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2003 Callan Publishing article featuring...

Tent Girl


Does Get Second Chance on the Web

The case of Tent Girl prompted Todd Matthews to dedicate his life to finding names for the nameless and led him to the DoeNetwork, an Internet database devoted to solving cold cases.

by Ellie M. Bayrd

A Grizzly Discovery

On May 17, 1968, while searching through a field in Scott County, Kentucky, for glass telephone insulators to paint and sell, local driller Wilbur Riddle discovered a green tarpaulin wrapped tightly around an object and bound with a thin cord. The object, Riddle was quick to find out when he cut open the tarp, was not some discarded waste, but was the partially decomposed body of a young woman.

After making this grizzly discovery, Riddle alerted the authorities, who were unable to make a positive identification; all they could ascertain was that the victim was a white female, just over five feet tall, with short, reddish-brown hair, weighing between 110 and 115 pounds. She was believed to be between 16 and 19 years old. The cause of death was determined to be suffocation, after a blow to the head. The victim did not have any major identifying features, and this made it hard for the police to match her description to that of any missing persons reports. The media dubbed her "Tent Girl" and the name stuck.

The DoeNetwork

The story of the Tent Girl is not unique; most law enforcement agencies are confronted with John (or Jane) Doe cases at some point. It is frustrating and depressing for all involved in those instances where the victim cannot be identified. Technological advances have made these cases easier to crack, but some still stay unsolved. Among these modern ways police are able to determine the identity of a victim are fingerprints, DNA, dental records, distinguishing features on file (tattoos, etc.), facial recreations or sketches, and computer imaging.

Even with the technology available back in the late 1960s, authorities involved with the Tent Girl case grew discouraged; they were faced with no new leads, other than a possibly similar case (which to this date is thought to be connected somehow). The Scott County Sheriff’s Office publicized the story in the magazine called Master Detective in 1969, but no new information surfaced.

It was with this kind of case in mind that a Michigan woman named Jennifer Marra created the DoeNetwork in October of 1999. The DoeNetwork is a volunteer, non-profit organization devoted to cold cases concerning unexplained disappearances and unidentified victims from North America, Australia, and Europe. Finding identities for these Does (missing persons) is the mission of the network.

Tent Girl’s Second Chance

For the Tent Girl case, more than 20 years passed before any major advances were made on the case. In the late 1980s, that same driller, now retired and living in Livington, Tennessee, shared the story with a his daughter’s fiancé, Todd Matthews. Matthews latched on the story immediately and felt a connection to the case after reading the Master Detective article. Matthews became fixated on solving the case. "Even though the Tent Girl died two years before I was born, she changed my life forever," Matthews wrote to Master Detective in 2001.

Now on the case, Matthews learned everything he could about Tent Girl, making somewhat different conclusions than the original team of investigators. He figured the victim was older, due to the white cloth diaper on her head, which he believe pointed to the possibility that she had borne children herself. Years went by, and without any new leads, Matthews grew frustrated like the original investigators.

The Internet Cracks the Case

While Matthews may have been frustrated, he never gave up, and in 1992, a new tool became available that would help Matthews in his quest: the Internet. He bought himself a computer and began searching and spreading the word.

This same technology is what drives the DoeNetwork. The network focuses its energy on a Web database of unidentified persons and remains. The DoeNetwork is centered on featuring photographs, reconstructed images, and available evidence for cold cases, which have received little public attention in recent years. It is the hope of the DoeNetwork that with more people seeing the photographs and sketches on their site, more missing persons will be found and unidentified bodies will get names.

On April 28,1998, DNA testing conclusively confirmed that Barbara Hackmann-Taylor was indeed the Tent Girl. The mystery, however, about the cause of her death remains to this day.

