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The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases

3.11  ·  Rating details ·  817 Ratings  ·  193 Reviews
Solving cold cases from the comfort of your living room…

The Skeleton Crew provides an entree into the gritty and tumultuous world of Sherlock Holmes–wannabes who race to beat out law enforcement—and one another—at matching missing persons with unidentified remains.

In America today, upwards of forty thousand people are dead and unaccounted for. These murder, suicide, and ac
Hardcover, 285 pages
Published July 1st 2014 by Simon Schuster
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Travis Fascinating topic, lots of interesting anecdotes, but so poorly organized. I had to flip back and forth a lot thinking "who are we talking about…moreFascinating topic, lots of interesting anecdotes, but so poorly organized. I had to flip back and forth a lot thinking "who are we talking about now??" Also, tends to repeat information and throws in way too much description at weird times, which makes the organizational problems seem even worse. Worth reading, but needed a fierce edit.(less)

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May 31, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was really excited about this book, but it was a bit of a hot mess.

Instead of facts, it was stories. I would have been okay with stories if they would have been engaging. Instead, I found myself getting confused at the timeline because there was so much jumping around.

I love the idea of people who aren't law enforcement tackling cold cases. They're doing an excellent service for the loved ones who have missing family members. I just wish it could have been presented in a different format.

Dec 16, 2014 marked it as dnf
Could have been a really interesting book, but it was hampered by the choppy, and disorganized format, and the author's tendency to drop really interesting plot points to focus on mundane details. Please don't tell me more about the murder case please let me know exactly what all of these amateur sleuths look like, and what they were wearing when they met you.

Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I was greatly intrigued by the premise. I love true crime shows, books, etc. I some times surf the web looking for new crimes, missing people, and unidentified remains myself (now I am not as serious as the people in this book). I was looking forward to reading this book and even made sure to clear my schedule for a few hours so I could get down to business.

Sadly this book did not live up to my expectations. While the cases were intriguing and t
Aug 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
The subject matter of Deborah Halber's The skeleton crew : how amateur sleuths are solving America's coldest cases promised to make for an interesting read. I have always been a fan of cold case stories, both fact and fiction. Halber relates the quest to unearth identities of the remains of the unidentified, who might be thought missing but really are not any longer. It's a small distinction but a very important one.

Unlike many of the reviewers here I was not put off by the stories that were tol
Aug 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book had a great premise: how "regular people" are using the internet to identify murder victims, or "cold cases" that remain, some decades later, unsolved by professionals in the field of criminal investigation.

I had great difficulty reading this book, and think that it could have used a good editor. There is great detail in the stories shared in this book- too much perhaps. It is very difficult to follow the large cast of characters, some that are followed throughout the book, and others
May 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads, 2014
I received this book as a Goodreads First Read.

When I first read the description, I assumed it was a researched-based book on missing person cases: I was wrong.

The book was way more anecdotal than expected, and the stories jumped around too much - I found myself going back to remember what happened, or wanting to know what happened next, but not sure when I would know the answer. Although the book is very anecdotal, Ms. Halber is very passionate on the subject and it shows throughout the book.

I liked the cold cases themselves, but the profiles of the amateurs -- and their infighting -- not so much. Narration was a good fit for the book; however, given the lack of structure the print edition would be easier to follow (skim).
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are anywhere between 13,000 and an estimated 60,000 unidentified bodies in American cemeteries, mortuaries, or coroner offices today. And the lists of missing persons are impossible to summarize. Unfortunately, it's clear that there's some overlap between the two groups and with the internet as a tool, citizens took it upon themselves to try to solve the question of who can be named.

The Skeleton Crew deals with this new wave of crime-fighting: regular Joes and Janes from across the world w
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber is a very highly recommended, fascinating anecdotal look at how amateurs are solving cold cases.

