Tent Girl: A Lesson in Tenacity

In June, I posted on missing persons report in the United States, and stated that I was surprised to learn that in 2008, authorities listed 918 unidentified and recovered bodies and 199 unidentified living persons (those who could not remember who they were and police had been unable to identify them) in national databases.

In response, excellent blogger and police officer Christopher made this comment:

What's sad is someone can be completely missing, and there is not a soul in their life that is out there doing everything possible to find them.

Almost 200 living people who don't know who they are? Almost a thousand bodies not identified? It makes you wonder where the people who loved them are, or if they had them.
With this blog, I have tried to show how citizens, especially in missing persons cases, can assist police in generating leads.

I am certain that their are many sad stories to explain why no one is looking for so many of America's missing persons, but here is an example of a murdered (most likely) and forgotten woman and one citizen's refusal to let her case remain unsolved:

In the end, it was love and the Internet that solved a 30-year-old Jane Doe case.

Todd Matthews was 17 and dating the daughter of a former Kentucky well-digger when he first heard the mystery of the Tent Girl.

His girlfriend's father had discovered the discarded body wrapped in what appeared to be a carnival worker's tent in the backwoods of Kentucky in 1968, two years before Matthews was born.

The man who made the discovery, Wilbur Riddle, was consumed with the traumatic tale, telling whomever he could about the girl, who was found with a remnant of what appeared to be a white towel draped over her decomposing shoulder, and never identified.

Soon Matthews, who married Riddle's daughter in 1988, was also obsessed with trying to solve Tent Girl's death.

Investigators had originally assumed that the girl was a teenager. But Matthews discovered from culling FBI reports that the towel was a diaper. He thought she could be older, and possibly a mother.

For the next decade, he chased down cold leads. Then, with the birth of the Internet, he haunted electronic chat rooms and bulletin boards, looking for any clue to link a body in Kentucky to someone's missing loved one.

One late night in 1998, he ran across a posting from an Arkansas woman who had been searching for her older sister, missing since 1968. With Matthews' help, the woman forwarded information about her sister to the forensic medical examiner for the state of Kentucky. DNA testing confirmed that Tent Girl was Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor, who had drifted from her family after marrying young.

Unbeknownst to her family, Hackman-Taylor had been living in Kentucky. She had a young daughter when she vanished from her restaurant job in Lexington. She had been married to a carnival worker. She was 24 years old.

Her husband, who has since died, was never questioned about the wife he never reported missing…
The full article on Todd Matthews and his unbelievable tenacity can be found here. After the identification, the victim was reburied with a headstone identifying her as "Barbara Hackman-Taylor."

In 2001, Matthews joined a new initiative, the DOE Network--an effort involving criminal justice professionals and volunteers from around the world who work on cold cases "to provide names to the nameless."

Further, an example of my thoughts as to citizen groups further aiding law enforcement on specific cases is in this post.

Citizens can make a difference in directly assisting police in solving missing person incidents. For those who doubt this assertion, the DOE folks' 51 cases solved are overwhelming proof to the contrary.

Note: The picture was used from Mr. Matthews' webpage.


torn blazer said...

What an amazing story

Sean Fraser

J. J. in Phila said...

That is an amazing story.

It also shows what citizens can do.

Stephanie Faris said...

I was just thinking, as I began reading this, that it seems like law enforcement could work with these people to put names of missing with the bodies of the unidentified. There HAVE to be some "cold cases" that match some of these bodies. It's good to know they've finally figured that out!

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Thank you for sharing that story of hope.

Heather Sunseri said...

What an interesting story! Thanks for visiting my blog today. I love it when I get new visitors, because I, in turn, am introduced to other fabulous blogs. Thanks again.

Reggie said...

How deeply sad to think that there are people out there who are so alone in the world, without any family or friends, who would miss them and report them missing to the police.

So it is really heartening to hear that there are also those with the tenacity and perseverance to bring closure to cold cases.

An important reminder to stay in touch with those we care about, whether they are far away or just around the corner.

mrs. fuzz said...

Amazing that she was looking for her sister since 1968 and that just one person's efforts brought it to a close. Sounds like a great organization.

fayezie said...

i have heard about these online communities of civilians who solve missing persons cases... quite intriguing, and admirable too.

i wonder what happened to the baby...