The words flashed on her computer late last year and tears instantly poured out.
More than two decades after her sister Paula Beverly Davis disappeared, Alice Beverly finally had found out what happened to her. The news came from a website known as NamUs, an acronym for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which matches missing-person cases with unidentified human remains nationwide.
Even though she learned her missing sister had been murdered in 1987, Beverly says the news gave her some sense of closure.
"I just broke down crying instantly," she recalls. "It was like, 'We found her!' "
NamUs became fully operational last year and so far is credited with solving 17 cases, spokeswoman Michele Money-Carson says.
Davis vanished from Kansas City, Mo., in the summer of 1987. She was strangled, and her body left near a freeway outside Dayton, Ohio, hours after she was reported missing. But since no one in Ohio knew who she was, she was buried as a Jane Doe in an Ohio cemetery, Beverly says.
"We never gave up," Beverly says.
Davis' body will be exhumed from that cemetery today, another sister, Stephanie Clack, learned last week. She will be cremated in Ohio, and the sisters will bring her ashes back home to Missouri, Clack says.
The NamUs concept began with medical examiners, who called for a nationwide system in 2005 to provide a comprehensive site to help identify missing people, says Kevin Lothridge, CEO of the National Forensic Science Technology Center.
The Largo, Fla.-based center partners with the U.S. Department of Justice to operate the site under an agreement reached in 2007. It cost about $1.8 million to operate last year, Money-Carson says.
NamUs — at http://www.namus.gov/ — essentially has two sets of information. The first is known details of missing-person cases around the nation provided by law officers and relatives of the missing. The other is a database of unknown human remains in morgues across the country; details are entered by coroners and medical examiners.
It allows one-stop sleuthing for amateurs, families and police. Anyone can search and enter data they have on a missing person. Medical examiners can enter data on unidentified bodies, and anyone can search the database for potential matches, Money-Carson says.
In Las Vegas, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy is among several coroners nationwide who worked on developing the system after a local site convinced him of its power to solve missing-person cases. In 2002, Clark County began posting details of unidentified bodies and human remains on its own website. Within hours, they had identified the first such case and eventually solved about 40 cases, he says.
Tips and leads came not only from relatives of victims, but also "armchair detectives," citizens who investigated cases on their own, he says. "I believe that the light of hope burns eternally bright," Murphy says. "We have 40 cases that indicate that it burns very bright."
"It's a great tool once people find out about it. Getting the word out is key," says Jim Shields, an Omaha police detective who learned about the site at a law enforcement conference. Shields recently worked with Iowa authorities to resolve the case of a missing person in Omaha whose remains were found outside of Des Moines.
A bill now in Congress could help fuel more use of the system. The legislation would authorize $10 million a year in grants for agencies to train employees to use NamUs and cover some data entry costs. It was passed by the House and is now in the Senate, says Francis Creighton, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
The ABC television show ''The Forgotten'' has helped a Missouri family locate the body of a missing loved one who disappeared more than two decades ago.
In October 2009, Stephanie Clack received a phone call from her aunt, telling her about a public service announcement she had seen while watching an episode of the fictional crime-solving series. The announcement was about the Justice Department's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). For the past 22 years, Clack had been wondering what happened to her sister, 21-year-old Paula Beverly Davis, a store clerk who disappeared in 1987.
Paula Beverly Davis, here in an undated portrait, vanished in August 1987 when she was 21. Her body was found in Ohio soon after, but it went unidentified until recently.
"The day after my aunt called, myself and my older sister, Alice Beverly, went online to see if we could find any information on the NamUs site," Clack said in an interview with AOL News. "Using the site's searchable database, we entered in my sister's age, race and the state she went missing from. There were no possible matches in the state of Missouri, so I removed that from the criteria and searched again. The second time, 10 possible matches were returned. Upon reading the description of an unidentified victim that was found in Ohio, I knew it was her."
The information that convinced Clack she had found her sister were two tattoos -- a rose tattoo and a unicorn tattoo -- that were listed on a Jane Doe profile for a murder victim. The tattoos were in the exact location of two tattoos she knew her sister had.
"After that, I contacted the investigating agency in Englewood, Ohio," Clack said. "It was a weekend, so I did not get a chance to talk to anyone. They told me to call back on Monday."
Englewood police detective Mike Lang said investigators had been trying to uncover Jane Doe's identity since he joined the division in 2000. "The last couple months of this puzzle coming together is pretty amazing," Lang said in an interview with AOL News. "We're happy after all these years to find out who she is and to put a smiling face to this woman who we've only seen dead for all these years."
The mystery into Davis' disappearance began in August 1987.
"I was only 14 at the time," Clack said. "On Aug. 8, 1987, my sister came over to my parents' house in Kansas City to do laundry. She did not live there and had a nearby apartment that she shared with a roommate. After doing her laundry, we went out for pizza. Both of us liked Bon Jovi, so we talked a lot about him and buying tickets to go see him. I remember it was kind of late when we got home. That was the last time I saw her."
About 3 a.m. the next day Clack's parents received a call from her roommate telling them she was missing.
"My parents went to her apartment," Clack said. "They found her photo ID, Social Security card -- everything but her. I remember going to the police department with my mom and giving them pictures and stuff. We suspected foul play from the beginning because it was not typical of my sister to take off without telling anyone. She would always call to let us know where she was."
As the search for Davis heated up in Missouri, authorities in Ohio were also starting a search for an unknown killer who had dumped a body in Montgomery County, near the eastbound I-70 entrance ramp.
