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I'm Lester Holt tonight on Dateline. For more than 12 years, a young murder victim didn't have a name until a team of strangers gave it back to her. Two guys saw what they thought was a mannequin. She had wood piled on top of her, no ID. We all came together by becoming volunteers to identify Jane does and John does. There's a passion trying to find out who our dough is. I think what if this is your family? You want to give them closure to us homicide detectives?


That's why you're here. I said, I think I know how we can do it. All of these people share some amount of DNA with our unknown person. We thought this is the family, this is it surreal. It felt like somebody just punched me like. A funny thing, isn't it, that it would be important to have a stone with your name on it? It is. It's written in stone. You're never forgotten. Here's Keith Morrison with the woman with no name.


Here is where they put her, her permanent home. Nobody really knew anything about her, this little cemetery in East Texas, one simple marker on her grave and the name that wasn't the name Jane Doe.


It makes it personal because you think, what if this is your family? What if this could be your friend?


She who was she?


This impossible enigma, how it is that the young woman can disappear and die and that no one can figure out who she is.


The question that kept them glued to their computers, participating in something like this, too, can be almost consuming. It can it can really drain us.


The obsession. I was hooked. I was absolutely hooked. This is where it began October 29, 2006, Gilger, Texas, two men out target shooting on oil lease property not far from town. They smelled it first.


Then they saw something burning look like a mannequin. The men approached. What was that? And then they recoiled. That was a young woman dead and burning, you know, we have homicides just like the rest of world. But, you know, it's going as far as trying to burn the body really struck fear in people around here.


Lieutenant Eddie Hope was still a sergeant back then, Gregg County Sheriff's Department. She had wood piled beneath her and wood piled on top of her. And there was, I believe, a gas can lead there. Wow. So it looked like somebody was trying to cover their tracks.


She was meant to be part of one big bonfire and just disappear forever.


Right. The officers who responded noted every detail they could, that she was young, late teens, early 20s, and she was little, maybe five, four hundred pounds. She was wearing jeans, a pale shirt, the color of lavender. Forty four dollars in her pocket. And this was unusual. Baby teeth.


She still had a few. She never lost them. And I said, that's that's highly unusual.


I'll give you something to work with anyone a little bit.


Other than that, the young woman was impossible to identify. She had been murdered of that. There was no doubt her last moments had been very bad.


But in most homicide investigations, detectives burrowed deep into the life of the victim, talked to every friend, interviewed the family, find out about scorned lovers or past mistakes.


That's often how murders get solved. But in this case, none of it was possible.


Didn't have a clue. What could you do? Nothing. If we got tips, ran them down because, I mean, we had no grounds to go on who this could be or where she came from. They ran her DNA profile, didn't match any known person known to them anyway. But the autopsy revealed semen in her body and it did match someone, a known local sex offender. So they pulled him in and he admitted he had sex that day with a woman whose name he didn't know, but he didn't kill her and he had an alibi, too.


So that was that we would get people off the Internet. They would say, hey, I think this might be so-and-so and we would follow up on that and eventually rule it out. What we were thinking at the time was maybe she's not from around here because nobody's missing her here.


And so great county paid for a burial plot and for a little marker on the ground above her body, small headstone just reached Jane Doe.


There have no other information we knew on and winter came, but they didn't give up. A Texas Ranger who sometimes worked with them said maybe he could help and he was able to fly, you know, an artist to try to reconstruct what what our victim looked like in real life.


And here it was. But it produced no leads. The county even made it clay model using an X-ray of the victim's skull, including those Babits sent it around the local media. Still nothing. And detective work, it's an unending drum that beats at all hours of the day and night felonies, misdemeanors, the lot demanding attention. We got cases every day and, you know, we'd get three or four cases each day, sometimes more.


They didn't forget her as they went about their work. But the young woman remain nameless no matter how many trails they followed. And they just went on for years.


I mean, it's basically all we had a little bit here and a little bit there, but not much. And no solution. No solution. No nothing.


And then something unusual happened. The little details like her baby teeth caught the eyes of amateur Internet investigators on sites like Reddit and Web sleuths.


And before too long, they began referring to the mystery woman with a kind of shorthand.


It was the distinctive color of her shirt that did it. One of those armchair detectives took to calling her Lavender Lavender Doe.


This was a case that was followed online very closely by many people, people like this guy. And what happened after that? Well, remember what we said about obsession? A murder victim without a name. And detectives without any clues, making this a very hard mystery to solve.


When we come back, I spent a lot of my spare time looking into missing persons cases. I was impressed that people cared and knew how to help. I said, I think I know how we can do it. Tomorrow and tomorrow and the decade went by. Eleven years after the murder of a young woman they called Levander Doe and more than 200 miles from the spot where her body was found in the town of Killeen, Texas, a man was feverishly at work, though it wasn't his profession.


This work that consumed him, not yet.


At least that kind of spent a lot of my spare time looking into missing persons case, really just kind of trying to flesh out the stories of some of these lesser known cases.


His name is Kevin Lord. He is well, many things. A former software developer, a T-shirt salesman, a passionate and loyal consumer of all things true crime. He wasn't an investigator or a law enforcement officer, just someone plagued by unanswered questions.


I was looking for Jane Doe's in the area in Texas. That might be a match to one of these missing girls.


And that's how he came across hundreds of pages of online forums about a mystery woman nicknamed Lavender Doe. Could she be one of the missing women he was trying to locate? And so Kevin called the Gregg County Sheriff's Department and found himself on the phone with the lead detective on Lavender Doe's case, Lieutenant Eddie Hope.


I was impressed that people cared because we live in a world where everything is fast paced and a lot of people are worried about themselves, not others.


And here was evidence that maybe they are interested in others. Right.


Some other investigator might have blown off a guy like Kevin, just another civilian with an Internet connection and a theory. But Kevin seemed to know what he was doing and his Internet skills way beyond what Lieutenant Hope could do. And before long, though, they didn't actually meet in person, they began acting almost like partners.


We just flew together, you know, whatever he needed that he couldn't get, that I could get law enforcement wise, he would send it to me. We kind of meshed together these bits of information, this and two things happen.


One, Kevin realized Levander Doe was not one of the missing women he'd been looking for.


And two, he got hooked on the case of the girl in the lavender shirt, but he kept hitting dead ends. He needed some specialized help, very specialized.


I reached out to the tornado project to see if I might be able to come on as a volunteer.


The DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit founded by a former rocket scientist named Colleen Fitzpatrick and a novelist and genealogy enthusiast, Margaret Press.


I barely knew what John and Jane Doe's meant, but I had been retired for about a year. I'd come out back to the West Coast to be near my daughter and grandchildren and to relax.


It was winter twenty seventeen when Margaret, not the retiring type, was struck with an idea she'd already been deeply immersed in genealogy, helping adoptees find their birth parents.


So if I can figure out Jane Doe's parents will know who Jane Doe was.


Margaret's plan to obtain remains from Jane and John Doe's retest their DNA and upload the results to a public database where maybe that DNA would lead them to some relative of their victim.


So I had my recipe and I reached out to Colleen and I said, I think I know how we can do it. And she said, bingo, all we need is DNA.


Oh, and I know a couple of people at first they paid for the DNA tests with their own savings and then they set up a nonprofit and started taking donations. And after just six months, they solved their first case, the mystery surrounding it. A few weeks later, another case made headlines around the world showing the power of genealogy.


Police arresting a man they believe is the so-called Golden State killer. And the suspect, a former police officer, discovered using DNA that one did change the world because that was a violent killer.


And that was a huge impact on on on the world. On the community.


Sure. Opened everybody's eye. Yep.


And suddenly Colleen and Margaret had company genealogists came out of the woodwork.


And I could see us as a very unique organization where law enforcement agencies could come to us with their bones and no money, and we could bring in volunteer genealogists who were begging to help us.


What you can bring to this process is a crowd. Sourced investigation, like, you know, a bunch of bees forming a hive and desperately they not going to do much, but all together they can really accomplish something truly significant.


Right, exactly. Kevin Lord was one of those bees. He joined DNA, though, as a volunteer and then others followed kind of mini hive looking for the truth about a mystery woman they called Lavender Doe. Coming up, the bees get busy.