For Todd Matthews, the Internet was what cracked the case. On a late January evening in 1998, Matthews made a discovery that ended his decade-long journey. While searching on a missing-persons database on the Web, he saw the words, "Lexington, 1967, missing." The listing was posted in 1997 and described a woman named Barbara who had brown hair, brown eyes, stood around 5 feet, 2 inches tall, and was last seen in the Lexington, Kentucky, area. Matthews immediately tried to contact the woman who had posted the message, Rosemary Westbrook, the sister of the missing girl.

Barbara Ann Hackmann-Taylor
Rosemary Westbrook’s sister Barbara had disappeared when she was only ten years old. When Matthews finally spoke with Westbrook, they both agreed that Barbara was probably Tent Girl, and Matthews learned that Westbrook had been diligently searching for her missing sister all those years as well. While he felt enormous satisfaction that the Tent Girl had been identified, he also shared the grief of her sister, a woman he had never met. On April 28, 1998, DNA testing conclusively confirmed that Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor was indeed the Tent Girl. The mystery, however, about the cause of her death remains to this day.

How the Network Functions

The DoeNetwork is made up of dedicated volunteers much like Matthews who are looking to solve these mysteries through the overwhelming reach of the Internet. The DoeNetwork is a comprehensive site for unidentified persons, which many worried relatives and interested law enforcement personnel find useful. Matthews became involved with the DoeNetwork when he was working on his own site, The Lost and The Found. Matthews had formed the site with the help of the Tent Girl’s family and others. When he met Jennifer Marra, he says he noticed right away "That her Web capability was clearly superior to my own. I joined the organization in 2001. I closed The Lost and The Found’s Web site shortly thereafter, as I learned that the strength was in the "network" of people who care about these cases. The dream can come true with hard work and teamwork."

Here’s how the network functions: Links to information about lost persons or unidentified remains are posted on the network’s Web site. All cases must be filed with a law enforcement agency before posting. Users can search the database with information on the unidentified bodies and missing people. Forensic artists also post useful sketches, computer-aged photos, or three-dimensional busts; these offer guests a glimpse at the person in question’s face. Information listed is pulled together from police agency Web sites, old newspaper articles, missing-person reports, and interviews with family members, detectives, and medical examiners. The DoeNetwork has more than 100 volunteers in North America and Europe. It features about 400 profiles of nameless bodies.

The cases featured on the Web site, both unidentified bodies and missing people, span decades. There’s the worn skeleton of a woman found in 1976 in the shrubs of Grassy Key. And the body of a man found floating in a Boca Raton canal in 1987. Many DoeNetwork volunteers become involved because of their own personal experiences with these kinds of cases. Yvonne Jansen, for instance, now the Web site’s Florida director, found the site through an online friend whose stepdaughter had disappeared. Soon Jansen was hooked, drawn by the lonely legacy of unidentified bodies. When one of Jansen’s own friends disappeared from Fort Lauderdale, the site took on new importance.

Of course, successful matches are rare. Since the Web site went up in 1999 and was subsequently reorganized a few years later, only four unknown bodies have been directly identified. In the cases where the DoeNetwork does come across a lead, the network forwards all relevant information to the proper authorities. But just sparking an interest in identifying these unknown persons is part of what the DoeNetwork considers success.

Strict Criteria

The DoeNetwork has strict criteria for inclusion on the site. Unidentified victims’ cases that are selected for the site meet the following criteria: the victim died prior to or during the year 2000 in North America, Australia, or Europe; the case is filed with a law enforcement agency; and a reconstructed image or a picture of the victim is available. They provide details to even the sketchiest cases in the hope that someone will be able to give insights into what happened to the victim.

The DoeNetwork does feature cases involving both estranged and endangered runaways if there has been no contact with the runaway in recent years.

The unexplained disappearance cases that are selected for the DoeNetwork meet the following criteria: The victim disappeared prior to or during the year 1993 in North America, Australia, or Europe; the case has been filed with a law enforcement agency; and an image of the victim exists. The DoeNetwork does feature cases involving both estranged and endangered runaways if there has been no contact with the runaway in recent years. They also feature cases of family abduction. These cases are selected if there were no further communications or sightings of the victim and abductor for more than nine years.

