NamUs — the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System — has been fully operational for just 17 months. During this time, the one-of-a-kind system has aided in the resolution of 18 cases. For a program still in its infancy, the National Institute of Justice is pleased that its system is working as intended, providing a single source for information that can be used, tracked and shared nationwide, and ultimately assist in case resolution for law enforcement, medical examiners/coroners and families of the missing.
NamUs is designed to facilitate the work of the diverse community of individuals and organizations who investigate missing and unidentified persons. It crosses borders of states, counties, municipalities and precincts while also reaching between different law enforcement professions. Perhaps the most distinctive feature is that NamUs is accessible to the general public, which allows them to become actively involved.
Many of the system’s features recently came into play when a family member of Paula Beverly Davis — a person who had been missing for 22 years — learned about NamUs after watching an episode of "The Forgotten" and seeing a public service announcement for www.namus.gov.
On August 9, 1987 Davis went missing from, Kansas City, Missouri. For 22 years her family waited and wondered. Then, in October 2009, Davis’ sister, Stephanie Clack, went to NamUs.gov and searched with the information she had about her sister’s case and came up with 10 possible matches. Then Clack entered specific identifiers — things only she would know. After looking at a number of records, she was able to identify her sister by descriptions of her unique tattoos — a unicorn and a red rose — that the NamUs record contained. Clack contacted police in Montgomery County, Ohio and the identification process began. Family reference DNA samples were taken from Davis’ father and on December 11, 2009 Paula Davis was positively identified.
Eventually, the family learned that Davis’ body had been found on the side of an interstate on August 10, 1987 - 14 hours after she was reported missing. Her death was ruled a homicide and to this day is still unsolved. Davis’ remains were buried in a potter’s field with no name and no headstone. For 22 years her family searched for Davis but because she went missing in Missouri and her body was found in Ohio, the two cases were never connected.
Sometimes, even the best police work cannot overcome a lack of connectivity. Law enforcement agencies in Missouri and Ohio went to great lengths to try to identify a body and locate a missing person. But until technology allowed their work to be connected, resolution for this family likely never would have happened.
Of course, this is not the ending the Davis family had hoped for, but it is an ending nonetheless. Recently, Paula Beverly Davis’ remains were exhumed and returned to Ohio. She will be buried later this month next to her mother.