How do you dig up information in a story like the one unfolding in Cleveland when all you know is three women missing for nearly a decade suddenly escaped their captors? When the story broke, government offices were closed, the usual sources were hard to find and neighbors knew next to nothing of substance about the main suspect.

I asked Investigative Reporters and Editors Executive Director Mark Horvit and some of the country’s best investigative reporters to help me compile a checklist of public records that would be useful in reporting a story like this. Horvit and the IRE folks have compiled a first-rate collection of “essential tipsheets” to help journalists with stories like this one that require you to be find reliable information quickly. I also emailed with a reporter who used such tools in her own work on the Cleveland story.

Here are ideas and suggested resources drawn from our conversations: