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Naming The Nameless

Interview on The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet
Episode "The Doe Network"
Todd Matthews, Laura Hood and Mary Weir
April 2008

MIKE:  All right, this is a real shocker.  Do you know that there are 100,000, more than 100,000 Americans who have vanished into thin air; they’ve never been seen again.  They’re listed as quote, unquote, ‘missing.’

JULIET:  Yeah, but at the same time, across the nation, over 40,000 human remains have turned out.  Remains that, as of now, have not been identified.

MIKE:  And that’s where our next guests’ story begins.

(Video clip begins)

JULIET (voice over):  It was around Halloween 1988, Lori Matthews and her future husband, Todd were swapping scary stories.

LORI MATTHEWS:  I was telling him, “I’ve got a ghost story for you,” so I started telling him about Daddy finding a body 30 years ago.  So, from that day, Todd talked about it and has always told me, from day one, “I’m going to find out who she is.”

JULIET (voice over):  The dead girl was known only as ‘Tent Girl’ because she was had been wrapped in brown canvas.

TODD MATTHEWS:  There was an instant attraction to the ‘Tent Girl’ case, but it evolved.  In time, it changed and deepened.

JULIET (voice over):  Over the years, Todd’s interest with finding out the identity of the young woman described as having reddish-brown hair and a gapped-toothed smile, became more obsessive.  He spent money he couldn’t afford, and time he didn’t have, on a case he just couldn’t crack.

TODD MATTHEWS:  You know, when you spend that much time focusing on other things, it does create family tension.

LORI MATTHEWS:  Yeah, I just felt neglected, and I felt like he was abandoning us to help another family.

JULIET (voice over):  So, Lori packed her bags and left.  But she soon realized that he couldn’t stop following his heart.

LORI MATTHEWS:  He was not going to give it up and that was for sure.

JULIET (voice over):  A few months later, however, she was back and Todd was back on the case.  Then, one night, he found the clue he’d been searching for, for years –- a small missing person notice on the relatively new Internet.

TODD MATTHEWS:  It was just like a little ad, ‘Looking for a sister.’  The description fit, 1967, last seen in Lexington, Kentucky.  I knew then it was over.

JULIET (voice over):  Todd woke up Lori.

LORI MATTHEWS:  He got me out of bed.  He said, “Come here.  I think I found her this time.”

JULIET (voice over):  Todd was right.  And when the medical examiner read this long-lost girl’s name at a press conference…

TODD MATTHEWS:  She said, “The ‘Tent Girl’ is indeed Barbara Taylor.

JULIET (voice over):  …Todd Matthews realized he had a calling, to help give back un-named victims their identities.

TODD MATTHEWS:  That was the end, at the time, the end of that journey, I think, and the beginning of another one.

(End of video clip)

JULIET:  Wow, that gives me chills.  And that new beginning, by the way, spawned the Doe Network, as in John or Jane Doe, an online volunteer group, 500-strong, that devote their lives to bringing the lost back home.

MIKE:  All right.  Todd Matthews is with us this morning.  He’s one of the founding members of the Doe Network.  And also here is, Laura Hood, who joined the network to search for her brother, Tony, who has been missing almost 30 years.  Welcome.

JULIET:  And also, from Rochester, New York, we’re going to be bringing in Sheriff John York.  Thanks, Sheriff, for being here.  Todd, we’re going to start with you.  I mean, when you found out, I mean, after all this time and all this energy, and the trauma that, you know, that happened between you and your wife, and all of this, this pain, you finally found that match.  What did you, I mean, what…were you crying?  What was your reaction?

TODD MATTHEWS:  Oh, it was everything.  It was just, I think I related it to a concrete blanket being lifted off your shoulders, it was just over, that part was over.  It was good and bad.  It was a nightmare, but yet, a dream come true.

MIKE:  Let me ask you, you devoted everything to this, right?  Your wife was going to leave, or did leave and then came back.

TODD MATTHEWS:  She was done with it.

MIKE:  Why?  Is there a why to that?

TODD MATTHEWS:  I think you can only spend so much money and so much time on something until it’s just too far.

MIKE:  But why did you go so far?  I mean, I know…

TODD MATTHEWS:  I still don’t know with the ‘Tent Girl.’  I really don’t know.  She’s family, that’s all I can tell you.

