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The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases by [Halber, Deborah]
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The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases Kindle Edition

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"A compelling glimpse into a little-known subculture inhabited by a colorful cast of the idiosyncratic, the quirky, and the downright weird."--Alison Bass, author of Side Effects

""The Skeleton Crew" is a carefully crafted account of an intriguing new opportunity for arm chair sleuths. Thanks to the Internet, anyone with a computer, curiosity, patience, and a passion for justice can enter the dark world of missing persons and unsolved homicides. It's fascinating to learn how such matches are made and heartening to witness the growing cooperation between law enforcement and ordinary citizens whose persistence can sometimes crack the code in cold cases that have languished unresolved for years. I loved it."--Sue Grafton

"From home computer screens to a new national database, join the Skeleton Crew for a page-turning behind the scenes look at the world of internet sleuths that give names to the men and women who have died without identity. For the first time ever readers are brought the real life cases of missing persons, the unidentified dead and the network of people that give them their names . . . proving once again what I said at the conclusion of every episode of "America's Most Wanted" 'One person can make a difference.'"--John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted

"From home-computer screens to a new national database, join "The Skeleton Crew" for a page-turning behind-the-scenes look at the world of Internet sleuths who give names to the men and women who have died without identity. For the first time ever, readers are brought the real-life cases of missing persons, the unidentified dead, and the network of people that gives them their names . . . proving once again what I said at the conclusion of every episode of America's Most Wanted: 'One person can make a difference.'"--John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted

"In this highly addictive story-within-a-story narrative, Deborah Halber skillfully exposes the complex Internet subculture of amateur sleuths. The people who obsess over the fates and identities of Jane and John Does are puzzles in themselves, which adds a fascinating layer to this captivating book. "The Skeleton Crew" will likely inspire many more case resolutions."--Katherine Ramsland, author of The Devil's Dozen and Cemetery Stories

"Exploring the world of amateur sleuths, Halber proves to be the perfect guide: unflinching, perceptive, wry. I was hooked from page one."--Allison Hoover Bartlett, bestselling author of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

"An integral component of NamUs is the group of responsible, dedicated volunteers who scour case details in an effort to match long-term missing persons to unidentified decedents. In "The Skeleton Crew", Deborah Halber follows the journey of some of these volunteers who have made it their mission to assist criminal justice professionals in resolving those cases."--Arthur Eisenberg, PhD, Co-Director, UNT Center for Human Identification

"Halber's artful sleuthing into this little-known demimonde leaves one bloodthirsty for more."--Ted Botha, author of The Girl with the Crooked Nose

About the Author

Deborah Halber is a Boston-based journalist whose work has appeared in "The Boston Globe"; "Technology Review;"the interactive, illustrated digital magazine "Symbolia;" and many university publications. A native New Yorker, she received her BA from Brandeis University and an MA in journalism from New York University. A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Mystery Writers of America, and the National Association of Science Writers, she has chronicled breakthroughs in neuroscience, molecular biology, energy, and technology at MIT and Tufts, but is most enthralled with quantum weirdness, worm longevity, cell undertakers, and the properties of snail slime. Visit her at DeborahHalber.com.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1915 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (1 July 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #536,921 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars 80 reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but too unorganized and confusing to be great. 27 Sept. 2014
By Jaclyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
I am a true crime addict. I used to watch TruTV nonstop, back when it used to air a bunch of nonfiction crime shows instead of scripted reality tv, and now I watch Investigation Discovery incessantly. I was so excited about this book because it sounded so intriguing, plus I thought I could get some tips on how I could possibly become a "web sleuth" and help identify missing persons and unidentified remains.

While this book was interesting and definitely shared a lot of different true crime and missing persons stories, it wasn't as good as I was expecting it to be. It was instead a little confusing, frustrating, and hard to follow. The author not only jumps around chronologically with the cases, but she also jumps around with how she got involved in this endeavor and the various people she met and interviewed along the way. It just made for a confusing story overall. It was hard to keep track of who was who, because she jumped from person to person and case to case. It was also frustrating because I would get invested in one missing person case or web sleuth, but then she'd jump to another person or case before I got all the details I wanted from the first one. If or when the author would then jump back to a previous person or case, I couldn't remember any of the details because so much other info had been covered in the meantime, so I had to flip back through multiple pages to try to remember who or what we were talking about.

For instance, the author would start talking about a person and perhaps a case that person was involved in. While starting to talk about them, she'll mention another person and sidetrack to explain them, before backtracking to explain something else, and then sidetracking again, before eventually jumping back to the "first" story, or sometimes before jumping into something else entirely.

I guess I wanted this book to be more straightforward and linear. I was hoping to learn, perhaps, how the author became aware of this situation and started her research, and maybe that the book would follow her through her research as she interviewed various people. Or, I wish she would have focused on a couple people or cases as a time and told us about them and how they solved these cold cases. I didn't expect that the author would just jump around and first mention a particular case before jumping to this amateur detective and then starting explaining about a relative of that person before suddenly explaining about statistics of unidentified bodies and then abruptly going back to the cold case that was mention eons ago. All of this made it hard for me to really sink into the book because I couldn't keep any of the people, timeframes, or cases straight and I would start to get interested in something or someone before being jolted out of that topic and into another. I did feel the last few chapters of the book were a little easier to follow, as they seemed more focused on just one or two cases or people, and it didn't seem as all-over-the-place as the rest of the book.

Overall, this was a really interesting book with a lot of true crime tidbits. Unfortunately, I can't give it more than 3 stars because the way the book was organized was very confusing and frustrating at times. Regardless, still worth a read for anyone interested in the topic. A good book, but not great.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Awkward Read 6 Aug. 2014
By DAVID EPPARD - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is somewhat difficult to plow through as the author jumps from one item of case information to another rather following a simple narrative outline. The result is an awkward reading adventure. There is occasional bad grammar. Unforgiveable misspellings also occur. The blurbs on the back of the dust jacket overrate the book because of the dysfunctional way the book is written. Nevertheless, Ms. Halber relates a fascinating story of relentless, amateur detective work. I just wish the book had been composed in a more orderly fashion.
17 of 18 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.

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
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It was amazing to see what people could dig up about the ... 9 Sept. 2014
By Elaine Nally - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Skeleton Crew was a book frankly, I could not wait to read. When Natalee Holloway went missing in 2005, I was myself, drawn into the world of Internet armchair detectives. I joined several online forums and sat and discussed her case with many intriguing people who were dedicated to helping her Family to find closure. It was amazing to see what people could dig up about the "players" in her case. A computer and some sleuthing skills brought people together from around the globe. The cause for helping to solve cold cases grew and I found myself reading more and more about many other cases. A hobby of sorts. This book would be good for someone who hasn't already done some online sleuthing. It does cast light on some things the general public may not know about the inner workings of crime cases. I must agree however with some of the other reviewers that this book is disjointed and jumps around way too much. I have never seen a book that is written in a format quite like this before. You get really involved in a passage or two and the next thing you know she is discussing something totally different. When I got beyond the frustration of a topic which abruptly ended I would get into the next subject only to have the same frustration again. If you can get beyond all that the book is ok at best.
12 of 14 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 Celia - 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.
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