Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You

Part 2: Social media sleuths swing into action for missing Baby William

August 25, 2021 Attorney Billie Tarascio Season 3 Episode 2
Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You
Part 2: Social media sleuths swing into action for missing Baby William
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of the Modern Divorce podcast, a growing group of social media sleuths begin forming, drawn in by the mysterious disappearance of a young mother and her baby in Mesa , AZ, after a contentious divorce. 

Destinee Mack, who describes herself on Twitter as a wife, mom and random altruist, was the unexpected center of the unexpected band of 12,000 online strangers who came forward offering help to find Baby William. Her Facebook group to "Find Maddie and Baby William"  offered information and a place to share theories, stories, and sometimes gossip. She played housemother over the group and intervened occasionally to keep comments from devolving into the ugly. 

But her role as an unintended advocate for Baby William was not without a cost to her.  She was eventually slapped with a gag order to cease her online activities. A judge thought she was a problem, but she thought it was clear the group was getting closer to the truth.


Episode 2: Social media sleuths go to work to find Baby William 

[00:00:00] Billie Tarascio: Hello, and welcome to the modern divorced podcast. I'm your host, Billie Tarascio. I'm the owner of Modern Law, a family law firm in the Phoenix area. I've been a divorce attorney for more than 15 years. I've got four kiddos and I'm divorced myself. And on this podcast, we're going to cover everything related to divorce.

Be it legal issues, financial issues, children issues, blended family issues, counseling mediation, and more. I hope you enjoyed the podcast. 

[00:00:30] Nancy Conrad: Hi, this is Nancy Conrad, and I want to welcome you back to the second part of our series on the baby William Case and the heartbreaking search for a baby gone missing.

When two young parents get divorced today, we're going to focus on the growing cinnamon uh Websleuths and how that influenced the case and the people involved at the heart of the case. Hey there. 

[00:00:52] Destinee Mack: Oh, how are you? I'm good. Can you hear me? Okay. I can hear you fine. Can you hear me? Okay. 

[00:00:58] Nancy Conrad: So this is Destinee Mack.

We've pretty much only known each other through online interaction. So this was a real treat to talk with her. It's good to see you. Um, it's been a while now since, uh, you know, I was always checking in on all of the Facebook pages for baby William to see what was going on. And I couldn't believe looking back now that it's been like three years with going on more now.

[00:01:22] Destinee Mack: I know it makes no sense. And I, um, I, in preparation for this, I, you know, read through the timelines, reminding myself and then. Um, happened to watch the video where I guess it, you know, the point that I was on my gag order and was able to come back, I did like a live Q and a, it was like an hour and a half long too.

And people were asking me questions and I was answering. So towards the end, the case, um, I can't remember the exact date, but it was in 2018. It was towards the end. There was a hearing specific, um, I believe. The purpose of it was to kind of figure out what their plea is going to be. And then during this hearing, they gaslighted it and really made the focus about Billie and Billie's involvement.

And. And it was this hour and a half case while I happened to be sitting in the back of the courtroom, just as I did, um, for many of these. And at one point the defense, um, their defense pointed to me and said that the girl that's running the pages and she works for Billie and pointed it back to me, which was never the case and never true.

Of course. And as a result of that, to summarize the doc, the judge right there in case assign me a public defender and put me on a gag order and an order for me to take down the pages. 

[00:02:44] Nancy Conrad: Well, this was something destiny was not expecting to happen. She was a bystander, a person on involved with this case who was simply acting as reporter of sorts to an audience that had assembled on some Facebook pages that she helped put together without any other additional information.

[00:03:02] Destinee Mack: Yeah, his confusion was truly that he didn't understand Facebook. And what the difference between groups and pages. There were many, many different variations and everything they brought forth to evidence was from this, uh, outside page. It actually had nothing to do with the group that they had taken. You know, documents from the page and posted it to this more public forum.

And if I'm being honest, I think the judge was more concerned about if they don't enter a plea and this has to go to trial, are we. You know, were we doing something to the case to put it at risk? Um, and he didn't understand Facebook at all this, this older judge and how it worked and you know, what public record was.