MIKE:  And you lost family members in your life?

TODD MATTHEWS:  Yes, I lost a brother and a sister.

MIKE:  Not to get too shrink-y on you here.

TODD MATTHEWS:  Yeah, well, I was afraid of that.

MIKE:  Okay.

TODD MATTHEWS:  But I did, and maybe that did spawn an obsessive nature, at least I knew where my brother and sister were at.

JULIET:  So after this, after the ‘Tent Girl’ situation was solved, you went on to create this Doe Network.

TODD MATTHEWS:  There were many hands that went into the creation of the Doe Network, but we ran into them, you know, we all ran into each other.

JULIET:  You just said that it was sort of like the one…

TODD MATTHEWS:  A convergence.

JULIET:  Yeah, a convergence.  So who are these people that are involved?

TODD MATTHEWS:  Oh, they’re waitresses, mothers, disabled…

JULIET:  Wanna-be P.I.s?

TODD MATTHEWS:  Ah, some, you know, you do have some that are like that, but they’re just everyday people.  The Internet is a great equalizer; it doesn’t race, sex, age, it doesn’t matter.

MIKE:  And Laura, (addressing Laura Hood), you’re part of this group, of course, and you got involved searching for your brother?

LAURA HOOD (sister of missing, Tony Allen):  Yes.

MIKE:  Okay, he had been missing a long time, at that point.

LAURA HOOD:  A long time.  He disappeared in 1978 when he was 16 years old.

JULIET:  Thirty years.

MIKE:  Thirty years ago, and this story is so fascinating because you did find somebody, right, but not your brother? 


MIKE:  Tell me about that.

LAURA HOOD:  Well, you always search, with unidentified remains you look for clues, but there was a man that I had located in South Texas, and he fit.  He fit his description.

JULIET:  Your brother’s description?

LAURA HOOD:  Yes.  And so we eventually had DNA run, compared, and it was not a match.

MIKE:  It was not a match.  Was there a match found for these remains eventually?


MIKE:  There was not.  So, what does that make you feel inside?

LAURA HOOD:  Well, I want him to be found, I mean, I want him to be identified.  I want to return him to his family.

MIKE:  Sure.

JULIET:  And you want your brother returned to you.

LAURA HOOD:  Absolutely.

MIKE:  I think that’s one of the amazing things, these people become, in a way, part of your extended family.

JULIET:  You basically adopted this person, this unknown person.

LAURA HOOD:  Well, we waited 11 months for DNA testing, and so that was 11 months that I thought about this young man as well.

JULIET:  So many of you are going through that.  When we come back, we’re going to talk to the sheriff about how these people, you know, impact the whole law enforcement angle, and also a success story; a very, very grateful mom.  We’ll be right back.

(Commercial break)

JULIET:  Welcome back.  We’re talking about the Doe Network, it’s fascinating.  It’s an online group that basically comes together, all sorts of people that have never really met each other, they come together to assist law enforcement in giving a name to America’s 40,000 unidentified human remains.

MIKE:  Bringing people home, and back with us, founding member, Todd Matthews.  Laura Allen Hood, she’s also a member; and from Rochester, New York, Sheriff John York.

JULIET:  Also, joining us right now is Mary Wier.  Mary searched for her daughter, Samantha, for almost two years, it was like 19 months.  Thank you for being here.  So, your daughter, one day, disappeared, and you said that right off the bat, you knew she was not coming home.

MARY WEIR (Mother of Samantha Bonnell):  Yeah, I knew from the beginning that she wasn’t coming home.

JULIET:  Why?  How did you know that?

MARY WEIR:  She disappeared in September and when I hadn’t received a phone call from her, and then Christmas passed, I knew she’d never miss Christmas.

MIKE:  And you said something intriguing, that you didn’t want to share what you knew in your heart with your husband.

MARY WEIR:  Right.

MIKE:  So you would go on…what would you do?

MARY WEIR:  I would wait for him to go to sleep and I would slide out of bed and I would go on the Internet and I would search unidentified bodies.

JULIET:  And at one point you got onto a website and you started looking at composite sketches, and all of a sudden, one sketch stood out to you.  You kind of ignored it and you kept going back.  Tell us about that.

