If you like a good mystery and need a fix, look no further than the Broward Sheriff's Office website -- your skin will crawl. Found & Forgotten is a database started just shy of two years ago to publicize cases in which someone lost their life in Broward County but remains unidentified. "We never notified the family of that person's death, and that's one of the most important things you can do in law enforcement," says Public Information Officer Dani Moschella. Evidence from these unsolved crimes is compiled in the database so that the public -- especially families and friends looking for a loved one -- can flip through cases and potentially identify a victim and help solve a crime.
So far, the service has resulted in only one success -- though it's strange to even call this a success. Tina Moore, who was murdered in Broward County in the early '80s, was identified on the website by a man from California, who called Moore's family in Virginia and New York. Her family never reported her missing because she would frequently move away for long periods of time. A chipped tooth from a childhood injury at a Brooklyn playground helped to identify the body. "Her family was very thankful -- they never knew what happened to her," Moschella says.
But is it worth it?
"Absolutely... even just to notify that one family," Moschella says. "We'd like to see that happen again and again -- and we believe it can, if people would look at the website." Two years ago, people shrugged aside news of this new local database, but now, other agencies are developing similar cold-case clearinghouses, and it seems this is becoming a trend in law enforcement.
With technology more than capable of supporting a comprehensive national database, it's only a matter of time before everyone puts their heads together. The service coming closest to that end is NamUs, a national service (used by 10 percent of law enforcement agencies as of March 2010) that launched last year with similar goals to Found & Forgotten. Other agencies compiled similar sites, with varying degrees of utility and comprehensiveness, but Broward County was ahead of the curve in developing a thorough and easy-to-use system.
An important thing to note about Found & Forgotten is that it did not cost Broward County taxpayers any extra cash. It was a "major undertaking" for the Broward County Sheriff's Office, Moschella says, but the creation of the database used in-office manpower and resources. Staff created clay reconstructions, drew sketches, photographed evidence, and wrote summaries based on information that had been filed away for years.
Although you may have goosebumps as you glance through the entries, it is amazing how many distinctive factors there are in each case. Some would even make the deceased roll over, like the woman who was wearing panties that had a catch phrase... "The 'Give a Damn' panties... somebody's got to remember those underwear," Moschella says.
Then there is the man with the polka-dot boxers, the man with the fake Hawaii driver license with the name "MIGOD," and the man who smoked Kool cigarettes and wore a shirt that read, "I have no drinking problem: I drink, I get drunk, I fall down." These people had to have left an impression on someone.
Creepy as hell but ultimately progressive and useful -- and sometimes even patriotic (a man found in an innertube in the ocean had a note in his pocket reading "USA") -- it will be interesting to see if more cases are solved this way as online victim information becomes increasingly more comprehensive.