- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

Kylen Johnson volunteered because she was driven by the memory of a face.

It was the face in a post-mortem photo of a nameless girl found slain in Western Maryland more than a decade ago, and a face she thought she had seen before.

“She looked like a girl who used to hang around in Frederick,” Mrs. Johnson said. “It just kind of haunted me.”

The murder is just one of many cases she is trying to solve through the Doe Network, a group of more than 400 volunteers that matches photographs of unidentified homicide victims with photos of missing persons.

The volunteers — from law-enforcement officials and forensic artists to housewives and retirees — do much of their work on the Internet, posting the photos on the network’s Web site (www.doenetwork.us) and culling unsolved cases from police departments around the country.

Mrs. Johnson, a U.S. Customs agent and the network’s D.C., Maryland and Virginia director, recently helped close a 2003 case in Harford County in which an unidentified female victim was found murdered along a road in Aberdeen, Md.

A Connecticut woman matched the victim’s photo with a missing-person’s report filed by the family of Tina Louise Leone of Lynn, Mass. Mrs. Johnson immediately contacted Harford County police after seeing the match on the Web site.

“It came back five days later that it was her,” she said.

The case was the fourth match made in Maryland by the network, which attempts to solve cases in North America, Australia and Europe. Volunteers have solved 22 cases since the Web site’s inception in 1999, and have assisted in solving eight others.

There are 103,768 active cases of missing persons as of Jan. 1 across the country, according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. The District has 2,926 cases while Maryland has 3,786 and Virginia has 1,081.

Sgt. Jack McCauley, a Maryland State Police cold-case investigator, said more authorities should take advantage of the network, named after the pseudonyms Jane or John Doe that police use to refer to any person whose name is unknown.

“The network helps provide answers,” he said. “It’s a tool I wish all law-enforcement investigators would use because the resources they have are endless. It’s the dedication of the volunteers.”

The network also has caught the attention of Maryland lawmakers.

Delegate Jean B. Cryor, Montgomery Republican, pushed a law through the state’s General Assembly last year to establish a task force on missing vulnerable adults.

“We’re forcing the state police to be the lead in making sure there are revisions made to the missing-persons network,” said Maria Topper, Mrs. Cryor’s legislative assistant. “And the Doe Network has a huge part in that because it’s an independent organization.”

The network has yet to make a match in the District or Virginia. But Mrs. Johnson said volunteers are investigating cases from those areas and have assisted in many cases that have crossed state lines.

Loretta Conrad of Kentucky last saw her husband alive in 1984, just before he hitched a ride to Canada to avoid his troubles with the law. After searching for him for more than 15 years, Mrs. Conrad called Mrs. Johnson in Maryland, her husband’s last known location.

Mrs. Johnson sent out a description and photo of her husband to network volunteers and state police departments. Two days later, the Vermont State police told Mrs. Conrad her husband’s body had been found by hunters in a shallow grave in the Vermont woods.

DNA tests confirmed his identity, and the body was returned to Henderson, Ky.

Mrs. Conrad, 40, said the network helped her achieve one of her goals.

“I raised my kids telling them if they looked at that big, bright star in the sky it was their daddy shining down on them,” she said. “I told them if it took until I was 90 years old I’d bring him home.”

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