PLEDGE NOW
Crowdsourcing Criminal Investigations In The Digital Age

Do-it-yourself detectives.  A new army of freelance amateurs is using the Internet to solve cold cases  –long-unsolved homicides—across the country.

In this photo by Sidney Hisel, the so-called 'Tent Girl' is buried in a county-owned section of Georgetown, KY's cemetery in 1968. She was not identified for more than 30 years. (Courtesy Deborah Halber)

In this photo by Sidney Hisel, the so-called ‘Tent Girl’ is buried in a county-owned section of Georgetown, KY’s cemetery in 1968. She was not identified for more than 30 years. (Courtesy Deborah Halber)

On TV, cold cases get solved with a magical high tech ease.  Here’s the body.  Here are the teeth.  Here’s the DNA swab.  Done.  In real life, lots and lots of deaths, murders, bodies just remain mysterious.  Unidentified.  Unsolved.  Frozen.  Buried.  Forgotten.  Police and detectives eventually have other things to do.  But some people don’t.  They’re obsessed.  They’re online.  And they’re endlessly playing with the puzzle pieces.  Sleuthing after hours.  Connecting the dots of unsolved deaths and crimes.  This hour On Point:  Cold cases, crowdsourced and cracked, by freelancers online.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Deborah Halber, author of “The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases.” (@DeborahHalber)

Todd Matthews, former amateur cybersleuth. Director of communications for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

Jan Smolinski, mother of Billy Smolinski, who disappeared in 2004.

From Tom’s Reading List

Salon: “The Skeleton Crew”: How a motley band of amateurs solves cold cases online — “Halber, a science writer, recounts how a motley band of committed hobbyists have devoted countless unpaid hours to linking unidentified human remains with missing-person reports. The case that serves as her framing device — ‘Tent Girl,’ a young woman whose body was discovered wrapped in a striped tarpaulin off Route 25 in Scott County, Kentucky — was 30 years cold when a factory worker named Todd Matthews matched her to a listing posted by a woman in search of her long-lost sister.”

Al-Jazeera America: Who done it? Citizen investigators mine social media for crime clues — “Evidence trails now available online can lead to criminals being caught, but there are major concerns that some Internet free-for-all sleuthing yields little more than confusion, false accusations and misinformation. Frustration can arise for police faced with well-meaning tipsters who don’t understand official procedures. Savvy digital sleuths, on the other hand, sometimes find that law enforcement isn’t computer-literate enough to understand the help it’s being given.”

National Institute of Justice: Missing Persons And Unidentified Remains: The Nation’s Silent Mass Disaster — “The facts are sobering. On any given day,  there are as many as 100,000 active missing persons cases in the United States. Every year, tens of thousands of people vanish under suspicious circumstances. Viewed over a 20-year period, the number of missing persons can be estimated in the hundreds of thousands.”

Read An Excerpt Of “The Skelteon Crew” By Deborah Halber

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Jul 6, 2015
President Barack Obama speaks during services honoring the life of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C., at the College of Charleston TD Arena. Pinckney was one of the nine people killed in the shooting at Emanuel AME Church last week in Charleston.  (AP)

How should we talk about faith and God in these uncertain times? We put that tough question—and more—to a roundtable of religious thinkers.

Jul 6, 2015
A still from the upcoming documentary film, "Tough Love." (Courtesy PBS / The Filmmakers)

An intimate look at the foster care system from the perspective of two families struggling to reunite with their children.

RECENT
SHOWS
Jul 3, 2015
Harmonica master Howard Levy, in a photo dated February 2012. (Courtesy the Artist)

Harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy tears it up with us. From Bach to the blues.

 
Jul 3, 2015
Demonstrators shout slogans during a rally organized by supporters of the YES vote for the upcoming referendum in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens, Tuesday, June 30, 2015 Greece's European creditors were assessing a last-minute proposal Athens made for a new two-year rescue deal, submitted just hours before the country's international bailout program expires and it loses access to billions of euros in funds. (AP)

Overtime pay. Diplomatic ties with Cuba. Greece defaults. Iran deadline missed. Chris Christie jumps in. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: July 3, 2015
Friday, Jul 3, 2015

We made a lot of last-minute programming changes these past few weeks, and you stuck around with us through it all. Thanks!

More »
1 Comment
 
Election 2016: Who Exactly Is Running For President?
Tuesday, Jun 30, 2015

Who is running for President, anyway? We attempt to help you figure it out.

More »
9 Comments
 
Our Week In The Web: June 19, 2015
Friday, Jun 19, 2015

Why our broadcast changed in different markets this week, and a closer look at a puppet theatre vandalism in rural Norway. (Really).

More »
Comment