Citizen Detectives are individuals from the general public who voluntarily and actively engage in investigating, solving, or assisting with cold cases and unsolved crimes. They are not law enforcement professionals but rather concerned citizens who use their skills, time, and resources to contribute to solving cases.

Benefits of Citizen Detectives in Solving Cold Cases:

  1. Additional Resources: Citizen detectives provide additional resources for investigations, including time, expertise, and financial support. This can help law enforcement agencies that often have limited resources.
  2. Fresh Perspective: These individuals bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to cold cases. They are not bound by conventional investigative protocols and may consider alternative angles.
  3. Crowdsourcing Information: Citizen detectives can crowdsource information by engaging online communities, which can lead to the discovery of new leads and evidence.
  4. Awareness and Pressure: Their efforts can raise awareness about cold cases, putting pressure on authorities to reopen investigations or allocate more resources to solve them.
  5. Access to Online Tools: Citizen detectives often have access to online databases, genealogy websites, and social media platforms that can aid in the identification of suspects or missing persons.
  6. Leveraging Technology: They use technology, such as image analysis software or AI algorithms, tools to enhance investigations and identify potential matches.


Examples of Cases Solved with Citizen Detectives:

  1. The Golden State Killer: One of the most famous examples is the case of the Golden State Killer. Citizen detective Michelle McNamara’s book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” and the online community she helped build played a significant role in reigniting interest in the case. Eventually, it led to the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer, in 2018.
  2. The “Buckskin Girl”:In this case, the identity of a young woman found murdered in Ohio in 1981 remained unknown for decades. Citizen detectives and genealogists used DNA testing and genealogy websites to identify her as Marcia King in 2018, leading to a break in the case.
  3. The Sumter County Does: The Sumter County Does were unidentified murder victims found in South Carolina in 1976. Citizen detectives, through their online efforts, helped reignite interest in the case, leading to their identification as James Freund and Pamela Buckley in 2007.
  4. The Bear Brook Murders: Four unidentified bodies were found in barrels in New Hampshire in the 1980s and 2000s. Citizen detectives used genealogy websites to identify the victims and link the crimes to serial killer Terry Rasmussen in 2019.

These examples demonstrate how citizen detectives, often through online communities and crowdsourcing, have made significant contributions to solving cold cases by providing new leads, raising awareness, and applying modern investigative techniques. Their dedication and passion for justice have been invaluable in bringing closure to families and identifying perpetrators in cases that had long remained unsolved.

Online Forums for Citizen Detectives:

Citizen detectives and amateur sleuths often use online forums and communities to collaborate, share information, and discuss cold cases. Here are some online forums and communities where citizen detectives can engage in discussions and investigations:

  1. Websleuths: Websleuths is one of the most popular online communities for amateur sleuths and citizen detectives. It covers a wide range of unsolved cases and provides a platform for collaborative research and discussion.
  2. Reddit: Reddit has several subreddits dedicated to cold cases and amateur investigations. Subreddits like r/UnsolvedMysteries, r/TrueCrime, and r/WithoutATrace are excellent places to share information and theories.
  3. Doe network: The Doe Network is focused on missing and unidentified persons. While not a traditional forum, it’s a valuable resource for citizen detectives looking to collaborate on identifying unidentified individuals.

Remember that these communities and forums may have their own rules and guidelines, so it’s essential to familiarize yourself with their specific policies and be respectful of their members. Additionally, always consider the ethical and legal boundaries when engaging in investigations or discussions related to cold cases.

Do’s for Citizen Detectives in Cold Case Investigations:

  1. Respect the Law: Always operate within the boundaries of the law. Do not engage in illegal activities or infringe on others’ privacy.
  2. Cooperate with Law Enforcement: Share any information, leads, or findings with law enforcement agencies. They have the authority to investigate and make arrests.
  3. Verify Information: Ensure the accuracy of information before sharing it. Misinformation can harm innocent individuals and hinder investigations.
  4. Use Online Communities: Engage with online communities of citizen detectives and experts who can provide guidance and support.
  5. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of your findings, conversations, and any evidence you come across. This documentation can be valuable for investigators.
  6. Respect Privacy: Be mindful of the privacy of victims and their families. Avoid sharing sensitive or graphic information without their consent.
  7. Leverage Technology: Use modern tools and technology, such as DNA testing or facial recognition software, to aid in your investigations.


Don’ts and Mistakes to Avoid:

  1. Don’t Act Alone: Collaboration with law enforcement is essential. Don’t try to solve a case entirely on your own without their involvement.
  2. Don’t Interfere with Evidence: Do not touch or tamper with evidence at crime scenes. Leave this to trained professionals.
  3. Don’t Make Accusations: Avoid making public accusations against individuals based on speculation or limited evidence. This can harm innocent people and hinder investigations.
  4. Don’t Violate Privacy Laws: Respect the privacy and legal rights of individuals. Do not publish personal information or engage in cyberbullying.
  5. Don’t Jump to Conclusions: Avoid confirmation bias and remain open to alternative explanations and theories.
  6. Don’t Risk Your Safety: Cold case investigations may involve risks. Do not put yourself in dangerous situations or confront potential suspects.
  7. Don’t Impede Official Investigations: Citizen detectives should not hinder official law enforcement investigations or compromise evidence that could be used in court.
  8. Don’t Become Obsessed: While dedication is essential, avoid becoming overly consumed by a case. Maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  9. Don’t Spread False Information: Refrain from sharing unverified or false information that could harm a case or its subjects.

In cold case investigations, citizen detectives can play a valuable role, but they must do so responsibly, ethically, and collaboratively with law enforcement agencies. It’s crucial to be aware of the boundaries and legal limitations and to ensure that the pursuit of justice does not infringe on the rights or safety of others.