cover image The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases

The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases

Deborah Halber. Simon & Schuster, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4516-5758-6

Though experts can’t settle on a figure—from 13,000 to 40,000—they agree that there are multitudes of unidentified remains in America, and it’s more than law enforcement can handle. That’s where the public comes in. Self-proclaimed Web sleuths have been identifying victims and investigating unsolved murders since 1999, according to journalist Halber. In her first book, she profiles individuals from this unique subset in a lively study that’s part whodunit, part sociological study. She introduces readers to Todd Matthews, one of the scene’s celebrities, who began investigating unsolved murders in his teens and has spent most of his adult life (to the detriment of his family) attempting to identify Kentucky’s “Tent Girl,” and founded one of the first sleuth websites. Readers also meet Betty Brown, a gifted sleuth who “can find anything” except for the remains of her own brother, as well as Cheri Nolan of the National Crime Information Center and coroner investigator Rick Jones. Using Matthews’s quest for the identity of the Tent Girl as a framing device, Halber shares the petty arguments, forensic techniques, and trivia (both New York and Philadelphia are built upon mass graves). The result is eminently entertaining and will be devoured by armchair detectives. Agent: Lindsay Edgecombe, Levine Greenberg. (July)