Web sleuths help solve cold cases


FOR MENTAL HEALTH counselor Sheree Greenwood, the key to the case was a distinctive T-shirt; Bobby Lingoes homed in on some tattooed initials; and Tonya Finsterwald fixated on the unidentified body in New Jersey wearing swimming trunks and a missing Pennsylvania man who loved water sports.

All three of these amateur sleuths used freely available Internet resources to help reunite the unidentified dead with their names.

Such cases are mysterious and vexing, especially in an era when identities are so inescapably public. Over the past decade, the Internet helped create a growing army of volunteers who, with nothing more than a computer and the uniquely human ability to spot similarities buried in mountains of data, are helping bring closure to families and spurring law enforcement to reopen the most frigid of cold cases.

These amateur sleuths share information gleaned from newspapers and other public sources on websites created for just that purpose, and they connect with one another, but not necessarily face-to-face. Participants across the country range from Web-surfing college students to professionals like Dan Brady, a software sales rep from Holliston, to stay-at-home moms who are true-crime fiends. “You meet other people, and develop relationships with some you’ll never meet in person,” Greenwood said. Brady said he regularly corresponds with a dozen Web sleuths he wouldn’t recognize on the street.

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