Milwaukee Iron MC remembers missing people and victims of violence

·6 min read

Jun. 26—The Milwaukee Iron Motorcycle Club in Kokomo hosted its seventh annual Keeping Their Memory Alive fundraiser on Saturday to raise money and awareness for local missing person cases and unsolved murders.

"Our hearts go out to these kind of things," Milwaukee Iron member Bill "Scratch" Pelfree said. "It's not about just raising the money. It's about raising awareness. That's why we try to make this as big as we can to get the public involved because the more people you have who are aware, the better the chances we're going to find people."

The fundraiser this year included drinks, street tacos from the El Rancho food truck, a bounce house, and of course a motorcycle ride.

Local bands Swag Daddy and That's How We Roll also donated their time to perform and provide music for the event.

The cause is particularly close to Pelfree's heart because he knows what it feels like to search for a loved one and wonder for years what happened to them.

In November 2009, Pelfree's sister Esther Westenbarger went missing after leaving a local bar. Police were unable to locate Westenbarger or her vehicle.

Pelfree and his family searched and wondered what happened to Westenbarger for over 10 years. Then, in 2020, two boys fishing in a pond reported seeing a car at the bottom. The car was identified as Westenbarger's and her remains were found inside.

"So many people don't want to get involved if it doesn't pertain to them," Pelfree said. "We found this out the hard way by our sister being gone. It touched my heart and I thought, we've got to help these people."

All donations from the event benefit Community United Effort (CUE) Center for Missing Persons. CUE does not receive any money from federal or local governments, so all the organization's funding comes from donations, fundraisers, and occasional grants.

CUE is a national nonprofit organization that exists to help missing people and their families. The missing person's family must ask CUE for help in order for the organization to take a case.

Once CUE accepts a missing person case, they reach out to law enforcement and gather information that might give insight into where the missing person might be. The volunteers often conduct and offer to help with searches, raise awareness about the missing person, and have trained K-9s that can look for the missing person.

"Our primary focus is to put together a profile so that we can actually have a physical search for the missing person," said Julia Wise, Indiana CUE state director, K-9 handler, and case worker. "Typically, the people that we're looking for have been gone for a while."

CUE is often utilized by families who feel like they have run out of other options. Wise said that people tend to reach out after police reach an impasse or a family feels like their missing person case is not being taken seriously.

Wise said one of the biggest hurdles when reporting a missing person is getting people to take action quickly. She said many police departments wait 24 hours to begin searching for a missing person to ensure the person is actually missing, but that waiting period can waste valuable time.

"It's not actually a crime if someone's missing," she pointed out. "It's a niche that has not been addressed."

CUE's services are completely free. The money from donations helps pay for searches, K-9 training, hotels and gas for volunteers who travel to help with searches, and certifications and training for the volunteers.

"We have access to boats, ATVs, drones, and sonar if necessary," Wise said.

Wise met Pelfree in 2014 when Pelfree's family requested help with his sister's case. He said her predictions were spot on because Wise told him that Westenbarger and her car were likely in a body of water close to the area where she was last seen.

"The first search we had was a thousand feet from that pond (Westenbarger) drove her car in," Pelfree said. "That's how all this originated. I met Julie and we started doing things to help support missing people."

The Milwaukee Iron Motorcycle Club host the Keeping Their Memory Alive fundraiser every year so they can continue to help families looking for answers.

Wise estimated that the proceeds from the fundraisers have paid for nearly a dozen searches since its inception.

One missing person case that continues to baffle the community and volunteers is the case of Karena McClerkin. McClerkin vanished from the 1000 block of S. Washington St. on Oct. 2016. She was 18 years old.

"At first the public was real involved and cared and went out and searched for her," Pelfree said. "Now, it's been so long that people don't care. Until someone says something or some kind of evidence comes up or there's a body, somebody's gotten away with murder."

Keeping Their Memory Alive has helped keep cases like Karena's at the forefront of people's minds so those missing people are not forgotten.

Missing persons cases are not the only cases the event raises awareness of, however. Keeping Their Memory Alive also remembers people who's murders have gone unsolved.

Milwaukee Iron member Junior "Moody" Douglas said asking for the public's help to get more information about an unsolved murder is easier said than done.

"You're asking somebody to snitch," he said. "But if you know something, say something. There are other people who are hurting because of the end result of what happened, and if you know how to give some kind of resolution to that, I'd be able to sleep better."

Douglas still hopes to find out exactly what happened to his daughter Destiny Pittman. Pittman was killed at her residence by a single bullet in Feb. 2013. She was 21 years old.

"We really don't know what to do. Nine years later, we still don't have answers," Pittman's stepmother Krystal Douglas said. "I'm sure there's a story behind it all, but we don't know it."

Douglas said he periodically stops by the police station to ask for updates, but there is never any new information.

Douglas said someone knows what happened, and he asked for anyone with information about his daughter's case or any other unsolved murder to step forward and share that information with the police.

"Sooner or later, almost everybody is going to be a parent," he said. "Just think it was your kid. If it was, you would do anything to get answers."

Douglas said the fundraiser and CUE's mission is very important to the club. The Milwaukee Irons even let Wise set up a command center at their clubhouse to conduct a search once. He said the club will do whatever it can to help.

"Any way, shape, or form, we will always help them," he said. "If they need a headquarters to set up at, we've got it."

The Keeping Their Memory Alive fundraiser will take place again next year on the fourth Saturday in June. Pelfree encouraged people to put it in their calendars and come out for the ride, drinks, socialization, and a great cause.