We spend hours working together, talking to each other. Oh, my gosh. Did you see this? And what about this? And where's who's this guy? We're kind of the last resort when Dateline continues.


It was a kind of obsession, the determination to give her back her name to identify the anonymous young woman murdered and set on fire, then buried here in Longview, Texas.


Those law enforcement that tried every trick in the investigative book, except for a new book, if you could call it that, the DNA DOE project, a bunch of amateurs, really, but committed.


Oh, yes.


It's not that law enforcement has not tried.


Most of the cases that come to us were kind of the last resort us, meaning a group of people who had never actually met in person who labored away in a kitchen or a bedroom or a basement, who knew each other only online. Like Laurie GAF, a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot who stumbled on a Facebook posting about the tornado.


I was completely enthralled and I mean, being me had to know absolutely everything there was about it.


And I thought I totally want to be a part of this and was soon addicted. It will consume your life if you let it. So we I've been making an effort to kind of set limits.


One hour turns into ten pretty quick, I would think. Right. Ten, ten might be a slow day. This has become an obsession.


Then there was Missy Korski, a self-described search angel who would use genetic genealogy to find her biological father. What was that like to find him?


It was incredible. It was absolutely incredible.


So she began helping other adoptees find their birth parents. And one day, while I was helping an adoptee, that adoptees got a phone call from the DNA project and she was told that she was distantly related to a Jane Doe. I just got intrigued and I said, can I talk to them?


Before long, Missy was hooked to and the three, Kevin, Lori and Missy formed a team.


So you're like the Three Musketeers sitting there together. We spend hours working together, talking to each other almost exclusively online, and we just get in there and blab all day long about, oh, my gosh, did you see this?


And what about this? And where's this? Who's this guy? I can't find this. Whatever. I can Wake County, after more than a decade chasing leads and lavender, Lieutenant Hope understood that investigations have changed. Geneology It's the way of the future to us homicide detectives. It's way above our heads, to be honest with you. So you welcome their help there. And across the country. Someone else had taken notice of the amateur investigators working with DNA doe.


I like to write about how ordinary people, for example, genealogists are dealing with the new advances in DNA.


Sara Zheng is a staff writer for The Atlantic magazine.


I like the fact that Kevin had been so invested in this case. Passion like that was a story we're following. And she did watching their process, for one thing, using the victim's skin or hair or blood to generate a DNA profile, which they upload to a genealogy site called DJed Match. We get a whole list of DNA matches back and all of these people share some amount of DNA with our unknown person.


It's important to understand the volunteers work with public DNA databases. And where does all this DNA material come from that you're able to look at?


So these are all people who have taken tests with companies like Ancestry, DNA or twenty three and made a consumer test and who have given access to others to view their results.


That's a relatively tiny percentage of the population. So the odds of finding an exact match vanishingly small.


But just by the pure probabilities, we're often lucky enough to get a decent enough match by a decent match.


He means a distant relative, someone who likely doesn't even know the victim.


We kind of look for a match that's in the neighborhood of maybe a second or third cousin or so as a good starting point, a starting point to work backwards and try to reconstruct branches of the family tree by scouring the Internet, mining every possible bit of information from birth certificates to death notices to marriage licenses to social media. Where the heck do you find all this stuff? I mean, most spend hours and hours and hours and hours and hours in front of a computer screen to try to find it.


And lots of money. Yep. The DNA DOE project made a new sketch and they put it up online. They added a PayPal button to raise money for that retest of Lovato's DNA. And pretty soon, the online community that followed the life of the DOE case answered the call.


And within four days, the public had come through and completely funded the testing that we had to do.


But before they could even get the test sent out, something very unexpected happened.


I get a call from Lieutenant hoping, the sheriff's office saying that he has big news.


What could that be?


Coming up next. I wanted to get this off my chest. A break in the case and a frustrating discovery.


We found that there were 27 first cousins while it was hot that Texas summer of twenty eighteen. The summer the DNA DOE volunteers spent hunkered down inside staring at their computer screens, trying to identify lavender. Go. But it hardly started when Kevin Lloyd got a call from Lieutenant Eddie Hope, a young woman named Felicia Pearson had been reported missing by her family.


