Two Murder Mysteries, Without the Game: CrowdSolve
Nearly 300 people were all laser-focused on one thing: finding the killers of Nancy Moyer and Karen Bodine.
The Grand Ballroom of the Seattle Westin Hotel was buzzing with a considerable amount of intensity on October 17th. The energy was a mix of excitement, anticipation, and uncertainty as the long 3.5-day weekend began. Even though it was barely 9 o'clock on a Friday morning, I was wide awake. This was CrimeCon's unprecedented inaugural CrowdSolve event, and nobody wanted to miss a beat. The expansive room with high ceilings could have been mistaken for a second Pike Place Market with the strong coffee aroma, heavy indistinguishable chatter, and energetic ambient music.
CrimeCon hosts educational conferences across the country where experts in the true crime field are invited to teach participants about their respective skills or experiences. Now, CrimeCon was taking a shot at a new type of event by partnering with local law enforcement from Washington State and families of cold case victims to crowdsource the help of amateur investigators to crack unsolved cases.
During the 3.5-day weekend, CrowdSolve attendees would be taught by, and work alongside, world-class experts in the fields of crime scene reconstruction, perpetrator profiling, statement analysis, and strangulation to generate leads for the two unrelated cases.
Many attendees were primarily Citizen Detectives, individuals who typically use the internet and other resources in their free time to help solve crimes without compensation. They choose to contribute their curious intellect, investigative abilities, and intuition to help bring justice for families left without answers.
CrowdSolve participants didn't need professional credentials to be an attendee, but everyone had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement to respect the victim's families and preserve the integrity of the investigations. All copied documents and case evidence packets that we received were carefully numbered and had to be returned to CrimeCon organizers to be destroyed after the event was over.
As CrimeCon has said, "It's a murder mystery, but it's no game."
When I walked into the Grand Ballroom, the first thing I noticed was the stage with a shimmering curtain hung as the backdrop. CrimeCon, and their presenting sponsor, the Oxygen Network, had their logos projected onto the fabric folds. There were dozens of rows of long wooden tables that gave the room a classroom feel and space to work.
Each attendee's seat was personalized with Oxygen Network notebooks and pens. I found a spot close to the front for optimal viewing and set up my space similarly to the way I do for lectures at school — coffee cup to the left, notebook in the center, and a black pen to my right.
I was ready, but I took a deep breath, knowing this was going to be a very long Friday.
Massive dual projection screens were flanking the main backdrop of the room. The screens displayed the CrowdSolve logo brightly, however, that projected image wasn't going to stay for long.
Soon, it was going to be replaced with uncensored case file information pertaining to Nancy Moyer's 2009 unsolved disappearance. The following Saturday, the same would be presented for Karen Bodine's 2007 unsolved homicide.
Attendees, who traveled from around the country to be in Seattle, began to take their seats while CrimeCon event organizers raced around the 7400 sq. ft. room with walkie talkies and earpieces. They were carrying boxes overflowing with hundreds of manila case file folders, each individually hand-stamped with the message, "Private & Confidential."
With the blessings of local law enforcement and the victim's families alike, we were going to be the first public set of eyes to see these case's files in over a decade.
Conversation died down, and the music and lights dimmed in unison just before retired U.S. Marshal Art Roderick, the host for CrowdSolve, and Detective Mickey Hamilton, from the Thurston County Sheriff's Office, welcomed everyone. They emphatically thanked us for wanting to help law enforcement.
"You're going to see everything -- that is unusual," Roderick said as he talked about Nancy and Karen's case files. "You're going to be doing a lot of reading, I can tell you that."
Roderick reminded the audience, as he would multiple times over the long weekend, that Nancy and Karen's cases are active investigations. For that reason, with respect to the families affected, we would be limited to what we could share with friends and on social media.
"We can't risk this information getting out to the public, or else, future police departments won't trust us, and an event like this will never happen again," Roderick warned.
We all took a collective deep breath before continuing to take an in-depth look into Nancy Moyer's case file, but I briefly found my mind wandering to CrowdSolve's previous night's events.
On Thursday night, CrimeCon organizers welcomed the Citizen Detectives with a small reception to mingle and meet other participants from our assigned investigative groups. Among the crowd was Bill Moyer, Nancy's former husband, and Sam Moyer, Nancy's eldest daughter. They were there to pay homage to the woman they knew and loved.
I walked over to them. Sam wore a white long sleeve shirt with Nancy's image printed onto it — a loving reminder of why we were there. I chatted with the Moyer family about our collective hopes for the long weekend ahead, and Bill and Sam expressed how glad they were that CrowdSolve wasn't sensationalizing Nancy's case. I could tell that even though Nancy has been missing for over a decade, the wounds are still seemingly fresh for their family.
Nancy is presumed murdered because of the mountain of suspicious evidence, although her body has never been found.
After a typical day at work as a Department of Ecology Fiscal Analyst, Nancy was last seen arriving home around 9:00p.m. by a Tenino, Washington Police Officer running radar on Friday, March 6, 2009. By the next morning, her front door was left ajar, and she was never seen again.
This past summer, Eric L. Roberts, a former co-worker of Nancy’s, confessed to the murder, but then recanted his statement the next day. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t filed charges against him, and maintain it is still an active investigation.
After the event reception, Art Roderick led a panel discussion with the Moyer family. The panel also included other individuals who are important in telling Nancy's story: James Baysinger, the host of the Hide and Seek Podcast which discusses Nancy's case, Dr. Maurice Godwin, a criminal investigative psychologist, Wayne Fournier, the mayor of Tenino, WA., and Detective Hamilton were all present to give background on Nancy's disappearance.
