Cold Case “Cowboys” Help Oregon Sheriff Pro Bono


The Douglas County sheriff’s office in Roseburg, Oregon, maintains a cold case squad to investigates unsolved homicides. What’s unusual, says the Los Angeles Times, is that the unit, now in its second year, may be the only all-volunteer such team in the nation.

The squad is composed of four retired cops who happened to settle in Roseburg, 123 miles north of the California line. All four spent most of their working years in California.

County employees refer to the group as “the old guys.” The youngest is 58, the oldest, 68. All have gray or silver hair, one has a bad leg, a couple have fading eyesight, and all suffer from varying degrees of deafness. Three wear black cowboy hats, and all take delight in ribbing one another.

The old guys have turned out to be a crack team. They solved their first two cases, including one in which the killer escaped prosecution for 28 years; he is serving a life prison sentence. The squad, which works two days a week, appears to be nearing a breakthrough in their third case.

Roseburg’s “Cold Case Cowboys,” as they’ve been called by members of the sheriff’s office, have become a force to be reckoned with. What began primarily as a public-relations gesture to victims’ families has evolved into a model that other police departments are trying to emulate.

The sheriff’s office receives three or four inquiries each month from police departments all over the West that want to form their own no-cost squad. “To my knowledge, there’s nothing like this anywhere else,” says Max Houck, forensic anthropologist and founder of the Institute for Cold Case Evaluation at West Virginia University. The foundation provides forensic help to police departments.

Houck says there’s been a surge of interest in unsolved homicide cases over the last five years, largely because of advancements in forensic science and DNA technology.


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