Longform

Suzi Dodt’s on a mission to return the nameless dead to their loved ones

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Undaunted, she volunteered at the agency in June 2000. One question officials had for her was, would she be able to handle the blood and gore that is the way of life, so to speak, at the morgue.

"I just knew I could deal with it," Dodt says. "A dead lady on a toilet; what's so hard about that? Sometimes it's gross, sometimes you're out all night, sometimes it's really hot out, sometimes it's cold. But I would go out on calls to assist, and I loved it. Still do."

The agency hired her as a part-time investigator (no benefits). She signed on full-time as an investigator six months after that, and never has looked back.

By 2004, Dodt had been working on death's front lines for about four years.

She resolved to try to do something about the growing number of unidentified bodies stacking up in the freezer down the hall from her cubicle.

In June 2004, she proposed the Web page dedicated to identifying human remains.

She pointed out to then-Medical Examiner Dr. Philip Keen that the new page would cost the county nothing, nor would it be the nation's first such site (she modeled her page after one out of Clark County, Nevada).

Keen endorsed the project, which took a little more than two years to get off the ground. During that time, Dodt pored over all of the relevant files to get things rolling. It was an enormous task.

All the while, she worked her usual 40-hour week, picking up bodies, writing reports, speaking endlessly to people.

The Web page was an instant winner.

In the month before the new portal opened, the medical examiner's site averaged about 3,500 hits a week.

Since then, it's averaged about 50,000 hits weekly, with more than 90 percent of the traffic directed to Dodt's creation.

"Our original goal was to ID one person. Just one," Dodt says. "We have done a lot better than that."

One early visitor to the site was Diana Trekow, a forensic artist from the Toronto area who has provided sketches to police agencies in Canada and the United States.

She says she was touched by Dodt's efforts. "My heart just melted. You're born one day — it's such a joyful time, your parents are happy, you're a new baby — and this is how you end up: dead and unidentified? But someone knows who all of them are."

Trekow contacted Dodt and volunteered to do a series of sketches for the site, at no charge.

Trekow has produced more than 25 drawings, including sketches of murder victim Jack Myrick (03-2838) and teenage artist Victor Rodriguez (99-1297).

"Each of these stories, these people, is something special to me and to Suzi," she says.

To Trekow, one of the most special is case 99-305.


Dale Buehner, a long-distance trucker based in Michigan, remembers the moment vividly, even though it happened almost a decade ago.

"My partner was driving, coming out of Phoenix," Buehner tells New Times from the road somewhere in Pennsylvania.

"We were going to stop in Eloy — get a shower and a bite to eat. It's daytime. As we passed this Cadillac, we noticed that there was a man in the front seat, a woman in the passenger seat, and somebody in the back seat. Stuff was going on. It looked like an argument, or something, but I didn't think much of it."

The Caddy then passed Buehner's semi, got about a half-mile ahead of it, and then slowed down.

"When we pass it on the left lane for the second time, I see the driver's got one hand on the wheel and he's looking in the back seat trying to do something with his free hand."

"As we get ahead of them and pull into the right lane, I look into my rear-view mirror, and this girl comes right out of the car. Just bounces off the road!

"My first thought process was that she was pushed out, but thinking about it, she had to roll down the window, and she went out like a diver with her hands outstretched.

"She hit the asphalt and rolled into a clump in the ditch. People behind her stopped right away, but the Cadillac kept going and speeded up. We were trying to block it and call the cops. He was passing us on the right-hand side, and speeded up."

This was before cell phones were commonplace, so Buehner jotted down the license-plate number, got off at the next exit, and dialed 911.

Then they got back into their truck and continued down the road.

"Just before the Eloy exit, we saw that the police had pulled the car over. We stopped, and I went over and asked about the girl.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin