In a city or town (in a generic western country) about a dozen people have gone missing over the last couple of weeks. They did not go missing at the same time, they had varying ethnicity, age, gender, and so forth. The only commonalities between them is as follows:
1. They were all in roughly the same area when their cellphone cut off.
2. Afterwards most of them have had repeated, virtually identical credit-card charges made from the same vending machine card readers. Said charges are relatively small, but seem somewhat inflated.
3. None of them can be reached, nor has any of them communicated with the outside world.
4. So far all of them have been adults.
How long would it reasonably take for the police to spot a pattern and realize the cases are connected (given that there is no connection between most of them)?
When would there be a major manhunt / search operation in the area? Would bloodhounds or the like be used?
Would the creditcards or the creditcard reader be blocked? Or would they be allowed to remain open in an attempt to track them? If the reader is not where the registration papers says it should be, how would you go about tracking it?
Once more this is one of those cases where "weird schemes" meet reality.