She was last seen with a new boyfriend who told them she left him, just went away.


They spoke with their mother and we learned there was a wooded area inside of Longview that he had taken her to before.


And that's where we found Felicia murdered.


There was no doubt about this victim's identity and no question who the prime suspect was, her violent ex-con boyfriend, Joseph Wayne Burnette, lieutenant who knew the name, the same man whose semen had been found 12 years before in the body of Lavender Doe. He was arrested. He was brought into the Broward County jail for about a year.


Two detectives questioned Burnett. He admitted killing Felicia, but that wasn't all.


He started talking about a girl that he killed and burned several years ago. A burn girl, by the way, the detectives called Eddie Hope you're on your way home. At that point, I was already home.


Must have been good to hear. Didn't take me long to get back.


And that's why I wanted to get this off my chest. I just let him talk. He talked about this 12 year old martyrs'. If it happened yesterday, he left no detail out.


Now, when I reached down her and I grabbed a rope, I put her on a hot time to know she never saw it coming.


A rope around her neck. It only took seconds. So I choked her.


She she she just couldn't move.


So it confessed to killing her. But there was something else. Personally, I don't know her like a friend.


No one.


I think her name was actually we thought her name was Ashley. He wouldn't really for sure of that was just a first name. Ashley maybe. But even if Ashley was a real first name, it didn't solve the mystery. We had a confession and we still don't know who this person is. Nigezie jump. I mean, that's not daughter. It's supposed to go.


Despite his confession, we're not pleaded not guilty. Justice for a victim still label Levander DOA in court documents would take some time. Time the volunteers couldn't waste.


That made it a lot more real and put more weight behind what we were doing. Who was laughing? Doe.


That was what was left at that point. I had those retested DNA returned from the lab on October twenty eighteen and the team went to work looking for potential relatives. Just nine days later, they found one, a woman in East Texas, right near the spot where Lavender Doe was found.


I contacted Lieutenant Hope. I told them we have this defendant who lives about thirty minutes from where Lavender was found. I can't tell you exactly how she's related, but it seems like it would be a huge coincidence if she wasn't fairly closely related.


This had to be an immensely exciting oh, we thought this is her. This is the mom. This is the family. This is it. And so, of course, Lieutenant Hope, with a brand new optimism, drove out to see her and he came up empty. The woman had no missing relatives and no idea who the mother doe might be. Must have been disappointing. It was like you thought maybe you're on to something and you weren't gonna get your hopes up.


Then you let down. But it that's been happening for, you know, twelve years.


I was so. No, no, no. She's lying. She's lying. This is it. Because when you're researching family from another part of the country and all of a sudden you find this relative in the right spot, in the right place, at the right time, it has to be then it dawned on them the woman wasn't lying and there was still a chance she could help.


Kevin had a hunch. Perhaps she knew something without knowing she knew it. What did she know?


She told us that she did not know who Lavender was, but she had taken a test herself with ancestry DNA and she would be happy to share her results with us. Well, what happened when she did that? When we compared her DNA to lavender does DNA, we could see that it looked like lavender. Those parent was probably a first cousin of hers. And suddenly they felt close, all they had to do was find the right cousin, the right cousin who might be missing a daughter or niece or someone not so easy.


As we started looking and researching every person in this family, we found that there were 27 first cousins who could have possibly been Lavender Doe's parent. Where are they? Who were their children? Are they alive? What can we find?


One by one, they pulled on their threads, hundreds of them leading nowhere. And then it was Kevin who found it. The Texas woman had a distant cousin who lived out of state, a woman she didn't know had never met, whose name was Robin.


And Robin had a daughter, but when they tried to find her, she had addresses up until right around 2006 and then kind of just fell off the map and couldn't find her anywhere.


2006, what a coincidence. It was the year Lavender Doe was murdered. Coming up, I remember sitting on the couch and just crying. A search ends and a story begins. We lost track between her and us for about 10 years when Dateline continues. Over the years, Lieutenant Eddie Hope thought a lot about those last moments of Labrador's life, kind of how to achieve if you're coming out here and Europe, you can't put a closure to you know, you can't in the story.


