How to Solve a Murder With Just Your Computer


In researching and writing my new book, The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases, I came across a community of novice detectives tackling cases as thorny as those in any James Patterson novel. What makes some of these real-life cold cases even more perplexing is that the victims are unidentified.

The National Institute of Justice estimates that some 40,000 unidentified remains—the population of North Miami Beach—are stowed in the back rooms of morgues or crematoriums, or buried as Jane and John Does in potters’ fields. No one seems to claim the Does as they get passed among coroners, medical examiners and overworked detectives.

Yet the bodies often belong to missing people whose loved ones are actively searching for them, and the amateur web sleuths who solve their stories are motivated by a genuine desire to bring closure to families.

When the Internet was still in…

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