We worked the cold case. So, what happens now?

MacKenzie Lyle

Future directions:

This is the big question my fellow students and I have asked ourselves more than once throughout this semester. This cold case and the materials that we have covered over the past four months have been impactful and challenging. While we may have dissected the contents of the binder of materials on this particular homicide, and used countless resources and articles to better understand this process, it is not the end of this journey. Although we will eventually hit the glory days of summer and switch our vision to the future, this cold case may still remain just that, cold. 

It is the hope that our work, research, and efforts made toward this incident are helpful and substantial. Ideally when the materials and information we have discovered are opened up again and used, it will be for a purpose. Ultimately meaning it will be helpful in the investigation and arrest of the appropriate suspect and finding justice for a crime committed decades ago.  It is easy to think that our three to fourth months of investigation as a class will seal the deal by the time we all hit the beaches this summer. Unfortunately, it won’t, and realistically it may not happen for months or years. But with the help of the fifteen extra pairs of eyes, and various perspectives it could be the reason this case gets taken off the shelf and closed for good in the near future. 

My future: 

Many classes have provided me over the years with lots of information and knowledge about criminology and the various aspects of the field. But this course did something that those didn’t- it gave me hands-on experience and practice. Working this cold case and meeting the people that have been fortunate enough to take time out of their lives to come to our class has been extremely beneficial and rewarding. I know that when looking at my future and for my career choice that I will be able to have a better understanding and knowledge of what to expect. While I am aware that I still know hardly anything about what it takes to work in law enforcement and the many tasks and requirements needed on a daily basis, by learning and experiencing the process of handling a cold case I do have a better understanding. I have a stronger drive to learn more and get more involved in this process. If given the opportunity to take another class like this, or with Dr. Fox, I would very much suggest to anyone: Do it! While it is more demanding and at times frustrating, you learn much more with hands-on experience than any textbook definition can give you. 

 

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Professor Bryanna Fox

Josh Sims

In the spring 2018 semester, Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships (OCEP) collaborated with Professor Bryanna Fox around a rare service-learning opportunity. Dr. Fox had attended the 2017 OCEP Service-Learning Academy, and was eager to tackle an ambitious community project. So she designed her Forensic Psychology class in partnership with a local law enforcement agency to assist with a cold case.

Dr. Fox is fantastic in her work she does both in the USF community and at larger. Before teaching at USF, she worked as a Special Agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). When Dr. Fox speaks with students in the classroom, she shares many real-life experiences from her professional background. Her passion in the classroom is evident, and she has brought in several real-life experts to help in the cold case inquiry.

The students are not the only ones who recognize that Dr. Fox has a lot to offer when it comes to her background in criminal profiling.  Her work has impacted Tampa Bay as she assisted in the apprehension of a local serial killer, which resulted in her being featured on several national news outlets.(interview found here) In addition, Dr. Fox has worked on other projects surrounding the profiling of past and current criminals in the national spotlight, and is a frequent commentator on local news outlets. This project would not have been possible without Dr. Fox’s persistence and leadership.

The Devil is in the Details

Jordan Boness

There is a slight feeling of panic that sets in when a cold case file is placed in front of you for the first time. It is big. I mean really big. I knew that working a cold case would take hard work and dedication, so I viewed this as an opportunity to challenge myself. With that in mind, I had several questions going into this project. What could someone with no cold case or law enforcement experience bring to this case? Would I bring justice for the victim? Would I solve this case? In order to answer these questions, I had to dive in, get to work, and try to understand the big picture of the case.

The best way for me to learn about this cold case was to start from the beginning of the file and work my way through to the end. In class, we had been taught the importance of an organized case file because it allows for a quick review of the facts of the case. Because our cold case was neatly organized, it allowed me to generally follow the case events in the order that they occurred. It took only a short time before I started to see “the big picture” of the crime.

