No cold cash for NH's Cold Case Unit?
Its members have solved three of 117 cases - some more than 40 years old - they were handed on the division's creation in 2009. On June 30, the $1.2 million in federal stimulus funds used to start the unit runs out, calling into question its future.
"The Cold Case Unit has operated on federal funds or donations from 2009 to the present," said Attorney General Michael Delaney. "The federal funds are set to expire in June. I look forward to discussing the merits of the unit with the legislature as the budget process plays out."
Marc Goldberg, communications director for Gov. Maggie Hassan, would not comment on whether a funding request for the Cold Case Unit will be part of Hassan's first budget proposal when it is unveiled later this month.
"Investigating and solving cold cases can bring an important sense of closure to families and communities across our state," wrote Goldberg in an email response to a request for comment on the unit's future. "The governor is currently working to make the difficult decisions needed to balance the budget while protecting New Hampshire's priorities, including ensuring that we are fully able to bring criminals to justice, and will be presenting her proposal to the legislature on February 14th."
On July 29, 2009, Gov. John Lynch signed HB 690 into law, creating the first Cold Case Unit in state history, using Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funding included as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Byrne JAG program is a formula grant program that supports justice-related activities at both the state and local level. Approximately $1.2 million was set aside to support the Cold Case Unit. Of that, approximately $685,000 was awarded to the New Hampshire Department of Safety and $514,000 went to the state's Department of Justice.
HB 690 established the Cold Case Unit as a joint effort between the two departments. The funding was sufficient for the unit to be staffed with a prosecutor from the Attorney General's Office, two full-time detectives from the New Hampshire State Police, and a part-time investigator hired by the Attorney General's Office, all at a cost of roughly $400,000 a year, over three years.
The current roster for the unit includes Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin, who oversees the unit; State Police Sgt. Scott Gilbert, the unit's lead investigator; State Police Trooper Mike Kokoski; and retired Manchester detective Robert Freitas, who fills the part-time slot. Two volunteers offer the unit administrative help, such as sorting and scanning old documents associated with the cases.
"They are an extremely talented group of investigators," said Manchester Police Capt. Nick Willard. "I have the utmost respect for what they do, and the way they approach the job. I am very impressed with them."
News that the future of the Cold Case Unit could be in jeopardy was met with concern by family members of victims of some of the unsolved crimes. Karen Beaudin, whose 13-year-old sister, Kathy Lynn Gloddy, was murdered and raped in Franklin in 1971, pressed hard for creation of the unit in 2009.
"It would be a shame if the state lost the Cold Case Unit," said Beaudin, who now resides in Arizona. "Victims like my sister, and families like ours, deserve justice. Knowing there is a group of people working on finding the killer that took someone from you ... there's comfort in that. There's hope in that. The cost is about $400,000 to run it for a year. That's about the same as what a snow plow costs. Are you telling me a plow is worth more than justice for a family like ours?"
Sharon Garry, whose sister Tina Sinclair and niece Bethany vanished in February 2001 from the home they shared with a boyfriend in West Chesterfield, wrote a letter to the state's House of Representatives asking that funding be found for the unit.
"This group has the time and ability to work on each case, fresh eyes to look over the gathered evidence and possible witnesses and a fresh perspective to see things that may have been missed, follow up on information that comes in or has in the past that was never fully investigated, and give attention to the cases that have sat on a shelf collecting dust instead of the justice they deserve," writes Garry. "They can communicate with families appropriately, instead of making them feel like they are a bother, and listen to valuable details and ideas that may be helpful in enlightening the investigators."
117 cases on roster
Efforts are under way to free up more funds in Washington for the unit.
"Senator Shaheen appreciates the important work the Cold Case Unit has done to bring criminals to justice and continued funding for the program is a top priority," said Elizabeth Kenigsberg, press secretary for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH. "She is working with her colleagues in the Senate to find ways to continue to support the important work they're doing in New Hampshire."
There are 117 cases on the unit's current roster, dating as far back as the June 1968 kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Charlestown resident Joanne Dunham to the newest, an unsolved shooting death of Fall River, Mass., resident Eric Fitting, whose body was found in woods off Route 124 in Sharon by a hunter in September 2009.
In New Hampshire, a "cold case" is defined as:
. A case that involves a homicide or suspected homicide, including those where the victim is missing and suspected to be murdered;
. The case is "unsolved," meaning no one has been charged and convicted for killing the victim;
. The original investigation did not result in an arrest, and the case remained inactive for more than one year due to a lack of viable or unexplored leads.
Support for unit
Members of the unit review documents from the cases, and attempt to track down and talk to witnesses, family members and anyone connected to the case, in the hope they may have information that wasn't previously shared with investigators. They also field tips, both via phone and through a website set up to highlight the cold cases.
"Every lead is looked into," said Strelzin. "Sometimes, as years pass, allegiances that existed once between people change or weaken, and someone may now be willing to share what they know about a case - they are just waiting for someone to ask."
There are 15 cases on the list from Manchester. There are seven in Portsmouth, three in Nashua, and dozens from communities scattered across the state. Police chiefs in some of these cities say if the Cold Case Unit is lost, staff detectives will work to solve the local cases.
"We will work on them; we owe that to the victims and their families," said Portsmouth Police Chief Stephen Dubois. "We owe them some closure. But the harsh reality is, we'll have people work on the cases until something happens and they are pulled onto a current case. The Cold Case Unit has the ability to focus on these cases. We don't have the staff. I'm looking at a budget with two potential layoffs as it is."
"I think we need the Cold Case Unit," said Manchester Police Chief David Mara. "I would be in favor of it continuing. Having a unit in place that focuses only on these types of cases allows our staff to work on case loads involving current crimes. They come at these cases with a different look."
Strelzin is pleased with the results the unit has produced over the last three years. Work by cold case investigators has led to the arrest of David McLeod in June 2010, in connection with a fire in Keene that killed a family of four. Last May, Arthur Collins of Manchester was arrested and charged with the murder of George Jodoin, who was found shot multiple times in his Auburn home on Dec. 27, 2001. In July, investigators announced the September 1990 murder of John Pond, Sr., in Salem, had been solved, but no arrest would be made because the accused killer, Mark Craig, had died in 2004.
"It's been extremely successful," Strelzin said. "It's a worthy endeavor."
"I am very supportive of the unit and their efforts to solve these crimes," said Delaney. "The victims may be gone, but in many cases their families are still here, still looking for justice."
"I would hate to see us lose this unit," said Capt. Willard. "If it does go away, maybe in the future, with a different group of politicians that is more interested in justice than dollars, it could be brought back. But what personnel would we have in it then? Right now, I think we have the best group of investigators in place there, doing the job already."
Cold case officers urge anyone who may have any information on any of the cases, no matter how seemingly insignificant, to call the tip line at 271-2663, e-mail email@example.com or write to Cold Case Unit, N.H. State Police Major Crime Unit, 33 Hazen Drive, Concord NH 03305.
For information about the unit, visit www.doj.nh.gov/coldcaseunit/index.htm. Written tip forms are available on the site.
Families of cold case victims should call 271-3671 or write the State Office of Victim/Witness Assistance, New Hampshire Department of Justice, 33 Capitol St., Concord NH 03301.