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Amateur sleuths solving cases
Scripps Howard News Service


October 04, 2005

Amateur detectives have played an increasing role in solving John, Jane and Baby Doe cases in recent years, often using the Internet to make links between reports of missing people and unidentified bodies that overwhelmed police departments failed to notice. Here are five examples:

Barbara Hackman-Taylor - An oil-well driller working near Georgetown, Ky., in 1968 spotted the canvas-wrapped, decomposed body of a young woman. Police investigated for 30 years but never identified the victim, estimated at 16 to 19 years old. But Todd Matthews became obsessed with the mystery of the "Tent Girl" - as she'd been dubbed by Kentucky newspapers - and spent hundreds of late-night hours reviewing missing-person reports. In 1998, Matthews found an Internet message from the sister of 25-year-old Barbara Hackman-Taylor, who disappeared from Lexington in 1967. "Wake up," Matthews shouted at his sleeping wife. "I found her."

Jennifer Landry - Volunteer detective Tracie Fleischhut in June began entering information about New York City resident Jennifer Landry, 19, onto her missing-persons Web site when she noticed that a description of one of Landry's tattoos sounded familiar. The teenager had been missing since 2002. Fleischhut linked the case to a Jane Doe reported Aug. 15, 2002, by Mount Rainer, Md., police. "I knew instantly that I had found Jennifer Landry," said Fleischhut. Police later confirmed the match through fingerprints.

Tonya Gardner - This Reedsville, Pa., woman was reported missing from her home in 1996 but wasn't confirmed dead until 2003 by Kylen Johnson, a volunteer for the Doe Network. Johnson was reading a 7-year-old missing-person report on Gardner when he noticed similarities in her family's description of her surgical scars with those reported on a Jane Doe found along Interstate 70 in Lisbon, Md. The Pennsylvania State Police confirmed the match through dental records in April 2004.

Kelly Zaezlcal - Two Doe Network volunteers were credited with helping to identify a John Doe struck and killed by a train in 1992 near Victoria, Texas. Authorities only knew the victim's first name, Kelly. Eleven years later, Doe Network volunteers Robert Lingoes and Vickie Siedow checked missing-person records and found that Kelly Zaezlcal disappeared from Flint, Mich., in the same month as the train accident. Police said Zaezlcal's physical description matched that of the deceased in Texas.

Tina Leone - Police also credit the Doe Network for identifying this Lynn, Mass., woman who disappeared in 2003 and later was reported as a Jane Doe in Harford County, Md. A Doe Network volunteer made the match after reading descriptions of the two cases in an Internet chat room. "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 her," said Harford County Sheriff's spokesman Edward Hopkins. "They were definitely on target for us."


Contact Thomas Hargrove at HargroveT(at)

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