According to the coroner's office, the female victim had been dead for roughly 14 hours. She was partially nude and had no shoes. Other than her curly brown hair, the only other identifying characteristics were two fresh tattoos -- a rose and a unicorn on her upper breasts. The cause of death was listed as "ligature strangulation."
Without any knowledge of the victim's identity or any suspects, the Ohio case quickly went cold, and Jane Doe was laid to rest in a potter's field. She was not given a headstone and was labeled as Jane Doe No. 3.
The case might have gone unsolved had it not been for the public service announcement that was aired during the October 2009 episode of "The Forgotten," which is about a group of volunteers who attempt to identify nameless victims.
"After the police have given up, this group must first solve the puzzle of the victim's identity in order to then help catch the killer," reads an ABC press release from May 2009. "They work to give the deceased back their names, lest they become -- The Forgotten."
NamUs is a newly launched searchable indexing system that catalogs both missing persons and unidentified human remains. The system not only does automatic checks for matches; it also allows anyone with Internet access to search its databanks.
"NamUs allows law enforcement, medical examiners, families and the public to connect in ways not possible before," said Todd Matthews, regional system administrator for NamUs.
Thanks to the joint efforts of "The Forgotten" and NamUs, Clack was able to find a potential match in the system. When she was finally able to speak with authorities in Ohio, she was told they would need to make a positive identification, using DNA. Clack's father volunteered to be the donor, and the process began. It was not until December that Davis' family received official confirmation that Jane Doe No. 3 was their missing loved one.
"We kept quiet about it until now," Clack said. "The authorities wanted to get everything straight on their end."
As to how her sister ended up in Ohio, Clack said her family is clueless. "She didn't have a car or any connection to Ohio that we are aware of," she said. "We checked the locations on the map, and it's about an 11-hour drive. It is really weird. We don't know how she wound up there."
Lang and fellow Englewood police detective Alan Meade have reopened the homicide investigation into Davis' killing. According to Lang, authorities are trying to determine if there is a link between Davis' murder and Lorenzo Gilyard, a serial killer who was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for the murder of six women in the Kansas City, Mo., area.
"There are certainly some striking similarities," Lang said. "What we are doing right now is reprocessing [evidence] from the crime scene to re-evaluate it and see if we have any biological evidence we can act on. A lot has changed in 22 years in forensic science."
Most of Gilyard's victims were strangled and dumped partially nude, without shoes. Lang said the apartment Davis shared with her roommate was located in the same area where some of Gilyard's victims were picked up and later dumped.
"We have nothing definitive linking [Gilyard] to it," Lang said. "The biggest thing for us is some stuff that's not being made public, as far as the condition of Paula when she was recovered that relates to the other victims. But there are some pretty strong similarities, as far as where she ended up, the timeline of the killings [and] the condition in which she was found."
Lang's department has been in touch with authorities in Missouri and says they have acknowledged the similarities in the killings.
"We're still waiting on results on some stuff to come back from the lab," Lang said. "When we get to that point, we'll talk to them and see what we can determine and where to go."
A 17-year law enforcement officer, Lang said Davis' case came across his desk many times over the years.
"I starting off as a dispatcher when I was in college and, even being in the dispatch center, we would get teletypes with possible identities for Jane Doe," Lang said. "When I went to the detective division in 2000, that case was passed from detective to detective. We knew we had a woman who was savagely murdered, but we had no idea who she was."
Lang credits the Internet with ultimately identifying Davis. He also said he feels that such identifications will become more common.
"Usually cases like this are solved thanks to advances in DNA, but in this case it is a little unusual because it was basically done via the Internet," Lang said. "So you could make the argument that thanks to the Internet and the way people are interconnected now and the way information is being put out there, these kinds of cases will become rarer and rarer as time goes on."
Paula Davis' sister is also grateful to the Internet. Her only regret now is that her mother is not alive to share in her joy.
"My mom had a breakdown when Paula went missing," Clack said. "She could not find her daughter, and then her mom passed away two years later. She went through depression and everything like that because she didn't know what happened. My mom later died and went to her grave still not knowing."
Meanwhile, Davis' family is faced with a new challenge. According to Clack, they have been told they need to raise roughly $3,000 to have her sister's remains exhumed and transported back to Missouri. Lang confirmed that the family is required to cover the costs.
"We checked to see if a local victim impact group would help us, but they said we did not qualify because the case was over two years old," Clack said. "I was laid off from work four days before Christmas, so we are not sure how we are going to pay for everything."
Clack was recently contacted by Mark Friedman, executive producer of "The Forgotten." According to Clack, Friedman has offered to help pay some of the expenses involved in bringing her sister home.
"I don't know how much they have sent, but I know Mark said that he sent an envelope off to our bank," Clack said, adding that her family plans to bury Davis in a Catholic cemetery next to her mother.
"We are very pleased that watching 'The Forgotten' helped lead to the identification of Paula Davis. The series focuses on this topic week to week, so it is very rewarding to help in this specific case for her family," Friedman told AOL News.
Christian Slater, the actor who plays Alex Donovan on "The Forgotten," also mentioned Davis' case during a Thursday appearance on "Lopez Tonight."
"To get the opportunity to do something on TV ... that actually can make a real, significant difference in people's lives and genuinely give them closure is huge," he said.
In addition to help from "The Forgotten," the South Carolina band Night Vision is holding a fundraiser in Aiken, S.C., on Feb 27. All proceeds will go to a memorial fund that has been set up in Davis' name.
"We are so thankful for all the help," Clack said. "Once this is all said and done, our next goal is to help others by raising awareness. If my aunt had not heard about that Web site, we may have never known what happened to my sister."