MARY WEIR:  Yeah, I was on the Doe Network and I found the composite and I’d look at it and say, “No, that can’t possibly be her,” and it kept drawing me back.

JULIET:  Samantha?


JULIET:  Was it?

MARY WEIR:  It was.

MIKE: Take me inside that moment, because I know for every mother listening to this story, and every father, it’s got to be two things in that moment, in other words, relief, but also closure.  What did you feel, the range of things, when you finally know?

MARY WEIR:  When in finally found out, it was a lot of relief and a lot of gratitude to have an answer, but you give up that last little hope that you’ve hung on to.

JULIET:  Yeah.

MARY WEIR:  But it was way better than that 19 months of torture that I went through.

JULIET:  What happened?  What did you find out happened?

MARY WEIR:  She left from a movie theater that she’d been at with her boyfriend, and we don’t know why or how, but she was killed in an accident the same night she disappeared on a California freeway.

JULIET:  How…why was nobody able to put that together?

MARY WEIR:  Because she was 18 and they wouldn’t take a missing person’s report.

MIKE:  (Addressing Sheriff John York):  Sheriff?  (Addressing Juliet):  The sheriff’s still with us, isn’t he?


MIKE:  (Addressing Sheriff John York):  These people are helpful to you in what way specifically?

SHERIFF JOHN YORK (from Rochester, NY):  They have been an incredible resource to us.  They have been able to help us by looking through the Internet and searching sites that we find very difficult to spend the manpower and the resources and the time looking at old cases and try to compare them with current, existing missing persons.

JULIET:  And Laura, your brother has been missing for 30 years, 30 years.  Now, there is actually a composite sketch of what he has looked like, possibly, over the years.


JULIET (Referring to an image on the screen):  There’s the age progression.  So that could be what he looks like today?

MIKE:  And what would it mean to you if you able to share your story, if he came home?

LAURA HOOD:  If he came home?

MIKE:  Home, in either way.  In other words, finding closure for this story with what Todd spoke to with ‘Tent Girl,’ would mean what to you?

LAURA HOOD:  Oh, gosh.  It would mean everything to be able to give my parents an answer, mainly.  My sisters and I would like to know, but we really want that for our parents.

JULIET:  Well, it’s amazing what you all have been able to accomplish with this website, the Doe Network website, and we thank you very much for joining us.

MIKE:  Thank you so much.

Amateur Sleuths Name Anonymous Dead
(News Report Courtesy of Associated Press)

Photos and news article courtesy of: Associated Press, March 29, 2008

LIVINGSTON, Tenn. March 29, 2008, 10:11 pm ET · Four days a week Todd Matthews earns $11.50 an hour working for an automotive parts supplier. He punches in at 4:15 a.m., punches out nearly 11 hours later, then drives half a mile to his little beige house on a hill where, in the distance, he can glimpse the Appalachian mountains.

He spends the next seven to eight hours at his desk, beneath shelves lined with miniature plastic skulls, immersed in a very different world.

Their faces seem to float from his computer — morgue photographs, artist sketches, forensic reconstructions — thousands of dead eyes staring from endless Web sites as though crying out for recognition. John and Jane and Baby "Does" whose nameless bodies have never been identified.

His wife, Lori, complains that Matthews spends more time with the dead than he does with the living, including his two sons, Dillan, 16, and Devin, 6.

You need a hobby, she says, or a goal.

I have a goal, he replies, though he describes it as a "calling".

He wants to give "Does" back their names.

His obsession began two decades ago, when Lori told him about the unidentified young woman wrapped in canvas whose body her father had stumbled on in Georgetown, Ky., in 1968. She had reddish brown hair and a gap-toothed smile. And no one knew her name.

So locals blessed her with one. They buried her under an apple tree with a pink granite tombstone engraved with the words "Tent Girl." (See image below):

At 37, Matthews is a sensitive soul who has always felt an affinity for the dead, perhaps because two of his siblings died just after birth. Matthews still chokes up when he visits the graves of Gregory Kenneth and Sue Ann. But at least he knows where they are buried.

Tent Girl haunted him. Who were her siblings? What was her name?

Matthews began searching library records and police reports, not even sure what he was seeking. He scraped together the money to buy a computer. He started scouring message boards on the nascent Internet.

