Her ex husband indicated belief in her death, and did search in areas of which a body would be found.
His language did not reveal knowledge of theft (though he may have known this, or association with thieves) but belief that she would not be found alive.
There is something important to learn here.
Statement Analysis teaches that where one is expected, through situation and relational status, to speak of one missing in the present tense, with hope that the missing is alive. When this is not heard, it is an indication that the subject (speaker) believes or even knows, the missing person is dead.
The teaching on this shows that there are factors in play, including how close one is to the missing, but also how long the person has been missing, and the natural conditions, including weather and location, will weigh upon language.
Yet there is something else here that is worth considering:
In this case it was an ex husband who not only referenced her as dead (and searched for her) but he did so in specifically referencing her in the positive, as a mother.
This is telling.
One may 'slip' into past tense for nefarious reasons (Casey Anthony did, caught herself, and corrected) but another may slip and even surprise himself with this.
This was in Clint Dunn's language when we spoke long ago. He even commented on it, as upsetting as it was, as time and the circumstances of his beloved Hailey's status wore against his natural denial.
In the case of Jennifer Hicks, the ex husband, while thinking of her as a mother, still spoke of her in the past tense.
This is not a 'slip' as above, but to accept not only that the missing Jennifer was deceased, but to accept that their daughter would no longer have her mother.
Statement Analysis: This is to say: he had strong or certain belief that she would not be found alive.
This means that a new level of resistance is broken: having to accept that the mother of my child is gone, or "my daughter will be motherless."
This is something that has natural resistance in life.
A certain level of denial is common for all of us and the denial is worn down by time, circumstances (freezing temperatures) and of any information disclosed or found. This might have included the knowledge that Jennifer was involved in theft and may have felt that there was no way out and could not bear prison, or bear the thought that her daughter would see her own mother as a common thief.
The ex husband searched from the air. We did not hear news reports of him trying to exploit the public, emotionally or financially, but we did hear the past tense references plainly, and in context:
not only as an ex wife, something one may accept, but as the mother of his child: something far more difficult to accept.
In understanding the principle of past tense language in missing person cases, we must not only consider context, but proximity of the relationship:
Length of time missing
Known or suspected substance abuse issues
Mental health status
Family status (such as a teenaged runaway struggling at home0
Familiar Examples: the strongest are at the top
Biological Mother has the greatest resistance to accept death
Biological Father is generally second, close behind
Estranged but biological parents, Spouses
Step parents that are close
Siblings and ex spouses
Teachers, Community, Co workers, etc
Even a very close step parent will accept death before a distant biological parent. The tie is more powerful than what we might consider, especially when a parent is estranged.
Blood relations have stronger denial, overall, even with estrangement, than non-blood familiar relations. In this classification, however, married spouses are considered as "one"; that is, very close, and quite resistance to accepting death.