About 680 killings are investigated each year by the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD operates a “cold case” homicide unit that reviews thousands of unsolved crimes from the 1960-to-1997 era. Some old high-profile cases stay in-house at the Robbery-Homicide Division, where they are distributed among two dozen robbery-homicide detectives when a veteran retires. “It’s kind of like you’re handling the archives,” Robbery-Homicide Capt. Al Michelena said. “You’re like a curator of the museum. And you’re around to answer questions when they come up.”
Working old cases often is just baby-sitting files. But a phone tip, a technological advance, or the discovery of new evidence can breathe new life into a dormant investigation.
One of them is the “Black Dahlia” case. The body of Elizabeth Short, 22, was found in a vacant lot, cut in half, mutilated, neatly scrubbed and drained of blood. The 1947 killing intrigued generations of true-crime aficionados and has been the subject of films and books, including a recent bestseller written by former LAPD Det. Steve Hodel. He implicates his father in the slaying. Though the book was partly responsible for convincing the LAPD to reopen the investigation, detectives still lack the physical evidence, including DNA, to solve it.