In the process, Matthews discovered something extraordinary. All over the country, people just like him were gingerly tapping into the new technology, creating a movement — a network of amateur sleuths as curious and impassioned as Matthews.

Today the Doe Network has volunteers and chapters in every state. Bank managers and waitresses, factory workers and farmers, computer technicians and grandmothers, all believing that with enough time and effort, modern technology can solve the mysteries of the missing dead.

Increasingly, they are succeeding.

The unnamed dead are everywhere — buried in unmarked graves, tagged in county morgues, dumped in rivers and under bridges, interred in potter's fields and all manner of makeshift tombs. There are more than 40,000 unnamed bodies in the U.S., according to national law enforcement reports, and about 100,000 people formally listed as missing.

The premise of the Doe Network is simple. If the correct information — dental records, DNA, police reports, photographs — is properly entered into the right databases, many of the unidentified can be matched with the missing. Law enforcement agencies and medical examiners offices simply don't have the time or manpower. Using the Internet and other tools, volunteers can do the job.

And so, in the suburbs of Chicago, bank executive Barbara Lamacki spends her nights searching for clues that might identify toddler Johnny "Dupage" Doe, whose body was wrapped in a blue laundry bag and dumped in the woods of rural Dupage County, Ill., in 2005. (See image below):

In Kettering, Ohio, Rocky Wells, a 47-year-old manager of a package delivery company, scoots his teenage daughters from the living room computer and scours the Internet for anything that might crack the case of the red-haired Jane Doe found strangled near Route 55 in 1981. "Buckskin Girl",  she was called, because of the cowboy-style suede jacket she was wearing when she was found. (See image below):

And in Penn Hills, Pa., Nancy Monahan, 54, who creates floor displays for a discount chain, says her "real job" begins in the evening when she returns to her creaky yellow house and her black cat, Maxine, turns on her computer and starts sleuthing.

Monahan's cases include that of "Beth Doe", a young pregnant woman strangled, shot and dismembered, her remains stuffed into three suitcases and flung off a bridge along Interstate 80 near White Haven in December 1976.
(See image below):

And "Homestead Doe",  whose mummified body was found in an abandoned railroad tunnel in Pittsburgh in 2000. Her toenails were painted silver. (See image below):

Monahan was so moved that last year she sought out the tunnel, climbed down the embankment and offered a silent prayer for the young woman whose life ended in such a pitiful place.

"It's like they become family," Monahan says. "You feel a responsibility to bring them home."

The stories of Doe Network members are as individual as the cases they are trying to solve. Bobby Lingoes got involved through his connection with law enforcement — he's a civilian dispatcher with the Quincy, Mass., police department. Traycie Sherwood of Richmond, Mo., joined when her adoptive mother died and she went on line searching for her birth mother. Daphne Owings, a 45-year-old mother of two in Mount Pleasant, S.C., needed something to take her mind off the war when her husband was sent to Iraq. Carol Cielecki of Whitehall, Pa., was searching for her ex-husband.

And Laura Allen Hood (Episode 6 Guest) of Fort Smith, Ark., was searching for her brother. (See image below):

For years, Hood refused to speak about Tony (Episode 6), who vanished without a trace in 1978 while visiting friends in Oklahoma. He was 16, two years older than his sister. Her parents tried to shelter the family from the pain, tried to make life for his siblings as normal as possible. But, she says, "it never leaves your mind." (See image below):

Hood describes years of false sightings and false hope — stalking someone in a car because he looked like Tony, picking up hitchhikers who bore a resemblance, her mother wrapping a Christmas present year after year for the son who never came home.

It wasn't until 2004, when Hood's own son became a teenager that she decided to find her brother once and for all. Trolling the Internet she discovered the Doe Network. Sifting through its vast indexes, she found new reason to hope.

For the first time in her life, Hood e-mailed a stranger — Matthews in Tennessee: "Can you help me find my brother?" she pleaded.

Matthews responded with a series of questions. Was the case filed as missing with the National Crime Information Center, an FBI clearinghouse? Did she have dental records or relevant medical information? Had the family submitted DNA to law enforcement?

Finally, Matthews asked for a photograph of Hood's brother, which he forwarded to one of the professional forensic artists who donate time to the network.

Nothing prepared Hood for the black-and-white image that filled her computer screen a few weeks later. Gone was the long hair and devil-may-care grin. Smiling, ghost-like, but yet so very real — the artist's depiction of a middle-aged Tony.

