A few years back, I became involved in trying to give an unidentified woman her name back. The Houston Press did an article on her case based on the efforts of some wonderful people and myself. She was found off of a service road in Brazoria County, Texas. There were many murdered women who were dumped in and around this area in Brazoria County. When a local pulled off of the road to relieve himself, he found the remains which were skeletal. According to the medical examiner, her remains had been there for a few years. No one knew who she was, and to this day she remains unidentified.
What intrigued me about this particular case was the Class of 1975 Robert E. Lee High School class ring that was on her finger. The school was located in Houston, Texas, and has since been renamed “Lee High School”. One would think that this would be a great clue and would make the chore of identifying her very easy. Not so. My former admin at someoneknowsme.com, myself and others used the Robert E. Lee High School 1975 yearbook that we purchased to harvest names of students who might have owned that class ring and lost it somewhere, or maybe someone had given the ring as a gift. We had hope that we might find the owner of that ring. After many hundreds of letters were sent out, and countless telephone calls to the investigators in Brazoria County, Texas she still has no name. Out of respect for her, and the desire to give her a real name, we called her Princess Blue. It has been over 20 years since Princess Blue’s remains were discovered. To this day, her identity remains a mystery.
Sadly, Princess Blue’s case is not unique. In 2009 there were more than 40,000 dead Americans in morgues throughout our country. Over the last 50-years their remains were pulled from watery graves or from deadend roads similar to the secluded area that Princess Blue was dumped. These people were found by unknowing hunters or individuals who were just out for a nature walk. Their bodies may have been hidden beneath shallow graves or wrapped in trash bags and tossed into roadside ditches as if they were garbage just waiting for someone to stumble upon them. They all share a common name – Doe. They are the unidentified persons who sit in medical examiners’ offices until the day that they are identified and returned to their loved ones for proper interment. Here is another good article in which the author calls this issue a “silent mass disaster”.
The International Homicide Investigators Association president states that the number of unidentified persons in the United States is probably more like 60,000. Nearly all have been murdered and their bodies disposed of. At any given time there are more than 100,000 missing persons across the nation. Even more frightening than the number of persons who remain unidentified is the fact that only 15% of these individuals have had DNA samples collected and entered into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). CODIS fosters the exchange and comparison of forensic DNA evidence from violent crime investigations and is responsible for identifying some of the nameless. Even though CODIS is a wonderful tool that provides DNA analysis, it is not utilized to the fullest extent because medical examiners are not required to enter DNA of unidentified persons into the database. Only a few states require that medical examiners do so. This causes a stall in an investigation, and if the unidentified person has already been buried or cremated, it makes it impossible to ever be able to identify them through DNA.
There is also a terrible backlog in obtaining DNA analysis information. There is a 6 to 9-month backlog and there is a massive shortage in trained research analysts which further stalls the retrieval of DNA input.
The other issue which prevents these 40,000 people from being promptly identified is with the four federal databases that are used to solve crimes. They are:
- CODIS (Combined DNA Index System)
- AIFAS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System)
- NCIC (National Crime Information Center)
- VICAP (Violent Crime Apprehension Program)
These four federal databases are not able to communicate with each other. This creates a further disconnect between the federal agencies and law enforcement, as well as leaving countless John and Jane Does unidentified.
The Doe Network does an outstanding job of indexing unidentified persons, as well as missing persons. They have sorted the data into time periods, by gender and by geographic location where the remains were found or from where the individual went missing. It is a great resource and I encourage everyone to go over and take a look at the site. Who knows – maybe you will be responsible for giving someone their name back. Every unidentified deserves to have their name back.