So, what is the big picture? The big picture is made up of all the small details of the cold case. These details include information on the victim, suspects, witnesses, crime scene details, and physical evidence. Essentially, working on a cold case is much like putting a puzzle together! The details are the puzzle pieces. The big picture, or puzzle, is the result of carefully piecing together each of the details. It is essential to have a solid background in the case.

Most people have probably heard “the devil is in the details.” This adage resonated with me while investigating this case because I have found that it is not the big picture that will solve it. Rather, it is the attention to detail that will bring an investigator one step closer to solving a cold case. It is easy to overlook seemingly minor details in a case file with hundreds of pages. However, what may appear to be an insignificant finding may be the turning point that changes the course of the investigation.

Not all leads will pan out, and that is okay! At times, it was easy to become a bit discouraged, but there was still a sense of excitement and hope that one of the leads would be the lead that closed our cold case. This required a lot of determination on mine and my classmates’ part.  For this reason, I read and re-read the case file until something jumped out at me. By taking a closer look at the file, I began noticing pieces of the story that did not add up and evidence that I felt had been overlooked by the original investigators.

I brought these leads to the attention of my professor who then spoke with the lead detective who had been assigned to our case. The first lead turned out to be insignificant, but the second clue was critical to our investigation. The detective found an abundance of forensic evidence that had previously been undiscovered. This discovery led to a major break in our investigation!

After working this cold case, I have a greater respect for law enforcement detectives who are in charge of cold cases. These investigators work off of case files that are often incomplete or disorganized. Cold case detectives are often assigned to multiple cases—sometimes as many as 50!– and are expected to work them all on their own. I was fortunate to have had the help of my classmates to generate ideas and leads within this case. By working together, we were able to fill in many of the gaps in the case file and help get one step closer to solving this case.

Working on a cold case homicide forced me to think critically, and taught me many of the skills necessary to become an investigator. I also learned how to think outside of the box and see leads from a point-of-view other than my own. For example, how I viewed a piece of evidence as a student was often different from that of a law enforcement officer. By working together, we learned from each other and were able have a better understanding of the cold case. I feel this was important for my own career development because I one day hope to be a Criminal Intelligence Analyst where I will be working side-by-side with both civilians and law enforcement.

I am sad to see the end of Dr. Fox’s Forensic Psychology course because it was a great opportunity to do research in a field outside of my expertise. This course also provided a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work on a cold case which, for individuals outside of law enforcement, is typically off-limits. Considering that I had no law enforcement experience prior to this course, I did not know what I would be able to contribute to the investigation. However, I have come to understand that sometimes different perspectives are needed in order to provide a fresh look at these unsolved cases. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to provide leads to law enforcement that one day may just change this “cold case” to a “solved” case.

Interviews and Interrogations in Cold Cases

Scott Allen

The importance of interviews and interrogations can be looked at from two perspectives in the context of cold cases.  Interviews and interrogations can be the reason a case becomes “cold,” or they could be responsible for solving a “cold case.” Frist, what is a “cold case?”

Cold cases are criminal investigations that upon initial investigation were not solved, or as Adcock and Stein (2014) mentioned, lack any further investigative leads.  After a period without any new leads, the case is then determined to be “cold.”  This period could be as little as two weeks (Regoeczi, Jarvis, & Riedel, 2008).  A lack of further investigative leads may result from ineffective interviewers or not interviewing significant witnesses (Adcock & Stein, 2014).  As cases are classified as “cold cases” less time and effort may be dedicated to them as new violent crime investigations arise and take priority.  Several studies have shown how important successful interviews can be in developing information relevant to criminal investigations (Davis, Jensen, Burgette, & Burnett, 2014; White, Lester, Gentile, & Rosenbleeth, 2011).  This new information can direct investigators to a suspect who is responsible for the crime.