Hood stared at the image, her mind racing. Was he alive? Dead? Did she really want to know?

Four years later, Tony Allen has still not been found. There have been a number of false matches, though, and each narrows the search. Hood says she feels a new sense of certainty that someday, someone will click on a mouse and find a connection.

Matches can be triggered by a single detail — a tattoo, a piece of clothing, a broken bone. It's just a question of the right person spotting the right piece of information and piecing together the puzzle. The process can be tedious and frustrating; months or even years of endless late-night clicking on a dizzying array of sites can often lead nowhere.

And it can take its toll. Lori Matthews once left her husband for six months because of his obsession with Tent Girl. "He didn't talk about anything else," she said. "It wasn't normal."

They reconciled after Matthews agreed to limit the amount of time — and money — he spent on "Does."

Still, Matthews and others say the rewards of cracking a case make the time worthwhile. The Doe Network claims to have assisted in solving more than 40 cases and ruling out hundreds more.

Successes are not entirely joyous, says Kylen Johnson, a 38-year-old computer technician from Clarksburg, Md. "On the one hand, you are giving families the information they have been searching for. On the other, you are extinguishing all hope that their missing loved one will be found alive."

Johnson tells of a Kentucky woman who had been searching for her ex-husband for 18 years. The woman described a tattoo on his shoulder — the initials "RGJ".  Johnson, with other Doe volunteers, was able to track down a John Doe with identical markings in Vermont.

Johnson still marvels at how grateful the woman was at the other end of the phone. And at how strange it felt, that someone would thank her for finding out their husband had been murdered.

"Nothing you find can be any worse than something that has already gone through your mind," says Mary Weir of Palmer, Alaska, describing the sickening moment when she spotted an artist's rendition of her 18-year-old daughter's face on the Network.

Samantha Bonnell (Episode 74) had been missing for 19 months. She was killed while running across a California highway in 2005, and buried in an unmarked grave — Jane Doe 17-05. (See image below):

"Her name wasn't Jane Doe," Weir said, her words punctuated by sobs.

"She was Samantha, my Samantha and she had curly red hair and green eyes and freckles on her face. And she was a real person and she was loved. She wasn't just a number. She was funny and maddening and she wrote her first resume at 10 — for a baby-sitting job! And she read Shakespeare for fun. And she was just bigger and brighter than the rest of us, and the world is worse off for not having her."

Bonnell's remains were exhumed last year. She was buried in her native Oregon beneath a headstone carved with her name.

Today her mother actively lobbies the state government to pass legislation making it easier to file missing-persons reports for people 18 and over — some local authorities are slow to pursue missing adults, saying they have every right to go missing — and mandating DNA samples be taken from family members within 30 days of a report being filed. Several states already have such laws and many others are considering them.

"I don't care who you are," Weir says, "to be buried with no name implies that your life didn't matter, that you were just discarded like trash. I wanted better for my daughter — and for all the other missing people out there."

"They do God's work," says Mark Czworniak, 50, a veteran homicide detective in Chicago.

He first encountered the Doe Network when he was approached by Lamacki, the Chicago bank executive, about potential matches. Unlike some officers, Czworniak has no hesitation about working with civilian volunteers, especially those willing to devote endless hours to cold cases that he cannot get to.

Czworniak says there are hundreds of "Does" in the department files. He is assigned five, including a tall, thirtysomething man found at the Navy Pier in 2003. Czworniak hopes that the man's height will help Lamacki or another Network volunteer eventually make an identification.

"She's like a little bloodhound," says Czworniak, who exchanges e-mails with Lamacki on cases every week and has introduced her to other detectives. "She has the wherewithal and interest and time and she searches these sites I'm not even aware of."

Such praise was rare in the early days of the network, when overeager members were more likely to be derided as "Doe nuts" by police and medical examiners. That changed partly as the organization imposed stricter rules on who could join and developed a system of area directors, researchers and media representatives. Now a potential "solve" is rigorously vetted — and voted on — by a 16-member panel, and potential matches are submitted to law enforcement agencies only by designated members.

