We hear about Cold Cases on TV and in the movies and get great satisfaction out of seeing that justice can finally be done, even decades after the original crime was committed. The stories are compelling, and the TV cops seem to turn up leads so easily, so why wasn’t it possible for the police to find the killers right after the homicide was committed or find the kidnapper right after a child was abducted?
The reality is that most major crime (murder, kidnapping, etc) cases in a mid-sized city (100,000 or less) are worked by a team of just 5-6 people who work 12-16 hour shifts. Larger cities might have as many as a dozen people involved during the investigation – not all at the same time. The city of New York had about 680 murders in 2011, and while it has more resources than smaller cities, that’s still a LOT of murders to be solved.
Below are some of the reasons that a case becomes a Cold Case:
*the officers were trying to solve the crime, but a higher priority case pre-empted the work on the original case. Like it or not, the emphasis is on cases where there are political connections to the victim’s family, or when there is wealth involved, or when feelings in the community are running high. Those cases get more attention/resources and the officers get more pressure to solve them quickly.
*the primary officer on the case might have been moved to another department or promoted, so his/her active cases were dumped on someone else’s desk
*new technology (DNA, computerized fingerprint databases, blood spatter analysis, etc.) is available now that was not available just twenty-five years ago, and sometimes the cases can only be closed with the use of that new forensic technology.
*there were no witnesses to the crime or a key witness died
*the case could not be solved within a year
*there were no obvious leads
When a cold case opens up, the officers in charge go back and interview the original case officers to see if they can find new information – something that may have been left out of the original notes.
There are very few ‘whodunits’. 60% of murders are committed by people who knew the victim, but sometimes the evidence just isn’t apparent.
An interesting stat: in 97% of cases, the suspect is mentioned at some point during the first thirty days of the investigation.
So why is that suspect missed?
*there may be a witness error or an error made by the investigating officer.
*there may be too much data coming in with too many outside forces interfering with the investigation
*there may be a lack of corroborating evidence
*there may have been a poor suspect interview
*the alibi may have looked good at the beginning
The cases most likely to have gone cold?
*immigrants, transients or homeless people
According to the FBI database, in 2011, there were 12,664 homicides, about 44 a day nationwide. As staggering as that number is, it’s down from a high of 24,000 a year during the 90s, when cocaine wars were at their height.
I was told recently that there is a backlog of cases at one of the state crime labs of eighteen months (yes, 18) for DNA (and other) testing. That means if DNA is collected at a murder scene, and it is sent to the state lab right away, it will take that long to get results. Why so long? Not enough trained personnel to conduct the tests and/or not enough supplies/equipment available.
Each fiber/blood/body fluid sample sent to the crime labs has a price tag attached to it, so local jurisdictions with budget restrictions must make careful decisions about evidence collection.
Plus, evidence is also being collected at other types of crime scenes statewide, so every case has to wait in a very long line. And, the case can get very cold.
Thanks to Professor David Pauly, retired from the US Army Criminal Investigation Command, graduate of the FBI National Academy and presently Director of Applied Forensic Science at Methodist University, NC, for generously sharing his time and expertise. Any factual errors in this post are mine, not his.
If you’d like to learn more about how DNA testing came to be a part of the court system, click on the link.
*Photo by Patti Phillips
It has been raining like crazy lately – one of the wettest summers on record – so my golf game has taken a hit. The sun finally came out yesterday and I headed to the driving range to work on the basics.
A bucket of 30 balls costs $2.50, so I got two buckets with my tokens.
I didn’t want to pull a muscle after being away from the game for so long, so it seemed like a good idea to stretch in order to loosen up. If I hold a club across and in front of my body with two hands, plant my feet shoulder width apart and turn as far as I can to both sides a few times, that helps increase the range of my hip turns.
On any given day, I can slice or hook with the best of the hacks on the course, so I like to work on straightening out my swing, and making sure I follow through.
One easy drill is to lay two clubs parallel on the ground about 6-8 inches apart. Then I swing a driver or an iron right down the path in the middle between the two clubs. If I hit either club on the ground, the swing isn’t straight. Doing this enough times develops some muscle memory before I ever place a ball on a tee.
You can see from the picture of the driving range that it has distance markers as well as two flags to aim for. After I did a few warm-up drills, then I aimed for the back flag, using the woods in my bag, getting closer to the pin each time I hit the ball. I was feeling pretty good about myself, dreams in my head of winning the next Club Scramble.
I kept the ball pretty straight during the first bucket, so I carried my gear to the chipping/putting surface. I dropped about ten balls on the slope at least five yards from the green. I have the most trouble with accuracy with my 7-iron and 9-iron after I’ve been away from the game for a while, so those are the ones I used during the drill.
My goal was to get the balls as close to the pin as possible, within a six foot radius so that I could then knock the ball into the hole with a sure putt. I opened the club face, closed the club face, straightened my elbows, loosened my elbows, but nothing worked. Those balls were landing all over the green – and some rolled right off to the other side. Club Scramble dreams forgotten as I panicked – I was never gonna get the balls to stop where they needed to stop. Until I realized… my weight was on the wrong foot. Ooops. I shifted my weight and from then on, the balls plopped closer to the pin.
The putting drills were routine. I placed balls in a circle around the pin, about 5-6 feet away from the hole, and kept putting until I dropped ten in a row into the hole from any direction. Thank goodness I can count on my putts to help keep my scores down.
Great warm-up day. And, absolutely no golfers died from a hook or a slice while I was at the range. When it stops raining, I’ll go back to the course again and maybe even play nine holes.
