NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Almost 1,000 people in Tennessee go to bed every night not knowing where a loved one is.
There are over 300 missing and unidentified persons across the state, many of which are murder victims.
Three of those people–Jennifer Wyant, 22; Veda Powers, 29; and Roger Liles, 49– may come from different backgrounds but are connected by tragedy.
They’re missing, foul play is suspected, and each case is cold.
All three are in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUS, a government database anyone can search and use.
Using the platform, law enforcement agencies can update cases, the public can search for missing people in their area, and families can look up unidentified people with the hope one belongs to them.
“I don’t think people realize what a missing person does to a family. Either that family becomes stronger or they fall apart,” said Todd Matthews, co-director of NamUS.
He said the database has helped close nearly 2,500 cases, many of which were once cold.
“We want to get as many eyes as on these records as possible, including the public,” Matthews told News 2.
Once a case file is entered in the system, the information can be cross-referenced. For example, someone missing in New Mexico could be found as an unidentified person in Kentucky using DNA, fingerprints, or dental records.
“My job is to study these two films and see if I can make them match,” said Dr. Mike Tabor, the medical examiner’s chief odontologist.
He told News 2 teeth are the most reliable form of identification.
“If an unknown body is pulled from the lake, DNA could be degraded yet teeth that have been at the bottom of a lake for decades will not have had any changes at all,” Dr. Tabor explained.
The forensic dentist takes x-rays of a deceased person so those records can be entered in NamUS. Sometimes, there’s a match.
“We get a sense of accomplishment. One, solving the puzzle, and two, we get to bring closure to the families,” Tabor said.
Together, Dr. Tabor and Matthews are trying to bring closure to dozens of families in Middle Tennessee.
People can search and update cases in NamUS as well as enter new cases for missing loved ones.
Thursday on News 2, our crews delve into local cold cases as investigators work to solve the lingering mystery for the families left behind.