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2003 PI Magazine article featuring...

Tent Girl

They Find The Lost...

When Everyone Else has Given Up

by Leisa Hazard

They're the cases that aren't solved. Those that law enforcement has no choice but to file in the Cold Case drawer. The result is a family left behind, not knowing what happened to it's Loved one.

"They belong to somebody," says Janet Franson, an Area Director for the DoeNetwork. "Most of them are female, but there are males. They're somebody's son, daughter, mother, aunt, cousin, sister, brother. They don't just fall off the face of the Earth.

Since October of 1999, the DoeNetwork, a volunteer organization that helps solve cold cases involving missing persons and unidentified victims, has been keeping the door open on these cases. And without the help of professional investigators, the organization's mission would be most difficult to fulfill.

Through it's website,, The DoeNetwork (names after "John" or "Jane Doe") lists missing persons, accompanied by photos of subjects, as well as sketches and models of unidentified corpses. The goal is to match those descriptions with cold cases on file throughout the world. Currently, more than seven hundred cases. submitted primarily by family and law enforcement, are on file at the DoeNetwork.

Professional investigators can get involved in variety of ways, according to Todd Matthews, an Area Director and spokesman for the DoeNetwork. They can inform the DoeNetwork of cold cases they are working on, help with cases listed in their area, or become an Area Director.

Area Director work as contacts for law enforcement agencies by helping to validate cases, investigating possible matches and following up on information received from the DoeNetwork from outside sources.

"Whatever level they want to get involved, they can," Matthews says. "As a resource, or 'Hey if you ever have anything in Kansas, give me a call, I'd love to help.' Some want to be a part of the e-mail group where we communicate with each other, and some want to be Area Directors.

"Any amount of time they have, we're very appreciative of.," he says.

Matthews is not a licensed professional investigator, but he entered the world of investigating when he helped solve Kentucky's famous "Tent Girl case" in 1998. His father-in-law had discovered the body in 1968 - before Matthews was born. Curiosity got the best of Matthews and he started looking into the case in 1987.

Even if a PI can't make a regular commitment to the DoeNetwork, Matthews says, he or she can still get involved.

"I've spoken to PI's who were not involved with the DoeNetwork and they can be a resource," Matthews says. "You might have a friend who's a PI In another state and you have something that leads you there and you can call him. You can express to them what you're doing and it actually helps them, as well. And if we have a solved case, there will be media exposure.

Because investigating and the circumstances surrounding an unidentified victim can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, the contribution of the PI is often most needed in those cases.

"Those cases rely on the private investigators because the private investigators understand the complexity of those cases and because they have skills that most people don't have," Matthews says. "Because this is such complex information...people go to a private investigator. And I think the DoeNetwork is a little closer to making it more digestible for the public."

Professional investigators can also benefit from the tools of the web-site. In the word search, you can enter a name, article of clothing, description of other details of a case your working, to see if there's a match.

The Network lists cases in which an unidentified victim died prior to, or during 2000 in the U.S., Canada, Europe or Australia. Regardless of how little evidence is available, the network will list the case and any available evidence or information.

For missing person cases, the victim must have disappeared before or during 1993, and the case must be filed with a law enforcement agency. An image of the victim must be submitted. The DoeNetwork doesn't get involved with cases that aren't cold, unless its been asked to do so by a law enforcement group.

"We like to get them after they've (law enforcement) already done their work, and we try it from a different approach." Matthews says. "We try it as a private investigator - kind of approach. There's a different tactic rather than the law enforcement tactic."

The DoeNetwork does not (normally) contact families that may have missing members, but anyone seeking to get someone listed can do so at the web-site.

Rewards abound for investigators who get involved, but, since the DoeNetwork is a non-profit, volunteer organization, those rewards aren't financial.

"Personal satisfaction (is one reward)." Matthews says. "being able to help in a case where there's nobody to hire anybody. You can use your craft where there's nobody (to help). Especially the forgotten ones where there's nobody to complain. With a missing persons case you have a family that is complaining to law enforcement or searching for a PI to help locate them."

Franson has twenty plus years of law enforcement experience with the Florida police department, including working homicides. After retiring from the force, she went back home to Wyoming and started working as a private investigator, though the state does not have licensing. She also works as the DoeNetwork's Area Director for Wyoming, Colorado and Utah and says her involvement with the network has helped her put her abilities to good use.

"A lot of money was spent on me for training, and I invested a lot of time in my own training, and I hated to see that go to waste, " Franson says. "We with the DoeNetwork all work for free, nobody gets paid; but it's something you do out of your heart, not out of your pocketbook."

Her years of working homicide cases in Florida also serve as an inspiration to Franson. "First thing you have to do in a homicide investigation is figure out who your victim is," she says.

Tackling these cases also presents a unique challenge. Franson says she's put a lot of time on potential matches that did not work out. "You have to do a lot of potential matches before you get one, " she says.

"It is amazing that the technology of the Internet has made forming the group possible, " says Mary Palmer, a PI and one of the DoeNetwork's many Area Directors.

Professional investigators who want to join the DoeNetwork can log into the web-site through "The Organization" section of the site.

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