Thursday, October 20, 2011

Murder Victims Should Never Be Forgotten

Matthew McGough over at Miller-McCune has an outstanding story on the genesis of Los Angeles PD's Cold Case Homicide squad. In nearly every police department in the United States there are unsolved homicides that are years or even decades old. LAPD was no different. In fact, the nearly 10 year old Cold Case squad has nearly 9,000 unsolved homicides to work dating back to the 1960's. That unit was started by now retired LAPD detective David Lambkin.

But Lambkin felt there was no more dignified work than trying to solve murders that society seemed to have forgotten. For victims’ families, he says, “this stuff never goes away. After awhile, they get tired of dealing with the department, and they quit calling. So there’s a huge moral reason to be looking back at them, now that we have these new tools.” The new tools were the revolutionary DNA, ballistics, and fingerprint databases that had come online in the 1990s. Lambkin had avidly followed their evolution. He knew these databases were rapidly improving detectives’ ability to identify people who very likely believed that they’d gotten away with murder.

In countless cases, Lambkin had seen firsthand how technology had made it possible to divine new leads from old crime-scene evidence. Given the number of long-unsolved murders on the LAPD’s rolls, and how much unanalyzed evidence the department was sitting on, Lambkin had no doubt that a cold case unit would be successful. For almost a decade, he’d lobbied for the LAPD to create one.

McGough does a really good job of documenting the huge undertaking that starting the unit was for Detective Lambkin. It is definitely worth reading the whole piece. It's also informative for those who don't realize just how labor intensive solving homicides can be, especially cold case homicides.

When I first was transferred from a detective position to the crime analysis unit in the sleepy little burg where I work, I set out to catalog a definitive list of all the cold case homicides we had. I spent quite a bit of time in our records vault pouring over microfilms and going through our homicide books to come up with a list of cold cases dating back to the early 1970's. Recently our Major Crimes Unit has added more names and case numbers to that list.

I found digging through these old files to be fascinating. I also found it heartbreaking that so many of these victims had the story of the end of their lives relegated to dusty files and microfilms.

What's your agency doing with the cold case homicides gathering dust in your files?

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