A misconception that people may have today is that because society continues to develop technologically that homicide clearance rates would uniformly increase.  A homicide is “cleared” when the offender is arrested, or the case is closed by exceptional clearance (e.g., the death of the suspect).  Contrary to public perception, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data indicate that the homicide clearance rate has actually decreased over the past decades.  In 1960, the clearance rate was 91% (Richardson & Kosa 2001), yet the 2016 UCR data notes that the homicide clearance rate is 59% (FBI, 2016).  Put simply, as homicide clearance rates decrease, the number of cold cases increases.

Investigating a cold case can present investigators with several factors to consider that may not be present in the initial criminal investigation.  One such factor is how interviews and interrogations can and should be utilized.  Another is time, although time is a double-edged sword, that is time can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.  Time is advantageous because it can reduce a witness’s hesitation to speak with investigators, and it may embolden the suspect, providing him or her the confidence that they will not be apprehended (Adcock & Stein, 2014).  However, time also can be a disadvantage, since time can have a deleterious effect on one’s ability to recollect an event (Adcock & Stein, 2014).  Ask yourself this, what did you have for supper four days ago?  Now consider asking someone about an event that may have occurred ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.

Another cold case circumstance that may affect interviews and interrogations is case background intelligence.  During the initial investigation, things are moving quickly and with limited background information.  The public calls in tips, leads are disseminated to investigators, and evidence is being collected and processed.  All of this is done rapidly.  In a cold case, a lot of the information has already been gathered, evidence has been collected and analyzed, statements have been taken, and other investigative leads have been completed.  These completed investigative steps provide the case investigator the opportunity to review all the background information to prepare an effective interview of a new (or old) witness or the interrogation of a suspect (Adcock & Stein, 2014).

In summary, interviews and interrogations are both used during criminal investigations.  However, they are two distinctly different investigative techniques.  In short, witnesses to crimes who have no reason to withhold information are interviewed, and Miranda Rights do not apply.  Individuals who are suspected of committing a crime, therefore, have a reason to withhold information, are interrogated.  This interrogation is meant as formal questioning to elicit a confession of wrongdoing from the suspect.  An interrogation requires the reading of Miranda Rights and the voluntary waiving of those rights by the suspect.

References

Adcock, J. M., & Stein, S. L. (2014). Cold Cases: Evaluation Models with Follow-up Strategies for Investigators. CRC Press.

Davis, R. C., Jensen, C. J., Burgette, L., & Burnett, K. (2014). Working smarter on cold cases: Identifying factors associated with successful cold case investigations. Journal of forensic sciences59(2), 375-382.

Regoeczi, W. C., Jarvis, J., & Riedel, M. (2008). Clearing murders: Is it about time?. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency45(2), 142-162.

Richardson, D. A., & Kosa, R. (2001). An examination of homicide clearance rates: Foundation for the development of a homicide clearance model. In Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum.

White, J. H., Lester, D., Gentile, M., & Rosenbleeth, J. (2011). The utilization of forensic science and criminal profiling for capturing serial killers. Forensic science international209(1-3), 160-165.

 

Eyewitnesses

Lauren Miley

Introduction

Before reading any further, study this picture. Take about a minute to really examine it. Then continue reading.

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Challenges Posed

Witnesses in criminal investigations pose many challenges for investigators. In general, the problems of eyewitnesses revolve around memory and susceptibility. Witnesses play a very important role in the criminal justice process. They can assist with identification of perpetrators as well as give their testimony in court. In fact, detectives consider eyewitnesses to be a central part of investigations (Sanders, 1986).

However, there are many issues with witnesses. For instance, Elizabeth Loftus has claimed that the number one cause of the punishment of innocent people is eyewitness testimony. This all comes from the fact  that giving a detailed description as a human being is challenging and very often flawed. Not because people are malicious or want a person to be arrested, but because we  as humans have flawed memories and varied individual perceptions (Newlands, 2004). For instance, facial features are very difficult to remember, and furthermore, research shows that if the person you are trying to describe is of a different race than you, you are less likely to correctly identify them (Meissner & Brigham, 2001).

