A Merced Mystery: UP#:75106
Part 1: Can a nameless person be identified from a rewards card?
As I've mentioned on a couple of previous occasions, one of my hobbies in the past seven years or so has been to participate in collective crowd-sourcing efforts to determine the identities of unidentified decedents. If you’ve never heard of this, it makes for an interesting read. What’s surprising about this is the diverse group of folks engaged in these efforts on places such as Reddit, Websleuths and in both public and private Facebook groups.
A great many of the cases I’ve read about on the Doe Network or r/gratefuldoe or Websleuths, have sent me down extensive rabbit holes. On occasion, I have been successful.
In the vast majority of cases where I have assisted in the identification of someone, I was able to use a name (or a fragment of a name) to locate surviving family members. Using a name and a tattoo, I was able to locate the last surviving family members of a John Doe who died of a drug overdose in a San Diego gas station restroom. Back in the days of Google+, when a new Android activation resulted in new Google+ accounts being created by default, this requirement helped me to determine the family background of a homeless man found on the side of the road in Arizona.
This admittedly isn’t as interesting as being able to determine the identity of an unidentified decedent using only a description of the body and the circumstances of its discovery to the actual name of a person. I’ve only been able to do this once, and I am still in the process of researching this one.
Many of these cases I’ve been following for years, and more often than not, I’ve been wrong.
I have written previously about the time I spent obsessing over the case of the Caspers Wilderness Park Jane Doe; a fervent interest that even resulted in me wandering around the Santa Cruz, California, property of an abusive husband during a visit back home to California. I was wrong there. If you examine the exclusions list of the case on NamUs, and read through the extensive Websleuth threads, you’ll see that a whole lot of people have taken an interest in this one over the years.
I was certain (absolutely certain) that a missing person case from Karlsruhe, Germany, was connected to an unidentified person discovered in Deep River, Ontario, in September of 2001. I went so far as to contact both German and Canadian authorities. I was wrong there too, and I can only imagine the bemused expression of the German law enforcement official who had to read through my myriad of theories about scars and Gucci eyeglass frames. “Schleich dich, Herr Delaware!”
I’ve gone into detail previously about my complete certainty that Mable Louise Andrews was the identity of a Jane Doe discovered in Baker, California, on August 26th of 1976. I was wrong there as well.
But often being more wrong than right doesn’t deter me. It’s almost kind of an inspiration. If there’s one trait I admire in this world of ours, it’s perseverance. Nobody roots for a virus, but one kind of has to admire that something can emerge from a literal pile of bat shit in a cave in China and absolutely not quit until it infects every human, feline and mink on the face of this planet.
You may want it to go away, you might believe for a while you can eliminate it. But at the end of the day it’s endemic. It just is. The abstract becomes concrete.
Which brings me this. For years I’ve been browsing through the NamUs database. I’d often browse through California, being more familiar with my home state than others. I’d long noticed that the California listings were almost overwhelmingly in either the Los Angeles or San Francisco Bay Areas.
A couple of days ago, I decided to search for unidentified decedent listings from my hometown of Merced. Back in 2018, I had filed a public record’s request for, “ Any information regarding the total number of active unidentified deceased persons cases ("John Doe" or "Jane Doe" cases) that the Merced County Coroner's Office is currently responsible for, dating from the earliest possible case on record, to the active case opened the closest of the date that this request is received.”
Screenshot above is of the initial request. As you can see, although I’m occasionally accused of being a grumpy old man, I try my hardest to be polite.
I received a reply that there were two such cases. Unsurprisingly, neither case was entered into the NamUs database.
Screenshot above is from a 2018 response to a public records request of mine. The Merced County Sheriff’s Department acknowledged that, at the time, they had two unidentified deceased person cases.
Well, that was informative. There existed two unidentified deceased person cases, but neither had (at the time) been entered into NamUs.
Flashforward to the past week or so.
I am on NamUs when I come across a NamUs listing from 1993 in my hometown of Merced. I couldn’t believe it!
For years I had been looking at unidentified people from all corners of the United States. This time it was some poor soul from my hometown — not only that, it was also from the early 1990s. July of 1993, in fact. Which would have been just a few months before I began my freshman year of high school.
Here’s the listing for the man:
A NamUs listing about an Unidentified decedent discovered in July of 1993 in Merced, California.
The physical description of an Unidentified man who died in Merced in 1993.
Unusual for many of these listings, this John Doe had two clear photos of the face. One bearded, one cleanshaven.
The location of where the accident that took his life wasn’t specified:
But there was some other interesting information.
A description of the clothing, note the mention of a “Burgundy track jacket" among his possessions, along with two mismatched shoes.
But this case had one tidbit of information that stood out to me.
A rewards style card from a radio station in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Now, this was interesting. I stated to do some digging about radio station WSKZ and their “gold card" rewards program in the early 1990s. Sure enough, I found an article online that discussed the program.
My first and immediate thought was about this card. Remembering back to Blockbuster video and to the rewards style cards from the early 1990s, I always remembered giving a name and address and phone number to sign up for these cards. What if, by some chance, the information from this card was still being held? A name or an address or a phone number could lead to an identification.
I decided to post a message on the r/Chattanooga subreddit on Reddit.
Here’s the message I posted:
Hello r/Chattanooga! I just discovered something interesting related to Chattanooga, and I figured that I should post it here to see if anyone has any ideas or knowledge about this. Recently I was browsing through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons website. This website is a database of both missing and unidentified people.
I was very surprised to find that a 1993 John Doe case from my hometown of Merced, California, had been entered into the database. In July of 1993, an unidentified man died after being hit by a car in Merced. The NamUs listing has two postmortem photographs, as well as a detailed description of his personal items.
When I read the additional details about the items found with this John Doe, I noticed that this unidentified person had in his possession something called a "Gold Card" from a radio station called KZ 106 in Chattanooga. The KZ 106 Gold Card found with him even had numerical id#: 0607022.
I did some research, and found some information online about KZ 106 and their gold card program. I read an article by a Chattanooga journalist named David Carroll where he discussed finding his old KZ 106 Gold Card from the 1990s.
Obviously I am curious if anyone on the r/Chattanooga subreddit was familiar with the case of this John Doe discovered in my hometown in 1993.
But also I was wondering if:
Anyone on the r/Chattanooga subreddit had a KZ-106 Gold Card in early 1990s.
If these KZ-106 cards were tied to a name and an address. If they were, it could be a way to determine if there is a name attached to the Gold Card found with the unidentified man.
I’m still gathering some information, but I’ll update you all soon on some information gleaned with a little help from Reddit.