How would an 81-year-old man who longed to reunite with his 7th grade crush go about finding his lost love? He might hire Troy Dunn, who did precisely that for an elderly client … which then led to a wedding for the grade school friends who had been apart for decades! Dunn, who gained notoriety on WE’s The Locator, is an investigator who specializes in reuniting people. Since he first started searching for his own mother’s birth parents over 20 years ago, he has reunited more than 40,000 people. He recently wrote a book called Family: The Good F Word, and has appeared on Dr. Phil numerous times, as seen in the video above, to help families who are searching for loved ones. What hooked him on his unique career choice, how often is he hired to look for Elvis, and what’s the worst part of his job? Get to know “The Locator.”
Q: It’s an odd calling being “The Locator.” How did you end up in this profession?
The title “Locator” was not something my team or I came up with. Fans just coined it over time. When strangers approach me on the street or in airports, they often don’t ask my name; they simply ask if I’m “The Locator.” It’s funny but endearing. My kids think it’s cool. My 8-year-old son was with me once when some people hollered, “It’s The Locator!” He turned to me and said, “Dad, you are like Batman!” If my son thinks it’s cool, I am OK with it.
The profession “located” me. My mom was adopted. I grew up listening to mom talk about a biological family, medical history, genealogy, curiosity, etc. So years later as an adult, when I met a man who was adopted and had found his own biological family for medical reasons, I asked for his help in locating my mother’s biological family. From the moment I heard my mom weeping on the phone after he told her the good news, I was hooked.
Q: What's the most common type of person you're asked to locate?
In the beginning, the most common request was adoption-related — birth mothers seeking adoptees and adoptees seeking their biological family. But the types of requests began to expand to include everything from military buddies to old friends, lost loves, people seeking to forgive or be forgiven, and sadly, dying wishes — lots of dying wishes. Today, I can confidently say there is likely no relationship scenario, and no need to reunite, which we haven’t heard many times before.
Q: Has there ever been a person you’ve found that you wish you hadn’t? Or a successful search that was incredibly gratifying for you?
The journey of discovery is not mine; it’s for the person who has solicited my help. Most people who decide to seek someone are seeking some sort of closure. They have a restless heart or a troubled spirit and need to bring some sort of peace into their lives or the life of someone else. You can’t find peace until you find all the pieces. One of my worst traits in doing this sort of work is getting too personally involved. When it doesn’t work out as hoped, I mourn along with them. When we collectively facilitate a successful reunion, my mom and I hop on a call and share in the excitement of a rebuilt family. I’ve been most grateful to have been part of the dying wishes and the medical emergency finds. There is something so deeply and quietly fulfilling about looking into the eyes of a terminally ill mother and saying, “I found your little girl, and she is here today.”
Q: What was the most difficult or complicated search you've ever undertaken?
We don’t think of ourselves as “Locators.” While it’s true we do often seek out people who are difficult to find, and engage the services of private investigators when needed, the truth is, less than 10 percent of our time and efforts are spent “searching” for missing people. We spend an inordinate amount of time doing relationship repair — talking people through the process of forgiveness, redemption, healing, and then looking forward. We take people on a life-changing journey, and I don’t use that term lightly. Individuals and families are not the same after these experiences.
I think about the abandoned son who wants to seek out the father who wasn’t there, or the 21-year-old girl who is seeking out the man who hit and killed her father while intoxicated ... so she can forgive him. I think about the elderly woman whose eyesight is fading and wants to see her estranged sister one last time before going totally blind. The challenges don’t lie buried in the databases of our digital lives; they are lodged somewhere between hope-filled dreams and deep-rooted fears.
Q: Have you ever been completely stumped and unable to find someone?
The most frustrating and disappointing moments of the past 25 years are not the people we couldn’t find; there are always unsolvable cases and always will be. The ones that haunt me are the ones we located but failed to convince to come forward. These folks have the knowledge they can make someone’s life better, but they won’t let you — it’s one of the most frustrating feelings in the world. People who have lived decades with a hole in their heart or misinformation, it leaves not one but two (or more) lives in pain unnecessarily.
Q: Has anyone ever asked you to help in a criminal case?
Law enforcement agencies often struggle with being overloaded and under-budgeted, so we do frequently get calls for help. We’ll get an off-the-record call from a caring officer who desperately wants to help someone but doesn’t have the support to get the job done, particularly in cases where children were abducted by non-custodial parents. We have done a high number of those successfully. It’s amazing that there are adults walking amongst us who don’t know they are “missing” and were in fact abducted as children by the parent who raised them.
Q: What's the silliest or most ridiculous request you've received?
Every week, we get silly requests that range from people who seriously believe Elvis is alive, to those who say a “psychic” told them they have a twin out there who needs them. Sometimes, the ones that seem ridiculous at first end up being amazing. I once had an 81-year-old man ask us to find the girl he secretly had a crush on in 7th grade — 70 years ago! We did find her, she was alive and SINGLE! Guess who got married? Yup!
Q: What’s next for you?
I am finding myself experiencing a renewed enthusiasm for the work thanks to my dear friend Dr. Phil pushing me to broaden my horizons. It was he who pushed me to share more of the tools we have developed over the years for repairing broken relationships, so that even those who are not ‘missing’ in the literal sense of the word, can still be ‘reunited.’ Rebuilding relationships and families who aren’t looking for anybody has been extremely gratifying. At the urging of Dr. Phil, I wrote a new book, Family: The Good F Word, (which Dr. Phil wrote the foreword for), where I reveal the most successful techniques/strategies we use to repair fractured relationships. I use them in my own personal life as well. The feedback from the book has been so strong, we are now building a live tour for married couples to come and experience the book in an energized, safe environment. It’s all so exciting! I am a blessed man.