NEWS: On 26 June 1995, two young men were killed in a single-vehicle accident in Emporia, Virginia. The deceased driver was identified as 21-year-old University of South Carolina student Michael Hager, but his passenger (who wasn’t carrying any identification) eluded identification and came to be known as “Grateful Doe.”
Little was known about Grateful Doe based on information gathered at the scene of the fatal accident. Internet forums dedicated to cataloging missing persons and unidentified decedents described Grateful Doe as being between 16 and 21 years old, with dark blond or light brown hair, and a “homemade” tattoo of a star on his left arm. Doe sustained significant facial trauma in the crash, so photographs of his face were withheld in favor of an artist’s reconstruction.
Additional clues to his identity were scant:
He had a note in his pocket that said: “To Jason, Sorry we had to go. See you around. Caroline O. and Caroline T.” The note had a phone number with a 914 prefix. There was no area code. He also had two ticket stubs to Grateful Dead concerts at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. one for June 24, 1994 and another for June 25, 1995.
At the time of Grateful Doe’s passing, the Internet was in its infancy, and social media did not yet exist. But as those technologies developed, cold case enthusiasts and advocates for the missing made sure that the young man’s case wasn’t forgotten, and their efforts later led to the discovery of Grateful Doe’s real name and to providing closure for his family.
One such hive of effort was active on Reddit, where the subreddit r/gratefuldoe was organized to ensure the young man’s story remained visible. In January 2015, r/gratefuldoe moderator u/greymetal (now u/zombiegrey) published a post to Imgur titled “Do you recognise me? I have been without my name for nearly 20 years.” In that post, she reiterated the basics of the Grateful Doe investigation:
In June of 1995, I was involved in a fatal car accident in Emporia, Virginia. The driver fell asleep at the wheel. He had his I.D on him, but I didn't, and his family do not know who I am. For 20 years, no-one has come forward to identify me. I have adopted the identity of 'The Grateful Doe'. At the time of the accident, I was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt, I had two Grateful Dead ticket stubs for their 24th and 25h of June shows at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. I had some money, a lighter, and two necklaces with me. A note was found in the vicinity of the accident addressed to 'Jason'. Medical examiners suggested I might be between 16 and 25 years of age. Maybe we went to school together, lived next door to one another, or maybe you saw me around town. Maybe you know of a missing person who fits my identity? Can you help me finish my journey?EDIT: Firstly, I would like to apologise to anyone offended by the use of first person.Secondly, there have been a lot of questions regarding our doe. I'm new to Imgur, and was unsure how long my descriptions could be to begin with. Furthermore, I have only just now learnt how to edit posts. To clear up the most frequently asked questions:1. Grateful Doe is deceased. 2. The number was called, it returned no results.3. DNA/Dental/Fingerprints returned no results4. The main photo is not a photo. It is a computer restoration.5. Missing persons throughout all of America have been thoroughly researched. If you would like to see the list of MP's who have been excluded as possibly being Grateful Doe, please visit the NamUs website. It looks like this has reached a few people that it REALLY needed to reach. I'll continue to update, but for now, it looks like we have some strong leads. :)EDIT: WE HAVE AN UPDATE!Update! : <a rel=”noreferrer nofollow” target=”_blank” href=”http://imgur.com/gallery/vfXjr/new”>http://imgur.com/gallery/vfXjr/new</a>
What happened next was recapped in a 9 December 2015 Imgur post titled “Imgur, you helped identify the Grateful Doe. He has been positively identified as the missing man, Jason Callahan”:
We made this post without thinking much would happen. We thought it would hopefully bring attention to this case, maybe it would bring in some new information from people who had been to the same concert as the Grateful Doe. What we received.. was so much more. From this post, a lovely man came forward, because the reconstructions, as well as the information provided, matched the description of a young man he lived with in 1994 – 1995, who happened to be named ‘Jason’. Him and I, as well as the other roommates, and friends who had known Jason, began talking. After hours and hours of discussion, we noted how similar the stories were, how similar the descriptions were, and questioned if we had made a break in this 20 year old cold case. We were supplied photos, which showed a young man who looked incredibly similar to that of the reconstructinos of the Grateful Doe. We forwarded all of this information on to the authorities, who eventually made contact with this man, and his friends. Not too long after, after this story reached the mainsteam media, a lady came forward stating that the young man in the photos provided was her son, Jason Callahan, who had been missing for 20 years. DNA testing has been in progress ever since.
As the second Imgur post correctly asserted, a chain of events was set off by a tip from an individual who believed he once lived with the young man in question. Recalling only the first name “Jason,” the man supplied photographs of a former roommate who bore a strong resemblance to reconstructions of Grateful Doe. By 10 January 2015, the additional information led to a far greater break in the case, and in a (now-deleted) comment to the Grateful Doe Facebook page, a woman named Margaretta Evans wrote:
OMG this is my son Jason Callahan from Myrtle Beach SC I’ve been looking for him all this time with no luck. Today my other son saw this fb page, and after all the years of praying for him to just call me or come home.
Participating Redditors took care to shield Doe’s family from the massive interest in his case but took note of comments on the woman’s page possibly related to the investigation:
She posted on Facebook in April 2013 that it would have been her son Jason’s 36th birthday and that she missed him. He would have been 19 then in 1995. I really hope this is it! For her sake to get answers and for GD to finally have a name.
On 12 January 2015, Evans filed a missing persons report regarding the 1995 disappearance of her son Jason Callahan. Contemporaneous news reports addressed the delay in filing a formal police report, citing Callahan’s unknown whereabouts in 1995:
[Myrtle Beach police Lt.] Crosby couldn’t say exactly why the missing persons report wasn’t filed until recently, but noted the Callahan’s mother didn’t know which jurisdiction to file the report with due to the nomadic nature of Grateful Dead fans. “She attempted to report it when he went missing but didn’t know which jurisdiction to report it to,” he said. “It’s in the infancy stages of the investigation. We’re still trying to piece everything together.”
Ultimately, Evans’ contact with police led to the lengthy process of determining Grateful Doe’s identity through DNA testing. In the 9 December 2015 Imgur post, the u/doesearch wrote:
Today, at 4:30AM this morning, I received a message from one of them, telling me that it had been confirmed. The Grateful Doe has been positively identified as the missing man, Jason Callahan. At this stage, there is not too much more that we can say.. Just that we are thinking of the loved ones of Jason Callahan, and Michael, the young man who was the driver of the car, who also lost his life in this horrible accident. If you would like to read more information about this case, please do not hesitate to visit our subreddit or Facebook page at the following links: www.reddit.com/r/gratefuldoe www.facebook.com/TheDoeSearch
A concurrent message was posted to Facebook:
While no formal announcement has yet been made regarding the identification of Grateful Doe as Jason Callahan, social media accounts associated with the case claimed that the testing was complete and the identification was positive.