And so, um, you know, he pretty much likes shot across the balance, said, this is your warning shot, and I want you out of everything. And I, I disappeared for three months. Case with a gag order or is that 

[00:03:56] Nancy Conrad: hard to do is to say, yeah, I'm zipping my lip and people can ask me things, but I'm not going to be able to answer.

[00:04:03] Destinee Mack: Yeah, I didn't respond to anybody about the case. Um, for that time I made one phone call and said, I'm ,walking away, removing myself from the page. You're in charge, figure it out. I walk away. Yeah. But I think at first I'd wanted me to fight it. And then, um, very shortly thereafter, when I sat in what the judge was saying, I realized that I didn't want to do anything to put this case at risk ever, or give them a chance to claim, to be victims in any sort of a way that would have allowed them again to just be victims and yeah.

My name was going to be used for that. Then the best thing I could do would be to walk away and just let the last few months of what was going to happen in court happened in court and the page had served its purpose at that point. 

[00:04:56] Nancy Conrad: But I wanted to kind of take you back. Like to the very beginning and to start out how you became connected to this case.

[00:05:06] Destinee Mack: Yeah. 

So my connection to the baby William Case at this point is that I started a Facebook page. I am a normal everyday citizen. I actually lived in, grew up in the area where the Jones lived. Um, And grew up in a, I grew up LDS, so was a part of that Mormon community. And when the baby, when Maddie and William went missing in mid June, um, I had seen a news article, but I had heard little murmurings, but nothing like this action that, that normally the LDS community will take if, if one of their own or, um, out media, they really rally around and they make sure that this, this person gets attention and found.

It's just kind of a part of the culture almost. And what I found strange when I had heard rumblings of this missing girl and her baby, that was right in my backyard, right? 8, 5, 2 or three. Anyone you'd ask about, it seemed like they just didn't want to get involved. There was some, some mystery around it, very early on where I was asking, like, that's, that's literally from my parents' house to their house where I grew up was, you know, a quarter of a mile walk in the canal and you would be there.

So, um, literally the camera's at my parents' house point to that neighborhood. Of their backyard. And so, um, at first it was a curiosity to, you know, why is there not more noise? This is a missing girl in her baby. Why, why is nobody talking about this? Why is the media not blowing this up? And then the next thing I saw was a news case, a news article that the Jones did and, uh, I sat and watched that and my spidey senses just went up and I can't describe it any other way.

Then the hairs on the back of my head stood up and I went, something else was going on here. That's all I knew at the time. It just, in my core, in my gut. Something's really wrong. This, this girl, she didn't just go missing and her baby didn't just go missing. There's something else to this. Um, was there any 

[00:07:23] Nancy Conrad: point where you thought they were very much looking at Jake and saying, you know, he's done something.

[00:07:32] Destinee Mack: Yeah. And that was what this news article was saying. This is, this news story was clearly saying that this guy was suspected for kidnapping his wife and baby. And that, that. Uh, his estranged wife and baby, and that they were missing and they left without keys, purse, wallet, anything. And that there was a custodial battle happening.

For me. Um, I've gone through a divorce. I was a single mom during this, during this time. So I think I just was drawn. Like, if this was me, if I was missing, what would I want someone to do? And it just felt like there was a Facebook page for everyone. Um, and there wasn't, I couldn't find anything on this case.

When I started looking at it those first few weeks, I couldn't find any real details. And as I asked people in that neighborhood, um, that I just kind of kept getting weirdly blocked. Like you don't want to get involved in that, stay out of it. There's more to the story. And I think that heightened my, my curiosity to go, nobody's advocating for this girl and her baby.

Where is she and how can I help? So it really was out of a nobody's being her voice and hit there's all this back and forth, but who's looking out for them. And when I first started the group, um, the Facebook group was to share information about what people knew so that we could help find this baby. And I had never done anything like that in my life.

I've never done anything like it since, but something really. Really said to me, if not me, then 

[00:09:06] Nancy Conrad: who, so were you at that time going to the church that you had grown up in at that point and, and connecting with this group of people? 