In another sign of the network's influence, Matthews was asked to serve on a government task force involved in creating the first national online data bank for missing and unidentified.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, NamUS, launched last year, is made up of two databases, one for the missing and one for the unidentified. The goal is to have medical examiners and law enforcement agencies around the country constantly update information on both sites. Next year the sites will be linked and made available for public searching.

No one believes NamUS will put the Doe Network out of business — there will always be a need for people with their expertise to make the necessary connections.

And so, families of the missing will no doubt continue to rely on people like Todd Matthews.

At his house in Livingston, Matthews has built a little nook next to the living room — his "Doe office," he calls it. His desk is laden with pictures of dead bodies. He says he gets many e-mails about cases every week. Every night he scrolls down the lists, searching for new information:

Unidentified White Female. Wore a necklace of silver beads and three small turquoise stones, one resembling a bird. Found in a Calendonia cornfield in New York state in 1979. (See image below):

Unidentified White female.  Strawberry blonde hair and 12 infant teeth. Wearing a pink and white dress that buttoned in the back and a disposable diaper. Found Jackson County, Mississippi, 1982. (See image below):

Unidentified Black Female.  Gunshot wound to the skull. Found next to highway ramp in Campbell County, Tennessee, in 1998. (See image below):

The last case is close to Matthews' heart. Sally, he named her, after a Campbell County police officer entrusted him with her skull in 2001.

The police didn't have the time or means to pay for a clay reconstruction, and so — with the approval of the local coroner — Matthews took the skull to a Doe Network forensic artist. A picture of the reconstructed head was placed on the Network site. The skull sat on Matthews' desk for over a year, and even Lori, who was at first so horrified she couldn't look at it, grew fond of Sally. She remains unidentified.

But even Sally cannot take the place of the first Doe, the one who changed Matthews' life. He still regularly drives to Kentucky, to a lonely plot in Georgetown to visit her.

"She's family now," he says.

Standing by her grave, he tells of the night in 1998 when, scouring chat rooms for the missing, he stumbled upon a message from Rosemary Westbrook of Benton, Ark.

Westbrook sought information about her sister, Bobbie, who was 24 when she went missing 30 years earlier. Bobbie had married a man who worked in a carnival, and she was last seen in Lexington. She had reddish brown hair and a gap-toothed smile.

Over and over Matthews stared at the message. And in his heart he knew.

Lori, he cried, racing into the bedroom and shaking awake his wife

"I've found her. I found Tent Girl."

E-mails were exchanged. Phone calls were made. When Matthews received a photograph of Westbrook's sister, he had no doubt. She looked just like the forensic artist's portrait sketched years earlier — the one engraved on Tent Girl's headstone, the one that had obsessed him for years.

Weeks later the remains were exhumed. The match was confirmed by DNA.

"It was the best peace of mind in the world," Westbrook says. "What Todd did for our family ... I can't describe it ... I don't have the words. Just to have a grave to visit means everything when you have been wondering for so long."

The family decided to re-inter Bobbie in the place that had been her resting spot for so many years. Beneath the stone etched "Tent Girl" they placed a small gray one engraved with her real name, the name that Matthews had restored.

She was Barbara Ann Hackmann, now and for eternity.

If you have any information about any of these cases
featured in this episode:


Text Version:

(Introduction to show begins)

ALISON STEWART:  Back in February of 1994, the body of an unidentified teen-aged girl was found in the middle of a field off a Florida highway.  With no way to tell who she was or where she was from, she was buried in an unmarked grave and all but forgotten.  Last week the 14-year-old cold case was finally solved.  The body in the grave, 17-year-old Heather Ann Schmoll, a Minnesota girl who was last heard from on New Year’s Day in 1994.

   The ID came with the help of a group of amateur detectives; they’re called the Doe Network.  It’s a non-profit organization of volunteers that uses Internet databases and old-fashioned sleuthing to unravel the identities of nameless corpses in public morgues or buried in anonymous graves.  According to federal law enforcement reports, there are more than 40,000 Jane, John and Baby Does waiting to be identified.

    Joining us now to explain just what these so-called advocates for the dead do, is Todd Matthews, who is a volunteer and the media director of the Doe Network, International Center for Unidentified and Missing Persons.  Hi Todd.

TODD MATTHEWS:  Hi.  Good morning ladies.