During the Thursday night panel, we listened to part of an episode from the Hide and Seek Podcast where Baysinger asks Sam Moyer what she would say to her mom if she were listening to the episode, either alive or dead. The air in the room suddenly felt thick and heavy. As Sam took a moment on the recording to collect her thoughts, the only audible sound in the room was the hum of the static from the speakers.
"I miss her. . . I'm glad she's in a better place," Sam said.
I tried not to make a sound as tears rolled down my face. I was not alone that night.
Nancy Moyer's Case File
Now, it was a new Friday morning, with the gravity and the responsibility of our goals clear, and a fire ignited in our hearts, we were put to work. After a few investigative master classes, attendees were split into three pre-assigned groups and scattered across conference rooms in the hotel.
Each unit of about 100 attendees was tasked with studying a different facet of Nancy Moyer's case file.
Group A worked with Karen Smith, a forensic crime scene reconstructionist, to analyze the photos of where Nancy was last seen alive. In Group B, I worked with Dr. Godwin to profile the persons of interest. Finally, Group C was led by James Baysinger to assess Nancy's Victimology Profile.
Those 2.5 hours of profiling individuals related to Nancy's case was not easy for me, as I found it emotionally taxing. As a forensic psychology student, I felt fully equipped and up for the task of identifying a person of interest's MMO (Motive, Means, and Opportunity) against a suspect profile — but these were real people's lives I was scrutinizing.
I needed to think critically about the evidence.
After our smaller group sessions came to an end, we all assembled back in the Grand Ballroom to debrief the other larger groups on our independent findings.
That Friday evening, as we finished working on Nancy Moyer's case file and thanked the family and experts for their help and transparency, we were given new manila folders. The same confidential message was stamped across the top, but this time, the information inside pertained to Karen Bodine's unsolved homicide.
That initial packet had over 70 pages of information.
I barely slept that night.
Who Killed Karen Bodine?
On Saturday morning, we were introduced to Karen's three adult children, Karlee, Taylor, and Tanner. They were all in attendance representing their loving mother and advocating for answers to her 2007 murder.
At CrowdSolve, beyond getting access to confidential police files, you get to see the human side of cases. A quick Google search of Karen's name will bring up only a few articles, and most of them are reiterating the same minimal amount of public information: Karen's body was found early on a Monday morning on Littlerock Road in Rochester, Washington, after being strangled to death. But those articles won't tell you who Karen was.
Karlee, Taylor, and Tanner were there to do that.
We learned that Karen would sometimes lovingly take over the children's chores and make their beds for them. She was a fashionista who always had perfectly styled hair. Karen was also described as having a contagious high-energy laugh that her daughter Karlee smiled about as she shared her memories with us.
"For better or for worse, my mother was passionate," Karlee told the crowd. "She was passionate about everything." That included being a mother.
Taylor explained how her mom battled with some "bad habits" throughout her life. However, Karen was always present and giving towards her children. Karen was widely reported as being "transient" before her death, which we learned from her children, wasn't accurate. Family members knew where she was living, up until the Friday before her murder.
Identifying the timeline of that January 2007 weekend is a big part of why detectives have hit a roadblock in her investigation.
On Saturday afternoon, I ran into Taylor Bodine as I was leaving one of the supplemental group classes. Her eyes were red and face slightly puffy from what looked like crying and a lack of sleep. I can’t imagine how difficult it must’ve been for their tight knit family to be there, but I know it took a lot of courage and bravery to be so transparent. Taylor and I chatted briefly about her mom, the case, and the hope that something will come of the event.
The hope in the atmosphere was tangible.
Throughout that Saturday and Sunday, we worked for hours poring over additional manila folders with reports and evidence to get Thurston County at least one step closer to finding the Bodine family answers. It was stressful, exhausting, emotional, and at some points, it made my head spin because of all the case complexities. I took more deep breaths.
However, this was precisely the kind of impactful work I've always wanted to be a part of, and I have faith that the struggle was worth it. I can confidently say that I believe we made meaningful advancements in both cases.
"Sometimes when you're in the forest, it's hard to see the trees," Art Roderick said to the large group as he closed the CrowdSolve event on the afternoon of Sunday, October 20th. "But this weekend, we found new trees."
Overall, CrowdSolve is for the passionate, but not for the fainthearted.
If you didn't feel connected to Nancy or Karen's cases from the start of the event, it didn't take long to feel personally linked. By scouring through mountains of confidential evidence and meeting the victim's family members, you get a taste of what it's like to do the job of a Cold Case Detective.
And with that job comes some unexpected side effects. Many true crime enthusiasts would jump through hoops to work on an actual case. But those same people might not think about the immense lack of sleep, emotional attachment, deep frustration, and weeks spent afterward rolling over case details in your head.
I needed to keep in mind that working on unsolved murders is not like sprinting — it's like running a marathon. For three and a half days, we were giving these cases our hearts and souls, but the future will be paced as we wait for updates from law enforcement.
I know that what we added to these cases, on top of what law enforcement has already accomplished over the course of a decade, will shine a light on some answers.
My deep breaths continue.
Despite the long weekend concluding with all of the CrowdSolve attendees boarding subways and planes to return to their daily lives, Nancy Moyer and Karen Bodine's cases haven't slipped my mind. These are real victim's families, and I was hunting real unidentified killers. Someday soon, you'll be hearing updates about these cases — but those updates won't just be from me — they'll be on the news with breaking headlines. More to come...
Thank you to the Moyer and Bodine families, the Thurston County Sheriff's Office, the experts featured, and CrimeCon for the continued trust and transparency in Nancy and Karen's cases.
CrimeCon’s CrowdSolve will be investigating another cold case in February 2020 in Chicago. To learn more, click here.