unidentified

Reporter tells story of North Dakota’s nameless dead

Grand Forks Herald reporter Jennifer Johnson

Grand Forks Herald reporter Jennifer Johnson

Whenever I meet fellow reporters, I love to find out what they’re working on and what interesting stories they’ve done. Jennifer Johnson, a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota, recently asked me that question when we met at the Education Writers conference in Nashville.

She wanted to know what stories I’ve done at WRAL.com, so I mentioned one I did last fall about North Carolina’s nameless dead. I told her that 115 people have been found dead in my state since 1975, and their names are still unknown. I explained that I was able to get information about the cases through a publicly available database called NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

I offered to look up the cases in North Dakota, where Jennifer lives, and found that there was only one in the entire state – a Hispanic man, believed to be in his 40s, who was found dead one week before Christmas 2003 in Grand Forks, where Jennifer lives.

Earlier this week, Jennifer told his story:

Unidentified body found over a decade ago only case of its kind in North Dakota

It was fascinating (and sad) to read about this unknown man and the pieces of his life that investigators are trying to put together. Jennifer did a great job telling his story and explaining how he was discovered, what clues were found in his pockets and why the lead investigator still thinks about the unknown man every day.

If you’d like to get information about the nameless dead in your state, check out the NamUs database. You can search for cases by state, sex, race, ethnicity, age and more. Each case includes the medical examiner’s case number, the circumstances of the person’s death, physical and medical descriptions, descriptions and photos of clothing and accessories and, occasionally, a headshot from the autopsy or a sketch of the person.

Unidentified people

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How many nameless dead are in your state?

Unidentified people

Do you know how many unidentified dead people are in your state? Until recently, we had 115 nameless dead in North Carolina, where I live. I reported on their cases last fall, using a publicly available database called NamUs, or the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

You can search for cases by state, sex, race, ethnicity, age and more. Each case includes the medical examiner’s case number, the circumstances of the person’s death, physical and medical descriptions, descriptions and photos of clothing and accessories and, occasionally, a headshot from the autopsy or a sketch of the person.

I used the database to write a story and create a map showing where the 115 people were found around North Carolina. I also made a slideshow of the sketches and artist renderings that were available:

I recently found out that a local police officer helped identify four of the unknown people using his fingerprint analysis skills. Once he discovered the people’s names, he began searching for their family members to let them know what happened. I asked how he is trying to track them down, and you know what his answer was? PUBLIC RECORDS.