Even when nobody asks, you sometimes just go ahead and introduce yourself around because people like to put a name to a face and know who they’re talking with. Who are you, what’s your name, what do you do for a living? It’s information that, as in the new book “Lay Them to Rest” by Laurah Norton, isn’t always easy to get.
It started with a creative writing interest and a “full-time non-tenure-track job in the English department of a large university in Atlanta.” It progressed when Laurah Norton walked the halls with her newborn son, listening to podcasts to stay awake. That’s also where her obsession with true crime was ultimately cast in granite.
It’s where her hope to “do something useful” was set, too, after Norton learned about John and Jane Doe cases. Those tricky cases result when a decedent’s body or body parts are discovered but their identity is unknown. Those bodies without names struck Norton hard, but none more than the one found in Illinois in 1993.
Ina Jane Doe, nicknamed for a small nearby city, was discovered lying against a tree, her red hair tangled in brush. There were no clues to her identity; in fact, there was barely a body to identify: all that was left of Ina Jane Doe was a head and a few attached vertebrae.
In 2022, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) listed some fourteen thousand unclaimed bodies; forty thousand is the number the government uses. Forty percent of the missing people are “persons of color” but white people like Ina Jane Doe were more likely to be identified, overall.
As Norton and her close friend, Dr. Amy Michael, a forensic anthropologist, worked their way through several methods to determine Ina Jane Doe’s identity, Norton went through a learning curve. There are many ways to ID a body: skeletal analysis, x-rays, photos, implant serial numbers, tattoos, scars. And then there’s DNA but, well, that’s all about the money…
Sometimes, you find a book that’s so good, so fascinating that it’s a shame to rush reading it. “Lay Them to Rest” is that kind of book.
You just want to carefully absorb everything there is to know about it – although beware, author Laurah Norton’s subject is quite unsettling. It’s also wince-worthy and sad, but it’s hard to look away. Norton’s descriptions are as methodical as was the year-long process she and Dr. Michael went through to learn more about Ina Jane Doe but the results are faster: readers will quickly feel like sleuths working right alongside Norton.
That feeling is underscored when you’re presented with other cases and likewise intriguing Does throughout the country and over time. The true crime tales attached might make you want to go in search of search sites and get involved.
Readers who like a little memoir with their murder will enjoy this book immensely. True crime fans should pounce on it. Really, “Lay Them to Rest” is a great read, no matter who you are.