Getting Creative to Solve Cold Cases
Creative thinking has given us everything from airplanes and Zambonis to Astroturf and the zipper. I believe the key ingredient to solving cold cases is applying some creative thinking.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has taken an innovative approach to getting tips on their old cold cases. They created a deck of playing cards with information on 52 cold cases and distributed them to the state’s 93,000 inmates. It makes sense. If you want access to the criminal mind, take your message to that audience.
The only thing I would do differently for a Canadian version of these cards is let the inmates know there’s an incentive for cooperating with an investigation. (e.g., cash awards, upgrade their privileges).
Other than that, I think the cards are a great idea. They’re relatively inexpensive and have a long “shelf life”. They’re not like flyers or newspaper articles which can be disposed of within a day or two. The playing cards would be used and seen for a much longer period of time.
I really think this idea should be incorporated into Theresa’s investigation. So where do we start? Well…we need to:
– determine how many inmates there are in Canada so we know how many decks of playing cards that need to be printed. (In 2004-05, there were 32,100 adult prisoners in custody in Canada. )
– find out how much it will cost to produce the cards
– determine which agencies could provide grants to assist with the costs and distribution of the cards
– get buy-in from law enforcement (e.g., RCMP and Surete du Quebec)
– put together a proposal to request funding
– determine which 52 cold cases should be part of the deck
Here is some more information on how Florida got their Cold Case Cards into the prisons….
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Prisoner Poker Could Crack Cold Cases
Phil Davis, Associated Press
Copyright AP 2007

Prison inmates are getting a present from the state of Florida: playing cards. For detectives looking to solve dozens of cold cases, it’s the start of a game of Go Fish that might pay off big.

On Tuesday, Florida’s nearly 93,000 state inmates started getting one of two decks that between them highlight 104 of the state’s most troubling unsolved murder and missing persons cases

“What better way to get them talking than to have cards with the cases on them?” said Special Agent Tommy Ray of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “These are people who have been in there for years. That’s the best source of information. There are a couple of high-profile cases I think we’ll get solved.”

Ray helped launch the statewide program after he and colleagues on a cold case squad in Polk County got the idea to produce a similar deck for county inmates there in 2005. They were inspired by the famous most-wanted deck of Saddam Hussein and other fugitives issued to U.S. troops shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Soon after the Polk County cards were issued, they generated a tip. Two men have been charged with murder in the 2004 killing of one of the victims on the cards, Thomas Wayne Grammer.

Other law enforcement agencies have caught on. Authorities in San Diego, Kansas City, Mo., and Odessa, Texas, are among those who have created their own decks, and Ray said he has gotten inquiries from as far away as Australia.

For the state program, authorities printed 85,000 decks featuring the first 52 cases, and started handing them out Tuesday to inmates at Wakulla Correctional Institution in the Panhandle town of Crawfordville. In a few weeks, 15,000 decks with 52 different cases will be distributed.

The King of Spades in one deck is Tiffany Sessions, a 20-year-old University of Florida sophomore who disappeared on Feb. 9, 1989. The Queen of Diamonds in that deck is 12-year-old Jennifer Odom, a Pasco County girl whose body was found on Feb. 25, 1993, six days after she disappeared.

Sessions’ card features her smiling face. Odom’s card has a picture of a sweat shirt and her book bag because authorities didn’t want to give the state’s sex offenders pictures of children.

The state attorney general’s Crime Stoppers Fund is paying the $75,000 cost of the program — about $68,000 to produce the cards and $7,000 for rewards, an agency spokeswoman said. The Polk County deck was produced with help from the local Crime Stoppers program.
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