Remembering Those Who Never Forget: Keeping Contact With Cold Case Survivors.

Author:Patrick, Wendy L.
 
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CNN reported in February 2019 that over one year after the arrest of the Golden State Killer, victims and family members of victims shared a collective "wave of relief" that Joseph James DeAngelo, the then 72-year-old former law enforcement officer believed to be linked to 12 killings and at least 50 rapes in California, was finally apprehended. Having matched his DNA to the horrific crime spree in the 1970s and 1980s, NPR reported that DeAngelo was arrested without incident at his Citrus Heights home.

But not all victims and survivors of the slain are lucky enough to see an arrest of the perpetrator--no matter how long they wait.

The men and women who swear to protect and serve know that fighting crime involves both seeking justice for the slain, and caring for the survivors. This is particularly true in cases where there is no suspect... at least not yet.

Although there is no such thing as a victimless crime, and all crime impacts victims, their families, and the community at large, unsolved crime is in a category of its own. Cold cases present unique challenges for investigators, prosecutors, and survivors. This is particularly true for surviving family members of homicide victims, who suffer through birthdays, holidays, and the anniversary of the death of their loved one--every year.

Unlike Hollywood crime dramas, where a murder is solved and the perpetrator brought to justice in less than one hour, in the real world, the wheels of justice turn much more slowly. With scant suspect information and a lack of forensic evidence, they appear to grind to a halt--at least in the minds of those left behind.

This of course is never true in reality. Consider the fact that in 2011, the Los Angeles Times in a piece entitled "DNA testing sheds new light on Original Night Stalker case," opened with the caveat: "Whether the serial killer known as the Original Night Stalker is still alive, nobody knows." Yet investigators and prosecutors continued to work diligently behind the scenes, pursuing every lead. In the case of the Golden State Killer, it paid off.

During the waiting game, however, for surviving family members of the victims in such cases, research shows that the frequency and quality of communication by law enforcement can prevent survivors from feeling like justice delayed is justice denied.

REMEMBERING THOSE LEFT BEHIND

Law enforcement and prosecutors pursue cold cases with patience and persistence. The challenge is to express this reality...

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