CRIME

'Grateful Doe' Mystery Solved Thanks To Internet Sleuths

"When I saw the composite drawings, I felt sick to my stomach. My heart just froze,” Grateful Doe's sister said.

What a long, strange trip it's been.

For two decades, authorities sought to identify a young man known for many years only as "Grateful Doe." He was found after a car crash in Virginia, and the only clues authorities had to go on was a cryptic note and ticket stubs for a Grateful Dead concert.

That nickname stuck with him until this week, when DNA testing positively identified him as Jason Callahan.

The man's half-sister, New Jersey resident Shannon Michelson, credits Internet sleuths and the media for making his identification possible.

"Those are the people that put this case in high gear," Michelson told The Huffington Post.

Callahan was 19 in June 1995, when he left home and never returned. Because he was an adult with a history of running away, his family did not file a missing person report until earlier this year.

"My dad, Jason's father, was a very private and complicated man," Michelson said. "I was 9 years old when Jason left. Whenever I brought him up, [my dad] would change the subject. He said Jason always ran away from home and was always into drugs."

Michelson said she never gave up hope that she might one day be reunited with her brother. That hope, she said, led her to search for clues online earlier this year. While doing so, she stumbled upon news articles and online groups that were dedicated to identifying a young man known only as Grateful Doe.

"I saw these posts on Reddit, Websleuths and Facebook," Michelson said. "The members were wondering if my brother could be Grateful Doe and when I saw the composite drawings, I felt sick to my stomach. My heart just froze. He looked so much like my dad and my other brother."

Members of the forums -- volunteers who brainstorm unsolved mysteries -- examined evidence in the Grateful Doe case, including clues found on the unidentified man. One of the members, a former roommate of Callahan's, shared information that led them to believe the unidentified man might be Callahan.

The evidence in the Grateful Doe case was found at the scene of a fatal car accident on June 26, 1995, in Emporia, Greensville County, Virginia. Two bodies were found at the scene. The driver was identified as Michael Hager, a 21-year-old student at the University of South Carolina. Authorities believe he fell asleep at the wheel.

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"Grateful Doe"

The passenger had no identification and his fingerprints were not in any law enforcement database. Further hindering investigators was the fact that the injuries to the passenger's face were so severe that authorities were unable to release a photo of him to the public.

The only clues to the passenger's identity were two ticket stubs from a Grateful Dead concert at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C., on June 24 and 25, 1995. The ticket stubs, along with the appearance of the unidentified young man -- which included a Grateful Dead tie-dyed t-shirt from the 1995 summer tour -- led investigators to believe the young man was a "Deadhead," a name given to fans of the Grateful Dead.

In addition to items found on "Grateful Doe," authorities discovered a note near the site of the crash that was addressed to someone named "Jason."

"To Jason, sorry we had to go. See you around. Caroline O. and Caroline T.," the note read. It also had a small doodle and a phone number with a 914 prefix. Unfortunately, the phone number proved to be a dead end. Authorities were unable to find anyone with "any connection" to the note, Lt. Ted Jones of the Virginia State Police told The Huffington Post in 2014.

Authorities were stumped. And "Grateful Doe," or "Jason Doe" as he was sometimes called, would likely have been forgotten were it not for the Internet sleuths, who kept the case alive.

"Jason's old roommate said it looked like him," Michelson said. "So if it wasn't for Reddit, Facebook, Websleuths and the media pushing the story around and getting it out for social media, I don't think I would have seen it."

The sleuths put Michelson in touch with Callahan's mother, who had also come forward earlier this year after seeing composite sketches of "Grateful Doe." Michelson said she never knew Callahan's mom and didn't even know her name.

"I spoke with her and she never thought in a million years he was dead," Michelson said. "She thought he was off living his life and she was hopeful he was married and happy. But then she saw the composite sketches and began to wonder."

Had Michelson not stumbled upon the online postings, it is likely Callahan would have remained unidentified.

"They needed the paternal DNA," she explained. "They couldn't make a positive identification from his mom's DNA, which is mitochondrial and only gives a piece of the puzzle. So they got DNA from me, my sister, my brother and my cousin and they said the results were amazing -- that he was definitely, without a doubt, Jason."

Arkuie Williams, a spokesman for the state medical examiner's office in Richmond, Virginia, confirmed the results. "It was determined today through DNA testing," Williams told HuffPost on Wednesday.

Williams said he was unable to provide any additional details.

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Jason Callahan

Tricia Griffith, owner of Websleuths.com, expressed her condolences to the family. She also said she is glad members of her website were able to help in the identification.

"It comes as no surprise that two true crime discussion forums were behind the identifying of Grateful Doe," Griffith told HuffPost. "Here's hoping law enforcement starts looking at our sites as a legitimate resource to help with everything they do."

Michelson is also grateful to the groups, but said the news is bittersweet. She's sad she never got to know her older brother and wishes their dad had known the truth before he died in 2009.

"I feel happy there is an answer and there is one less missing person case and one less unidentified body, but I feel bad I never got a chance to talk to him or know him," she said.

"The most ironic part of the whole thing is ever since I was a little girl, I've been obsessed with missing persons cases," she added. "I used to watch all the shows and my soon-to-be ex-husband used to pick on me saying, 'What, do you think you're going to know one of the faces on the poster someday?' I said, 'You never know.' And that's the most ironic part of all this. I think part of me always knew and I don't know how."

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"Grateful Dead" Fans Missing/Deceased
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