Tent Girl: The Story Of One Of The First Cold Cases Solved By Internet Sleuths

When well-digger Wilbur Riddle stumbled upon the body of an unidentified young woman in 1968, the media quickly nicknamed her "Tent Girl" because of the material in which her body was wrapped. Todd Matthews first heard about Tent Girl in 1987 from Riddle's daughter, whom Matthews eventually married. Even though he was just 17 years old when he first learned of Tent Girl, he quickly became dedicated to seeking her true identity. The fortuitous union between Matthews and Riddle's daughter gave him firsthand access to Riddle's account of the discovery, providing necessary building blocks for Matthews to reconstruct the mysterious woman's identity.

When Matthews gained internet access in the 1990s, he discovered numerous amateur detective message boards dedicated to true crime and researching cold cases. Through one of these boards, Matthews connected with Tent Girl's sister, and the pair worked within the system to exhume and test Tent Girl's remains. Having discovered Tent Girl's true name - Barbara Ann Hackmann Taylor - Matthews joined the Doe Network to create a national database for missing and unidentified people. 

Based on his work in the field, the US government even sought Matthews's leadership as a director of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a free online database where civilians and police can share information about missing people. NamUs compiles information from across the country, allowing for easier access to news and catalyzing connections that otherwise might go unseen.

  • May 17, 1968: Wilbur Riddle Finds A Woman Wrapped In A Tent

    Wilbur Riddle worked in the Kentucky countryside digging wells. On May 17, 1968, while looking for telephone pole insulators along US Route 25 near Sadieville, KY, Riddle came upon a parcel wrapped in a tent. When he prodded the object with his foot, it rolled down a hill, revealing the shape of a human body within.

    Riddle called the authorities from a nearby gas station. The sheriff arrived, unwrapped the parcel, and found a woman's remains. As they were unable to identify her body, she was nicknamed "Tent Girl" due to the black canvas in which she was found - a haunting similarity to Clothier's discovery just one month prior.

  • Summer 1968: Maryland Police Misidentify Tent Girl

    A police sketch of the young woman circulated, as did her identifying characteristics. Tent Girl was estimated to be 5'1" and between 110 and 115 pounds. Authorities also stated she had reddish-brown hair and was in her late teens. This description led the mother of 15-year-old Doris Dittmar of Pasadena, MD, to contact authorities on the suspicion that Tent Girl was her daughter. 

    The FBI believed the hair sample provided by the Dittmar family matched Tent Girl's hair, prompting the family to prepare for their lost daughter's burial; however, Doris was soon found in Pennsylvania, alive and living with a boyfriend. Tent Girl remained unidentified.

  • 1968: An Autopsy Is Performed On Tent Girl's Body

    As part of the investigation, an autopsy was conducted to search for clues and determine the cause of Tent Girl's death. Unfortunately, Tent Girl's demise remained a mystery, as did her identity. 

    The coroner ruled the girl's death a homicide; however, authorities were no closer to solving the mystery of her fate.

  • 1971: Tent Girl Is Buried By Authorities And Local Residents
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    1971: Tent Girl Is Buried By Authorities And Local Residents

    When no family came forward to claim Tent Girl after three years, authorities buried her in Georgetown, KY, in 1971. The donated headstone that stood over her plot included the police sketch of her face, as well as her identifying characteristics, estimated age, and date of passing.