What Makes a Cold Case Hot?
6 Reasons Police Will Revive a Cold Case
Recently, 48 Hours Crimesider broke the story of a 22–year–old murder case being reopened by police. Surprisingly, despite the age of the crime, Detective Steve Eppert of the Columbus Police department stated that they had already received six new tips regarding the investigation.
Decades–old cases can be a challenge for both investigators and criminal defense lawyers alike. Which begs the question: Why would such an old case be opened again?
Here are six reasons police will reopen a cold case:
1. An interested party makes a request
Sometime a relative or loved one will ask that the case be updated or reopened. In the example mentioned above, it was the victim’s foster brother who contacted police and asked for an update. Here’s another example of a 39–year–old case being reopened at the request of the mother and siblings of the victim.
These requests may prompt police to review the case and determine whether or not they have enough evidence to reopen the investigation.
2. A new witness comes forward
Witnessing a crime can be unnerving. Apart from seeing (or otherwise being privy to) something illegal, witnesses sometimes wonder if their personal safety might be at risk, depending on the severity of the crime and their proximity to it.
Because of this, some witnesses will avoid contacting law enforcement in order to keep themselves safely anonymous. However, after the years pass, these witnesses may feel more comfortable about coming forward. When this happens, a cold case can be reopened if the new witness’s testimony can provide some new, useful information about the crime they witnessed.
3. New evidence is found
A common reason that cases go cold is a lack of hard evidence. If police can’t find the necessary clues to incriminate any suspects, they can’t make any arrests, and therefore, the case is never closed.
However, sometimes years-old evidence can re-emerge decades later. For instance, here’s another example of a murder weapon resurfacing from a 40-year old case in Kansas City, Mo. There was even a story about a 75-year old case that was reopened when human bones were discovered in a crawlspace.
If the new evidence can provide enough insight into the unsolved aspects of a cold case, the case may be revived.
4. A new crime links back to the old crime
Sometimes, a murder or other heinous crime is committed, and the suspect or murder weapon are never found. This can cause the case to go cold. However, if the murder weapon (or other incriminating item) is used years later in another crime, the case can be reopened and police can begin searching for the suspect again.
A similar or even identical crime being committed years after a case goes cold can also prompt a reopening of the case. This often happens with crimes committed by repeat offenders or serial killers.
Sometimes police departments don’t need any prompting or new evidence to reopen a cold case. Since most departments have a backlog of unsolved crimes, sometimes they’ll periodically take a look at their cold case files to see if anything has been missed.
Additionally, with the advent of constantly improving forensic technology, police can sometimes re-examine older evidence using new methods. This can yield new data such as fingerprints and DNA that the investigators can use to reopen the case.
6. The suspect re-emerges
After a case has gone cold for a certain length of time, the suspect or suspects involved may come out of hiding, thinking that enough time has passed for them to be safe from any legal ramifications.
However, if the suspect is spotted in public or at the scene of another crime, the cold case will be reopened.
Contact a criminal defense lawyer
If you have been charged with a crime that occurred years ago, or if you’re worried about a past crime coming back to haunt you, contact one of Yavitch & Palmer’s criminal defense attorneys. They can examine every aspect of your case and work to get your charges minimized or dismissed.