recently and asked if she wanted to be alone. “I told her, “No, because I will end up sitting in the closet and not want to come out.”‘

(c) 2007, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-10-07 1831EST

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