This is the first installment of a series of stories relating to cold cases throughout Howard County. Some date back to the early-1980s, and police believe all are solvable. Today: An overview of cold cases.
Imagine you’re sitting down putting together a 500-piece puzzle. With meticulous dedication, you slowly begin to fill out the image, the sky, the clouds, the grass.
But as you stick in piece number 499, you realize that there is one missing. You begin to search the table, floor and surrounding area. You have an idea of what the last piece looks like and even its shape, but you just can’t locate the missing piece.
That’s what investigators deal with every day when it comes to the subject of cold cases.
Howard County has over a dozen labeled cold cases on file, with some dating back as far as 30 years.
These days, with new DNA and forensic technology, as well as fresh sets of investigative eyes, investigators around the nation are solving more and more of these particular cases, but there are still plenty more that are still yet to be closed.
And many times, police say, one of the biggest things in helping investigators fill in the rest of the puzzle is you.
“I can’t stress enough to the public about their help, if they see something, of them making a phone call to the police department,” Kokomo Police Department Det. Scott Purtee said. “We’ve had cases, I’ve been a detective for 18 years, so I’ve seen a lot of these cases, and people don’t understand the importance of a tip or phone call.”
Because of his tenure as a detective, Purtee has worked on a lot of the department’s cold cases too, and he said police do often get frustrated when they know someone has seen something at a crime scene but won’t come forward with that information.
“People think that we have a crystal ball,” he said. “When we solve a big case pretty quickly, we didn’t just do it because we did something great. We had somebody tell us something. Ninety-five percent of the cases that we solve are solved with the public’s help.”
In other words, if you see something, say something, he said.
That sentiment was echoed by KPD Capt. Teresa Galloway, who noted that the reason she hears as to why potential witnesses often don’t want to speak to police is because they don’t want to be labeled a “snitch,” especially if they know the parties involved.
“Of all these cases we have, all we hear is, ‘I’m not going to be a snitch,’” she said. “Eyewitnesses, three or four of these cases right now, we have eyewitnesses. I don’t know how they sleep at night. I don’t know how you can watch vicious horrible tragedies happen to people. Lives have been taken, and it’s not in your conscience to talk to the police about what you saw?”
But both Galloway and Purtee did admit that it could also be fear that motivates some witnesses to not step forward, noting that retaliation plays a large role in staying silent.
“Usually the people who don’t come up and give us a statement that do know something, they think they’re protecting someone, but unbeknownst to them, that [other] person would come up and give us a statement against them if they could,” Purtee said.
And as important as it is to come forward with information, Galloway and Purtee also said it’s important to come forward as early as possible.
“If people don’t come forward early on, it’s just natural human nature, you are going to forget details,” Purtee said. “And that might be the little piece, that’s why some of our best cases are when within 24 hours of us putting a press release out, that front lobby is full of people waiting to be interviewed because we can pick their brains about every little thing they have heard, seen, done, everything. A month later, a week later, they will forget some very minute details that can be extremely critical to us.”
But although time is of the essence when it comes to crime investigations, both officers said even 40-year-old cold cases can easily be cracked with just one tip.
“Honestly, and it’s just my opinion, neither us nor the sheriff’s department would have any unsolved murders right now if the citizens of our community would do their little part to help us,” Purtee said. “I have heard comments from people over the years, ‘I’m not going to tell you, that’s your job. That’s your job to figure it out.’ We don’t want people to solve the case for us. We’re more than capable. Just tell us what you know.”
Galloway agreed, also noting that just because some cases are labeled “cold,” that doesn’t mean they aren’t solvable.
“Very rarely are cases cold,” she said. “It’s only cold because prosecutors at the time don’t feel like you have enough, the suspect dies, or you can’t get people to come and confirm what they know to be true by the evidence. That’s the only reason you call them cold cases.”
Galloway then sat back in her chair and flipped the pages of a nearby cold case investigation the department has been working on for nearly 15 years.
“These cases are solvable,” she said. “Our frustration is that we need one last piece. I don’t look at them like, ‘Oh my gosh, we don’t have a clue.’ I’ve said it. I’ve done it in press releases. We need the community’s help. You’re out there. You know the neighborhoods. You know what’s usual. You know what you saw. You might not think it’s anything, but it’s huge. There could be a lot of heroes in this community.”