She was given the name "Lavender Doe" by a stranger—a commenter on a true-crimes website that recounted the slim details of the young woman's case. She was found dead, her body on fire, on Oct. 29, 2006, near Longview, Texas. She was at most 25, blond, and had teeth so perfect that some who read about the case wondered if she was related to a dentist—and why no such family had come forward with a matching missing-person report. More than 12 years later, Sarah Zhang shares Lavender Doe's real name and story in a piece for the Atlantic, the mystery finally solved thanks to volunteer "internet sleuths" with the DNA Doe Project who in August 2018 crowdfunded $1,400 in order to get the woman's DNA reanalyzed.
Zhang explains that law-enforcement DNA databases typically look at 20 markers at most. The technology that sites like 23andMe use tests for as many as 700,000, which is how extremely distant relations can be surfaced. Doe's DNA got them to third and fourth cousins, which was enough for the volunteers to start creating a family tree rooted in Czech ancestry. That led them to a descendant who lived 30 miles from where Doe died. She had no knowledge of a missing woman but agreed to provide a DNA sample—and it provided a big clue. "Lavender Doe was probably a child of the woman's cousin—a cousin she did not know even existed," writes Zhang. So the volunteers then began digging into the family, searching for an unknown daughter or previous marriage. They found it, and it led them to Florida and a name: Dana Lynn Dodd. Read the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)