The notion of ordinary citizens involving themselves in police work has been a sore spot with some in law enforcement, but police admit that cases involving remains that no one seems to be looking for are at the bottom of the food chain. “Cold cases are a strain on resources for a law enforcement agency,” said retired police inspector James Jabbour, director of forensic science programs at Mount Ida College in Newton. “Do I support civilians looking into cold cases? I would say, ‘Why not?’ as long as it helps solve the case and doesn’t interfere with the investigation.”
Greenwood, besides orchestrating a way in 2001 for her husband and other ham radio operators around the country to broadcast Amber Alerts for Bish and other missing children, was involved in a spectacularly unlikely solve. She worked with a handful of Doe Network volunteers, including Bobby Lingoes, a civilian dispatcher with the Quincy Police Department, on the case of a Baltimore woman whose body was found in 2000.
The Doe Network had posted a picture of the victim’s red T-shirt, adorned with a Native American-style graphic, the date of a family reunion, and a list of names. Greenwood, who for a time ran a T-shirt screen-printing and embroidery shop in Warren, said, “I immediately recognized that only a small group of people would have access to this T-shirt.
“I showed it to my mom, who is from Oklahoma and has Native American blood, and I said, ‘How can we figure out who this family is?’ ” With the help of a private eye and a search of Ancestry.com, they tracked down family members attending the reunion and the person who designed the T-shirt. Acting on a tip that one of the reunion attendees had given a shirt to a Baltimore woman, police from that city in 2002 positively identified murder victim Brenda Wright, whose family had reported her missing and never knew what had happened to her. Her case is still under investigation.
Lingoes also helped solve a 2002 case of an unidentified body found in the Sudbury River. The letters “PK” were tattooed on the man’s right shoulder. Lingoes posted the details on the Doe Network, where a volunteer recalled a missing Texas man with such a tattoo. Lingoes passed along the tip to Framingham police, who determined the body was that of 40-year-old Peter Kokinakis, who had disappeared from Houston earlier that year.
Joseph Formica Jr., a 24-year-old suffering from mental illness, left his family’s home in Pennsylvania on Aug. 24, 1980, carrying a knapsack and a bottle of Coke. His family never saw him again. A week later, an unidentified body was found along the shore of the Delaware River in New Jersey.
Twenty-eight years later, in 2008, Tonya Finsterwald, a Doe Network volunteer in Texas perusing the online database spotted the fact that the body was clad in swimming trunks. Because Formica’s missing-person report noted his love of water sports, and his age and date of disappearance lined up, she submitted a potential match. Late last year, a New Jersey medical examiner positively identified Formica based on fingerprints on file in Pennsylvania.
July 2012 marked the 38th anniversary of Massachusetts’s coldest case: the Lady of the Dunes. Amateur detectives in an online crime forum called Websleuths.com with screen names such as “polywog” and “dreamweaver” continue to speculate about her identity: a young Florida woman who disappeared in 1974? A 24-year-old who went missing from Birmingham, England, that year? “This is a fascinating case,” wrote “Upallnite.” “Evil, but fascinating.”
In 2012, the Provincetown police reported a lead: James “Whitey” Bulger. Bulger, 83, once considered Boston’s most notorious criminal, had allegedly been seen in Provincetown in the 1970s with a woman who resembled the Lady of the Dunes, WCVB-TV reported last year.
Despite the emergence of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), an NIJ database inspired in part by the Doe Network and launched in 2007, the Doe Network boasts 600 members worldwide and claims its volunteers have identified or aided with more than 66 matches in 11 years.
In early 2013, Brady took over as Massachusetts area director for the Doe Network, which makes him the go-to person for law enforcement. “In general, the culture here is less receptive,” he said. “Law enforcement is made up of very professional people here who take pride in what they do. They don’t really understand our role.” Doe volunteers try to chip away at that attitude by building trust and credibility. Many, like Brady, stick with it for years. Others burn out after a time — both Greenwood and Lingoes have “retired” from Web sleuthing. Continued...