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Michael Watkins: Gone for nearly 20 years, but not forgotten

Michael Watkins: Gone for nearly 20 years, but not forgotten

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He's been missing nearly two decades, longer than almost anybody from Lincoln.

And you've likely never heard his name.

Michael Watkins would be 67 now, but had just entered his 50s when he left Lincoln in early November 1998, headed to California to spend Thanksgiving with his daughter in Bakersfield.

He wasn't missing then. And he wasn't missing when police pulled him over in Signal Hill, near Los Angeles, on Nov. 16, 1998. Or when cops stopped him again a week later in nearby Cypress.

He never did make it to Bakersfield, but he did end up behind bars in Tijuana, Mexico, in December 1998. He was released two days before Christmas, the last time anyone saw him alive.

Now he was missing, but not officially, at least not yet. It wasn’t until four years later, in 2002, that his wife in Lincoln made the call and the formal report to police.

Technically, Michael Watkins could be California's responsibility, or Mexico's. But either through a sense of personal duty or professional obligation, the Lincoln Police Department has devoted its resources to finding a man who was alive and well when he left the city limits.

They've generated at least 50 reports in their search for Watkins. They've communicated with his daughter. They've searched databases that contain descriptions and dental records of unidentified bodies from around the country.

And they've kept his file active all of these years, even though he didn't have the social media force behind his search, like in the case of Craig Baxter, or a determined family, like in the case of Regina Bos, who vanished from outside of Duggan's Pub two years after Watkins left Lincoln.

“I don’t know if anyone living locally even knows who Watkins was,” said Lincoln Police Sgt. Luke Wilke. “Everybody knows who Gina Bos is.”

Still, they want to close this case, to take Michael Watkins -- a man you've likely never heard of, a man who hasn't been seen alive for nearly 20 years, a man who might not have ever made it out of Mexico -- off their list of missing persons.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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