Putting the Heat on Cold Cases
Cold case investigations are the most challenging of all cases facing criminal investigators. These cases often have little to no evidence or viable suspects. Many of them have been dispatched to storage rooms where they’ve sat for decades collecting dust. During that time, witnesses passed on, disappeared altogether or evidence has been lost or compromised.
Today, many of these cases are getting a fresh look by law enforcement. Much of the attention is due to advances in forensic science, mostly DNA, that has allowed investigators to better analyze evidence that can help identify their suspect.
We’re starting to see more district attorneys and law enforcement agencies form cold case units. With personnel shortages plaguing law enforcement agencies nationwide, many of them bring back retired detectives who either volunteer, or who are paid as part-time employees. Some of them worked the case from the beginning until their retirement. Their enthusiasm and expertise often make the difference.
Regardless of the energy they bring, all cold cases are not created equal. Some have biological evidence or trace evidence waiting to be compared and analyzed. Others have nothing more than scant evidence or the shadowy memory from an eyewitness who saw someone near the crime scene commonly referred to as ‘a person of interest’.
Those are the cases that get my attention. Under the right circumstances it may be appropriate to create, or even age a composite sketch. And while no one can claim how accurate the sketch may be, it puts a personality, or what I call a ‘signature look’ that stays with case. It connects with the public in such a way that it sticks in their mind, creating an awareness that encourages them to call with a tip.
Experienced forensic artists are hard to find. I recently decided to step up and make my skills available to The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases (http://www.aisocc.com) headed by Detective Kenneth Mains, star of The Hunt for The Zodiac Killer and the Crime & Forensics Cold Case Investigative Team headed by retired Police Detective Steven David Lampley (https://www.stevenlampley.com) , a popular radio show host, author and public speaker.
Most recently, I assisted the Utah Cold Case Coalition during their investigation of the 1995 abduction & murder of 6-year old Rosie Tapia in Salt Lake City, Utah.
For years there was an eyewitness who saw a suspect near the location where her body was found. A sketch of that person was never developed. When I saw a recent news story about the case, I made the decision to volunteer and interview the eyewitness. During the interview a sketch was created. Now, police have a person of interest that someone might recognize and help solve the case.
To learn more about my role in the Rosie Tapia investigation, click on: https://www.abc4.com/video/justice-files-composite-image-of-rosie-tapia-killer-released_20190508043046/1987977911
Some of the most heartbreaking and challenging cases for law enforcement involve the abduction and murder of young children. These are the cases that live with you long after the suspect has been arrested and convicted.
Whether it’s a child or adult, that person leaves behind loved ones that need answers. Law enforcement cold case units, or formed by retired criminal justice experts, turned celebrity, can help shine a light on these cases and make a real difference.
The opportunity to contribute is something I take seriously. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impact. Cold case investigations require tenacity and patience. Each piece of evidence is just another piece of the puzzle. From my point of view, if I can help solve the puzzle, then I’m happy to be a piece of the puzzle, however big or small.
For me, it’s all about justice.