Cold Cases: What You Need To Know

Gavel and law books depicting cold cases

Did you know there is a 1 in 3 chance that if you are murdered in America, police won’t be able to solve it?

Did you know there are more than 211,000 open homicide cases since 1980 in this country?


Although the definition of a cold case varies from agency to agency, the National Institute of Justice  currently defines a cold case as:

“Any case whose probative investigative leads have been exhausted.”

In other words, cold cases are criminal investigations of crimes that have not been solved. Leads have grown cold. They remain open pending the discovery of new evidence.

Example of a Real Life Cold Case

Accused” is a true-crime podcast in the style of NPR’s “serial.” This season featured the unsolved 1978 murder of Elizabeth Andes in Oxford Ohio. It was made by reporters Amber Hunt and Amanda Rossman of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

It is an excellent story exploring why this crime is technically still unsolved. In addition, it explores why it hasn’t been investigated by police since the acquittal of Bob Young, Beth’s boyfriend, whom Oxford police still believe is guilty.

The story reveals just how flawed and incomplete a police investigation can be, even when it is investigated thoroughly by normal standards. It shows how it’s possible that the wrong guy gets blamed. In this case, two juries acquitted Bob Young, but that’s not often the case for others.

Depending on whose side of the story you hear, no one, in this case, got justice.

Not Bob Young, who got tried two different times for a murder he didn’t commit – and reasonably had an alibi for.

Not Beth Andes’ real killer – who more recent investigators believe was someone she knew and who has been walking free since 1978.

In addition, not police and prosecuting attorneys – who believe they got the right man and he simply got away.

Even Beth Andes and her family appear to not have received justice. When Bob Young’s verdict came up not guilty, Beth’s father is reported to have said, “Then who killed my daughter?”

Investigators stopped their search after that. Since 1978, the Andes family has had to rely on private investigators and pro-bono attorneys to try to get action on Beth’s case.

The Problem With Solving Cold Cases

Solving open homicide cases is not as straightforward as it looks on TV. It is expensive, slow, and frustrating work. It’s complicated by tensions between police and poor communities – which have the highest murder rates. In addition, there is the pressure to meet standards for clearing homicides, which have gotten higher with new technology.

Add to that, a cleared homicide (police term for resolving) doesn’t mean a conviction.

Fifty years ago, there was a 90% homicide solve rate. Now, it’s just about 64%.

That is because all the unsolved murders on the books are still there and being added to weekly in some places. Police departments often complain there just isn’t enough money, time, manpower or trust to get the job done.

In crime-heavy areas like Detroit, according to this piece, detectives are getting far above the average number of homicides per year. Even with crime prevention tactics, it’s still a big job. However, criminologist Charles Welford makes a point. He states that police homicides are generally always solved – so maybe it’s a matter of priorities.


What do you think? Is it troubling that fewer homicides are solved now? Should we relax the standards for charging someone in favor of solving crimes or would that put more innocent people in jail? How else do we solve this problem of open cold cases to give closure to grieving families?

If you are being charged with a crime you did not commit, reach out to experienced legal counsel immediately.

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