Colorado distributes Cold Case Cards to raise clues to unsolved crimes
At the Summit County jail, inmates received several new decks of cards on Tuesday. But there’s a lot more at stake than the chips on the table.
The game takes a twist as each card is revealed, with the name and photo of an unsolved homicide victim featured on the face. A few details with each case are also provided, along with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s number.
“We don’t know what kind of feedback we’re going to get yet,” said Summit County Sheriff John Minor. “The bigger thing is that with all of these cards going out all over the state, there’s the possibility that someone, somewhere will know about one of these crimes. We want to bring some closure to these families.”
One deck marks 52 unsolved cases, and CBI has two additional decks in the works. In total, there are currently 1,604 unresolved cases in Colorado — 1,331 of which are homicides.
For example, the seven of diamonds and the seven of hearts feature two women whose bodies were found south of Breckenridge in 1982. Bobbi Jo Oberholtzer was found with a gunshot wound near the summit of Hoosier Pass; Annette Schnee was found with a similar wound six months later in rural Park County. Both women were last seen hitchhiking on Jan. 6, 1982. Both cases remain unsolved.
CBI first started distributing these cards in October 2014, and after a successful test run, sent them to local law enforcement agencies and detention centers in January. The goal is to bring awareness of these aging cases to inmate populations, in hopes that the photos or information may spark a memory.
While CBI started the program by ordering 5,000 decks from Effective Playing Cards, they plan to order and distribute an additional 10,000 decks in the next year. At the cost of $1.14 per deck, the price is significant, but CBI cold case analyst Audrey Simkins, says it’s worth the gamble.
“It’s a little pricey, but if that was your father, daughter, loved one or spouse, it’s hard to put a price on that,” Simkins said. “We have gotten about four dozen calls that have come in, and are opening the doors on those cases. Not all of them are going to pan out, but at least the phone’s ringing.”
The cards have seen success in other states, such as Florida, where 14 cases were solved, and South Carolina, where 10 cases were solved. Among the 17 states where decks are distributed, 40 cases have been solved and hundreds of tips have come in through phone lines. To start, the Summit County jail was given 30 decks to distribute between housing units.
Right now, the cards are only distributed in Department of Corrections facilities and private prisons, in hopes that inmates will recognize at least a few of the cases. Simkins said the choice to limit the cards to prisons was driven by a desire to gain information effectively while respective the privacy of victims’ families.
“That’s always a fine line when you decide what your distribution point is for these,” Simkins said. “The cold case database is our other glimpse. It’s our plea to the public to say, here are these cases, reach out to us and provide any info you can, no matter how small.”
For a case to qualify, it must be more than 3 years old, but not date back further than 1970. Cold case homicides, missing persons reports and unidentified remains are all included in these cases.
“You go over it again and again, and see if you missed anything, and if there’s anything you can do,” Minor said. “You’re just hoping that someone will call in with a small piece of the puzzle.”
Simkins said that while the program is relatively new, CBI has received positive feedback from a few of victims’ families on a taskforce.
“For the most part, everyone’s been very open to it,” Simkins said. “We’re excited for the opportunity and we’re hoping that we will have a success out of it. We’re hoping to forge down that road of bringing resolution to these families.”
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