Working on updates for the eBook and audiobook release of my 2002 true crime book NO STONE UNTURNED: The True Story of the World’s Premier Forensic Investigators has given me the opportunity to revisit some of the stories about NecroSearch International. How they got started. How they evolved. Their early “failures” (though as learning experiences they weren’t thought of as failures) and the success stories that put them on the map with law enforcement agencies searching for the remains of murder victims.
NSI members come from a variety of professions. Some are in law enforcement, active or retired. Most others are involved in one form of scientific discipline or another—some with forensic applications, such as expertise in blood-splatter analysis or fingerprinting, but others in disciplines that they have learned to apply to the NSI charge of locating the remains of victims, clandestine graves, and recovering evidence. There are botanists and dog-handlers, geologists and anthropologists, cops and naturalists, psychologists and weathermen, criminologists and now with my recent addition, a crime writer/historian.
The way they’ve managed to blend their expertise, learn from mistakes and successes, has been incredible to document as has their reputation with law enforcement agencies who turn to them for help. So why do they do it? Well, many come with the curiosity and desire to solve “puzzles” that comes naturally to scientists; the excitement (for the non-law enforcement members) of working on “detective” cases (many of them confess to being fans since childhood of Sherlock Holmes and The Hardy Boys); and the camaraderie of working with others like (and unlike) themselves.
Yet, for all the variety of their professions and different personalities, I’ve found one common trait that runs through each and every one of these volunteers. And that’s their humanity and aspiration to use their knowledge to help others. What drives them is a desire to help bring justice for victims and, perhaps even more important to these good people, to give answers and resolution to the families and friends of the victims.
This altruism does not come without a personal cost. Whether as professionals involved in forensic sciences and law enforcement, or their work with NecroSearch, there is no working in the realm of violent crime and death without it affecting them. They’ve responded to scenes of mass murder, including the World Trade Center, and to lonely graves in the mountains. Each comes with the burden of dealing with the impact of lives lost on the living.
As a true crime author who often has to interview those who knew and loved victims of violent crime, I know how difficult it is to watch the tears and listen to the sorrow of mothers and fathers and siblings and friends. The depredations of monsters tear at the heart and wound the soul. Yet my friends at NecroSearch volunteer hundreds, even thousands, of hours; they give of their time, their finances, and their years of education and experience. But to me that pales to the sacrifices they make that aren’t as readily apparent.
So why do they do it? Here’s how I explained it at the end of NO STONE UNTURNED: “Simple. Just ask the families of Michele Wallace, Diane Keidel, Cher Elder; Lois Kleber, Ike Hampton, Gerry Boggs, Heather Ikard, Heather Dawn Church, and Christine Elkins. No one could replace the lives lost, but neither are their loved ones left wondering what had happened to them. There is no statute of limitations on grief, and the truth does matter.”