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The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases Paperback – July 28, 2015
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Long before the popularity of forensic crime shows like CSI, amateur sleuths were using the Internet to gather clues and connect with one another to identify the remains of unidentified corpses—tens of thousands of them—across the U.S. Science writer Halber uncovers a gritty world of web sleuths taking up cold cases of murder, suicide, and accidents, of remains unmatched to missing-persons reports. Often competing with each other, sometimes appreciated or disdained by the police, many of these sleuths develop obsessions with particular victims. Using crowd-sourcing and databases, determined sleuths have managed to identify unidentified bodies. Halber takes the reader on visits to the morgues to witness autopsies of cadavers, some deteriorated by exposure to the outdoors and harsh conditions. She explores changes in investigative techniques and the growing use of DNA to identify remains. She draws on interviews with medical examiners, police investigators, coroners, and the web sleuths themselves for an intriguing look at an underground society of quirky people easily dismissable as wackos, except that some of them occasionally solve cases the police had long abandoned. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A lively study that’s part whodunit, part sociological study. . . . The result is eminently entertaining and will be devoured by armchair detectives.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Brilliant . . . Ms. Halber chronicles with lucidity and wit . . . the workings of this fascinating new subculture.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“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 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)
"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)
"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)
“Halber’s artful sleuthing into this little-known demimonde leaves one bloodthirsty for more.” (Ted Botha, author of The Girl with the Crooked Nose)
“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)
“For me, this book was much more than a terrific read about a layered subculture in a field that crosses my own. It was an invitation to get involved… I hope a lot of people read this book. I hope they feel the urgency of the need to identify those who’ve been separated from their names and to reunite the missing with their loved ones. I hope this book inspires the addition of many more eyes and ears in this work…I know of no better guide for navigating this multifaceted world than Halber’s book.” (Psychology Today)
“Compelling” (Discover Magazine)
"The journey is fascinating." (Shelf Awareness)
If you like tales of discovered body parts, heads in concrete in buckets, corpses whose hands have been cut off, decomposition, decay and death, then this fascinating, riveting book is for you. (Providence Journal)
"Halber's intriguing book ought to bring in lots more volunteers." (Commercial Dispatch)
“[An] absorbing look at a very odd corner of our world.” (The Seattle Times)
"Engaging, arful." (Los Angeles Review of Books)
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Top customer reviews
I ended up just skipping to the end because I live in Massachusetts and the Lady of the Dunes case has always fascinated me. But even reading the last chapter about that case was needlessly frustrating. Solving crimes is often an indirect and convoluted process, I know that from my own experience, but reading about them needn't be. This book could have been fascinating, instead I found it to be irritating and unreadable. More's the pity because unsolved cases are important and, as Ms. Halber points out, often filed away and forgotten.
Regarding the Lady of the Dunes, the author also mistakenly calls it the oldest unsolved homicide in Massachusetts which it is not. Just off the top of my head I can think of several older cases; Danny Croteau is one, a 13 year old alter boy killed in 1972 who's murder case is still open. While there is a strong suspect in that case no one has ever been charged. Still another is the case of Joan Risch, last seen in 1961. Mrs. Risch's body has never been found so technically it's still listed as a missing persons case but I'd bet that she's not living it up in Palm Beach right now. I seem to recall still others as well but would have to look for details. I'm nitpicking now, a character trait that I suppose can be attributed to my line of work.
Wish this book had been better written because it's a great subject. Maybe someone else will take a shot at it....
The author has done an amazing amount of research and, in her radio interview, is an interesting storyteller. She brings to light the fascinating members of an international online sleuthing network of amateurs looking to assist the police by matching found bodies and missing persons. She covers the cases, the sleuths, and the emergence of websites dedicated to the search.
This book would benefit from a better arrangement/editing. Instead of taking a case from start to finish and then beginning the next case, the author wove long strands around the core case of the "Tent Girl." When the storyline bounced back to a previously mentioned case, I had to wrack my brain trying to remember "who was that person?" and "which case was that again?". It almost needed an index of characters and a timeline to make sense of where you were. And don't dare set it down for a couple days, you'd be lost.
Most recent customer reviews
It is in line with Stiff, the Secret Life of Cadavers by Mary Roach.
If you liked Stiff you will like this and the opposite is true.
This book is sort of interesting--to see how the public can help police.Read more