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The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America S Coldest Cases [Hardcover]

Deborah Halber

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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars highly entertaining anecdotal look at how amateurs are solving cold cases 7 July 2014
By she treads softly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber is a very highly recommended, fascinating anecdotal look at how amateurs are solving cold cases.

Chances are you know of a cold case, an unsolved murder right in your own city. Startlingly, according to what Halber discovered, chances are also "good that you or someone you know has at one point stumbled over a dead body. There are shockingly large numbers of them out there. According to the national institute of Justice, America is home to tens of thousands of unidentified human remains, with four thousand more turning up every year: intrepid adventurers or athletes who left their IDs at home; victims of accidents and mass disasters; suicides; undocumented immigrants; the homeless; runaway teenagers; victims of serial killers; and those who cast off a former identity, changed names, and left no forwarding address." Location 159

These cases are often given "mournful monikers" from the communities in which their bodies were found and become known as the "Tent Girl, Somerton man, Princess Doe, Saltair Sally, the Boy in the Box, the Belle in the Well, the Lady Who Danced Herself to Death." I can think of several unsolved cases where I currently live and know of others from various other communities I've lived in over the years. The number of unsolved cases is shocking. It is easy to see why law enforcement officials don't prioritize these unsolved cases when there are so many other crimes that can be solved.

While amateur detectives did try to solve some of these cases over the years, often searching for a missing relative, the age of the internet has dramatically changed their success rate. Now these same amateurs have access to much more information and they often have the time and desire to solve these cold cases. It becomes a rather macabre hobby where members have created online communities based on providing information on the cold cases and virtually compete with each other to try to solve them.

"By 2001, the same unidentified corpses that were once almost universally ignored had evolved into tantalizing clues in a massive, global version of Concentration played around the clock by a hodgepodge of self-styled amateur sleuths, a dedicated skeleton crew that shared a desire to match faces to names—and names to dead bodies. Anybody with an idealistic bent, a lot of time, and a strong stomach could sign on: a stay-at-home mom in New York, a chain store cashier in Mississippi, a nurse in Nebraska, a retired cop and his exotic-dancer girlfriend in Houston." Location 376

Halber actually looks at some of these cold cases and the legends that have sprung up around them. Intertwined in the stories about the cold cases is information about the amateurs who are spending vast amounts of personal time trying to solve them. As these online communities share tips and information on discussion boards like Cold Cases and the Doe Network, they can also get overly competitive and combative with each other. Even so, many law enforcement officials are benefiting from their skills at solving these very cold cases.

Halber writes in a very conversational, anecdotal, personal style that, after glancing at other reviews, I'm guessing you either like or don't like. I happened to enjoy The Skeleton Crew a lot and part of that enjoyment was in Halber's treatment of the topic. I found The Skeleton Crew highly entertaining. She's a great writer and, much like the cold cases she's discussing and her amateurs are trying to solve, sometimes the trail to the solution takes a few meanders before you find the identity of the deceased.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Simon & Schuster for review purposes.

Contents:
Prologue: The Well Driller
The Ultimate Identity Crisis
You Can Disappear Here
It’s the Ethernet, my Dear Watson
Ghost Girls
Bring out Your Dead
Inside Reefer
The Perks of Being Ornery
Seekers of Lost Souls
How to make a John Doe
Finding Bobbie Ann
Quackie is Dead
The Head in the Bucket
The Hippie and the Lawman
The oldest Unsolved Case in Massachusetts
Relief, Sadness, Success
Epilogue
Acknowledgments
Endnotes
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read. 2 July 2014
By Tiana G. Tozer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Picked up an advanced copy of The Skeleton Crew at a writer’s conference and loved it. It’s like a cross between profiling and true crime. So if you like Ann Rule and John Douglas you’ll like this book. Or if you like true crime, but can’t handle the gore, this book is for you. In a sophisticated voice Halber provides us the unique combination of a journalistic eye and a personal journey. Unlike other true crime I’ve read, Halber’s writing is more complex touching on the politics of the amateur cold case sleuths, their motivations, interactions with law enforcement and their painstaking journey’s in search of the truth. We never find out whodunit or why, but that didn’t bother me, because for The Skeleton Crew the most important question is who is it? The goal is to bring them home.

