Indiana bets on cold case playing cards…

Another jurisdiction has decided to distribute cold case playing cards to inmates in the hopes of clearing up some unsolved homicides. Not only will inmates be playing the cards, they’ll be printing them too!

The following story appeared February 18 in the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune.

Will DOC inmates put cold-case cards on the table?
Officials at the Indiana Department of Correction are using playing cards in their efforts to solve cold case crimes.


The ace of spades is Ruth Shelton, an 18-year-old who was abducted by robbers from the restaurant where she worked in Johnson County, Ind., and whose lifeless body later was found in a wooded field.

Shelton’s slaying, which was Nov. 18, 1978, is one of 52 homicides or missing-person reports featured on a deck of playing cards that the Indiana Department of Correction plans to distribute to its inmate population in hopes of solving cold case crimes.

“The idea here is to improve public safety,” said Randy Koester, a spokesman for the DOC.

Koester said this is the first time that the DOC has done “anything like this” and that its goals are to seek closure for the victims’ families and apprehend those responsible for the crimes.

The cards feature 45 unsolved killings labeled as “murder,” four missing person reports and one “body found” from a total of 26 Indiana counties. The cold cases featured in the deck of cards span more than 30 years, from the slaying of John Terhorst in Boone County in 1971 to the killing of Tracy Sissom in Brown County in 2004.

Koester said the DOC was seeking information from the state police and the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center, a division of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, when the idea came about. He compared it with a deck of cards that the federal government issued in its search for possible terrorists.

Koester said the 52 cold cases featured are not necessarily the oldest or most difficult to solve. But they do come from across the state and were the ones provided to the DOC by the state police and the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center.

Although none are from St. Joseph or Elkhart counties, four cold cases from nearby LaPorte County are featured in the deck:
– 16-year-old Rayna Rison’s body was found in a pond after her disappearance in 1993.
– The body of Linda Weldy, 10, was found along abandoned railroad tracks after she failed to come home from school in 1987.
– Jonathan Jones, 18, was shot and killed in Michigan City in 1995.
– The body of Juanita Boyd, 32, was found in the trunk of her vehicle in 1981.

Koester said the DOC is asking media outlets in the state for help in collecting photographs of the victims. Each card would display a victim’s photo with a brief description of the crime. The crimes were randomly paired with the cards in the deck.

The cards will go on sale within a month or two, Koester said this week. The printing plates with the design for them are ready.

Koester said inmates at the DOC will print the cards using prison equipment. They will be among other items that inmates make, including license plates and furniture.

The cards will be sold not-for-profit to the DOC’s inmate population of 26,000 offenders for $1.10. Eventually, Koester said, the cold case cards would become the only playing cards available to the inmates to buy through the DOC. He said the cards will not be marketed to the general public.

Koester said the DOC hopes that through the use of the cards, inmates would be more likely to offer clues that could help solve a cold case. He said offenders might gain useful information through their interaction with other offenders at the DOC.

He said that although some might seek to cooperate in the hopes of receiving a sentence modification or other reward, others might do so earnestly.

“Offenders are people like you and me, and if they know they can help, they have the same desire to do something that could resolve a crime,” Koester said.

Asked whether the DOC had consulted with victims’ families in undertaking its initiative, Koester said the DOC has spoken primarily with prosecutors and sheriffs.

Koester also said that in the future, other decks of cards might be created to include other unsolved crimes.

Maritime Missy


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