Sunday, February 1, 2015
There are an estimated 40,000 bodies in the United States that are unidentified, with 4000 new cases added annually. These are runaways, murder victims taken out of state, homeless individuals, or those who dropped out so long ago that no one notices when they aren't in the area anymore. While the police attempt to identify them so that their cases can be closed and their families notified, often the case goes cold if the identification is not easily made.
Deborah Halber, a science writer, provides a spotlight into the world of online sleuthing. Individuals pore over missing person files and files of unidentified bodies, hoping to find a commonality that will allow them to make a match and provide a name to the remains. She outlines both the process, the individuals involved and some famous cases that have been solved. Several cases such as The Tent Girl and The Lady On The Dunes are followed throughout the book.
Some of the online sleuths are former law enforcement, determined to solve a cold case that still haunts them. Others have a missing person in their own family that they are determined to find. Yet others are compelled to do this work for no identifiable reason other than the thrill of the chase and the ability to bring closure to others. The sleuths help each other, but also are adversaries as they race to make an identification. A star today is a scapegoat tomorrow, and those in leadership positions at famous websites like The Doe Network are not immune from interpersonal conflicts.
Halber has written a fascinating look at a world that most of us don't even know exist. I know I was surprised to see a famous online sleuth profiled who lived within twenty miles of my house, yet I had never heard of her or the cases in my area she had worked on. Halber outlines the issues, the individuals involved and famous cases that were solved with the help of the sleuths. This book is recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in how the Internet changes every task it is involved in.