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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


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

  1. Joji Hopkin says:

    If the Peggy Giddings murder case has not been solved after all, is there someone working on it now? Her family deserves to know who committed this horrible crime. It is just as horrendous now as it was when it happened back in 1970, and someone should be brought to justice even after all these years. Peggy did not deserve to die the way she did. She was not perfect, as none of us are, but she was a very sweet girl who had no guile. She loved her parents, brothers, and new little sister. The heartbreak her parents felt when they came home the night of Peggy’s murder was agonizing. Her dad told my friend and I the next day that the reason they moved out west from their former home near Benson High School was to provide a “safer” place for his family to live. It is unconscionable that this case has not been solved, especially with all the DNA advances in forensics since then. I often think of Peggy, her smile, and beauty, and occasionally visit her grave when I am in Omaha. Rest in Peace dear Peggy…

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Please contact Omaha police at 402-444-5656 if you have information about Peggy Giddings. I am an editor at the World-Herald if you’d prefer to contact me. My number is 402 444-1082.

      • Catherine Peterson says:

        I thought this murder was solved. I could only find articles from the Lincoln Journal on this which is strange because it was a crime that happened in Omaha. Here is a link to one article:

        • Dan Sullivan says:

          No, it is not solved. Richard Hill was released and was not the killer.

          • H cantwell says:

            I called the police about information I had about this crime- they told me they had the killer so didn’t need more information. Very very odd it hasn’t been brought up in the news.

            • What kind of information do you have?

            • Cathy Christensen says:

              Are you talking about Peggy Giddings? I guess it hasn’t been solved. I’ve tried to find out about this for years. I know her cousin Chris Powers and tried to ask her about it, but all she told me was that Peggy was her cousin. What do you know about Peggy?

              • Peggy Giddings’ murder remains unsolved. There was a false confession several years after the crime that led to an involuntary mental hospitalization for the supposed killer. Since Peggy’s murder was in Omaha I’m wondering if there is any website like this for Nebraska?

                • Jen says:

                  I remember the night Peggy was killed. I was about 7 we lived around 122nd and Woolworth. It was summer and I was out playing in our front yard. A car came racing up heading east on Woolworth and it was traveling super fast on the residential street. Like 60mph. It was crazy. The next morning we heard about the murder and I always wondered if that car was the killer racing away. Our house wasn’t far from the Giddings house.

                  • Cate says:

                    I am from Omaha and some relatives met Tom Hill. They found him a very offensive person who leads people to believe he is a priest. He was a catholic priest but was defrocked by the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The St. Louis Paper warns that People about him posing as a priest. He wrote a book “Four Decades in Genesis” by. Fr. Thomas Matt
                    Since I went to school with his brother, I read. He writes in full detail how She. was murdered.
                    Mulch of what he says about Peggy is inaccurate.
                    He said she work with him which maybe try but he said that they had gotten close and talked a lot
                    He refers to Peggy as his first love. He say she said she was an only child (obviously not true). He said she was blond. (She had dark brown hair). He said they finely had a date with her too. one to the pool at his house to swim but did not show. He was told about the modern that night and was driven to the house. Her parents were at the neighbor and he talked to him and the took him to show him the crime seen. I find that highly unlikely they would let a fifteen year old enter a fresh crime scene. He describes the murder with detail which is odd since he wasn’t there and then goes on to say that the angle Athanasis came to her and talked to Peggy and helped her the horror of the murder and that she continues to be with peggy after…

                    I would recommend the police reading this book
                    Tom Hill also meets the man who confessed to her murder and writes as if he were the murder. He said it bothered him hearing about the murder of Peggy but he was a Priest and need to help him. Richard Hill heard Voices and Tom he helped him lesson the voices by teaching the rosary when he heard.
                    He felt like he took credit for curing a psychotic

                    I would recommend the police read the book

                    “Four Decades in Genesis”

                    It might give some insight into the murder

          • Cathy Christensen says:

            Do you know for sure Richard Hill was not the killer? I know someone who used to date her and he looked just like the artist rendering. In fact, my fiancé and I went on a double date with her and that guy in April before she was found dead. If Hill was insane, what evidence did they have other than what he said? Florensic evidence? I suspect Hill was not the killer.
            I suspect there is even a possibility that it could have been someone she met in Memorial Park because she used to try to buy drugs there. Back then all the teenagers drove through the park and hung out with the hippies and drug sellers.
            The guy she was on a date with that my fiancé knew was named Mike Sadler. He went to Benson High. About the time of the murder he suddenly joined the Air Force.

            • KarenG says:

              I am glad to see that 50 years later, people have not forgot about Peggy. I was only 7, a neighbor. She worked for my mom for a short time prior to her death. She lived on Bel Air Drive, not in Millard. My sister and I still talk about her occasionally. I visited her grave and left flowers a couple years ago. She is buried near our dad.

              • Barbara Katen says:

                I went to HS with Peggie and graduated with her from Burke in 1970 and I think about her often. I am saddened to know her killer has never been caught.

                • Cathy Christensen says:

                  Wow, I didn’t know she went to Burke. I graduated in 1970. I probably saw her at school before I met her on a double date in April 1970. It has really bugged me all these years about her. The guy she was on the date with looked like the artist rendering, later when I saw it on tv.

            • Gregory Grajeda says:

              When I was growing up in Omaha (in 1970 I was 11yrs. Old) we were neighbors with Richard Hill. He was being raised by his grandparents. The Richard Hill that I remember was def. retarded. I know he did not drive but he was un predictable. He once ran over my little brother with his bicycles in our back yard! Even at my young age and obviously later into my adulthood I had a hard time connecting the dots that he could have had the skills to pull this crime off. His grandparents that raised him never spoke of him after his confession. I certainly could not fathom him on a date. He was really slow and developmentally handicapped. I am shocked to hear that this is a cold case. So what ever happened to Richard Hill?

  6. Linda Stovall says:


  7. 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?

  8. 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

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