RACHEL MARTIN:  Thanks for being here.  So you call the work that the Doe Network does ‘Techni-criminology.’  Walk us through how the network handles a case like that of Heather Ann Schmoll, someone who has been missing and unidentified for such a long time.

TODD MATTHEWS:  You know it’s almost…it seems difficult, but it’s really very, very simple.  You know we basically get case files from law enforcement, from their websites or through direct submissions, and just present them to the public and often enough the public or law enforcement will benefit from having that information available and will contact us with possible matches.

RACHEL MARTIN:  So, you’re not actually solving crimes usually, you’re just putting information out there so that other people can make the connections.

TODD MATTHEWS:  Gathering the data, but often enough some of our very own members actually make the connection in the process of gathering data.

RACHEL MARTIN:  Now, your website details several hundreds of unidentified victims and thousands of unexplained disappearances from all over really –- North America, Europe and Australia.  How do you originally get that data?  How is it culled?

TODD MATTHEWS:  A lot of this data is gathered through the news media and then we have to validate it through local law enforcement and that’s not very easy.  That’s the biggest challenge I think we have is gathering and validating the data.  So we’re looking at data that has come out in the news media, but then we have to turn around and re-look at it and make sure it’s still current and still actually an open case.

RACHEL MARTIN:  So, you do the research from media reports, you publish all that information through the network and you eventually try to make a match.  What’s your success rate been?

TODD MATTHEWS:  We have over 40+ solves and that’s direct and indirect, you know, either ourselves doing it or coming from the public or law enforcement using the site but there are so many hours that go into that.  You know I like to think that this is a success, but you know, if you had to fund this, if this was a funded law enforcement organization, I don’t think it would be possible to create that type of funding.

RACHEL MARTIN:  Because it’s just too time-consuming?

TODD MATTHEWS:  Oh, yeah.  I mean, if you knew the thousands of hours, you know, people like me spending 40 to 60 hours a week after they come home from their day job doing this.  You know, how would a government pay people to do this?  There’s no way.  You have to tap into the volunteer nature of people.

RACHEL MARTIN:  Well, let’s talk a little bit about that.  Who are these people, yourself included?  I mean that’s a lot of time, 40 to 60 hours a week outside of a day job.  Who are the volunteers of the Doe Network?

TODD MATTHEWS:  You can see the core team in the volunteers of the Doe Network, the area directors, they’re the persons that represent directly the states involved.  An area director will gather data, confirm it with law enforcement, and they personally become that person that communicates with law enforcement in that state –- a familiar face.  So you develop a relationship with law enforcement and it’s easier to get through so you’re not submitting a tip blind.  And, you know, we have over 500 fairly active members, but the core team is exactly what you see on the website.  We’ll get a lot of people that will want to volunteer but often you have to screen.  There’s so much of a screening process that you have to go through for something like this.  You don’t want to get the wrong person and put them out there as a potential representative of your organization.

RACHEL MARTIN:  Well, let’s talk a little bit about that.  What are you trying to avoid in a volunteer?

TODD MATTHEWS:  Well, what if it’s a criminal?  What if it’s somebody involved in a homicide?  You know we don’t have resources to get out there and just really screen somebody, so we have to do the best that we can.  It takes time.  We’ve gotten a lot of emails since the AP article, “Your membership is closed,” and it does say that it’s closed on the website, but you can contact our membership coordinator, and the directions are on the page, and it’s just going to take time and we add people as we need people and you know you’re looking for that diamond in the rough.   You know you’re looking for that person, that’s the right person, and I think that this work chooses you rather than you choosing it.

RACHEL MARTIN:  Now, did you get any pushback from law enforcement officials?  Now, you talk about a collaborative spirit, but at the beginning, I imagine the FBI or police would say, “Listen people, you don’t know…you’re not professionals.”

TODD MATTHEWS:  Well, I think you might have read the term ‘Doe-Nuts’ in some publications, I think it was an up-and-coming group, you know, what can we do?  It happens a lot.  You see a lot of little organizations that pop up and chat groups and they can be annoying to law enforcement; I’ve been annoyed by massive emails that come in from people that think they have these theories and you know we were no more than that ourselves at the time, but you know, in time.

RACHEL MARTIN:  Now, Todd, you were involved…your first foray into this whole thing was a case known as ‘Tent Girl,’ an unidentified woman whose body was found in 1968, and you really became so involved with this.  What is it about this work that is so important to you?  What keeps driving you to do this?

