The Lost Ones
Network of Dedicated Strangers Brings Peace to John and Jane Does of the World
Good Morning America Appearance
April 9, 2004
Volunteer sleuths in the Doe Network work day and night to identify corpses classified as Jane Does and John
The Lost Ones
Network of Dedicated Strangers Brings Peace to
John and Jane Does of the World
— When Dana Gonzalez lies down to sleep each night,
she can't help but notice the restless ghosts all around her.
"I go to bed at night and I say
'Who are you and why isn't anyone looking for you?' I feel like these
families deserve closure," said Gonzalez, a 35-year-old accounts
receivable clerk from New Jersey.
Gonzalez is part of a 200-member Internet group known as The Doe
Network: International Center for Unidentified and Missing Persons. The
group operates a database that has grown to include more 1,000
unidentified people on its Web site, Doenetwork.org.
The site, which boasts roughly 400,000 visitors since it was founded in
1999, is part of the group's effort to match the faces of missing loved
ones with bodies of unidentified corpses.
Members of the network volunteer to dig into unexplained disappearances
— better known as cold cases — which have received little public attention
in recent years.
The Doe Network says there are more than 5,400 of these "official"
unidentified disappearances, with some cases as much as 20 and 30 years
Generally, Doe Network members are regular people, with no history in
law enforcement. They're happy to comb through records and don't mind
wading through grisly details such as dental records while in pursuit of
the truth. The members try to draw connections between missing persons
cases and bodies that have been found, but remain unidentified.
"One case that really has us all — several of us that are almost
obsessed with this case — is a case of a young girl who was probably
13,14,15 years old," said Gonzalez. "She had no ID characteristics, no
tattoos or scars, but she had deep tan lines, very young," Gonzalez said.
"That probably is the one case that has us all up at night."
Looking for Lost
Guests to the Web site post links to information about their lost
relatives. Users can also search a database that has details on
unidentified bodies and missing people. For the unidentified
bodies, three forensic artists use post-mortem photos to create
computer-aged photos or three-dimensional busts to help spark recognition.
Network members also pull additional information from police agency Web
sites, old newspaper files, interviews with family members, detectives,
medical examiners and missing person's reports to try to connect the dots.
The Doe Network has helped crack 18 cases and most recently, with the
help of a Doe member, authorities solved a 1988 missing person's case in
Las Vegas, where an unidentified John Doe was identified as John David
Clough, a man reported missing from Torrance, Calif., 16 years ago.
"This particular group that we're talking about, they have been able to
help us on this one case, and we're hoping they'll be able to help us on
more," said Clark County coroner Mike Murphy in Las Vegas.
"This one took a few weeks," Gonzalez said. "It was a quick solve which
we don't get too often, with ID by records and fingerprints — a perfect
Connecting the Dots
Bobby Lingoes, a police dispatcher for the Quincy, Mass., Police
Department, serves as the law enforcement liaison for the network. Lingoes
said that when the group comes to a consensus on a match between a missing
person and a previously unidentified body, they will contact the local
police with a tip.
"It happens when all the parameters fit," he said. "The date the body
was found coupled with the date when the person went missing. Scars mark,
tattoos, geographical things like how close the body was to where the
person went missing."
Todd Matthews, a 33-year old quality control auditor, serves as the Doe
Network's media director. Matthews spends most of his free time focusing
on a case in his home state of Tennessee. Matthews said his
first interest in identifying John and Jane Does began in 1987, when his
father-in-law told him about his discovery of a woman who had been only
known as "Tent Girl." She was discovered in a Kentucky field on May 17,
Matthews' interest in the case never died, and when he came across the
words "Lexington, 1967, missing" during an Internet search in 1998, it led
him to the description of a young girl named Barbara, last seen in the
Lexington, Ky., area decades earlier.
The dead girl's sister had posted the message Matthews discovered and
DNA tests in April of 1998 confirmed that "Tent Girl" was her 10-year-old
missing sister, Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor.
Matthews says his main goal today is to get the word out about the John
and Jane Does they're searching for.
"The way we go from here is we keep publicizing," Matthews said. "We
submit to law enforcement, try to raise awareness. That cross-pollinates.
Communications is more important in a cold case like this. The media is
often more important than law enforcement."
While identifying Jane and John Does can be satisfying on many levels,
members of the Doe Network say the experience can also be bittersweet
"You're excited and you're happy that you've gotten to solve that case
and you got closure for people," Gonzalez said. "And you're sad for their
families that, you know, how every little the hope that they've lived with
for all those years, that that person was still alive is now gone."
Gonzalez said she and the other members spend hours obsessing over the missing person cases of strangers may be unusual to some, but they say it
is for a good cause.
"Somewhere there is a family, or friends, or somebody who is looking
for this person and would really like to know what's happened to them,"