Cold Case Initiative

April 24, 2009

FBI discusses progress made on the the Cold Cast Initiative through which the FBI has been reviewing unsolved cases including racially-charged homicides or allegations to see if additional information exists or they have the federal jurisdiction to prosecute subjects today and bring justice to victims and families.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. The FBI’s Cold Case Initiative. It’s up and running.

Ms. Deitle: “We have our Cold Case Initiative in which we are looking at racially-motivated homicides which occurred before 1969.”

Mr. Schiff: That’s Supervisory Special Agent Cynthia Deitle. She’s the Chief of the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit in the Criminal Investigative Division.

Ms. Deitle: “Currently we have about 106 investigations that are pending.”

Mr. Schiff: Now, how did this all come about, to reopen these cold cases?

Ms. Deitle: “I think it was really a joint effort between the FBI, the Department of Justice, a lot of special interest groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Urban League, the NAACP, as well as victims and their families. I think it was kind of a compilation of efforts to bring these cases to light and to ensure that justice was served for these victims.”

Mr. Schiff: How important is this kind of action for FBI agents and analysts?

Ms. Deitle: “I think it’s extremely important, and I’ve been very proud to travel to Jackson and to other divisions and talk with the case agents who are very enthusiastic and very determined and motivated to investigate these cases, to try to go back in time and talk to the victims’ families and old law enforcement investigators to try to figure out what happened. But they are very committed to the effort and very determined to see that these are brought to a successful conclusion.”

Mr. Schiff: More importantly, how important is reopening these cases for the families, the friends, the people who have lived in the areas where cases are being looked at again?

Ms. Deitle: “Well, you know I hate to speak for the families, but it seems that the family members that I’ve spoken with seem to be joined in their wish to see that these cases are brought back into the public view. That they can say the FBI looked at the investigation, into the death of their parent or grandparent or sibling, and that this person committed this criminal act against their loved one and that this was brought to light; it wasn’t something that was swept under the rug or that was inadequately investigated. And I do believe that the FBI and the Department of Justice and the federal government do have this commitment that we owe to these families and to the public to see that all of these cases are given the attention they deserve.”

Mr. Schiff: How does the FBI go about investigating, reinvestigating, looking at all this information?

Ms. Deitle: “It’s a big do-over. We start from scratch. You pretend as if nothing was ever done and this is a new case that was dropped on your lap and this is something you have to start from the beginning and pursue. So, what they’ve been doing is to figure out if there’s old FBI files that exist; if there’s old police records that exist; court records; grand jury transcripts; if there are witnesses that are still alive; if victims’ family members are still alive that may have witnessed something; if the perpetrators are still alive; going back to libraries and newspaper archives. To go back in time and try and recreate not just the event, but also the investigation that may have occurred in the past or may not have. A lot of times agents have had to literally start from the beginning with very, very little information and build a case.”

Mr. Schiff: Well, you’re going to libraries and newspapers, it’s doubtful you’re going to be looking at some computer records, right?

Ms. Deitle: “Exactly. It’s been a lot of microfiche and onion-skin paper records in dusty courthouse basements, yes.”

Mr. Schiff: But lots of interviews.

Ms. Deitle: “We’ve done a tremendous number of interviews with not just possible witnesses, but also with family members and law enforcement, who possibly just got hired in the their department when the crime occurred and could provide some insight, or even just law enforcement officials that can tell us how the case may have been investigated or why it wasn’t investigated when it occurred. So there’s a lot of background information as well.”

Mr. Schiff: Do agents to back into the communities, into the neighborhoods, to the corner where the corner store was?

Ms. Deitle: “I just talked to an agent yesterday who drove for hundreds of miles to get back into the community where the crime occurred, just to do exactly that. To literally knock on doors and go to diners and cafes and barbershops; identified himself and just said, ‘Anybody know anything about this? Can you help me out with this?’ And a lot of our investigative efforts are very similar to that. We just have to back and do a lot of pure street investigative work.”

Mr. Schiff: What are some of the questions that an agent might ask if they’re in a diner and there’s a few people there who have lived in that specific area for 35, 40 years?

Ms. Deitle: “For help. That’s probably the biggest question that the agent can ask is, ‘Could you help me with this?’ It’s a very noble cause that the agents are pursuing, and I believe the agents have done an exceptional job communicating that cause and that reason to go back in time and try to figure out what happened and to try to get help, because this is something, probably, that occurred 40 to 50 years ago; a lot of the witnesses may be deceased at this point. But chances are, there is somebody in that community who knows something about what happened. It’s just a question of finding that person and encouraging and convincing that person to talk to the FBI.”

Mr. Schiff: Isn’t all this like putting a puzzle together and you’ve got hundreds of pieces and you’ve got to fill the holes?

Ms. Deitle: “It is. For a lot of the agents it’s been a very difficult puzzle to complete. One of the obstacles recently has been locating the next of kin for many of these victims. The information on several of these cold cases that we had in the beginning was very brief and very scarce. Unfortunately, when you only have the name of the victim and you don’t have a lot of other identifying information, it’s difficult to go back 50 years to try to find that victim’s next of kin. It’s another obstacle that we face but, again, the agents who are assigned these cases have very determined and dedicated to find those family members.”

Mr. Schiff: How can the public help?

Ms. Deitle: “What we’re hoping is that the public will look at our website, which, again, is, to try to determine if they can help us with any of these cases. There’s a partial list of victims on the website. We encourage the public to look at that to see if they have any information at all to provide, even next of kin. We are always asking for information from relatives and family members. We’re hoping they look at the list and come forward and talk to us.”

Mr. Schiff: You may be able to help solve one of these cold cases. Check Maybe you, a relative, a friend, can help solve these racially-motivated murders. If you have any information, give the FBI or your local police department a call. That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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