FBI Seeks Next of Kin in Cold Case Initiative

Special Agent Cynthia Deitle describes the FBI Civil Rights Unit's effort to reach relatives of victims killed during the civil rights era


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Special Agent Cynthia Deitle, Unit Chief, FBI Civil Rights Unit

The cold case initiative in the FBI was started really in 2006. It was rolled out by Director Robert Mueller in February of 2007. And what we tried to do is take a fresh look at racially-charged homicides which occurred prior to 1969.

They may have been unsolved. They may have been inadequately investigated and/or prosecuted. But we wanted to go back and take a fresh look, in the last couple of years, at these cases to see if there were any living perpetrators that we can now bring to justice.

What we have found in the last probably year is that we may know what happened—we may have been able to find out through our investigation what happened at the time of incident, let's say, in Selma, Ala. We know who killed what victim, what happened, what were the circumstances surrounding that death, and we can piece together a story, an investigation.

A problem that we've encountered is that we can't find the victims’ next of kin—we’re having difficulty finding a relative of our victims. So for 30-some of our cases, it's been very difficult to find someone who's related to that victim. Now we've been substantial progress in the majority of our cases to find the next of kin, to find these family members, and agents have been in contact with these family members to talk to them about the investigation and what we have found. But in 30 some cases, we have not been able to find the next of kin, despite all the great efforts of our agents in trying to locate somebody, we've been unsuccessful.

We're hoping that for each of our cold cases we can find a surviving child, a surviving spouse, and be able to sit down with that person and say—we know what happened to your father, we know what happened to your grandfather.

By reaching out to the public, if we can find these families, if we can have the public help us to find them, that's what we need.

Each of these victims deserves to have their story told to someone who knew them and who loved them and who cared about them. The surviving families deserve that—they

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