Head held high, supported by Mother Nature, the skeleton becomes one with the earth. Underneath the ribcage we see a tree line. A forest, indicating that identifying the nameless is incredibly hard as our view is blocked by so many different trees.
Where the skeleton became one with nature might tell us a lot about what happened by examining the vegetation surrounding the bones and by looking at what grows from underneath the remains.
This book describes Norton’s journey to find the identity of Ina Jane Doe whose bodiless head was found in January of 1993 in the state of Illinois. She describes how she, supported by many others, eventually managed to find several things that had not surfaced before. Ina Jane Doe had been sketched yet nobody had claimed to know her. Was this just a matter of lacking media attention or was it lacking the right angle to get people’s attention?
We meet all the people Norton collaborated with to give this Jane Doe back her own name: Susan “Sue” Hope Minard Lund. The book does not tell us who was responsible for her murder but check the article and do a quick search online to find out more.
The book is set up logically. We get the case narrative and various methods are explored that are used to help identify the nameless such as forensic anthropology, skeletal analysis, dental comparison, forensic art, tattoos, birthmarks, 3-D facial reconstruction technology, and of course, DNA.
Norton goes over many issues that people face when they wish to help advance unsolved cases. She does that in detail. Sometimes, with too many details. If you are a true crime reader, I think you will be fascinated and have no issue reading this book. However, I can see how someone not versed in cold case analysis gets lost in the details. Some parts could have been condensed or aided by bullet points, lists, or a concise summary to help the reader along.
Working on true crime cases takes a toll and I am not surprised that Norton included some details about her personal life and how she experienced this journey. However, it slows down some chapters and combined with many details and forensics, it could lead to readers skipping pages.
The book has eight pages with black and white photography in the middle, none are graphic, there is a table of contents, author notes that include the footnotes, and an extensive index.
Last, the biggest lesson in Norton’s book is in the beginning when she discusses NamUs. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System that every law enforcement agency should be using, and easily can, but not everyone does. There is no state or federal rule that says departments must but how many cases could be advanced if they did?
Remember, a database is only as good as the input.
Every detail, no matter how tiny, may trigger someone’s memory or can help advance the identification of a nameless person found. A tattoo, a birthmark, a person being of color, uneven legs, surgery, all these details can connect dots when we deal with the missing and the unidentified.
I would like to encourage you to explore the NamUs website. On the home page, hit the yellow box that says explore NamUs. It takes you to the database for the missing, the unidentified, and the unclaimed. The unclaimed are not often in the news but should be. When a body is not claimed by anyone, it becomes the responsibility of the US government. However, as we do not have federal procedures in place everything differs per state, per county, and even by city.
There is no federal law that sets the minimum amount of information that authorities must keep in their registers and for how long. There is no federal budgeting to help states facilitate the burials, cremations, or (to expand) storage facilities. The entire process comes down to local governments. With this, care varies per locality.
This book is beautifully written. If you are interested in forensic sciences, how they are used to help the many John and Jane Does, or if you follow the Susan Lund case, this book is for you.
Laurah Norton’s book comes out October 17, 2023.
If you have information about the Susan Lund case, please contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department at 618-244-8004.
Note: I received a copy of this book from Lauren Rosenthal, Publicity Manager for Hachette Books, in exchange for an honest review. My other book reviews are here.