Chances are you know of a cold case, an unsolved murder right in your own city. Startlingly, according to what Halber discovered, chances are also "good that you or someone you know has at one point stumbled over a dead body. There are shockingly large numbers of them out there. According to the national insti
Apr 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
*Disclosure: I received this book from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.*

1. This book jumps all over the place in terms of narration, and I'm not quite sure what type of book this is supposed to be. Is it an expose into the world of online cold case hunters, the ins and outs and the hidden drama behind the scenes? Is it an investigation into the "hidden crises" of unknown and missing people in the United States, and the problem trying to find them justice? Is it about the author solving a missin
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was so looking forward to reading this. Fascinating concept with good, real stories, but the writing is a mess. This book is in *desperate* need of an editor. There is no flow or way to make sense of the content. I found this a frustrating read and would not recommend.
Oct 04, 2016 rated it liked it
I picked up this book because of a project I'm working on. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It had a lot of intriguing information about the world of web sleuths and unidentified victims of crimes.
It isn't directly applicable to my project (I'm interested in cold cases/unsolved murders), but it was an interesting exploration of this particular aspect of cold cases.
The writing and structure of the book was problematic at times. I think someone told her to use hooks, and they were overused at the end of
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe this book is intended for the summer beach crowd; for nonfiction it is very light read. It relies a lot on stories and anecdotes rather than statistics. The book jumps from subject to subject and time period from time period without any logical connection.

The “Skeleton Crew” are amateurs who go through the web trying to match missing persons to unidentified bodies. This matching of unidentified remains to missing persons aids the police in catching the killers and brings closure to the rel
May 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, forensic
This was a fascinating look into another whole subculture of mostly internet forums where ordinary citizens match Missing Persons with Unidentified Persons, thus managing to solve cold cases. Many seemed unsolvable and were up to 30 years old.

Did you know there may be between 40,000 and 60,000 Unidentified Persons laying around morgues, forensic labs, bones or ashes piled up in cardboard or metal boxes or buried in Potter's Fields at any given time across America? Did you know that up until 9/1
Aug 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Fascinating subject handled poorly. The narratives & timelines jump around way too much - making it very hard to keep details straight. Also the author throws so many clauses into a sentence that it's a hard read even at that basic level.
Jun 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction
This was a fascinating look into a side of crime solving that doesn't get a lot of notice in the media. I appreciated how the author tied the narratives of various victims and amateur detectives together and showed how much work goes into identifying even one person. Highly recommended!
Mar 02, 2015 added it
Shelves: dnf, non-fiction, research
Read to page 68. Interesting, just not the book I was looking for. Taking it back to library.
Jun 11, 2014 rated it liked it
I am a true crime addict. I used to watch TruTV nonstop, back when it used to air a bunch of nonfiction crime shows instead of scripted reality tv, and now I watch Investigation Discovery incessantly. I was so excited about this book because it sounded so intriguing, plus I thought I could get some tips on how I could possibly become a "web sleuth" and help identify missing persons and unidentified remains.

While this book was interesting and definitely shared a lot of different true crime and m
Nov 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Linden by: an NPR book review

As a fan of NCIS, after an NPR book review, I downloaded The Skeleton Crew which traced the successes and frustrations of amateur detective work on cold cases. That term refers to no-longer actively pursued murder cases that seem impervious to solution and may remain unsolved for years, if not decades. Sometimes this comes from the distance of the death from modern forensics, but more often from institutions not sharing information; categories of information such as fingerprint files or dental r
Feb 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
Don't publishers edit books anymore? Annecdotal and poorly organized, this book was a hot mess.
There was interesting information buried there, but it was not worth the time I spent finding it.
I'm not really sure what to say that hasn't already been said...

I enjoyed the stories about missing and unidentified individuals. It's a topic I've nosed around in from time to time and find rather fascinating. The Skeleton Crew brought a few more stories to light that I hadn't been aware of, and I've spent some time on Namus and The Doe Network since. I give points for the book likely inspiring more people to look into these issues.