Think for a second about how you receive information that you see with your eyes. Take a second to look around the room you are sitting in. What you have seen was in the form of visual memory, now describe verbally what you saw in a manner in which a person could hear you and completely reconstruct the room you are sitting in. It is actually rather difficult. Now, consider this there is a language barrier between you and the person you are describing to, or maybe your communication skills are just of the “not so great” variety. Then consider that one person’s perception is going to be different from another’s. Perception can play a big role in these scenarios. All of these things add layers and layers of complexity!

Cold Cases

Working on a cold case in general can be challenging. If there is a witness to a cold case crime, the likelihood of accuracy is greatly reduced. An even more detrimental impact on investigations is the lack of witnesses. If you are working a cold case as an investigator and have no witnesses, the chances of finding someone who was in the area at the time of the incident, and could testify years later, is not likely. This is one of the major problems that we are facing in the current case.

Unfortunately, out that in cold cases the chances of actually getting new witnesses is not very likely. Hopefully, advances in obtaining accurate witness statements via recall strategies will be able to help. Another added challenge working a cold case is that all of the information is secondhand. We get to read the notes from interviews with witnesses and suspects, but we are now privy to the bias and perceptions of the person taking the notes, as well as any recall issues they are experiencing.

Now… let’s test your memory. Remember the picture from earlier? Without going back to look at it again see how well you can answer the following questions.

  1. What time did the clock say?
  2. What color shirt was the man wearing?
  3. Where was the textbook?
  4. What color was the mug?
  5. When was the deadline?
  6. How many sticky notes were on the whiteboard?
  7. What was the name on the name plate?

For more information on eyewitness testimony see the following:

References

Meissner, C. A., & Brigham, J. C. (2001). Thirty years of investigating the own-race bias memory for faces: A meta-analytic review. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 7, 3–35.

Newlands, P. (2004). Enhancing Eyewitness Memory: Developments in Theory and Practice. Applying Psychology to Forensic Practice, 129-146.

Sanders, J. (1986). Expert witnesses in eyewitness facial identification cases. Texas Tech Law Review17, 1409.

Weiner, I. B., & Hess, A. K. (Eds.). (2006). The handbook of forensic psychology. John Wiley & Sons.

Whitehouse, W. G., Orne, E. C., & Dinges, D. F. (2008). Eyewitness Memory: Can Suggestion be Minimized in the Investigative Interview?. Forensic Examiner17(4), 65.

Psychosis and Psychopathy in Cold Cases

Norair Khachatryan

Understanding the concepts of psychopathy and psychosis can be useful for the purpose of investigating a cold case homicide. Several crime scene characteristics can be indicative of whether a psychopath or a psychotic individual were involved in the homicide. During a homicide event, psychopathic offenders are more likely to inflict the minimum amount of violence needed to kill the victim, since the killing is done in order to obtain some type of external goal (Wilson & Yardley, 2013); accordingly, victims that are found with a small number of gunshot wounds are more likely to have been killed by a psychopathic offender. Alternatively, homicide victims that display evidence of ritualistic torture, such as burn marks made by cigarettes or signs of an electric shock, are also more likely to have been killed by a psychopath. Psychopathic murderers will make the impulsive and irresponsible decision that the only way to attain their goal, whatever it may be, is by killing a person; however, the violence committed during the killing is more likely to be precise and calculated (Hickey, 2016).

Psychopathic murderers would also be more likely to transport the victim away from the primary crime scene (i.e., where the victim is actually killed), take the murder weapon with them, and leave little to no physical evidence (e.g., no fingerprints). Therefore, crime scenes of homicides committed by psychopathic offenders would be more likely to contain few clues regarding the identity of the perpetrator on and around the body.

