The Missing: Michael Negrete

          This month’s missing persons case is one that has always grabbed my attention. It has all the makings of a case with a cult following like Maura Murray or Bryce Laspisa. But, for whatever reason, it does not get even a fraction of the attention those cases do. After attending a party and playing a video game, a freshman at UCLA vanished from his dorm. What happened to Michael Negrete on December 10, 1999? Let’s explore.

Who Is Michael?

          Michael William Negrete was born on March 25, 1981 to Mary and Miguel Negrete. He has two brothers name Dave and Steve. He went by the nickname Mike to his friends and family. At the time of his disappearance, Mike was considered a happy young man – he loved singing jazz, watching the Simpsons, and listening to and playing music. He played the trumpet and steel drum with a band called Island Fever. He was known as an avid gamer. At the time of his disappearance, Mike stood at 5’8” tall and weighed around 130 lbs.

(One of the last professionally done photos of Mike.
via the California Attorney General)

The Disappearance

          Mike Negrete was last seen on December 10, 1999. He was in his dorm room on the sixth floor of Dykstra Hall on the UCLA campus. He and a friend had been playing video games together for most of the night, wrapping up around 4 AM. He was last seen wearing a blue plaid button up shirt, khaki colored shorts, and white sneakers. He left his apartment sometime after the game and before his roommate awoke – so between 4 AM and 9 AM. His exact time of and reason for his departure remain unknown to this day. He left all of his belongings, including his wallet and identification, in the room.

The Investigation

          Mike was reported missing when he could not be located. They did not find anything strange during the initial investigation. He did not have any known enemies, there had been no recent significant changes or events in his life. The police did not believe that Mike disappeared voluntarily, though he seemed to have initially left his room of his own accord. At a loss, the police brought in bloodhounds, which traced Mike’s trail across campus, where it abruptly stopped. Few clues were found, and the public was kept in the dark about what investigators knew.
          The band Mike played with, Island Fever, hosted several benefit concerts to raise money for the investigation. Mike’s parents hired two private investigators from MSM investigations, and also put up a $100,000 reward for tips that led to his whereabouts. The private investigators turned up no leads, and the reward was never claimed.
          The year after Mike’s disappearance, the police released a sketch of a man believed to be a witness to Mike leaving the dorm. It was emphasized that this man was not considered a suspect or a person of interest in Mike’s disappearance. Witnesses stated that the man was white and in his mid thirties. He stood at about 5’8” and had a stocky build. He was wearing a gray jacket with a turquoise design on it. He was seen in the halls of Mike’s dorm around 4:30, so he possibly saw or spoke to Mike that night. Unfortunately, no one has come forward with this man’s identity in the more than twenty years since the sketch was released.

(A sketch of the man seen in the dorm the night Mike went missing.
via the Charley Project)

          Mike’s brother came forward in 2013 to state that Mike had been going to raves and experimenting with drugs in the months before his disappearance. He decided to come forward in case this information connected pieces of the investigation that were previously thought to be unconnected. This aspect of the case lent itself to dozens of new theories, and did succeed in shedding more light on Mike’s disappearance.
          In December 2016, a reddit user came forward with a photo of a homeless man who resembled Mike. The catch? The man was found in Bulgaria. While it’s not impossible that Mike could have somehow made his way across the country and overseas, it is incredibly unlikely. It is unclear if this tip was submitted to the authorities and investigated, but I have to believe that the investigators are keeping an eye on all forums of discussion, at least on a surface level.

(The Bulgarian homeless man resembling Mike.
via Reddit User u/mally8219)

Theories

          There seem to be four main theories when it comes to this case, though each one is deeply contested and has detractors. No one theory is going to make total sense. So I am going to tackle these theories based on how I encountered them in my research. The first theory is that Mike vanished on purpose. There aren’t a whole lot of things pointing to this, as Mike did not bring anything with him. Additionally, there has been no activity on his bank account or credit cards after his disappearance. Additionally, there was seemingly nothing in Mike’s life that would make him want to run – no grudges, no history of mental illness, no debts, and so on. Of course, there doesn’t have to be a concrete reason for someone to want to start over.
          The second theory I encountered is that Mike possibly had some sort of mental break or suffered some sort of head injury which resulted in memory loss. Either one could have led to Mike wandering away from the dorm. It’s possible he got across campus, where the bloodhounds tracked his scent, and accepted a ride from someone. Los Angeles has a huge community of people without homes, and some people believe that Mike is living among this population to this day. Adding in the fact that Mike was experimenting with drugs in his time at college, that could have triggered some sort of shift or fugue.
          The third theory I encountered is that Mike ran away from his life to complete suicide. Again, there are no signs pointing to Mike having thoughts of suicide. Mike had no documented history or family history of mental illness. However, it is important to note that many mental illnesses manifest in the late teens and early twenties for men. It’s possible that there was something developing in Mike, possibly accelerated by his experimentation with drugs, that led to a rash decision that night. And, as they say, someone doesn’t have to be suicidal to complete suicide – it just takes one bad moment.
         As with any missing person, the theory of murder comes up. Mike’s brother believed he was dabbling in drugs at the time of his disappearance, leading some to believe that his disappearance was the result of a drug deal gone bad or some sort of accident. The one thing that draws me to this theory is the mid-thirties man walking the halls of the dorm – no one has admitted to knowing him, and why would an adult be walking the halls of a dorm? I think that man may be the key to debunking or strengthening this theory.

Investigating Agencies

         If you or anyone you know have any information about what happened to Mike, please contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office at 323-890-5500 in reference to case number 0199003533. The National Crime Information Center case number is M-930368881. Mike’s friends and family are still looking for answers, over twenty years later. Not only do they deserve answers, Mike deserves to have his fate known, regardless of what happened.

Sources

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