People of South, Featuring Olivia McCarter

By: Gracie King | Feature Editor |mhk1724@jagmail.southalabama.edu|

Photo by: Olivia Clark

According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, there are approximately 40,000 unidentified remains in the United States at any given time, waiting to be avenged and properly laid to eternal rest. Olivia McCarter, a 20-year-old Anthropology and Criminal Justice student here at South, works tirelessly to identify the many victims of homicide in the greater Mobile area and bring their families peace.

McCarter, who solved her first cold case at the age of 18, became interested in solving cold cases after listening to true crime podcasts and following the capture of the infamous Golden State Killer. 

“I got into the true-crime stuff, I guess unidentified remains go along with that and I think I got interested around the time the Golden State Killer was captured and he was captured using his DNA through genetic genealogy which is what I do now so I just kinda decided that’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I do now,” McCarter explained.

Her current project is the identification of a young infant, found in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and just 15 minutes away from her own house.

“I’m working with another agency on a baby case … and I begged them to let me work on this case because her gravesite is right next to another baby case that I solved,” said McCarter. “When I was visiting that baby, I found the other baby and I was like no, we can’t leave her behind, it’s not right. We exhumed her back in June and we will use her ancestry to identify her parents and hopefully make a conviction by next year.”

Though working with such visceral and emotionally distressing case matter has yielded McCarter a thicker skin than most, each case has still taken its toll on her mental health. She has developed a specific process to help her cope.

“When we identify them, we always follow along. When you’re working on their DNA, you don’t know who they are still so you kind of become their family. We give them nicknames; we don’t call them John or Jane Doe, we name them, and then after we identify them, I get tattoos for each of my identified victims. They always stick with me. I think about them every single day and their families and just the what if’s,” McCarter said. 

In addition to the memento tattoos she gets for her victims, she also feels compelled to reach out to the families impacted by such heinous crimes in order to help them, and herself, make peace.

“I never went through law enforcement training to deal with this type of stuff, so when the emotions hit, they hit hard,” said McCarter. “I never forget my cases; I think about them every single day even if we identified them over a year and a half ago. I’ve kind of perfected the closure process that is best for me because I need closure too, as well as the families. I like to write the families a handwritten letter just to tell them that we cared and we love their loved one.”

It is truly a heartbreaking tragedy when a life, young and old alike, is taken too soon. It is people like Olivia who are able to bring justice to those who have not yet been served. We wish her the best of luck in her professional endeavors and commend her brave and fighting spirit.