Ex-cops heat up cold cases

first_img A 1957 case involved two El Segundo police officers murdered while on patrol. The cold case investigators were able to develop new leads on the case and resubmitted evidence, including two partial fingerprints that resulted in a composite print, which led investigators to a suspect who eventually pleaded guilty. “We are having our fingerprint people review all the cases from 1980 to 2000 and enter them into the automated fingerprint identification system,” Mondry said. “As our database grows, the potential for leads increases.” Despite the elaborate laboratories depicted on television in shows such as “CSI,” the reality is that homicide investigators often have to wait years for DNA analysis because of a lack of facilities or budget. Mondry recently received a grant that will pay for carefully-selected cases to be fast-tracked through the system. Out of the thousands of open cases, only 150 will be covered by the grant. “The potential for DNA is extreme, but it takes money and people,” Mondry said. Each homicide’s evidence is compiled in a “murder book,” a scrapbook of sorts that includes a summary of the case, all interviews, field and lab reports, photographs and printouts from various sources. These books are given to the contract investigators who may or may not have known of the case before their retirement. In addition to easing the load on homicide investigators working current cases, the contractors bring years of experience and street smarts developed over time. “If they didn’t use us, nothing would get done,” said Adams. “Not knocking the guys working now, but they just don’t have the manpower to do everything. Before I retired, we were working 30 cases a month and these (cold) cases took a back seat.” Mondry’s unit has had its share of success. It recently tracked a suspect from a 1981 Compton case through Georgia and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, capturing him in Cleveland. In some cases, witnesses who were afraid to testify at hearings have come forward; in others, the evidentiary paths have led to suspects who have since died themselves. Adams acknowledges the limitations of reinvestigating old cases. “We don’t want to get a family’s hopes up or down or raise expectations by talking with them,” Adams said. “If there are things we needed to have done but didn’t have the money to do (when the crime occurred), I don’t want to call them and tell them we’re looking over the murder. “But when we’re able to have the investigators call and let them know we’ve convicted someone, they are very grateful.” Carol Rock, (661) 257-5252 [email protected] AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant For the last five years, experienced homicide investigators, most of them retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, have returned to help investigators comb through cases marked as “unsolved actives.” There are seven such cases in the Santa Clarita Valley and 25 in the Antelope Valley. A grant approved by the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 14 provides $500,000 a year for eight investigators to work as contractors, reviewing evidence, audio and video recordings, notebooks, and new technology – such as DNA analysis – that might not have been available at the time the murders were committed. The investigators are also updating computer files to try to identify suspects. “We’re able to take an address or partial name or bit of information and use these as a tool to review the case,” Sgt. Paul Mondry, who oversees the unsolved case unit. “Out of 1,700 cases, we were able to identify 135 for further forensic investigation. All of this boils down to a potential for workable leads. We’ve made more than 30 DNA hits using this system.” In 1991, Valencia homemaker Ann Racz vanished after dropping her children off at her ex-husband’s home. In 1993, martial arts instructor Veronica Estrada was found strangled off Soledad Canyon Road just west of Camp Plenty Road. Suspect Stuart Milburn was tried twice, but both cases ended in mistrials. They are just two of the thousands of Los Angeles County homicide files being looked at by investigators who have turned in their badges, but aren’t ready to turn off their expertise. The retired detectives want to give closure to victims’ families or to colleagues who worked the cases for years without solution. “When investigators talk to the families they are very grateful, even if it means that after all these years, somebody is still thinking of them,” said Dick Adams, who worked 14 years as a homicide detective before retiring. center_img HOTLINE If you have information that might help homicide investigators on unsolved cases, call (323) 890-5500. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more