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NamUs: An investigative tool for cold homicide investigations

December 14, 2021

By David Brand
Law Enforcement Coordinator, Florida Sheriffs Association 


Around 600,000 persons are reported missing in the U.S. each year. Most are found quickly, however, tens of thousands remain missing for more than a year. It is also estimated that 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year with approximately 1,000 of these remaining unidentified after one year.



The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System’s mission involves bringing people, information, forensic science, and technology together to help resolve missing, unidentified, and unclaimed persons cases nationwide. To accomplish this, they have four core services.

  1. The Nationwide Information Clearinghouse: This involves free, online technology to assist criminal justice agencies.
  2. Forensic Services: These include odontology, fingerprint examination, anthropology, and DNA analysis.
  3. Investigative Support: Staff are available to provide case consultations.
  4. Training and Outreach: Subject matter experts provide training.


The Challenge

As of 2021, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) lists 3,233 missing persons and 783 unidentified persons. NamUs, during the same time period, indicates 1,569 missing cases, 905 unidentified persons, and 48 unclaimed bodies. This data disparity suggests that entities are being made in one system and are not being coordinated with the other system. As of 2021, 12 states have enacted laws requiring missing persons cases to be entered into NamUs.


Applications and Case Studies

Miami-Dade Police

Nicki Elkins left her home in Miami to visit a boyfriend in February, 1981, and vanished. In March, 1981, deputies found an unidentified woman’s remains in Glades County and began a homicide investigation. The body was never identified. In April, 2020, investigators were able to identify forensic tissue from the remains as Elkins. The remains, previously referred to as Glades County’s Jane Doe, were positively matched to Nicki Elkins after years of work by the Miami-Dade police detectives, the Glades County Sheriff’s Office, Medical Examiners, and NamUs. The Glades County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating the case as a homicide.

Sheriff David Hardin, Glades County Sheriff


Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office

On February 1, 1994, two persons driving by a wooded area off State Road 776 in Charlotte County observed buzzards flying and went into the woods to determine what the birds were circling. They discovered the body of a male who would eventually become known as John Doe #1.

In 1996, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office detectives discovered the bodies of two other males in a wooded area within a half mile of where John Doe #1 was found and suspected they had a potential serial killer in the area. Two more male bodies were found by the Northport Police Department, in Sarasota County, a few miles north of the same area. As time passed, more bodies were found in Charlotte and Lee Counties under similar circumstances.

After a comprehensive investigation, Daniel O. Conahan, Jr., described by the news media as the Hog Trail Killer, was arrested and convicted for one of the 1996 murders in Charlotte County. He is currently on Florida’s death row. John Doe #1, whose body had been located in Charlotte County, was not identified. In 2008, the District Medical Examiner’s Officer entered the information regarding John Doe #1 into NamUs and was assigned number UP1132.

Daniel O. Conahan, Jr.: Currently on death row in Florida

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office created a Cold Case Homicide Unit in 2009 chiefly using retired detectives. Detective Kurt Mehl became the NamUs coordinator when this unit was developed. After years of unsuccessful attempts to identify John Doe #1, utilizing traditional methods, including CODIS, the Combined DNA Indexing System maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an attempt was made using Forensic Genetic Genealogy in partnership with Carrie Sutherland, the Florida NamUs representative, Florida Gulf Coast University Forensic Anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney, and the University of North Texas. As a result of this partnership, the identity of John Doe #1 was confirmed as Gerald Lombard, a Massachusetts man who had never been reported missing.

Gerald Lombard: Joe Doe #1


Sheriff Bill Prummell: Charlotte County


Hernando County Sheriff’s Office

In September 2014, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office received information about a juvenile who was believed to have been reported missing back in either 1977 or 1979. It was determined that Tammy Jo Alexander was the missing person.

Investigators interviewed Laurel Nowell, who stated that she moved from Brooksville to New Mexico with her family at age 15 or 16. Tammy had been her best friend prior to moving from Brooksville. At the time, Tammy lived directly behind a restaurant located at 14445 Ponce de Leon Boulevard in Brooksville. They both attended Hernando High School.

Ms. Nowell advised investigators that she was looking up old childhood friends online and could not find any information on Tammy. However, she did locate a post indicating that the person posting indicating that he was looking for Tammy and that she was reported missing in either 1977 or 1979. Ms. Nowell contacted Pamela Dyson, Tammy’s half-sister, and it was determined that Tammy had been missing since 1977 but there was no report made to law enforcement. An investigation was begun that involved an NCIC entry, a report to NamUs, and a DNA sample was collected from Pamela Dyson.

On September 15, 2014, Investigator George Loydgren, Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, received correspondence from NamUs that included a photo of Tammy Jo Alexander and two photos of an unidentified person who had been discovered in New York State in 1979. Investigator Loydgren made contact with the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office and learned that the deceased person was listed with their agency as Jane Doe or, colloquially, as “Caledonia Jane,” since she was found in Caledonia, New York. The cause of death had been a gunshot to the head with the victim being left in a cornfield. A forensic analyst with the University of North Texas advised Investigator Loydgren the sample from Pamela Dyson was a full mitochondrial (family) match to Tammy. While the body has been identified, helping to bring closure for the family, the suspect in the murder is unknown.

Sheriff Al Nienhuis, Hernando County Sheriff


Insight and Reflections from Sheriff Mike Prendergast, the Florida Sheriffs Association Cold Case Advisory Commission Chair

From its inception to present day, the Florida Sheriffs Association Cold Case Advisory Commission’s primary area of concentration is to assist our various Sheriffs’ Offices throughout the state with investigating cold homicide and missing persons cases. Looking at the various case studies from our state, we clearly realized we were experiencing an egregious oversight in intelligence sharing.

After witnessing this need, we went to work unearthing a better method for intelligence collection, submission, and sharing by creating a unified partnership that is now known as the CCAC.

The Commission consists of 25 highly experienced subject matter experts from a variety of criminal justice disciplines such as a Medical Examiner, State Attorney, DNA Scientist, and a Forensic Anthropologist. This team of professionals assist with training our law enforcement colleagues throughout the state and offer advice and guidance in many of the perplexing cold cases that confound their agencies. One notable example is having Ms. Carrie Sutherland, the NamUs representative for Florida, as a member. Ms. Sutherland is an exceptional asset for us in terms of bridging those existing resources available to our law enforcement agencies and expanding our knowledge of how these systems can work uniformly to help solve intricate cases.

Sheriff Mike Prendergast, Citrus County Sheriff