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April 30, 2008

Unsolved cases are not forgotten


Todd Kozelichki and Ken Kanger
Officer Todd Kozelichki, left, and Sgt. Ken Kanger make up the Omaha Police Department’s new cold case squad. They are seen in the crime lab in Police Headquarters downtown.

Russell Neal Sr. has found it impossible to move on since his 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, was gunned down inside the family’s north Omaha home June 21, 2005.

There have been no arrests. If Sarah’s killer were brought to justice, Neal said, maybe he could find a little peace.

He’s frustrated, he said. “I cry every day.”

As the years go by, the likelihood of finding the person who killed Sarah diminishes greatly. But Neal — and others like him — has a glimmer of hope now that the Omaha Police Department has bucked a national trend and formed a cold case squad.

Such investigative teams, while popular on TV, have fallen out of favor with some law enforcement agencies, which are downsizing or eliminating them because of concerns about their cost-effectiveness.

Lt. Darci Tierney, a spokeswoman for the Omaha Police Department, said the department thinks the squad is worth the investment.

Two veteran homicide detectives — Sgt. Ken Kanger and Officer Todd “Koz” Kozelichki — make up the squad.

“Obviously, we want the pursuit of justice,” Kanger said.

Since the unit’s March inception, Kanger and Kozelichki have been gathering loose tips regarding dozens of unsolved cases, some dating back to the 1970s.

According to the Nebraska State Patrol, since 1969 there have been about 250 unsolved homicides in the state; roughly half are Omaha cases. The patrol and Omaha police are the only agencies in Nebraska with designated cold case units.

The patrol’s squad helps law enforcement agencies across Nebraska.

In Iowa, there are about 150 unsolved homicides that date back to 1965, said Jessica Lown, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation plans to open a cold case unit by July 1. Lown said the unit will be paid for in part through federal funding, but she did not know how much.

Cold case squads grew in popularity in the 1990s, as advanced DNA technology allowed law enforcement officials to re-examine evidence. But contrary to television dramas such as “Cold Case” and the documentary series “Cold Case Files,” both of which can make the job look easy, officials said it’s among the toughest in police work.

Homicides become difficult to solve if a killer isn’t found within 48 to 72 hours of the crime, officials said. The older a case is, the harder it is to locate witnesses and find samples for DNA testing. After one to three years, an unsolved homicide is considered a cold case.

“It’s not always even a matter of who did it — it’s how can we prove what happened,” said Dallas Drake, principal researcher of the Center for Homicide Research in Minneapolis.

Omaha homicide detectives for several years investigated both old and new homicides. Detectives often found they didn’t have enough time to pursue older cases.

Because of that, officials began considering creation of a full-time squad last year under then-Chief Thomas Warren. The idea became a reality in March, under interim Chief Eric Buske, who is a candidate to replace Warren.

Omaha’s cold case squad is funded through the Police Department’s regular annual budget, said Paul Landow, chief of staff for Mayor Mike Fahey.

The homicide unit employs about a dozen detectives who investigate newer cases, including the nine homicides unsolved so far this year. Two new police officers were assigned to the homicide unit this year to make up for Kanger and Kozelichki’s switch to investigating cold cases.

Sam Walker, professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, called cold case units a “fad” and was skeptical of their effectiveness.

“The probability of solving cold cases is low,” Walker said. “How many cases do they really solve? There needs to be an evaluation of these units. What are we getting out of it?”

But David Cordle, immediate past president of the Mid-Atlantic Cold Case Homicide Investigators Association, defended cold case units, saying they are effective but tend to fall victim to politics. He applauded Omaha for forming the squad.

“The bosses want statistics for public safety, and in new homicides, you have fresh witnesses,” Cordle said. “Cold case victims are just as dead as somebody who got shot this morning. Why is their case less important?”

Last year, the New York Police Department, citing a lack of resources, downsized its unit by 70 percent, Drake said. Other agencies, including the Des Moines Police Department, employ part-time, retired detectives for cold cases.

