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March 23, 2004
Who are they? These images are a sampling of unidentified victims profiled on The Doe Network.
There are thousands of unnamed corpses in the United States, so-called John and Jane Does who have turned up over the last few decades in woods, rivers, alleys and dumpsters without any identification. An Internet-based group of volunteers who call themselves The Doe Network is working to name the nameless.
by Lona Manning
Todd Matthews has always known where he belongs. His home is in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, where the soft-spoken 33-year-old lives with his wife and two young sons. Home is where the ties to his past are as close as the quiet graveyard where his ancestors are buried. "I was born, live and work in a three-mile radius," Matthews explains. This may be why, he surmises, he is obsessed with helping people who are lost. Specifically, dead people who are lost.
Matthews's consuming passion is to investigate and identify "John Does," the anonymous corpses that are found in woods, rivers, by riverbanks, in alleys, and dumpsters throughout the country. There are over 5,400 John or Jane Does registered with the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), an FBI clearinghouse in West Virginia. There are thousands more cases -- nobody is sure how many -- reduced to a thin file folder, a box of bones in the evidence room, a nagging memory in the back of a retired detective's mind. Often, but not always, Does are the victims of foul play. Sometimes they took a wrong turn in life, becoming involved in drugs and crime. But, says Matthews, "No matter who they are, even no matter what they've done in life, you've got to think they're all God's children."