published Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

New software seeks to put names on missing persons

KNOXVILLE — A computer tool that crosschecks cold cases with unidentified bodies could help identify missing people.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System has been online for a relatively short time and is being used to resolve cases, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Sunday.

Known by the acronym NamUs [name us], the dual database comparison can be used by the public as well as police agencies. Criminal analyst Amy Dobbs of the Knox County Sheriff's Office said the system is three years old and she and others who use it have been offering training to departments that were not familiar with it.

One of the cases Dobbs is working on is that of a man found shot to death more than 30 years ago. His skeletal remains were found on Jan. 12, 1982, in a wooded area of eastern Knox County.

The remains show he was a black man, about 5-feet-10, probably in his 30s or 40s. There was no identification in the dark trousers he wore. He had been dressed in a blue pullover shirt, red and white socks and size 9 zip-up shoes. There was a .38-caliber bullet wound to the back of his skull.

"It is a perfect example of a case that NamUs has the potential to help resolve," said Dobbs, who works on the sheriff's office Cold Case Squad. Dobbs is one of five key NamUs associates in Tennessee.

A section of the program can be accessed free by the public at . Anyone can view cases or can get a missing person added, once a NamUs case manager verifies it, Dobbs said.

Cases don't always involve a death. Dobbs recently found a woman living in Knoxville who had been missing from St. Louis for 30 years.

She had simply decided to leave her family, Dobbs said.

"All we could do in this case was notify her family that we had found her alive and OK," Dobbs said.

Police gave the woman contact information for family members, if she decided to call them.

"The more people you have searching, the better chance you have of finding something," said David Davenport, a retired TBI agent and former Jefferson County sheriff who heads up KCSO's Cold Case unit.

NamUs officials estimate there are about 40,000 unidentified bodies nationally.

Of the 4,400 new cases each year, about 1,000 of those bodies still will be unknown a year later.

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