Finding names for the nameless

Finding names for the nameless

April 1, 2008
The Argus Leader, SD
Jill Callison • [email protected]

He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt striped purple and blue, Wrangler jeans and Spalding tennis shoes, size 9, when death found him, abruptly and brutally.

After multiple gunshots slammed into his head and body, he was left in a decommissioned Lawrence County landfill, his remains hidden by pieces of scrap lumber.

Found Feb. 19, 2000, this unidentified Native American man has never been buried. His bones, in fact, currently rest in the state crime lab in Pierre.

Kristy Schumacher wants to give him a name and a more fitting resting place.

That's why the 28-year-old Deadwood woman is part of the Doe Network, where volunteers use Internet resources to try to match unclaimed bodies with those reported missing.

They try to give names to John Doe and Jane Doe, the generic labels law enforcement agencies often place on unidentified bodies.

And they want to bring closure to the families haunted by a nagging uncertainty about a loved one's fate.

"We've had 42 identifications" since the Doe Network started in 1998, Schumacher says.

"It's a small number in the scheme of things, but it's 42 families with answers."

Almost five years ago, the Doe Network gave an answer to a family with South Dakota ties.

On Aug. 22, 2002, the skeletal body of a young man, aged 18 to 20, was found in a remote area of northeast Utah, hands bound by electrical tape.

The Rich County Sheriff's Department sent a bulletin on the discovery, which included a Job Corps identification card found near the body.

But it was a Doe Network volunteer in Quincy, Mass., who supplied the Rich County sheriff with information that led him to Arthur Wuestwald of Las Vegas.

Wuestwald was living in White River when his 17-year-old son Arthur Jr. left home in 1984, saying he was going to attend a Job Corps cooking school in Utah.

The family never heard from him again, and in the course of two decades, they began to suspect he was dead.

Stories such as that one are what prompts Schumacher to spend at least four hours a week on her computer, cross-referencing details about unidentified bodies with information on missing persons.

She does it in her free time for her work as a full-time 911 dispatcher with the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office. Schumacher, who has an 8-year-old stepson, also is a reserve police officer in Deadwood and an EMT with the Lead-Deadwood Hospital.

"Pretty much any time I have free time, I'm on the computer," she says. "Four hours a week, that's not enough at all."

Schumacher and the other cybersleuths spend much of their time doing research. If the unidentified person is wearing clothing, they might look up the brands and try to find where they were sold.

"We do tons of research trying to find these poor souls," Schumacher says.

Schumacher learned about the Doe Network in 2001 when the headless body of a small child was found in Kansas City, Mo.

Officials there nicknamed her Precious Doe. In 2005, her mother and stepfather were charged in Precious' murder.

In the intervening time, law enforcement officials and volunteers searched for the child's identity. Schumacher became one of the volunteers.

That's how she learned about the Doe Network, and in 2003 her application to become a researcher was accepted. She has been area director for South Dakota since 2004.

As area director, Schumacher serves as a link to law enforcement agencies, asking for information to be validated and notifying officials when a possible match is made.

Sara Rabern, spokesperson for the state attorney general's office, says her department has worked with Doe Network volunteers occasionally.

"We get a call from volunteers when we have needed help," she says.

The remains found in Lawrence County is the only unidentified body in South Dakota. Five others are listed as missing on the Doe Network, including Sharon Baldeagle, who was kidnapped from Eagle Butte in 1984 when she was 11.

Schumacher knows all the missing South Dakotans.

"There's Pamella Jackson. She went missing with Cheryl Miller in Clay County," she says, speaking of two teenage girls who haven't been seen since 1971.

But Schumacher doesn't limit herself to South Dakota cases.

"When I'm searching for a match, I'll come upon somebody that strikes me, a certain detail, and I think, 'I can work with that,' " she says.

She started with neighboring states when researching the Lawrence County body. His case remains active, Joe Harmon of the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department says.

And as long as it's an open case, they'll pursue any leads.

So will Kristy Schumacher. She has decided the unidentified remains belong not to a South Dakota resident but to a transient, someone who happened to be in the area when he ran into trouble.

"I have searched endlessly for a match on him," she says. "But I have been unsuccessful in really having anything close. But he's definitely an interest of mine, and that's going to run true for a long time - until there is an answer."

Doe network
South Dakota only has one unidentified body listed on the Doe Network Web site, that of a Native American male who was found Feb. 19, 2000, in Lawrence County.

He died from multiple gunshot wounds to the body and head; the body was fully clothed, but only skeletal remains were found. Two unidentified men found in Woodbury County, Iowa, also are listed on the Web site.

One victim was found March 25, 1986, under a bridge that crosses an abandoned river channel in Sioux City. An apparent suicide, the body was found doused with gasoline.

The second victim was found Aug. 30, 1988, near Correctionville, Iowa. Estimated date of death was 1971 to 1973. The remains were skeletal, but he was carrying a gym bag with two razors, a styptic pencil and shaving brush.

Reach reporter Jill Callison at 331-2307.