True crime meets forensic science in the What Remains podcast
Aug. 31, 2022

The Challenge of Identifying People Who Live in the Shadows

The Challenge of Identifying People Who Live in the Shadows

The Challenge of Identifying People Who Live in the Shadows | What Remains Podcast Episode 12

Amanda Lamb

It’s not unusual for remains to go unidentified when a person is living off the grid—living on the streets, stuck in poverty, addiction, or mental illness. Investigators have told me repeatedly that they don’t care what someone’s background is, whether the person is homeless or a sex worker, they believe everyone deserves to be identified and returned to their families. But historically, many people from these backgrounds remain unidentified. 

Families Left Without Answers

In many of these cases, their families are estranged from them, and they don’t even know where their loved ones were when they disappeared. These are caught up in the classic cycle of police officers needing to handle the crisis of the day and not having the resources to continually look for missing people or identify unidentified remains when there are no leads in a case. 

"A Solemn Responsibility” 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Lt. Brian Crum calls their mission to identify all their unidentified remains “a solemn responsibility.”  

It’s a responsibility Detective Matt Hefner takes seriously. 

“The undertone of what you're saying is that everybody deserves dignity, no matter what their background is or where they came from, and their families deserve answers?” I asked him. 

“Even if we come up and figure out these victims died of some unknown, natural cause at least we have them identified. They go back to their family, and they can have that service have some level of closure. I don't know if they'll ever get full closure, but some level of closure,” said the detective. 

In episode 12 of the What Remains podcast, a hardened homicide detective finds a new passion late in his law enforcement career: solving cold cases, and putting names to long-forgotten missing people.