One of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting material but book jumps from one topic to another 3 July 2014
By cem - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Maybe this book is intended for the summer beach crowd; for nonfiction it is very light read. It relies a lot on stories and anecdotes rather than statistics. The book jumps from subject to subject and time period from time period without any logical connection.

The “Skeleton Crew” are amateurs who go through the web trying to match missing persons to unidentified bodies. This matching of unidentified remains to missing persons aids the police in catching the killers and brings closure to the relatives of the missing persons. Despite what one sees on television, forensics is more of an art than a science. Humans are more successful and matching missing persons to unidentified remains than computers because forensic evidence is not clear cut. Forensics in many ways is more like an art then a science. Computers can’t pick up when the forensics is wrong and aren't good at matching sketches to actual human faces.

The book persuaded me that these amateur detectives are quite useful to law enforcement though they are not always liked by the police. Volunteers have the skills the computers don’t have and the time that law enforcement does not have in reviewing records of missing persons and unidentified bodies.

However, the book does have some flaws. It is not clearly organized and it took me awhile to understand the subject. The story jumps from one topic to another with no apparent rhyme or reason. I found the chronologically unclear and I was confused about the different web sites used by the “skeleton crew”. The book goes from one cold case to another without first finishing one.
I would be more critical of the book's organization if I did not learn so much from the book. Despite its organizational problems, the book was able to convey some important information to me. Before I read this book I did not realize that even with modern science it is still hard to identify a body. There are many unidentified bodies is this country. When I was reading the book, I heard about the number of unidentified remains there were from the September 11 World Trade Center. I don't remember what the figure was but it was very high which truly surprised me considering that families and friends would most likely know that the unidentified persons where in the area during September 11.

I liked the in the book the ordinary person has something to contribute to the expert and how the web was being used to gather information. It is also nice to know that humans still have skills that computers don't have.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Non-Fiction Read for Mystery Lovers 10 July 2014
By Amy L. Yingling - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Author Deborah Halber brings to the page tales of the volunteers that spend their lives hoping to give names to the thousands of unidentified dead that go unclaimed in the United States each year. These volunteers go over missing persons information and information complied by the medical examiners across the country looking for any clue that will help to match an unidentified body to that of a missing person case.

Halber interviews a few citizen volunteers that take this what seems to be macabre type hobby and shows you that these volunteers mean business and this is not some weird fascination with death but something that is important in the struggle to identify the unidentified and to help bring closure to those who have a missing family member that has yet to be identified waiting to be found and given their name back so that them may go home.

There are not tons and tons of success stories because the information given to these volunteers is of course limited and even when they do contact law enforcement they are often not taken seriously but the fact that there has been any success at all with such limited information really shows what these volunteers are made of. Using the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, which is run by the U.S. Department of Justice and through web groups such as the Doe Network these volunteers have done what not many are willing to do.

I found this book interesting and even though it tackled a tough subject I didn't find the information contained in the book to be overly frightening, which translates to "I didn't have to sleep with my light on!"
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! 7 July 2014
By Tiana G. Tozer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Picked up an advanced copy of The Skeleton Crew at a writer’s conference and loved it. It’s like a cross between profiling and true crime. So if you like Ann Rule and John Douglas you’ll like this book. Or if you like true crime, but can’t handle the gore, this book is for you. In a sophisticated voice Halber provides us the unique combination of a journalistic eye and a personal journey. Unlike other true crime I’ve read, Halber’s writing is more complex touching on the politics of the amateur cold case sleuths, their motivations, interactions with law enforcement and their painstaking journey’s in search of the truth. We never find out whodunit or why, but that didn’t bother me, because for The Skeleton Crew the most important question is who is it? The goal is to bring them home.

One of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time
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