What is NamUs? It’s the National Missing & Unidentified Person’s System. A National Institute of Justice sponsored program operated by the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
My day to day job is with NamUs is as Director of the Office of Communications & Outreach. An accidental career that evolved from my work on a Jane Doe case from 1968. “Tent Girl” was the moniker for human remains found by my father-in-law 2 years before I was born.
After working on the case for a decade myself, it became the first such case resolved by using the Internet. Even during the search for a single answer I had no clue the magnitude of the issue.
Most people do not realize until a personal encounter – myself included – that there are over 40,000 cases of unidentified remains in the USA . The greatest majority of these cases are murder victims. Imagine – that many cases means that many crimes unresolved and unpunished.
Many refer to the missing and unidentified as a mass disaster over an extended period of time. These cases stretch back for decades. Thankfully the majority of cases are resolved fairly quickly thanks to modern technology. But some remain unsolved and add the backlog of cold cases.
Thanks to the data sharing capability of NamUs, we are seeing 30 + year old cases being resolved more often. Not so long ago the resolution of a decades old case was a rare thing. Still impressive but not so rare now.
Also very important is word of mouth and the mainstream media. Books, blogs and newspapers fueled by volunteer efforts like The DoeNetwork have proven vital in the solving of cases once considered “unsolvable.”
As NamUs developed it had become clear that the power of the public was needed to resolve the backlog. When all other efforts to identify have fallen short of an ID , the eyes of the masses can play a vital role.
Ideally, when seeking tips from the public, you hope to hear from a personal contact or eyewitness to a crime. Sometimes the tip can come from a total stranger who harnessed the power of the Internet to research clues like tattoos, clothing, medical implants etc. With a backlog like 40,000 + cases you need all the help you can get. But the last thing you need is a wild goose chase.
Through programs like NamUs and well organized volunteer efforts like DoeNetwork, it is possible to responsibly engage the public to help resolve decades old cases. With communication, awareness and appropriate data sharing – the public can become the largest resource available.