The headlines are so sad. Sometimes they cause chills, perhaps a tear or two, as they drag memories from the far reaches of our minds and souls.
“Tammy Zywicki cold case investigation nears 23 years.”
“Iowa minister’s murder gathers dust, not clues.”
“West Des Moines police no closer to arrest in Okland case.”
And those headlines make us think of others in our area, like the case of the murdered Evansdale cousins, Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, and Elizabeth Collins, 8, and the case of missing KIMT anchorwoman Jodi Huisentruit.
All of these cases and many more are being documented in a series called “Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa's unsolved murders.”
This past week has been the beginning of what will be a year-long collaboration by Iowa newspapers, including the Globe Gazette, to revisit mystifying cases.
It is compelling reading, if heartbreaking.
Why would a minister be shot after running an errand while on his way to go fishing?
What would prompt someone to stab a woman within earshot of where her children were playing outdoors?
Who could be so cruel as to snuff out the lives of two innocent cousins?
All good questions begging for answers — those and many more.
That’s why Iowa newspapers have undertaken this special project — one that took considerable planning, preparation and coordination.
It is our hope that by sharing these stories with a broad statewide audience justice will be found for some of these victims — that answers will be found, especially to “who” if not “why.”
But regrettably, another headline and story tell us that’s not as likely to happen as we might hope.
Roughly one-third of homicides in the U.S. go unsolved. In the Midwest just 52 percent of murderers are identified, according to the FBI. Forensic death consultant Jim Adcock estimates more than 200,000 homicides have gone unsolved in the U.S. since 1980. And the longer the case goes unsolved, the harder it is to crack. We present as evidence the Huisentruit case.
Unfortunately for her family and others, the national clearance rate for solving murders has remained relatively static for more than 20 years.
There’s even a more puzzling factor as pointed out by Adcock: The number of murders has dropped from about 25,000 per year in 1993 to 13,000 today.
“We have half as many homicides,” he says. “Why aren’t we solving more?”
Those questions he does have some answers to: Roadblocks such as too little money for law enforcement investigations (indeed, a cold-case unit in Iowa’s Department of Public Safety was shut down for lack of funding); plus, witnesses may fear the killer/killers; there’s public apathy unless we know the victim; and then there’s something called the “white woman syndrome.” That refers to short-lived coverage and lack of public interest when victims are members of minority groups. They become, Adcock said, “devalued victims.”
Still, the state continues to follow leads in the roughly 160 cold cases that are part of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s files.
And again, we hope that keeping these stories in the public’s eye just may lead to that missing shred of evidence, bring back that long-forgotten memory of something seen or heard — anything that could provide a new look at these old cases so that modern investigative techniques could be put to work.
That’s the idea behind Gone Cold, a public service we feel part of our duty to take part in.
You have your duty, too: If ever you see or hear something suspicious, don’t decide for yourself whether it’s important or trivial. Tell your local law officers — nearly every department has a program to let you remain anonymous if you wish to do so — and let them decide. Your information could just help shrink an all-too-thick stack of cold-case files.
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