Everyone Deserves a Name

Law enforcement, to the network’s chagrin, is sometimes skeptical of the DoeNetwork’s operations, feeling reluctant to deal with civilians. But part of what the DoeNetwork hopes to accomplish is the creation a working relationship with law enforcement. The network has even created EDAN (Everyone Deserves a Name) to give law enforcement agencies that cannot afford professional forensic artist work the opportunity to work with professional forensic artists. EDAN is a database of forensic artists who volunteer their time to help recreate faces from unidentified remains. The project began as an idea for Todd Matthews back when he was working on the Tent Girl case; now Matthews is the DoeNetwork’s media director based out of Tennessee. He brought his idea for EDAN to fruition in 2001. To qualify for EDAN, Matthews says, cases must have full cooperation from law enforcement.

One of the many contributors to EDAN is a law enforcement professional himself. Wesley W. Neville, a forensic artist with the Florence County, South Carolina, Sheriff’s Office and a member of the Dillon County Violent Crime Task Force, is now serving as the area director for South Carolina for the DoeNetwork and EDAN. He has now worked on more than 50 cases for Project EDAN and DoeNetwork, mostly contributing post-mortem sketches. "From a law enforcement point of view, project EDAN and the DoeNetwork are both a blessing, and a valuable resource for investigators," according to Neville. "The majority of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad have limited resources, and the personnel they have are usually over-tasked. Having a resource like the DoeNetwork and EDAN is like having full-time investigators working with and for their missing/unidentified persons units. Somebody within the network is looking for matches 24 hours a day." A recent case Neville worked on involved making a 3D clay facial reconstruction of a Tennessee Jane Doe. Matthews and Neville came across the case after the DoeNetwork and this case were featured on a Court TV special. Matthews called the officers involved with the case and offered EDAN’s help; he was subsequently invited over to dinner with one of the officers. At that meeting, the officer passed on the skull of the Jane Doe and Neville began his work. "Donating my time as a forensic artist with Project EDAN is something I will never regret. The organization is very dear to my heart. If my sketches or reconstructions can assist in any way to bring some closer or answers to the victim's families, then my time is worth every minute," Neville says.

The Mission

The DoeNetwork has over 100 members & 30 Area Directors in North America and a handful of other countries. They work in concert with law enforcement to identify remains and gather information about missing persons. It is, of course, the hope of Matthews and the rest of the DoeNetwork volunteers that each of these cases could be solved; however, their more realistic goal is that through their efforts and the worldwide scope of the Internet, more people will be able to share information and compare statistics about cases, thus finding more and more Does a name.

Project EDAN offers these agencies a chance to have a sketch or reconstruction done, and shown to thousands of of charge.

Working with law enforcement is a big part of their operation. They need the cooperation of local officials to get worthwhile information to include on their site; law enforcement can benefit from their operation as well, gaining leads on cases thought to be cold. Neville says, "There are countless number of unidentified individuals throughout the country whose cases have been thrown on the backburner due to budgetary constraints. Project EDAN offers these agencies a chance to have a sketch or reconstruction done, and then shown to thousands of viewers and the wonderful group of DoeNetwork volunteers that will not let the case run cold—free of charge. I encourage those agencies to take advantage of this unique opportunity."

Already, the story of Tent Girl has inspired one detective in Massachusetts and an another in Kentucky, who was motivated to start a state medical examiner’s office after working for the funeral home in Scott County that was unable to identify the body of Tent Girl back in 1968.

Through Project EDAN and the DoeNetwork, someday, Matthews and Neville hope more cases like Tent Girl’s will be solved, and more families will find comfort and closure.

More Information

To learn more about the DoeNetwork or Project EDAN, check out the organization’s Web site at

This article was written by Ellie Bayrd of Callan Publishing in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
They publish magazines for several Law Enforcement & Peace Officers Associations.
Various versions of the article will appear in their publications across the country.

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