Whenever a murder case arises, we leave it to law enforcement to crack the case and find out who was responsible. However, there are some cases that stump even the most trained professionals, and cases can go cold for years and decades. However, some interested parties have done some sleuthing on their own time to solve some of the hardest murder cases over the years, leading to answered questions and peace of mind. Here are five murder cases that were solve by citizens instead of law enforcement.
Dana Lynn Dodd
On the night of October 29th, 2006 in Kilgore Texas, a pair of strangers walking down the street discovered the fiery remains of Dana Lynn Dodd. She had been recently murdered and her body set ablaze in the woods. At first, investigators had no leads and no clue who this Jane Doe could be.
She was affectionately named Lavender Doe due to the color of her shirt when found. It took twelve years and extensive digging online for three civilian sleuths Lori Gaff, Kevin Lord, and Missy Koski to uncover her true identity. Eventually, the murderer, Joseph Wayne’s Burnette, confessed to the killing as well as the murder of another woman who was living with him at the time. He was charged and convicted, set to serve three consecutive 50-year sentences. Through this tragedy, the DNA Doe Project was founded.
In 2001 a man named Gregory May suddenly vanished from his Iowa apartment he shared with his friend Douglas DeBruin and DeBruin’s girlfriend Julie. After May went missing, his beloved artifacts and rare antique collector’s items had been popping up at different locations with May nowhere to be found.
That same year a man’s skull was found decapitated and buried in a solidified bucket of concrete at a truck stop in Missouri. In 2005 an internet sleuth named Ellen Leach, who made it a hobby to crack cold cases, matched a picture of the still-missing May with the reconstructed head model of the severed head found by the truck stop. The break in the case led to DeBruin being apprehended by police after he fled to Arizona.
Jessica Currin’s body was found dead near a middle school in Mayfield Kentucky in the summer of 2000. She had been sexually assaulted, bludgeoned to death, and set on fire. She left behind an infant son. Her murder was first pinned on the baby’s father but never gained traction due to the irresponsible handling of the case by the police.
The true killer was revealed by Susan Galbreath, an amateur sleuth who spends her time attempting to solve cases just like Currin’s. After years of research, talking to people in the town, and even speaking to the victim’s suspected killer, someone finally came forward and gave a statement pinning the murder on the man Galbreath had suspected, Quincy Cross. Cross was sentenced to life in prison.
Joseph James DeAngelo
Joseph James DeAngelo, coined The Golden State Killer by author and sleuth Michelle McNamara, is responsible for the murders of 13, sexual assaults of 51, and burglary of 120. He was active between 1974 and 1986, not being apprehended until 2018.
Michelle McNamara was a writer who took an extreme interest in the slurry of unsolved cases. Before her untimely death, she wrote a book dedicated to the crimes and her views on it. Detailing the kind of person she thought committed the crimes and bringing awareness to the cold cases. That all led to DeAngelo being apprehended after police connected the dots via familial DNA. DeAngelo is currently serving 12 life sentences.
Tara Grinstead was a high school teacher in Georgia, where she went missing in October of 2005. She was declared dead in 2010, though she had not been found by that time. In later years, Payne Lindsey’s true crime podcast Up and Vanished featured Grinstead’s case.
With the podcast bringing awareness to the case, tips began coming in and police finally arrested and charged Ryan Duke with Grinstead’s murder. It has been discovered that he had burglarized her home and strangled her to death when she caught him in the act. In 2022 Duke was convicted and sentenced to a measly 10 years in prison for this heinous crime.