On the other hand, the organization of the book made it difficu
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Deborah Halber's interviews and analysis of the habits and lives of web sleuths--people who voluntarily comb through missing person networks and unidentified body databases to see if they can make a match--proved brisk and entertaining. Occasionally, Halber lets superficial appearance details paint a weird picture of the web sleuths, and she makes liberal use of ending passages on a cliffhanger before abruptly picking up another thought, musing, or anecdote before eventually looping back around. ...more
Matt Good
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
I listened to The Skeleton Crew as an Audible audiobook. I had high hopes that went largely unrealized. What probably could/should have been a really satisfying longform article results in an only occasionally satisfying book. Halber tries to use the book's structure to create suspense - a couple of high profile cases are teased in the first few chapters and not resolved until the end - but the effect is really just that of confusion, especially when one can't turn back a few pages to recall the ...more
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
Hundreds and hundreds of cases go unsolved every year. The police are often overwhelmed with cases or don't have the time and resources to match nameless bodies with an identity. So amateur sleuths are turning to the internet and sometimes old fashioned leg work to match names to the victims.

I've always been fascinated by forensics, crime solving, and anything relating to the medical field. So I was sure this book would be a hit. The author has done some amazing research. The concept is fascina
Sep 06, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a rare instance where I think I should have read the book instead of listening to the audio. The narrator's voice lulled me into disinterest so that I wound up rewinding a lot. I wanted to finish because the topic is so fascinating. The 3 stars is more a reflection of the narration than the subject matter or the writing.

If you are a CSI fan, this book is for you. It relates the history of the Doe network which is a web based association of laypeople who voluntarily research cold cases in
Lisa Hunt
Aug 17, 2014 rated it liked it
I loved the idea of this book...the fact that there are load of amateur sleuths out there that pore over the Internet, matching unidentified remains with missing persons, is kind of crazy and interesting at the same time. Some of the matches these people have made and the time they spend on it is mind boggling. It definitely sparked me to poke around on the Web a bit, though I draw the line at trying to find photos of remains. The hard part of the book was that it was so non-linear, that it was ...more
Suzie Quint
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I read a lot of nonfiction, so I know what I like. This should have been a 4 or 5 star read for me, but because the author (and possibly the editor) appears to be ADHD, it came very close to getting 1 star. The book is a mess of disconnected stories. For instance, after relating the story of how one amateur matched an unidentified body to a missing person, the author makes the statement about how their second success didn't go so easily. It was a nice provocative lead in to the amateur's next ex ...more
Margaret Sankey
Aug 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Halber, a popular science writer, profiles the effect access to the internet has had on the growing community of people who, motivated by being touched by a crime, or just out of a love of solving puzzles, scour newspaper banks, local folklore, ancestry trees and police reports to match unidentified bodies with missing people, sometimes decades after their disappearances. I know very well the lure of crowdsourcing information, and how people can be motivated to do exhausting research work for fr ...more
My very bright little sister is a avid web-sleuth and tries to help find/identify missing people. She recommended this book to me. I found parts of it fascinating but did get confused reading the stories, which were not organized in a clear way for the reader. I did learn about a little known sub-culture that is very actively obsessed in their detection work. They are doing very good work trying to bring relief to grieving families. I wish that the author made the book easier to read which is wh ...more
Scott Lupo
Dec 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Cool little book about the amateur sleuth underground that is solving cold cases throughout the country. Deborah Halber follows the stories of several sleuths who spend hours, money, and ungodly amounts of time matching photos with cases. Like many of the say, it's like a giant memory puzzle game. But it is more than that. Some of these folks have an inner drive, a selfless motivation to give closure to family and friends of the victims of these cold cases. As with any group there are rivalries ...more
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Deborah Halber started out as a daily newspaper reporter, then turned to the dark side to do public relations. She worked as a writer and editor for Tufts and as a science writer for MIT, where she chronicled everything from quantum weirdness (that's the technical term) to snail slime. A freelance journalist since 2004, her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, MIT Technology Review, the graph ...more
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