Naming The Nameless
Interview on The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet
Todd Matthews, Laura Hood and Mary Weir
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.
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?
LAURA HOOD: Right.
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?
LAURA HOOD: No.
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.
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.
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.
MARY WEIR: Yeah.
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.
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.
LAURA HOOD: Right.
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.