Forensics and CSI is all the rage in television police dramas, but the tip that helped investigators identify Tina Leone came from volunteer investigators using nothing more complicated than a Yahoo chat room.
"Based on what the detectives told me, the Doe Network had access to additional resources that may not have been available to law enforcement. The fact that they were able to scan various Web pages and keep a constant monitor on things that may not have otherwise been available to us was critical for us in identifying (Tina Leone)," said Harford County Sheriff's spokesman Edward Hopkins. "They were definitely on target for us."
The Doe Network, an Internet-based email group, has quietly chugged away since its formation in 1999 on matching nameless victims in the United States, Canada and Europe to thousands of reported missing persons.
Using a process of panel review, that includes a pathologist's assistant, a forensic artist and a retired homicide detective, as well as review among the approximately 400 general members of the network, possible matches are screened extensively before being forwarded to law enforcement.
"We have a group of volunteers who research cases in libraries, go through newspaper archives, and so on, and pull up missing persons cases," said Maryland Doe Network spokesman Kylen Johnson. "We have a group of volunteers who cross-match the missing person reports with unidentified cases, and when we get what we presume to be a possible match, we give the information to law enforcement."
Since its inception, members have made approximately 25 'direct hits,' and about a dozen more positive identifications by non-members and outside investigators are credited to the group, she said. The network tries to screen out 'kooks,' said Johnson, a Customs officer during the day, but allows any interested party to join. Members include police, criminologists, journalists, and housewives.
"It's pretty much anyone who can help out and be a part of the solution," she said. "We invite the public to the Web site (www.doenetwork.org). The more people visiting, the more likely it is that someone will recognize an unidentified. We have over a thousand on the site and somebody out there knows who these people are."