[00:09:16] Destinee Mack: I wasn't, I had moved out of that neighborhood and, and, um, had not attended church since I was a teenager.

But my family is still very actively LDS and was in that neighborhood again, um, just, just across, down the hill from them. And so, um, there was all these kids and people that I'd grown up with friends of friends that very much were a part of this neighborhood knew, knew that Jones is new, the players involved.

Some of them even knew Jake when he was a missionary here in Mesa, Arizona, and said we had this tin at our house. And so. There was just kind of this one degree of separation for me and the people involved, which made it to where I had no skin in the game, but I knew enough people that knew the people involved that I thought, what can I do to help, to just gather information and share it out as quickly as possible.

Because if there's somewhere in Mesa, Arizona let's help them. 

[00:10:13] Nancy Conrad: So what was the first group that you started? 

[00:10:16] Destinee Mack: First group that I started. Was, um, find Maddie and baby William and I had started that group, um, I believe sometime in early August. So they went missing in June. I believe you asked me at what point, what was I first doing?

When I heard about this? I actually started the group on the way to a Neil diamond concert with my dad and sisters, because at this point it had been a few weeks. Um, I had seen the news story or seen some stories and there was buzz. Yeah. Again, no information that you could find or share, and everybody seemed to be standoffish.

So I was with my sisters and I said, if you guys heard about this case, do you know anything? And there were some whisperings and murmurings happening. And I said, what if we just start a page and let's start sharing all this information so that we can help find them. So I was actually to Neil diamond concert when I started the group, um, the first ever Maddie and William, uh, final Matty and baby Williams.

[00:11:17] Nancy Conrad: Now was there also a page that was set up that was just to help support, uh, the Jones family and, and Madeline? 

No, they had, um, I guess there was a, a community page, um, for their neighborhood. And what I would call ward Facebook page and award is, is obvious in the LDS face, faith, the community around you, that attends church at the same time.

And so there were those two pages that were very much. Um, as you can say, pro Cassie, they, they were very much disparaging Jake and the Gouchenour family and what he could have done. They had GoFund me going. They had a lot of things where they were rallying the people around them to find this baby. And when I made the fine baby, Maddie and baby William, it was to consolidate all those stories and all the information coming in.

I truly thought. Perhaps at first, then the second that the Jones saw that there was this group, um, getting information together that they would, you know, call me, reach out. Or I, I think at one point I reached out to them and said, what can I do to help? Um, I want to help find this baby, what can I do? And I also had reached out to the Gouchenours and what I found really strange right at the beginning, very early on.

Is the gouchenours were like, yes, here's everything we know and started throwing it. The Jones immediately blocked me and wanted no involvement with me. And I found that very strange, very early on that you have a missing daughter and grandchild, and yet you are. Not forthright. You re you refused at this point, there was a couple thousand people and they wouldn't do, they wouldn't participate at all or join anything.

When we said that, should we do flyers? Can we do this? Like, what can, what can the community do to help you? There was resistance. We don't need your help. We have it under control. And that felt very strange early on for a missing persons case that you would want help from the community. Right. 

And that does seem like a very LDS thing to do is to say, how can I help, you know, I'm going to bring the cover dish and, and, and really pitch in.

And, and, um, that, that was something that was an amazing thing to watch is how people did want to step in and help each other. But for you to feel like the door was closed, was there ever a moment where you thought, well, they are shutting me out because I don't go to them. Particular church. I mean, did you ever take that personally or you said no, the spidey sense is telling me this isn't right.

[00:14:02] Destinee Mack: Yeah. Spidey sense was really the leading force in it. I, I didn't take it personal. I have so many friends and family that are of the faith. I have no negative things to say, and I had always been treated well and fairly. And so in this case, I didn't think it had anything to do with me, but I did. Who's this I could understand also from them, who's this stranger that's suddenly getting involved in our case.

I mean, I was nobody to them at all. And so I kind of took it as, they just don't know me. Cause if they did, they they'd want my help. Um, but you know, at the time I just felt like maybe they just didn't know me and that obviously changed very quickly. So one of the things that I think is important is from the time I started the Facebook page.

