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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases


The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber fascinated me, particularly after all of the Golden State Killer brouhaha. I was pleasantly surprised to find out while reading this that it wasn’t necessarily about solving murders, but much more about connecting I identified remains with missing persons cold cases.

All over America, tens of thousands — perhaps even hundreds of thousands — remains of unidentified human remains sit in morgue lockers or buried in Potter’s fields, unconnected to their identifies for a cmvarietu of reasons. It’s been only recently that the government has been able to grasp the magnitude of the problem; poor record keeping, lack of reporting, and coroner change over in smaller cities and towns has kept the information under wraps. It turns out that the problem is much bigger than anyone could imagine. So big, in fact, it’s almost impossible to find employees who can work these cases in addition to their jobs. Enter The Skeleton Crew. 

The dawn of the internet has seen thousands of couch sleuths come out of the woodwork, be it morbid curiosity or a love of puzzles, to solve these cold cases. Halber highlights several of these cases, both successful and not, in this book. I was pleasantly surprised at how taken I was by this story. Halber is a strong writer who weaves in a clear narrative into her larger work (featuring two cases: Tent Girl and Lady of the Dunes), and her writing style kept me hooked. I found myself wanting to get back to the book, not to finish it but rather to find out more about what she had to tell me. 

I did see parallels to MacNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, published three years after this. The websites devoted to solving cold cases, the people on the other end of those computers for reasons that are all their own. Some are trying to escape, some are trying to find themselves. Each is looking for someone — a perpetrator or a victim. I love true crime myself, and solving puzzles, and I could easily see myself getting sucked into this work. I’m amazed at the devotion of those not just in the higher ranks of these websites, but the gumshoes as well. 

I took some time to poke through one of the sites, the Doe Network, and before I knew it two hours had passed by. So yes, I can see how easily one who loves this stuff gets taken in. I’m also curious as to how, four years after this book was published, public DNA databases are changing the face of missing persons cases and the connection to unidentified remains. I would love to see Halber do a follow up on this connection. I loved this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed having my world opened to a new, not-so-dark corner. 

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