The Skeleton Crew

How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases

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About The Book

Mary Roach meets C.S.I. in this “lively study that’s part whodunit, part sociological study…The result is eminently entertaining and will be devoured by armchair detectives” (Publishers Weekly).

Currently, upwards of forty thousand people in America are dead and unaccounted for. These murder, suicide, and accident victims, separated from their names, are being adopted by the bizarre online world of amateur sleuths. It’s DIY CSI, solving cold cases from the comfort of your living room…

In an “absorbing look at a very odd corner of our world” (The Seattle Times), The Skeleton Crew provides an entree into the gritty and tumultuous world of Sherlock Holmes–wannabes who race to beat out law enforcement—and one another—at matching missing persons with unidentified remains. These web sleuths pore over facial reconstructions (a sort of Facebook for the dead) and other online clues as they vie to solve cold cases and tally up personal scorecards of dead bodies.

There is “no better guide for navigating this multifaceted world than Deborah Halber’s book” (Psychology Today), and The Skeleton Crew probes the macabre underside of the Internet and how even the most ordinary citizen with a laptop and a knack for puzzles can reinvent herself as a web sleuth. “Engaging and artful” (Los Angeles Times Review of Books), this witty and insightful look at the fleeting nature of identity is “brilliant” (The Wall Street Journal).

About The Author

Deborah Halber is a Boston-based journalist whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe; Technology Review; the interactive, illustrated digital magazine Symbolia; and many university publications. A native New Yorker, she received her BA from Brandeis University and an MA in journalism from New York University. A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Mystery Writers of America, and the National Association of Science Writers, she has chronicled breakthroughs in neuroscience, molecular biology, energy, and technology at MIT and Tufts, but is most enthralled with “quantum weirdness,” worm longevity, cell undertakers, and the properties of snail slime. Visit her at DeborahHalber.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (July 2015)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451657593

Raves and Reviews

“A lively study that’s part whodunit, part sociological study. . . . The result is eminently entertaining and will be devoured by armchair detectives.”

– Publishers Weekly

“Brilliant . . . Ms. Halber chronicles with lucidity and wit . . . the workings of this fascinating new subculture.”

– The Wall Street Journal

The Skeleton Crew is a carefully crafted account of an intriguing new opportunity for arm chair sleuths. Thanks to the Internet, anyone with a computer, curiosity, patience, and a passion for justice can enter the dark world of missing persons and unsolved homicides. It’s fascinating to learn how such matches are made and heartening to witness the growing cooperation between law enforcement and ordinary citizens whose persistence can sometimes crack the code in cold cases that have languished unresolved for years. I loved it.”

– Sue Grafton

“From home-computer screens to a new national database, join The Skeleton Crew for a page-turning behind-the-scenes look at the world of Internet sleuths who give names to the men and women who have died without identity. For the first time ever, readers are brought the real-life cases of missing persons, the unidentified dead, and the network of people that gives them their names . . . proving once again what I said at the conclusion of every episode of America’s Most Wanted: ‘One person can make a difference.’”

– John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted

"A compelling glimpse into a little-known subculture inhabited by a colorful cast of the idiosyncratic, the quirky, and the downright weird."

– Alison Bass, author of Side Effects

"In this highly addictive story-within-a-story narrative, Deborah Halber skillfully exposes the complex Internet subculture of amateur sleuths. The people who obsess over the fates and identities of Jane and John Does are puzzles in themselves, which adds a fascinating layer to this captivating book. The Skeleton Crew will likely inspire many more case resolutions."

– Katherine Ramsland, author of The Devil's Dozen and Cemetery Stories

“Exploring the world of amateur sleuths, Halber proves to be the perfect guide: unflinching, perceptive, wry. I was hooked from page one.”

– Allison Hoover Bartlett, bestselling author of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

“Halber’s artful sleuthing into this little-known demimonde leaves one bloodthirsty for more.”

– Ted Botha, author of The Girl with the Crooked Nose

“An integral component of NamUs is the group of responsible, dedicated volunteers who scour case details in an effort to match long-term missing persons to unidentified decedents. In The Skeleton Crew, Deborah Halber follows the journey of some of these volunteers who have made it their mission to assist criminal justice professionals in resolving those cases.”

– Arthur Eisenberg, PhD, Co-Director, UNT Center for Human Identification

“For me, this book was much more than a terrific read about a layered subculture in a field that crosses my own. It was an invitation to get involved… I hope a lot of people read this book. I hope they feel the urgency of the need to identify those who’ve been separated from their names and to reunite the missing with their loved ones. I hope this book inspires the addition of many more eyes and ears in this work…I know of no better guide for navigating this multifaceted world than Halber’s book.”

– Psychology Today

“Compelling”

– Discover Magazine

"The journey is fascinating."

– Shelf Awareness

If you like tales of discovered body parts, heads in concrete in buckets, corpses whose hands have been cut off, decomposition, decay and death, then this fascinating, riveting book is for you.

– Providence Journal

"Halber's intriguing book ought to bring in lots more volunteers."

– Commercial Dispatch

“[An] absorbing look at a very odd corner of our world.”

– The Seattle Times

"Engaging, arful."

– Los Angeles Review of Books

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