The 20-year-old mystery of the identity of a young man known only as “Grateful Doe” has finally been solved. The Virginia Medical Examiner’s office and a representative for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS) confirmed that DNA testing identified the young man who was killed in a car accident in Virginia in 1995 as Jason Patrick Callahan. The two-decade-old case was brought to life again after interest in the story was reignited on social media.
In June 1995, Callahan went missing after leaving his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to follow the Grateful Dead. His mother attempted to report him missing, but due to her son’s nomadic intentions, she had trouble filing a missing person’s report with the appropriate jurisdiction.
Callahan was killed along with the vehicle’s driver, Michael Hager, after the car crashed into a pair of trees on U.S. Route 58 West on June 26, 1996. No identification for Callahan was found in the wreckage. Hager’s family were not able to identify the passenger of the vehicle. Two ticket stubs for the Grateful Dead’s two Washington, D.C., shows on June 24 and 25, 1995, were found with his body, leading police to identify Callahan simply as “Grateful Doe.”
The Virginia Department of Health says Callahan died due to acute head trauma suffered in the accident. Images of Callahan could not be released due to the graphic nature of his injuries. This past January, a former roommate of a young man named “Jason” stumbled upon a image of Grateful Doe that had been digitally reconstructed by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Lesha Johanneck, one of the Grateful Doe page administrators, confirmed to NYS Music that the former roommate contacted their page to share the photos of his friend Jason. The Grateful Doe page is overseen by volunteers who take a personal interest in missing person cases.
The former roommate couldn’t provide Jason’s last name, but did have several photos and details that tied Jason to Myrtle Beach. Johanneck shared the information with the authorities and then began posting the roommate’s photo of Jason in various groups, including ones that were Grateful Dead related.
News outlets in Myrtle Beach began to report the story. After a member of Jason’s family saw the report on a local news station, Jason’s mother posted directly onto the Grateful Doe Facebook page, noting she believed the “Jason” in the photo was her missing son.
Callahan’s mother filed an official missing person report on Jan. 13. After the official report, various agencies began working together to confirm that Grateful Doe was Jason Callahan.
Johanneck told NYS Music that the Grateful Dead community played a large part in helping the leads go viral. “I think they felt close to Grateful Doe since growing up hearing about the case,” she noted. “So many of them remembered and kept the story close to their heart.”
She also noted that it’s important to report missing loved ones or friends as soon as possible, especially after concerts or festivals. “So many of these unidentified persons don’t have a report and that’s why they go unidentified.”