Retired deputies try to help crack unsolved slayings
the associated press
COLORADO SPRINGS ” Technology advances. Allegiances shift. Secrets are hard to keep forever.
Those are some of the reasons three private investigators from Colorado Springs believe they can solve murder cases that have stumped other detectives for years.
The three former El Paso County sheriff’s investigators have founded Group Six, which takes its name from the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.
They’re offering families of homicide victims another option when the law enforcement agency investigating deaths runs out of time, money or fresh clues, said Timothy Shull, founder of the group. Shull retired from the sheriff’s office in 2003.
More than 500 unsolved homicide cases ” some decades old ” linger on the books in police and sheriff’s offices throughout Colorado, Shull said. Each one leaves a family seeking closure and a killer on the loose, he said.
Time usually works against homicide investigations, Shull said. He wants to put time on his side.
“As years go by, people loosen up a little bit,” he said. “They want to talk more.
“People die off, lifestyles change, people get married or divorced, and allegiances change. That’s where we’ll start.”
Most law enforcement agencies don’t have the budget to hire full-time cold-case investigators, said Steve Pease, a Group Six member who retired from the sheriff’s office in 2003. Older cases fall by the wayside when the trail grows cold and new cases with fresher clues arise, he said.
That doesn’t make old cases any less important, he said.
“It just hurts my heart that there are murderers out there that aren’t being actively pursued,” Pease said. “The main goal for me is to get murderers off the streets.”
Group Six will investigate cases at the request of victims’ families. They will decide how much to charge based on the families’ ability to pay and other circumstances, Shull said.
Rates will be significantly lower than the usual costs for private investigations, he said.
One of the first investigations will be into the killing of Jennifer Lee Watkins, 23, whose decomposed body was found in November 1999 in a locked stairwell of Memorial Hospital, where she worked as a food-service aide.
Watkins’ father, Gregg Yochum, said he thinks private cold-case investigators perform a crucial service.
“If these guys can work on cold cases ” not only my daughter’s ” and they have time to do it, I think it’s great,” he said.
So does Jennifer Romero, founder of Mothers of Murdered Youth, or MOMY.
Two men suspected in the shooting death of her 13-yearold son, Gino, remain free more than seven years after the crime.
“The more people that we have caring about the cold cases, the better,” she said. “It’s wonderful that they care.”
Some people who have information about old murders fear police but might open up to a private investigator, Yochum said. He said he appreciates the work of Colorado Springs Police Department detectives, but he’s been frustrated that detectives with considerable knowledge about the case have been promoted or transferred to other assignments.
“You put your confidence in one person, and then there’s a change,” he said. “It’s kind of scary.”
Private investigator Bobby Brown, the third member of Group Six, doesn’t expect law enforcement agencies to open their case files to him. Nor does he want them to.
Group Six can be more effective by starting each case with a fresh perspective, said Brown, who worked at the Sheriff’s Office from 1971 to 1975 and now runs a bail bonds business.
Group Six may explore investigatory avenues that traditional law enforcement shies away from, such as using psychics to solve crimes, Brown said. The group will also apply new technology such as DNA and fingerprint-matching databases to old cases, Brown said.
Shull is confident that persistence will pay off.
“Just because a witness has been interviewed once or twice doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be interviewed 10 times at different intervals,” he said. “That 10th time could be the magic number.”
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