Have you ever heard of "Tent Girl"? Or perhaps the "Lady of the Dunes"? These, along with thousands of others, are the unidentified dead that plague police and coroners throughout the country every day. In America, there are over forty thousand people who are dead and unaccounted for. Some are decades old. In The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases, freelance journalist Deborah Halber crafts the compelling story of the intriguing underground society of dedicated volunteers who use the Internet to scour case details in the hopes of finding the key to solving decades-old missing persons and unsolved homicide cases.
Halber interviews law enforcement, medical examiners, and even the web sleuths themselves to reveal a behind-the-scenes look at the real-life cases of Jane and John Does and the network of people who obsess over identifying them. The Skeleton Crew traces this new subculture from its earliest beginnings at the dawn of the Internet to current day with the establishment of a national database for the county's missing persons called NamUs.
At the heart of The Skeleton Crew is Halber's brilliant story-telling, which weaves an additive story-within-a-story narrative that is as equally fascinating as it is eccentric. It is a fantastic journey into a multifaceted world of the armchair sleuth and the growing cooperation between law enforcement and ordinary citizens. It emphasizes the urgency to reunite the missing with their loved ones, and puts forth the call for more volunteers.
To return to my initial questions, "Tent Girl", who was originally found dead along a Kentucky road in 1968, remained unidentified until 1998. Her identity was discovered by a volunteer named Todd Matthews. The "Lady of the Dunes", whose body was discovered in the Race Point Dunes in Massachusetts, remains unidentified to this day.
The Skeleton Crew is a intriguing read and definitely one I'd recommend.