Conversely, a homicide committed by a psychotic offender is more likely to involve excessive violence and overkill. Due to the fact that these types of offenders typically believe that they are confronting a purely evil entity, they are more likely to keep attacking the victim until they are sure that he/she is dead. As indicated by Stratton, Brook, and Hanlon (2017), psychotic murderers are more likely to use knives and other types of hands-on methods; few of them use firearms to kill their victims. Furthermore, since psychotics are completely focused on neutralizing the perceived threat posed by the victim to themselves and/or humanity in general, they do not take steps to conceal evidence that may reveal their identity. Therefore, a victim killed by a psychotic offender is more likely to be found in the same place where he was killed, with the murder weapon and other important physical evidence (e.g., perpetrator’s blood) found near the body or in the surrounding area.

Both psychopathy and psychosis are predictors of violence and are much more common among homicide offenders than in the general population (Durrant, 2013; Fox, Jennings, & Farrington, 2015). Accordingly, it is important for forensic experts to study these disorders in order to understand the distinct types of violence that offenders suffering from them will commit and increase the likelihood that a certain percentage of homicide cold cases will be solved.

References

Durrant, R. (2013). An introduction to Criminal Psychology. Oxon, England: Routledge.

Fox, B. H., Jennings, W. G., & Farrington, D. P. (2015). Bringing psychopathy into developmental and life-course criminology theories and research. Journal of Criminal Justice43(4), 274-289.

Hickey, E. W. (2016). Serial murderers and their victims. (7th Ed.). Boston: Cengage Learning.

Stratton, J., Brook, M., & Hanlon, R. E. (2017). Murder and psychosis: Neuropsychological profiles of homicide offenders with schizophrenia. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health27(2), 146-161.

Wilson, D., & Yardley, E. (2013). The psychopathy of a Victorian serial killer: Integrating micro and macro levels of analysis. Journal of Criminal Psychology3(1), 19-30.

 

COLD CASE INVESTIGATIONS

Alexandra Johnson

In Spring 2018, I had the privilege of working on a cold case as part of a Forensic Psychology course with Dr. Bryanna Fox at the University of South Florida. Collaborating with other students on the case served as the applied half of the course, where we were able to use our newfound knowledge of forensic psychology to offer new perspectives on an unsolved homicide. At the end of the course, we will present our findings to the law enforcement agency we have been working closely with, so they may follow any viable leads.

How do cases become “cold?”

A “cold” case is simply a case that is unsolved, that may not have an investigator assigned to it, and in some agencies is more than a year old or has been inactive for a year or more. The term “cold” was coined by the media in the 1980s after law enforcement agencies began to form units for pending or unsolved cases. “Cold” just sounded more interesting for media and entertainment purposes. This term may imply that a case is not important, is unsolvable, or has been forgotten. However, such cases were investigated and are missing the piece needed to secure a conviction (Walton, 2006). There is little a detective can do if witnesses do not come forward or evidence simply did not exist or was not collected. Additional factors may contribute to a case going cold such as the location of the crime scene, technology and the ability to analyze evidence, and organizational factors like the number of detectives assigned to a case, promotions and transfers, initial reporting, leadership, overall organization, and department budgets (Walton, 2006).

While the term “cold case” may sound negative, the heightened interest in unsolved cases has stimulated public interest in law enforcement procedures, encouraged witnesses to come forward, moved law enforcement agencies to dedicate resources to solve open cases, and serves to remind murderers that their crime is not forgotten, and investigative efforts are still underway (Walton, 2006).

Who are the victims?

Since the 1960s, over 200,000 murders have been left unsolved in the United States. In 2015, the national clearance rate for homicide was roughly 64% (Kaste, 2015). Because there are no statutes of limitations for homicide, most cold cases are victims of murder. However, cold cases may also include missing persons, homeless persons, unidentified victims, accidental deaths, suicides, and unclassified murders (Walton, 2006); meaning the number of unsolved cases is probably much higher than estimated.

What can be done with a cold or unsolved case?

