there are an estimated 40,000 unidentified bodies and parts of bodies from distinct individuals in the custody of medical examiners and coroners across the united states. each day 100,000 humans are classified as missing open cases- most being found alive or identified. at the end of each year, 4,400 unidentified human remains are added to this gruesome toll of the nameless in limbo. half of those will still remain jane or john does after 1 year.
annually, upwards of 900,000 children and adults are reported missing. the missing under the age of 18 are mandated to be reported to authorities but missing adult reports are given on a voluntary basis, roundly ignored by law enforcement. adult americans have the right to disappear if they so desire. sadly, many of them do not so desire, ending up dead by misadventure of some sort. a portion of these are never found, never identified, perhaps moldering away in a box in some ME's office, forgotten by everyone but those that may have loved them and those that perhaps loved killing them.
even with minors, the cases of those who law enforcement construe as runaways receive little attention, little effort. there are just too many of them.
it is only recently that our government has made a concerted effort to establish a database of the missing adults, let alone established a consolidated , accessible working database of information that can be used to identify those missing should they turn up deceased- such as a catalog of fingerprints, dental records, photographs, and, most importantly, DNA. although the federal government has maintained systems such as VICAP( Violent Offenders Apprehension Program), the Integrated Automated Fingerprint ID System (IAFID), NCIC (National Crime Information Center) only 15%-6,000 out of 40,000- of the unidentified have been added to any of them. unfortunately all these resources require the active participation of local law enforcement who have long complained about the expense and tedium of entering such information. because there is no centralized control over the information entered it is prone to error, a problem which is enhanced by decades of poor interaction and nonexistent cooperation between different law enforcement agencies terribly fond of entrenched, petty pissing matches. serial offenders have long exploited this failing by purposely committing crimes that span investigational jurisdictions. identification is further complicated by the fact that very young victims and those with no criminal record are unlikely to have been fingerprinted. very very few people have had DNA profiles created.
"Dental records are a key factor in matching unidentified bodies to missing persons – sometimes the only information investigators have to work with. But the only nationwide dental database for matching the missing to the dead – the National Crime Information Center computer – consistently fails, even though experts have known it has been unreliable since its establishment 20 years ago. Some experts believe it has never resulted in a positive match."( -Seattle Post Intelligencer). seeing how DNA testing is quite expensive ,after visual confirmation, dentals and fingerprints are what agencies focus on when trying to match unidentified bodies with those missing. as bodies are often too decomposed to offer fingerprints let alone other visually identifying characteristics like hair and eye color, the often inaccurately entered dental information results in few hits. NCIC is heavily weighted toward visual id's which are often quite difficult to make even with intact remains. it takes a dedicated, obsessed detective or medical examiner who personally takes interest in a particular case or equally determined families and concerned armchair detectives to make the initial connections that can help bring a name to a john or jane doe.
webs sites like http://www.doenetwork.org/, the center for missing and exploited children (http://www.missingkids.com ) and http://www.namus.gov/ are our sentinels of misery: the missing and unidentified are our silent perpetually unfolding, endlessly growing mass disaster, claiming more lives than 9/11.
this post was made using information from the National Institute of Justice and the Seattle Post Intelligencer.