Posted by: Brenda Kula | April 4, 2008

The Doe Network

I came across an interesting article in my local newspaper last Sunday. It was about an organization called "The Doe Network." I had never heard of it. So, as I normally do when my curiousity is piqued, I began research online.

(Note: The following information was taken from The Doe Network website.)

This website was created by Jennifer Marra in 1999. She was soon assisted by Helene Wahlstrom, and when Jennifer left to start a family, Helene took over the site completely in 2000.

In 2001 Helene put together a group of volunteers to try and solve the cases on the Doe Network website. The group began in March 2001, and since then the organization has grown mightily.

It is assisted by law enforcement in solving cold cases concerning unexplained disappearances and unidentified victims from North America, Australia, and Europe. It became their mission to give the nameless back their names, and return the missing to their families. By giving exposure on their website, having volunteers from literally all walks of life search for clues and help match the data, and through media exposure, many cases have thus been solved.

They cooperate with missing person, law enforcement agencies, and medical examiners. They have a compilation of area directors, an administrative team, and various representatives who work to solve these cases. They also have many volunteers. I myself sent an email volunteering my services just a little while ago, though I have no idea whether they need volunteers at this time.

As many of you know who read my blog, I was once a freelance investigative journalist who covered crimes of this nature. I wrote about an unsolved kidnapping recently in one of my blog entries that occurred in 1981. It concerned two 13 year old girls from Oklahoma City. So this particularly interested me. Also, I have searched on-and-off throughout my adult life for my own family members.

If you are interested in reading more…   

All disappearances are for long-term cold cases of persons who went missing since 1999 or before. The unidentified cases are prior to 2006. For deaths occurring in 2007 and 2008, you can look at their Hot Case Criteria. In many of the cases, there is little evidence available.

The network has several projects going on at this time of note. One is a joint effort with National Crime Information Center (NCIC) consisting of off-line searches for unidentified victims in cases they have selected from. Some have already been solved. Others are on the verge of being closed.

The network also cooperates with Project EDAN (Everyone Deserves A Name), a group of volunteer forensic artists who donate their time and skills to create reconstructions and age-progressions of the missing and unidentified. The artists’ work is offered to law enforcement agencies and is also featured on the Doe Network website.

Here is a case that has been put on the network, for an example. The source information was from the Enid News and The Daily Oklahoman. It is Case File #2557DFOK. The person is Joan Gay Croft, who went missing on April 9, 1947. She was a 4 years old white female with blond hair and blue eyes. The Doe Network displays a photo of her.

The circumstances of the little girl’s disappearance occurred when a giant tornado hit the town of Woodward, Oklahoma. It traveled on the ground for 221 miles at a speed of 46 miles per hour, smashing everything in its path. It was described as one of the most destructive tornadoes of all time. It killed 185 people and injured 720.

Joan’s mother was killed by the storm and her father critically injured. Joan, with a splinter through her leg, and her sister, were found to have less life-threatening injuries, and were ushered to the hospital basement to wait.

Her sister, who was four years older, reported that two men dressed in khaki work clothes came into the basement and carried Joan away.

Apparently, due to the turmoil of the night, no one paid any attention to the little girl’s protests. At the time, some thought Joan had been taken to another hospital for treatment. But days went by and the other residents were accounted for. She did not surface on hospital lists or with family members. Though the incident received nationwide attention, little Joan was never found.

The classification for this case is : Endangered Missing.

This is but one of the cases. Here is another:

Released on April 3, 2007, the Olmstead County Sheriff’s Office opened a missing person investigation into the unknown disappearance of Heather Ann Schmoll (DOB 6/23/76), at the request of her siblings. Heather lived in Stewartfille, MN for a short time in 1992 to 1993, and left the area with an unknown boyfriend when she was 17. Contact was made with family members and Heather indicated she was living in Daytona Beach, Florida. Last contact was made on New Years Day 1994 when Heather called a family friend. Shortly after the investigation was opened, Heather was entered into the NCIC computer system as a missing person. The family set up a page/file on the Doenetwork.org website to disseminate her vital information. This included photographs, descriptions of Heather and of her tattoos, and DNA samples which were received from her mother and sister.

Eventually, the Olmstead County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by Lt. Bob Weber from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office in Bunnell, Florida (about 20 miles north of Daytona Beach). He was researching a cold case of an unidentified deceased woman found in 1994. There were similarities.

The woman was found in a field. An autopsy showed she died of a drug overdose. No signs of foul play were indicated. The woman was buried in an unmarked grave by the county. Lt. Weber reviewed the case, finding that the woman had tattoos of "Cody" across one hand and "Love" with a heart on her forearm. He searched the Doenetwork.org website and found a match with the tattoos listed in Heather’s file. He compared the photos of the tattoos of Heather and that of the unidentified woman. With the DNA samples of her mother and sister, and then obtaining a sample from her father, and that of the unidentified woman, they found on March 13, 2008 that Heather’s mother and father could not be excluded from being the biological parents of the unidentified woman. It is greater than 2 million times more likely that they would be the parents, than if an untested random man and woman from the general population were the biological parents of the unidentified woman.

On March 24, 2008, the Flagler County Medical Examiner’s Office officially identified the unidentified woman as Heather Schmoll based on the DNA testing and tattoos. The cause of death will be listed as undetermined, due to the decomposing effect, with drug overdose as contributing factor.

They will be closing their investigation, as the case has been determined non-criminal.

Heather was 17 years old when she was located in the field in Flagler County, Florida. The family will be making decisions on the handling of Heather’s remains. At this time, they have requested not to be contacted by the media.

This is just one case in point. There are many on the Doe Network. It is fascinating.

If you have a loved one missing, or wish to be a volunteer, I suggest you go to http://www.doenetwork.org and take a look around this site. It is truly amazing what the work of volunteers just like you and I can achieve with time and dedication. Everyone deserves dignity. And every unmarked grave deserves a name placed on it.

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Responses

  1. Mornin’, Brenda–

    Fascinating. Thanks for posting this. As a writer, I adore research and often get so caught up in it that I forget writing. I’m sort of a sponge.

    I’m also more painfully aware these days about such happenings. I have to hold on to trust hard in regard to our grandson, when he must spend weekends with his bio mother, who lives a very uncertain life.

    Hugs,
    CurtissAnn

  2. I love your blog. The pictures are all cool. I added your blog to my favorites(-:

  3. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog…I am enjoying my first visit here! My hubby is a forensic scientist who is a head Crime Scene Investigator for our county…sounds like you liked reporting, he really loves his job!

    Tara

  4. Hi Brenda,
    Thank you for this. I think it’s great you’ve sent out an offer to volunteer.
    I love this kind of research, not letting things go and feel passionate about it. Putting pieces of a puzzle back together and making things “right”. I’m sure some of this comes from my uncle who is a retired police officer and just seeing in his day to day life how his cases affected him, even without him speaking to us about them.
    A great post.
    xo~Tracie

  5. Such sad stories, Brenda. This is one of the things that I really enjoy about your blog–you dance from one topic to another, and I learn about things other than gardening that I might never have thought about. Thanks so much for doing what you do, and being who you are.


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