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Jeremy Lybarger is the features editor at the Poetry Foundation. His journalism and essays have appeared in Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Esquire, The New Republic, Pacific Standard, and more.

The Encyclopedia of the Missing

(James Hosking)

Jeremy Lybarger | Longreads | 4,160 words (17 minutes)

From the outside, it’s just another mobile home in a neighborhood of mobile homes on the northwest side of Fort Wayne, Indiana. There’s the same carport, the same wedge of grass out front, the same dreamy suburban soundtrack of wind chimes and air conditioners. Nothing suggests this particular home belongs to a 32-year-old woman whose encyclopedic knowledge of missing persons has earned her a cult following online. The FBI knows who she is. So do detectives and police departments across the country. Desperate families sometimes seek her out. Chances are that if you mention someone who has disappeared in America, Meaghan Good can tell you the circumstances from memory — the who, what, when, and where. The why is almost always a mystery.

A week after she turned 19, Good started the Charley Project, an ever-expanding online database that features the stories and photographs of people who’ve been missing in the United States for at least a year. She named the site after Charles Brewster Ross, a 4-year-old boy kidnapped in 1874 from the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. His body was never found, and his abduction prompted the first known ransom note in America. Like Charles Brewster Ross, the nearly 10,000 people profiled on Good’s site are cold cases. Many fit the cliché of having vanished without a trace, and if it weren’t for Meaghan Good, most of these cases would have faded into oblivion. Read more…