In a city with 5,695 unsolved homicides dating to 1960, Houston police have assembled a team of five experienced detectives to form a cold case squad, says the Houston Chronicle. The squad pores over hundreds of case files in hopes of finding unnoticed leads or untested evidence that can breathe new life into an old homicide investigation. They chase new leads, hunt for witnesses, run a license plate that was not checked, and search the cavernous HPD property room to track down evidence gathered in the original investigation.
They’re getting results. Since 2008, the squad has reviewed 1,076 cases, closed 68 either by an arrest or confirming a suspect, and are following up on 162 more, said squad leader Lt. Richard Kleczynski. Homicide cases officially become cold cases after three years if all leads have been exhausted, so each year scores of cases are assigned to the cold case squad and are reviewed. A second source are murder cases where evidence was not tested for DNA. Those reviews are paid for with a $399,000 Department of Justice grant that covers the detectives’ overtime as well as DNA testing at private forensics labs. The squad has reviewed all cases from 2000 to 2003 for untested evidence and is now working backward and examining files from the 1990s and the 1980s, when DNA testing was not so widely used. Criminal justice experts say cold case squads are good public policy. “They’re making use of new investigative techniques that haven’t been used in the past,” said Clete Snell, who chairs the criminal justice department at the University of Houston-Downtown. “For the family members of the victims, this can bring very much-needed resolution to what happened to their loved one.”