*Photo by Patti Phillips
Detectives from other towns in the county cross paths all the time when they have cases in common or are chasing after a suspect in another jurisdiction. But Lexi is a different breed of detective. She’s not working for a local town at all. She has more of a national – even international – interest. Years ago I met her while picking up a suspect in D.C. and we clicked right away. She tries to visit whenever a case brings her to New Jersey.
Just to give you a little background, Lexi Sobado grew up in Washington D.C. as a homeschooler. Her mentors set Lexi on an unusual path where her out-of-the-box thinking both solves and creates problems for her, and often – too often – saves her life. Lexi, known on the job as Lynx, works as a Puzzler for Iniquus. There, it is her duty to solve the crimes that put American interests at risk. Orphaned at 19 and widowed at twenty, Lexi has made her team at Iniquus, Strike Force, into her family. Led by the ‘handsome and enigmatic’ (Lexi’s words) Striker Rheas, there is always something afoot challenging Lexi – not the least of which is her relationship with Striker.
Here’s how she tells the story of what happened the last time she stopped in:
“They’re wrong – dead wrong.” I curled myself into Charlie’s comfortably overstuffed chair, not feeling comfortable at all. “What should I have done? Let them take her to jail?”
I had dropped by Charlie Kerrian’s house uninvited. Staying at a nearby hotel while on assignment, I wanted to run this whole darned fiasco past his detective’s ears. Would he agree with me? Or had I just made a monumental mistake?
Charlie and I have been friends for a long time, from back before I worked for Iniquus as their Puzzler and used the call name Lynx. I was Iniquus’s go-to girl for solving crimes. Now, I was in trouble with Command for disagreeing with their capture. Poor Charlie sat, listening to me vent.
“The FBI used Mason as their interrogator. He was absolutely the wrong person to question this woman.” I wrapped my arms around my bent legs, resting my chin on my knees. “He walked in with his power strides, wearing his expensive suit. When he introduced himself, he used the required solid eye contact and firm handshake. The problem? He tilted his hand so his palm faced downward, making him the dominant. He glared at her – his eyes cold…aggressive. Polly, the woman they’re accusing, is a little bitty thing.” I stared down at my jeans, visualizing the scene, trying to get the details right.
“She shriveled – folded into her body as if she were a piece of origami. She immediately twisted in her seat, making her feet and her bellybutton face the door — away from Mason — and she refused to look him in the eye. Polly huddled there, tapping her foot like a woodpecker; her hands fidgeted constantly – shifting around her clothes and her hair. Textbook guilt-response.” I peeked up to find Charlie nodding agreement.
“Mason would ask her a question, and every single time Polly glanced down to the left.” I imitated her actions so Charlie could see what I was talking about. “Mason beamed. He knew he was about to get his confession, which made him posture and bluster.” I wrinkled my nose. What an idiot. All that machismo.
“If Polly answered the questions at all,” I continued, “she answered in odd patterns – passive language, her verbs weren’t in the right tense. ‘I loved him,’ she said.” I jumped up to pace. “No one had told her that her husband was dead at that point. Why would she use past tense unless she also knew he was dead?” I paused then shook my head. “I can’t explain it… yet.”
Reaching back to gather my hair into a ponytail so I could think better, I resumed walking from one end to the other. Charlie followed me with his patient gaze. “Yup,” I said. “She had all the guilty indicators. But I don’t believe she killed her husband – I’m staking my job on this one.”
I stopped to reach for the glass of lemonade Charlie’s wife Sheila brought in to me. “Thank you, ma’am.” I took a sip as she left again. It was tart enough to make my mouth pucker.
“I have good reasons why I don’t believe she lied.” I swiped the back of my wrist over my lips. “For instance, Mason asked her the same question three times: ‘You bought a gun two days ago, did you mean to shoot your husband with it?’ Her first response, ‘I wouldn’t hurt anyone.’ Vague. Her verb choice indicated the future. She failed to answer the question. Again, Mason asked using the same words, same tone. This time he leaned forward – got right in her face. Polly cringed away from him – put her hand up to block him from coming any closer. She panted when she said, ‘The gun is for self-defense.” The third time Mason asked, Polly said, ‘No.’ Just that plainly. ‘No.’ In three tries of asking a direct question there is statistically an 85% chance someone is not lying if she can answer ‘no’ clearly at least once. Too bad Polly said it while stroking her throat – a liar’s ‘tell.’” I reached down and set my glass on the floor.
“Now, did Mason prepare with due diligence before the interview by watching video feeds of Polly’s body language in different circumstances?” I asked. Charlie raised his eyebrows and waited.
“Yes,” I said. “And did he believe he had a good baseline for making assumptions about her body language tells? Yes. I can’t fault him on that. So, why do I think she’s innocent? Mainly, it’s because I’ve seen baseline video Mason hadn’t. A different detective questioned Polly.”
I sat back down on the edge of my chair and looked Charlie straight in the eye. “The last time though, she wasn’t the accused. She was the victim. A guy from her office, high on meth, attacked her. I pulled up the guy’s mug shot. He’s a dead ringer for Mason. Between Mason’s business suit, his facial features, and his dominating stance, Polly wasn’t responding to this interrogation. I really believe she was reliving the last one. She acted like a victim, needing to run away – get safe. I know she’s innocent. Now I just need to find the real perp and prove I’m right.”
Fiona Quinn is a Canadian born romantic-thriller writer, who has rooted herself in the Old Dominion. Living outside of D.C. with her husband of twenty years, Fiona homeschools their four children, pops chocolates, and types on her laptop all day long. Learn more about Fiona Quinn on her website www.FionaQuinnBooks.com and stop by her blog http://thrillwriting.blogspot.com/ where writers learn to write it right.