- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - From her desk in Orange Grove, Ellen Leach helped identify a skull found in a bucket of cement at a Missouri truck stop.

From Leach’s 2005 findings, the skull was found to be that of Iowa antiques dealer Gregory May. May’s remains were identified two days before his roommate, Douglas DeBruin, went to trial for May’s murder.

Leach said DeBruin and his girlfriend were caught selling May’s antique collection in Arizona.

“It would’ve been the first case in Iowa to go (to trial) without a body,” Leach said.

Since 2005, Leach has helped solve eight cases around the country.

“That’s kind of unheard of in the web-sleuth community,” said Deborah Halber, author of “The Skeleton Crew,” each chapter of which highlights a web sleuth who has helped solve cold cases across the nation.

Leach’s story, “The Head in the Bucket,” is chapter 12.

“This ID came through just in the nick of time to get the murderer convicted,” Halber said.

Halber, a Boston resident, came to Gulfport to meet Leach last year after learning of her success in the web-sleuth community. She said Leach is a part of “a minority of people who are actually spending the time trying to identify the missing with unidentified remains.”

Leach moved to Gulfport in 2001, and that’s when she began researching missing and unidentified websites and databases trying to find matches.

In 1995, two of Leach’s younger cousins went missing, and it was later learned boys’ mother drowned them. That inspired Leach to investigate missing persons and John and Jane Does, in hopes, she said, “to give families closure so they know where their loved one is . so they’re not sitting there for 40 years waiting on them to come home.”

Leach matched Gregory May’s photo on a missing persons website to a clay reconstruction produced by Frank Bender. In those cases, Leach compares facial and physical features to find matches.

She saw similarities in May’s eyebrows, hairline and nose-to-chin profile.

“You go through each case to compare them, and it’s very time consuming,” she said.

When reconstruction isn’t available, Leach doesn’t let that stop her from searching.

“I tend to go more by distance more than anything,” she said.

In 2005, Leach used distance to identify a body found in a Miami canal.

Matching remains and missing-person profiles, she determined the body, found 20 miles from where he went missing, was that of Robert Ezzel.

On her desk are two computer screens that allow Leach to search missing-persons databases and unidentified remains databases simultaneously.

A retail clerk by day, she spends evenings and weekends researching.

She also runs the Mississippi Missing and Unidentified Persons website.

“She’s dedicated to it,” said Leach’s partner and fellow web sleuth, Chip Glass. “She spends an enormous amount time on the computer and on that phone.”

Glass helps Leach verify all her leads to ensure corrections are accurate, and he works on his own cases. “She’ll work on any of them I’ve got,” he said.

Leach hasn’t been solved any cold cases or missing-person profiles in South Mississippi yet, and she said getting cases here can be a challenge.

“She needs to get one in Mississippi so she can get credibility with the locals,” Glass said.

Leach has found allies in Pascagoula police investigator Darren Versiga, Harrison County Fire Services Chief Pat Sullivan and Harrison County sheriff’s investigator Kristi Johnson.

“She does a great job,” Sullivan said.

They said investigators from coast counties are now working together to solve cases, a change from the past.

“Ellen knew more about what was going on in these coastal counties than we did when we first started,” Versiga said.

Leach said she has been given access to many of Johnson’s and Versiga’s case files.

Versiga said he enjoys talking with Leach and appreciates her dedication.

“She’s constantly emailing and calling me and having me dig up a case, and I enjoy doing that,” he said. Leach said she has some matches pending, but May’s case was the most interesting so far.

Halber said she was glad to include Leach’s work in her book.

“She’s one of the top web sleuths in the country, I think,” she said.

___

Information from: The Sun Herald, https://www.sunherald.com

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