Top 10 cold cases solved

The fascination of the cold case is recognisable to any committed detective. But sometimes time can bring clarity, as we discover from these ten cold cases that were originally solved.

Cold Cases

Chandra Levy

The 2001 disappearance of Washington intern Chandra Levy had political repercussions when allegations of an affair surfaced. Although later cleared of any suspicion, California Representative Gary Condit’s political career was ruined. The following year Levy’s remains were found in Rock Creek Park, but it took another seven years for a viable suspect to be found. Ingmar Guandique was arrested for assaulting two other women in the park, and he was eventually found guilty of Levy’s murders and sentenced to 60 years in jail.

Jessica Keen

Jessica’s killer was still roaming free nearly twenty years after her 1991 murder. A one-time cheerleader and A-student, her life had taken a turn for the worse, including a spell in reform school. Found dead in a cemetery, her boyfriend was initially the main suspect but the DNA evidence exonerated him. Instead a random match in 2008 with one Marvin Lee Smith was enough for his arrest. He confessed to raping Jessica before beating her with a tombstone, and was given a minimum of 30 years.

El Segundo police officers

Some cases really do stay cold a long time, with the likelihood of being solved diminishing with every decade. So the 1957 shooting of two Californian police on a traffic stop seemed destined to stay a mystery. A gun was found a year later but it wasn’t until advances in fingerprint technology in 2002 that the stolen car and gun could be linked to Gerald Mason. The suspect was by this time a retired grandfather. He pled guilty and was sentenced to life.

Minnie and Ed Maurin

It isn’t always forensic evidence that catches a killer years later. New information coming to light through informants can also break a cold case open. Despite having two prime suspects almost from the start – the Riffe brothers, who left the area soon afterwards – the murder of this elderly couple remained unsolved from 1985 until 2012. It was additional informant information that finally brought a prosecution against the brothers, who had kidnapped and robbed the couple before shooting them in local woodland.

Helen Sullivan

Mother-of-three Sullivan was found murdered close to her North Long Beach home in 1973. It would take 40 years for DNA testing to find her killer. Forensic evidence had been collected at the time, although technological restrictions had prevented a conclusive lead being found. The reopening of the case lead to a rerunning of DNA through police databases and the discovery of the involvement of Emanuel Miller, a known criminal. However justice came too late – Miller had died some years earlier.

Colette Aram

A nationwide review of cold cases in the UK led to the capture of murderer Paul Hutchinson. His crime was the killing of 16 year old Colette Aram, a trainee hairdresser from Nottingham. She had been strangled as she walked to her boyfriends house in 1983, and her case had been the first ever to appear on the BBC’s Crimewatch. Hutchinson had sent a mocking letter to the police, and it was DNA from this which eventually led to his arrest and life imprisonment some 26 years after the crime.

Linda Strait

Some cases seem clear cut – but without hard evidence they can’t come to trial. This was so in the murder of Linda Strait, a 15-year-old who disappeared as she walked to the local store, and was found the next day floating in the Spokane River. The suspect, Arbie Dean Williams, was already serving a sentence for offences that bore marked similarities, but it took until a grant was awarded for additional testing of existing DNA, that the case could be solved. Williams was charged with her murder in 2004.

Coffee cup evidence

Anti-terrorism powers in the UK have proved very controversial, but they have just been used for the first time to apprehend a violent sex attacker. The attack on two teenagers in 2001 and DNA material was taken from the scene. It wasn’t until the case was reopened in 2007 and the sample run through the national database that a possible match was found. Anti-terror laws allowed police to place the suspect under surveillance and seize a coffee cup he was drinking from to get a better DNA sample. Keith Henderson was subsequently arrested, imprisoned and placed on the sex offenders register for life in 2014.

Joan Harrison

The initial theory about the death of Joan Harrison was that she was a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliff. The 35-year-old was found bludgeoned to death in a Lancashire garage in the late 1970s. To further complicate the investigation, hoaxer Wearside Jack, who wrote letters to police claiming to be the Ripper, said he had committed the crime. In 2008, DNA advances linked the crime to Christopher Smith, who had been arrested for drunk driving. Incredibly he died of a terminal illness just six days later, but left a note confessing to his crime.

Susan Schwarz

It took two ingenious detectives to solve the murder of Susan Schwarz. Shot and strangled near Seattle in 1979, there was no motive or real evidence and the case was cold for 32 years. Two county detectives came up with the idea of printing cold case victims photographs on packs of cards to distribute to prisons. The image of Susan brought forward a key piece of new evidence. An inmate had been a child at the time of the murder, and had been an eye witness. His evidence led to the conviction of a local 57 year-old-man.