TODD MATTHEWS:  It’s the people.  You know, that one case, I wish the Doe Network existed then, I might have had someone to go to, and I wouldn’t have had such…you know it caused a lot of emotional problems for me, a lot of problems in my relationship with my wife, but if I had a group of people that I could have worked with then, it would have been a lot easier, you know I was alone at the time.

RACHEL MARTIN:  And it caused problems within your own family, just because of how involved you were?

TODD MATTHEWS:  Because that case was my sole focus.  You know it wasn’t that I was neglecting my family, but I think they felt like maybe I was because I was so involved in it.  Three hundred dollar phone bills when you’re making minimum wage, you know, how can you explain that?

RACHEL MARTIN:  And so why do you do it?

TODD MATTHEWS:  I had to with the ‘Tent Girl.’  With the ‘Tent Girl’ there was no choice, and I never want to be that consumed ever again, and that’s why I like to work with the Doe Network because I can paint with a really broad brush, here today, advocating for many, all at the same time, rather than trying to do that one-on-one and getting too personally involved in it.  You know we get personally involved every day, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want it to ever take my life over.  I don’t want to get into that spot again where you have to be on top of everything constantly.  Now, I can step back and affect the cause as a whole.

RACHEL MARTIN:  And help a lot of families in the process put names to these missing people.  Hey, Todd Matthews, volunteer media director of the Doe Network, thank you so much for sharing your story and your work; we appreciate it.

TODD MATTHEWS:  Thank you for having me.

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Aired: April 05, 2008
Sleuths Name Anonymous Dead
Todd Matthews at the grave marker of "Some Mother's Boy"
Associated Press © 2008
Audio Courtesy of: npr (National Public Radio)
Hosted by: Alison Stewart and Rachel Martin, April 03, 2008
Click here for more information about
"Some Mother's Boy"
"Tent Girl"
Johnny "Dupage" Doe
(Doe Network Case # 886UMIL)
"Buckskin Girl"
(Doe Network Case # 133UFOH)
"Beth Doe"
(Doe Network Case # 169UFPA)
"Tony Allen"
(Featured on Missing Pieces Episode 6)
"Samantha Bonnell"
(Featured on Missing Pieces Episode 74)
1979 Calendonia New York State Jane Doe
(Doe Network Case #1UFNY)
1982 Jackson County Mississippi Jane Doe
(Doe Network Case #45UFMS)
1998 Campbell County Tennessee Jane Doe
(Doe Network Case #223UFTN)
"Homestead Doe"
(Doe Network Case # 143UFPA)
Special Thanks to
for transcribing this episode!
Click here to add text.

All these cases need often is a bit of exposure and they will be solved...

Cynthia "Cindy" Neisler was reported missing by her family in 2002.  Cindy's sister called the medical examiner's office on
April 4, 2008.  They discussed a possible match to a decedent their office had been seeking the identity to and the possibility of her being a mach to Neisler.  As a result of those discussions, Cindy's mother contacted Cindy's dentist and obtained dental radiographs for comparison. They arrived in less than an hour. The radiographs were compared to those taken of the decedent and they were an exact match.

Cindy's family credits the television show  "The M & J Show" from New York on the Fox Network for mentioning the DOE Network.  Cindy's family researched the DOE website and found the reconstructive sketch of 483UFGA – her family said the sketch "looked just like her"

"Although I am saddened by the grief Cindy's family is experiencing, I am glad they now have closure and can lay Cindy to rest.  I hope you and other DOE Network volunteers find as much fulfillment in reuniting this family, even in their grief, as we do here at this office.  To all of you, well done and thank you. Without your work Cindy's family would remain one of the thousands waiting and searching for those they love."

(Fulton County Medicial Examiner's Office)

All these cases need often is a bit of exposure and they will be solved.
Plus Project EDAN's own Wes Neville provided the reconstruction image - and the family seems to think it looked just like her. So it was the show that got folks to the site and the artwork that moved them forward. Perfect. This process can be repeated countless times.


Sketch of Fulton County Jane Doe family finds striking resemblance to missing
loved one Cynthia Neisler
(Doe Network Case # 483UFGA)
(Case File Listed in NamUs - UDRS)