To help write that ending, he had put his faith in the dedicated volunteers who had spent countless hours trying to give her back her name. By the fall of twenty eighteen, they seemed close.


DNA and genealogy had led them to a woman named Robin, whose daughter had disappeared. At that point, we were kind of thinking, wow, this is this has got to be her.


Except when they tried to find her, this Robin person, they discovered she was dead. So they kept scouring the Internet and the Robin led them to another relative who, if they were right, would be Lavender Doe's cousin. They tracked down a number. And Lieutenant Hoke called, asked if any young woman in this person's family was missing.


And he said, I haven't seen her in years. He said last we had heard, she ran away from home just like she just disappeared.


But he said his missing cousin had a half sister, Lieutenant, who called her to where. I talked to her several times and she agreed to send Kevin their DNA kit, which meant sending the half sisters DNA sample to the lab and waiting.


How long did that take? It took about a month and a half. I believe that must have been pins and needles. Oh, yeah. It was a winter's day late January when they got the news. It was a match. Kevin called Gluten and Hope and I was pretty excited about the whole department was excited.


I wasn't prepared for the emotion that I had right then. I couldn't control myself. I remember sitting on the couch and just crying because I was so happy. But the emotion of all this work, all these countless nights, you know, working all day and all night and trying to figure this out, just just all came together right then.


So who was she? Who was the young woman who for so long had been a sketch known only as Lavander Doe? Here she was. Dana Lynn died.


It was Dana's half sister, Amanda, who had provided that DNA sample. And then naturally curious, she looked online and saw that clay model.


And I called him back and I told him, that's Dana, it's Dana. What was it like to see that? Surreal. It felt like somebody just punched me stomach.


I was angry that she was by herself. You know, her her worst fear came true.


She was forgotten, which was the heartbreaking truth Amanda revealed about Dana Dodd. Hers was a life of instability, uncertainty, and from the very beginning, rejection.


Her mom moved out when she was little. One mother figure after another came and went from her life.


She was passed around between my dad and his, you know, current wife or current girlfriend at the time. And that's how we lost track between her and us for about ten years.


By the time Dana was in her early teens, Amanda was twenty three years old and married and raising a son of her own. And when she heard Dana was living not far away somewhere in Florida, I just looked at my husband and said, this is what we need to do.


And he knew it. And there was no question that she moved right into the home after all she'd been through.


It was almost like a fairy tale, a real home. Was she happy about it at first? Very, very happy.


She said she liked the normal life, fairly normal, not having to worry. You know, being loved is what she said, being able to sit down at dinner time with the family and be able to discuss just your daily things that we take for granted.


It was good for a while. So what happened to Dana Todd? How did she become that mystery victim so far away?


Coming up, a young girl alone.


That's when the problem started. A story as old as time. Oh, yeah.


And on her own, there's just a form of human trafficking that just kind of puts them into a whole different. For 12 years, they knew her only as lavender, though, the mystery murder victim with the purple shirt. Now, they knew her real name, Dana Lynn Dodd. What a story a name reveals of an abandoned baby, a rejected toddler whose whole life had been a cautionary tale. Her long lost half sister, Amanda, stepped in to help and did help.


But then at age 16, Dana got a serious boyfriend. That's when the problems started. It's a story as old as time. Oh, yeah. So then Amanda sent Dana to live with her brother, John. I tried to make it where she was always wanted, but that boy again. Did you give her ultimatum? I did. I did. You know, because, you know, I told her, do you want to stay with this guy or do you want a better life?


And she's like, you know what? I love him when that didn't work out either. Dana, determined to finally take control of her own life, decided to get a job. It was with a magazine company, she said, that would allow her to travel, selling subscriptions and other products. John told Dana that sounded like a bad idea in a contest between you and those folks in the magazine who didn't stand a chance? No, no. Because she was wanting to try to do something for herself.


So she was trying to prove prove something. She was just looking for acceptance, anybody that would accept her and take her. And that's what she was looking for her whole life. Dana was 18 and full of optimism. She would call me every month saying, hey, I'm in Indiana, hey, I'm in Cincinnati for like six months, five or six months. She would call me every month. It was summertime. Twenty six when she called him the last time I told her to come home and she said, no, I want to do this on my own.