Federal grant funding for cold case units totaled $14.2 million in 2005 and $8.5 million in 2007, according to the National Institute for Justice Web site.

The Nebraska State Patrol felt that drop. It received a $226,098 grant in 2005; two years later, it received nothing. The patrol has a month or two before the 2005 grant runs out and is reapplying. If a new grant doesn’t come through, the work will still continue, said Sgt. Robert Frank of the patrol’s squad. The patrol’s cold case division currently is working on 17 cases.

“We’re not giving up,” Frank said.

Frank declined to disclose the number of cold homicide cases that have been solved since the division’s inception in 2000 but said the unit has cleared about a dozen suspects through DNA testing.

Last month, a Saunders County grand jury indicted Jeffrey D. Glazebrook, a 48-year-old Nebraska prison inmate, on murder and sexual assault charges in the unsolved slaying of Sadie May McReynolds of Ashland.

The State Patrol had reopened the investigation and used scientific advancements in DNA technology to gather more evidence. Glazebrook had long been a suspect in the McReynolds case.

Just as with families, unsolved homicides linger in the minds of the original investigators. Kanger said he’s received a lot of tips from colleagues and retired cops still thinking about cases they couldn’t close.

“The only way to get closure,” Kanger said, “is to know that someone is being held accountable.”

Help solve a homicide

If you have information on an unsolved homicide, call Omaha police at 402-444-5656 or Crime Stoppers at 402-444-7867.

Copyright © 2008 Omaha World-Herald


14 Responses to Omaha World Herald: Unsolved Cases are Not Forgotten

  1. Carol Madsen Getzschman says:

    My father, Lars P Madsen, was killed by hit and run driver on March 3, 1961. I was wondering if anyone ever found anything out about it.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Carol, in what city/state was your father killed? I’m sorry for your loss.

      • Carol Getzschman says:

        My Father was killed in Omaha Nebraska close to Springwell Cemetery and we have newspaper articles regarding his
        I’m sorry I didn’t see your reply sooner but I don’t get the newspaper
        Please feel free to call me at 402 598 3926

  2. Josy Juarez says:

    My sister, Sena C. Gameros was a victim of a Double Homicide in Omaha, Nebraska. On June 11th, 2000. If anybody can tell me if anybody has tried to even solve our loved ones killings?

  3. Linda Stovall says:


  4. C. Christensen says:

    Does anyone know if the murder of Peggy Giddings in 1970, ever got solved? She lived in Millard and her father was a Fire Chief. She was found murdered in the stairway of her front door and her baby sister was unharmed, in another room. Peggy was about 18, had dark nearly black hair and lived in a split entry home. I know someone who dated her and may have some helpful information.

  5. Johanna Spielman says:

    I wish you would reopen the Edi Torres case, shot the morning of October 1, 2005. You have the wrong person in prison. Justice is not about putting someone in prison, it’s about putting the right person in prison. Edi Torres’ family does not have justice for him. And there is no justice for Danny Sing as long as he remains in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

  6. Milov says:

    Does anyone know about the double homicide of Kathleen Hopkins and her son Alex Hopkins? It happened in North Omaha… on December 1, 1995… this is my husband’s mother and he still has no closure or know if anyone’s been charged with the murder of his mother and brother. Please! Anything helps… I’m on Facebook…Milov Stuart. Any information will help us!

  7. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    I find the comments from Professor Walker very disturbing. A number of cold cases have been solved, through the use of various tools. Quite often a review with fresher eyes, have come investigative leads that were missed or never followed up on. We have new forensic tools, and also thousands of civilians who research and discuss cold cases on-line. Also, one of the people connected with NAMUS, was the person, who was able identify a Jane Doe, found by his father-in-law. Also, we had a woman, who spent years trying to identify the Golden State Killer, with the assistance of others.

    Now, we are using Genealogy DNA, to identify a few Jane and John Does. This same tool has led to the arrests of a number of offenders including the Golden State Killer. So, I think they are not a waste of time. These families deserve some sort of closure.

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