The natural passage of time is a double-edged sword when it comes to solving cold cases. Police investigation and evidence handling methods have changed drastically over the years, crime scenes no longer exist and key witnesses often die with their secrets. It's the nature of old, unsolved cases. On the other hand, time can also help bring new evidence to light, which often happens when loyalties and relationships change.

In Colorado, the Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is tapping the power of the Internet to make easier the process of alerting an investigating agency of a tip, along with making available information about homicide victims, missing persons or unidentified remains found in the state. Announced Tuesday, Aug. 24, the Cold Case Database allows users to search through the state's 1,600-plus cold cases by name, gender, age, physical characteristics, location, incident date and investigating agency. The cases date back to 1970.

"CBI hopes that by providing information about these cold cases to the public, citizens throughout the state will be able to assist local law enforcement and the CBI by offering new information that will lead to a resolution of these cases," CBI Director Ronald Sloan said in a news release. "CBI would like everyone to view this website and consider any information they can provide to help solve a cold case and assist families and other co-victims to see these cases progress toward resolution."

Though it's too early to report any success stories credited to the database's information, Cold Case Criminal Intelligence Analyst Audrey Simkins said the availability of such data has generated public interest. "If nothing else, it's generating discussion of cases that exist in the database, whereas there hasn't been discussion of that case for some time," Simkins said.

At the same time, some have questioned the quantity (or lack thereof) of details linked to cases, Simkins said. "We do hope someday we can bring the perpetrator of these crimes to justice ... so we have to be cautious about how much information we put out there," she said. "We hope to generate interest, but have to tread lightly in the hope of prosecuting the cases in the future."

As of Friday, Aug. 27, there were more than 1,600 listed cold cases. Seventy-five percent of them (1,207) are classified as homicides. Another 332 are missing persons, 16 unidentified cases and 119 listed as "other crimes." Simkins said the last category is due to agencies' "suspicious missing persons" cases not being classified as either homicide or missing persons. "It's a little confusing. I'm hoping down the road we can do follow-up with agencies and categorize them better," she said.

The CBI is presenting data from more than 200 different law enforcement agencies throughout the state, including from counties, cities and universities. While the database isn't yet complete -- some agencies still have to send the CBI their information -- the caseload should increase and more victim photos will be added, said Raelene Vining, marketing director for Colorado.gov.

Another feature that will be added in the future is the ability for users to submit tips online to the law enforcement agency handling the case or to the CBI. Simkins said she hopes that feature will be available in February 2011.

The site was developed by Colorado Interactive, a subsidiary of NIC, an e-government service provider, at no cost to the state, according to the company. The system's design was derived from Utah.gov's cold case files Web app and redeveloped to the CBI's specifications.

 

Karen Wilkinson  |  Staff Writer