Man Who Solved 30-Year-Old Murder Mystery Online Is The Original Internet Detective
At the age of 17, Todd Matthews heard about an unsolved mystery surrounding the death of a victim known simply as ‘Tent Girl’, and took it upon himself to work out her identity.
The girl had been found dead and wrapped in a tent wrapper in the 1960s, and despite police investigations, the girl was unable to be identified. She was later buried with a gravestone that read ‘Tent Girl’.
Matthews heard about this crime as a teenager in 1987, and decided to do some of his own research into the matter.
Obviously, at the time of the girl’s death the internet wasn’t around to help police solve the crime, so Matthews would later use it to his advantage.
Having lost two siblings himself as young children, Matthews couldn’t help but feel empathy for the girl whose headstone didn’t have a name on.
It just so happened that it was Matthew’s father-in-law who discovered the girl’s body on the side of the road.
He explained to Vice, ‘I was 17 and it was near Halloween, so we were telling ghost stories. [My wife] explained how her father has found the body on the side of the road wrapped in a canvas tent wrapper and how a grave had been created with her image on it.’
There was no name [on the gravestone]. That just stuck with me. I had a brother and sister that passed away as infants years and years ago, and I knew their names – their names were on their stone. And I felt like Tent Girl didn’t have a real name, and I feel that’s why it stuck with me for so many years.
At 17 years old, he started the manual process of his investigations from looking through newspaper articles, speaking to his father-in-law and making phone calls.
Despite working on the investigation for years to no avail, when the internet was created in the 1990s, Matthews decided to create a website in the hope of solving the crime.
He explained, ‘I created a site for Tent Girl and I gathered up everything that I did know about her. And I thought, ‘well, maybe if I just put something online’.’
Through internet searches for missing family members, Matthews then came across a note from a woman in Arkansas who was looking for her missing sister who was last seen in Lexington, Kentucky – a short distance away from where he lived – in 1967.
Matthews said, ‘It was very clear at the time that that’s who I was looking for.’
The body of the girl was later exhumed in 1997, and police were able to confirm that it was indeed the body of Barbara Hackmann Taylor, the missing sister written about in the note.
Following his successful investigation, and as the internet progressed, Matthews went on to help develop the first database for missing and unidentified persons.
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