Literally before I got out of the Neil diamond concert, I had no less than 10 messages in my inbox. And they were like, who are you? What's your involvement? They, they were very suspicious that I had sudden kind of tied to the Jones family, these individuals, and I. Hey, I understand you're a friend of this person that I know I'm telling you.

Don't touch this, stay out of it. This person ruins lives. And it was from there till about a two week period that my inbox became flooded with. We don't want to join your page for fear of retribution. Here's a story that you may not know about the Joneses and it, it went from me going I'm in a partner with the Joneses to find this baby.

Holy heck these people are terrorizing a community that's afraid to speak out. And whether whoever was involved in this missing person case, there were enough people living in fear that were afraid to say anything, or to join a group. That would in any way, put them at risk of the wrath of the Joneses.

And that became very clear in a very short period of time. The, 

[00:16:05] Nancy Conrad: so this is when the picture begins to really change. People are coming forward and warning destiny and watch out for the Joneses. At first dozens of people joined the page, but soon it was several hundred people. So let's hear from destiny.

What kind of stories were being shared? 

[00:16:21] Destinee Mack: One of the first messages I got again was from a friend of a friend. I had never met this individual before. And she said, Hey, um, my friend says you're a good person. So I thought I'd reach out. When I saw this page, um, there was, uh, the Jones. Have had many interactions with people in their neighborhood.

Um, we went to court with them on a very specific case where they tried to. Really caused harm to their daughter and, and, and blame her for things abuse that didn't happen. And, and really Gaslight this young teenage girl, um, and accuse her some pretty horrific things. This case had gone to court and this other person had one, but they.

This is what she does when anyone crosses or we stood up to her and we are wrapped up in litigation because of what she did to attack my child. Another story was a girl who said, I was friends with Maddie and Cassie for a long time. Um, they tried to get me involved with a missionary. Um, when I wouldn't do the things that Cassie said, she turned on me and talked about me and that I had actual Mormon missionaries writing saying I was in that area.

She tried to marry me off to her 14 year old daughter. Um, you don't know who this lady is and. This isn't again, it was everybody almost trying to protect me that you don't want to mess with this lady or her family. They will ruin your life. And what I heard in that is this is a whole community of people who are terrified to stand up to this person.

And again, if not me, then who. 

[00:18:10] Nancy Conrad: The Jones family was not without support. The Bishop was helpful and a close friend of the Joneses who spoke out on their behalf, but both of these families were strong, strong latter day saints, church goers. And this is a church known for its ability to help families with social structure and even financial assistance to its members.

[00:18:31] Destinee Mack: Yeah, I think what's interesting about this and the involvement of, of the LDS faith. On one hand, you had the Gouchenour family who had all the right support system around them of what you would expect from a community, from, from a community of the LDS, faith, the service, the, the. Um, you know, rallying around them, doing everything.

And when you talk to them, they have such a strong belief and faith in their church, and they've been treated really, really good by it. On the flip side you had what was happening here with this Jones family. And I believe because of that, the Gouchenours were unnecessarily harmed and hurt, and the Joneses were allowed a power that they should not have.

Um, and we're funded, literally funded by the faith to get away with what they were getting away with. 

And what was that? That was the Gouchenour's son. Jake, be demonized as an abuser by the Jones family with a whisper campaign via church sources. Despite the judge. In the divorce ruling, that there was nothing to the complaints by Maddie and her parents.

Yeah. This was a lifetime of, of this. So, you know, they had going back 10, 20 years. These stories were coming out where they, you know, faked cancer and one of their kids and got money, you know, the pathological lying. And the defrauding people around them and bullying people that ever stood up to them had been going on for a lifetime.

So to look at what happened here and now they didn't like how the courts were going. They didn't want to be told no. They knew that they had gaslighted enough to get away with other things. They thought this was going to be one of the moments. And when the judge. Said no, he gets custody. Enough's enough.

Even after everything they tried, I think they thought they'd get away with this too. Their lies had, had enabled them up until this point to get away with what they have in their life. And I think this was no different 

[00:20:38] Nancy Conrad: now. I understand. Well, all of the ideas were being exchanged and, and these kinds of, um, experiences were talked about on the Facebook page.

