The revelation earlier this year
that a Colorado man had buried his estranged wife's body under the grave of a World War II veteran in 1995 grabbed headlines. What was less mentioned about the case of Kristina Tournai-Sandoval is that the nonprofit NecroSearch is the one that confirmed the location of her body. At 5280.com
, Robert Sanchez uses that case to launch into a feature on the esteemed group of volunteers, who excel at finding and identifying human remains. "Body hunting is a strange business," as Sanchez puts it: It's expensive and painstaking work, and leads can often be little more than dead-ends. But the Colorado-based NecroSearch is so well-regarded that even the dead-ends have meaning, per a prosecutor: If "those people don’t find it, that means a body probably isn’t there."
In its three decades of work, NecroSearch has played a role in 300 cases at the request of law enforcement or district attorneys' offices, in all but 10 states and on all but 3 continents. It counts among its 40-plus members a geophysicist; botanists who use pollen as location-based clues; one of America's few landfill-search experts; and Diane France, 63, "one of around 100 certified forensic pathologists worldwide" and the group's current president. Says fellow member Clark Davenport, "Diane's seen more awful things than all of us combined." As Sanchez notes, four current or former members have died in recent years, and that has the 75-year-old Davenport wondering "what comes next. ... How do we get smart, younger people to volunteer when they're building their own careers? How do you tell someone they're going to invest huge amounts of time and emotion and their own money into something that will never pay them financially? I don't know that any of us have the answers." Read Sanchez's fascinating story here. (Read more Longform stories.)