By: Joseph L. Giacalone ©2010
Anyone can ask for a cold case to be reexamined. However, investigators would prefer that it came from a family member or someone that had information to further the case. When a case is reexamined it tends to bring up all of the unpleasantness and emotions from the event, so a nonfamily member, i.e. friend, media, etc., should reach out to the next of kin first. Once the investigator hears from the family, the inquest will be started.
Nothing begets more action than a well-written letter to the agency head. These letters must contain as much accurate information about the incident as possible, such as:
• Who you are, how to contact you and why you want the case reexamined
• Date and time of the event
• Location of the event
• Name of the victim (including nicknames), date of birth, last address, etc.
• Copy of the death certificate or what hospital the victim went to – if applicable
Perpetrators don’t realize the wheels that are set in motion when they choose murder as a means to fix their problem. Detectives understand what is at stake. They are sometimes the sole voice and advocate for the victim, a job that they take very seriously. For this reason, homicides are never closed, so nothing ever needs to be reopened, just reexamined. Many, if not all police departments, have at least one member dedicated solely to investigating cold cases.
The requester must understand this next important point: cold case detectives will take the request seriously, however, the request may not warrant a new investigation. If solvability factors do not exist, such as DNA, physical evidence and/or witnesses, the case cannot move forward. The case will remain on the shelf with the hopes of new developments in the future.
When investigative leads dry up and a series of new investigations roll in, the case is placed on the shelf waiting for the day when a FRESH look can be taken. Family members and interested parties have to understand that in general, an investigator needs one or more of the following in order to evaluate the case:
Eyewitness finally comes forward
Has a new charge or an ax to grind
Developments in Forensics and DNA testing are occurring rapidly. What wasn’t even a thought yesterday is a reality today. The use of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Familial DNA has allowed investigators to develop suspects on an otherwise hopeless case. Investigators spend most of their time locating evidence and hope that it wasn’t lost or destroyed. Once evidence is secured, it can be resubmitted for testing. In many jurisdictions, evidence can be found in two places: (1) the police department and (2) the medical examiner’s office or counterpart, i.e. coroner.
Husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, and friends often have a falling out. A disgruntled lover can be a treasure trove of information. Sometimes, these breaks in relationships bear enemies that often cooperate with the police – even when there is a strong dislike or distrust of the police. As the old maxim goes, “The enemy of my enemy, is my friend.”
Eyewitness finally comes forward
What makes someone finally come forward after 30 years? Guilt or they are no longer fearful of coming forward. Someone knows the information that would be needed to solve the case, but either out of fear or something else refuses to step forward. However, over time, that guilt eats away at a person subconscious and forces the information to the surface.
Perpetrators, or witnesses that have been holding their secrets back, eventually find themselves on their deathbed, maybe sooner than they thought. In order to clear their own minds and to “make it right” they come clean and provide useful information in cold cases.
Has a new charge
The best “luck” that a cold case detective can have is when a potential witness or friend of the perpetrator finds himself in trouble with the Criminal Justice System and wants to play, “Let’s Make a Deal.” There are some people that purposely withhold useful information because they know that someday it may be their ticket out of trouble. Remember, the district attorney is the only person that can promise a “deal” for cooperation.
Cold case investigations are extremely difficult to solve – there are good reasons why the case is cold too begin with. I am frequently asked what can I do? Besides remaining patient, the family member has tools available to them that didn’t exist a few short years ago. Social media sites can play an integral part in helping detectives with the case. Recently, a case in Nassau County, New York, spurred new investigative leads after a posting on the victim’s Facebook page. Whatever type of venue that is chosen for the memorial page, it must have the capability for visitors to post comments.
Investigators in the past have had luck identifying suspects when they showed up at the gravesite and/or crime scene on anniversary dates, so why wouldn’t they do the same things at a virtual gravesite and/or crime scene page? The social media page can play to the behavioral side of the killer. Hopefully, a well-crafted page will induce the perpetrator to inject himself back into the investigation in order to make himself feel relevant and powerful again.