The detectives who pick up cold cases must possess not only exemplary investigative skills, but also be up-to-date with current forensic science and able to think outside of the box. They face additional challenges including “files and reports that are lost, evidence unaccounted for, and what may now appear to have been viable and obvious leads that were not followed up or acted upon (Walton, p.6, 2006).” Kennedy (2015) distinguishes three main components of cold cases: time, technology, and tenacity. While time is usually what has caused a case to go cold, it can also be used as an advantage during a revitalized investigation. Relationships change over time. For better or worse, someone may be willing to share information years later that they were not willing to share during the initial investigation. Also, suspects may become more confident in their crime(s) as time passes and confide in others who originally knew nothing about the case. It is pertinent to look for witnesses that suspects may have told about past crimes. This means tracking down who they worked with, became friends with, lived near, and even dated.

Technology also drastically changes over time. Some advancements include DNA, different light sources, and databases for fingerprints and firearms. When investigating a cold case, one of the first priorities should be to reexamine evidence and utilize the most up-to-date technology. All evidence should be resubmitted. Lastly, Kennedy (2015) discusses tenacity. One of the biggest advantages a cold case has is a new set of eyes, a new perspective. Cold case detectives or squads must employ creative techniques to fill in the gaps. This may mean asking questions that were not asked before and revisiting leads that were not followed the first time.

The first step in reopening a cold case is to review the case file. The case file should include police reports, interview transcripts or notes, DNA results, contact information for all parties involved, and so forth. While becoming familiar with the case, it is important to identify inconsistencies in witness statements, suspect interviews, and case notes. All inconsistencies should be thoroughly examined. If possible, the detective should contact the original investigator, the evidence should be resubmitted, and the current investigators should visit the crime scene. The next substantial step is to conduct interviews with all possible suspects and witnesses (Kennedy, 2015). Once all of these steps are completed, the hope is that new information will lead to the case to being solved.

How does it feel to be a student working a cold case?

As a class, we followed the checklists and suggestions listed in empirical research. We began by dissecting the case and becoming familiar with all the suspects, witnesses, and the victim. As the weeks went on, we individually identified inconsistences in witness statements and reports that were important to follow-up with. We visited the location of the crime scene. Although much has changed since the date of the murder, we were able to get a feel for the drive time between various locations and the overall characteristics of the site(s). We spent numerous classes brainstorming and collaborating. The class not only challenged my critical thinking skills, but also my ability to work with others. It can seem silly to create extravagant and seemingly impossible or ridiculous theories as to how the murder happened. But, working to disprove such theories has helped greatly in building a plausible series of events. Working through scenarios provided by different students brought to light new suspects and/or witnesses, new evidence, adjustments in the timeline of the crime, and much more.

Working a cold case has been fun, but extremely difficult at times. Dr. Fox provided us with resources such as detectives, an anthropologist, and numerous other experts that have been paramount to our progress in the case. Without their assistance and guidance, it would have been nearly impossible. We have a good chance at solving the case; but even if we do not, there have been valuable lessons along the way. We have learned what it takes to investigate a homicide, both in terms of critical thinking and tangible resources, how forensic science and law enforcement investigations have advanced tremendously over time, and what kinds of evidence it takes to bring a case to a prosecutor. All these lessons can be taught from a textbook, yes, but only by hands-on experience are students able to feel the excitement when you make a break in a case, or the frustration when you do not have information you want! Overall, it has been a valuable and unforgettable experience that I hope we are able to share more about in the future.

 

References

Kaste, M. (2015, March 30). Open cases: Why one-third of murders in America go unresolved. Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/2015/03/30/395069137/open-cases-why-one-third-of-murders-in-america-go-unresolved

Kennedy, J. (2015). Lessons learned: Cold case homicide checklist. Blueline training group

Walton, R. H. (Ed.). (2006). Cold case homicides: Practical investigative techniques. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.