There, the police obviously were doing their thing and, and investigating quietly and interviewing people and stuff so on. Um, but you also had some things come up that, um, I think were surprises like, like Cassie's brother, you had heard somebody told you that Cassie's brother had a difficult relationship with her and that 

[00:21:13] Destinee Mack: He reached out via the page actually.

[00:21:15] Nancy Conrad: Okay. So tell me about that a little bit, because that was an interesting thing to watch. 

[00:21:20] Destinee Mack: Yeah. So with the pay with the group, I'll call it a group because there was a Facebook group. We started this page, this group that was the Find baby, Maddie and William within two weeks. So many people were afraid of talking publicly that I spun off a public page that could be shared and spread.

And I kept a secret group, um, of really people who knew the Joneses inside and out. Um, Uh, other people in the community that were giving facts and trips and didn't feel that they could communicate there. So I created very early on two different spaces for people. One that was nothing, nothing can leave this group and we all protect each other with what we know, because so many people were in fear and this public group, but the public group grew very, very quickly, um, totally in about six months to over 12,000 members.

Um, from right. I mean, from all over, we have people all over the world, um, joining this group. So we wanted to share, well, I think when, when some of the trouble came down, um, you know, her brother had heard about this, um, through whatever his family members were and reached out and he actually made a post on the page publicly.

He didn't reach out to one of the admins and said, I'm her brother. Here's what she did to me in my custody case. And the details were eerily similar to some of the things that were happening to Jacob. So her own family came out and I ended up having a one-on-one call with him to get more details. And the story was, you know, that they, you know, accused him of child pornography and put.

Porn on his computer, according to him. And, you know, none of this can be validated, but they had gone out of their way. And he has no relationship with his kids as a result of a very messy custody battle, where she was involved and incriminating him all along the way. And some of the story that came out, I mean, everybody very quickly went.

That's what everybody's saying about Jacob. 

[00:23:41] Nancy Conrad: So it sounded very, very similar to you. And, and did you ever find out if this was, I mean, you got to step into something like that with a lot of cautiousness and, and I'm wondering, cause you don't know who's telling the truth because there's a lot 

of lies out there.

[00:23:58] Destinee Mack: Yeah. I, my goal with the group was to create a space where people felt safe to share. I still hold many confidences to this day that I will never, um, let go. And I somehow establish that credibility early on with either people that knew me and knew that she's a girl of her word and helps spread that out through the community.

Which certainly supported it, but also I demanded respect from the beginning that everybody was allowed to talk. And, and so many of these things, I literally gathered evidence and then just turned it over to the police. I would take it. I wouldn't share with the Gouchenour or Jones family. I wouldn't share with anybody.

I would just say thank you. And I would hand it over to the police. And so. Because I had this intake mechanism where people were comfortable sharing, very key details that ended up solving the case. You know, I just kind of came the catalyst to get that information over to the police where people weren't reaching out directly to.

[00:25:01] Nancy Conrad: Well, so interesting. A brother who doesn't speak to his sister anymore, Cassie Jones, because of her meddling, blaming the loss of his custody of his children on her, and then others coming forward to complain about the Joneses and warned to watch out. It was beginning to look like the Jones's might have something to do with Maddie and the baby's disappearance, but nobody could be sure after all.

In our next episode, we will pick up on what's happening behind the scenes withthe Gouchenour family where we'll hear from their point of view, and also hear from the Joneses themselves in their deposition with Modern Law's Billie Tarascio who was not about to let these questions go unanswered. 

[00:25:45] Billie Tarascio: Thanks so much for listening to the modern divorce.

Remember anything you've heard today or anything you read online is not the replacement for actual consultation with an attorney and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Even if you called in and we spoke to you, you were anonymous and we don't have your details and you have not become a client of Modern Law.

However, we would love to speak with you, or you should seek out the advice of legal counsel or counseling or any other expert near you. And if you have an idea for a show topic, or you need to speak with an attorney in Arizona, you can reach me at