So that was the last time I heard from her. And then the long silence, where was she? They had no idea what a helpless feeling that must have been. It was it was hard. It was very helpless and more so because we didn't know anything, anything about the company. Where do you start when you know they're traveling all over the country? Some of those magazine sales companies are notorious for exploiting their young employees, preying on them.


Lieutenant Eddie Hope knows this all too well. It's just a form of human trafficking. They take these kids, I promise them a good life. And once they get them away from home, they're living in a seedy motel room. And with that comes at you around the drug dealers, you're around the prostitutes, you're around the pimps, just kind of puts them into a whole different dark world, dark and in Dana's case, deadly. Dana met her fate in this Wal-Mart parking lot, trying to sell magazines to Joseph Wayne Burnette.


That's where he told police he picked her up, took her to this bridge and killed her. Why? He said it was because she stole money from him. Impossible to know if that was true because of what he did next. So I took her body. I laid her out on top of it after I saw the world in diesel. And when I sent her on fire, I left. She wasn't trash. She was a piece of trash like he took upon himself to discard love.


And I want everybody to know who Dana was and who she was as a person, even with her difficult life and her upbringing. And she still had a good heart. Maybe it's not the greatest ending, but at least they know. And I guess I go back to the truth. They know the truth and it just feels good. We can hand them that truth and everybody deserves to know the truth. So after 12 years, the investigators, professional and amateur, finally knew her name, knew what happened to her.


But it felt unfinished somehow until they all made a kind of pilgrimage to see the place with their own eyes, and that was the very first time the trio would actually meet in person.


We stay up all night working on the Internet and messaging back and forth, but we never met each other personally here.


Lieutenant Hope took them to the Wal-Mart and to the cemetery where she'd been all this time.


I think the thing that surprised me the most is that there were already flowers there. The community over the years paid attention and didn't forget her. They left to their own flowers. Lavender, of course. Science writer Sarah Xang, who set out to learn from the volunteers, saw their journey to the end.


It did strike us there that we were the first people who'd gone to her grave who probably knew who she actually was.


So that was extremely poignant to be able to stand there. I don't know that I can even articulate what that was like. This this really, I think, changed us and changed the way we work, changed it how it makes it personal. Because you think, what if this is your family? What if this could be your friend?


Kevin is now a licensed private investigator, still working with a DNA DOE project and still giving back victims their long lost identities.


We made a little bit of a dent, but there's never going to be a shortage, unfortunately, of Jane Doe's. And John Doe is for us to help identify.


And some are like Dana Lin Dodd, the little girl abandoned early and often. The Amanda John tried to help. She was in the end abused and discarded, but not forgotten.


And to those armchair detectives and their partner, Lieutenant Eddie Hope, she was as important as you or me.


It doesn't matter what walk of life you come from. Everybody's a person. Everybody has a mom and dad. And it's just that's the way they should be treated.


In December of twenty twenty, Joseph Wayne Bernet pleaded guilty to the murders of Felicia Pearson and Dana Lynn Dodd, the relatives of Burnetts victims.


This has been the last chapter of a very painful book.


And indeed, it was, though, by then, Amanda and John had found a little solace here in Longview, the community that didn't forget, we felt like that was her adopted family, which is why they decided not to take her remains back home to Florida with them.


She will stay here in Longview with her name carved in stone. It's a funny thing, isn't it? But it's that it would be important to have a stone up above the place. You're lying down with your name on it. And yet it is. It is exactly. You never think about it. But it is something it's important to have that because you're never forgotten. You know that your name is there. It's written in stone lavender doe no longer eternally Dana Lynn Dodd.


Some of the people still go by her gravesite and still put flowers and things like that there. And that's what we wanted because she's part of Langfield and she'll never be sent away again.


Now she's home. That's all for this edition of Dateline. We'll see you again Friday at nine eight Central. And of course, I'll see you each weeknight for NBC Nightly News. I'm Lester Holt. For all of us at NBC News, good night.