In June 1995, a van crashed in Greensville County, Virginia, killing the two people inside. The driver was a 21-year-old student named Michael Hager. The passenger was a young man carrying no identification. His face was significantly injured in the crash, so the only images of his face available were artistic reconstructions. In his pocket, two ticket stubs for a Grateful Dead concert gave him the name by which he came to be known: Grateful Doe.
For the last 20 years, Grateful Doe’s identity has been a mystery, but now he has been positively identified using DNA analysis. Grateful Doe is Jason Callahan, an 18-year-old man who had set out in 1995 to follow his favourite band on tour around America.
This identification has come about thanks to sleuths on the Internet. It was announced on reddit and Facebook, and confirmed by a spokesperson for the Myrtle Beach police, where Callahan had grown up. “We can confirm that through DNA Grateful Doe has been identified as Jason Callahan,” Lt Joey Crosby said in an email to CNET.
In January 2015, an imgur and reddit user going by the names greymetal and zombiegrey respectively posted images of Grateful Doe’s facial reconstruction around both websites, along with several items that may be helpful in identification. These included the aforementioned ticket stubs, a home-made tattoo of a pentagram, and a letter addressed to “Jason”.
This letter was from two girls he had apparently met at the concert, and included a phone number, but the phone number did not include an area code. It was a dead end in the search for Grateful Doe’s identity.
In addition, there was no missing person report, since Callahan’s mother had not known with which jurisdiction the report should be filed. She had last seen him in early June 1995, when he had left to follow the Grateful Dead on tour. She had no idea in which state he had gone missing.
Not long after Grey posted on reddit and imgur, a former roommate recognised Callahan.
“After viewing this post, a wonderful user messaged me and stated that he believed he knew the young man in the photo. He told me that his name was Jason (the letter found in the vicinity of the accident was addressed to a ‘Jason’). He was about 17 – 18 years of age in 1994 – 1995. The user went on to tell me that he had lived with ‘Jason’, and a few other friends, in Illinois in late 1994 to early 1995,” Grey explained in an updated imgur post.
“In early 1995, Jason left, and the user had not heard from him since. This user went on to tell me about ‘Jason’; He worked at a local McDonalds, he did not study… and he was a huge fan of The Grateful Dead.”
The roommate sent through some photos, which closely resembled the reconstructions. On 10 January 2015, a Callahan’s mother posted to the Grateful Doe Facebook group that the reconstructions and photographs were of her son. Two days later, she filed the missing person report and, using DNA from Callahan’s sister, police were able to confirm his identity and lay his case to rest.
“I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you. For everyone on this Facebook page as well as all the Websleuths and people on reddit who followed this case adamantly. Had I not found the post and reddit pages in January, I would have never known that my brother Jason was still missing, or what happened to him. Thanks to you all I was able to talk to Jason’s mom and find out more about my brother who I haven’t seen since I was a young girl,” Callahan’s sister said via the Facebook page.
“Thanks to all your hard work I was able to submit my DNA and that’s what confirmed Jason’s identity. I ask that you all keep Jason’s mom in your prayers as she is hurting more than anyone ever should. God bless you all and thank you for helping me get some closure.”