The Ohio Attorney General’s office is slowly building a database of unsolved homicides from across the state in the hopes of generating new leads for detectives who might be able to solve cases that went cold long ago.
“The idea was to get every unsolved homicide on a statewide database. Amazingly, that’s never been done before. You’d think there would be some place you could go and get all this information but until it was set up, you couldn’t,” said Attorney General Mike DeWine, a former Greene County prosecutor.
So far, police departments from across the state have uploaded details on 1,200 unsolved homicides, which represent only a fraction of the more than 5,000 cases authorities believe to be out there in Ohio. The online database started under former Attorney General Richard Cordray and has been expanded by DeWine.
The searchable information is available for the public and law enforcement authorities at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov. The hope is that citizens will report clues and police officers might see patterns and communicate with one another, DeWine said.
“You know we all think that if the Cleveland police are investigating something, the Cincinnati police know about it or the Dayton police know about it or Montgomery County. That’s just not true. They don’t talk to each other unless there is a specific lead or a specific reason,” he said.
The information is spotty. Not all departments across the state have contributed their files and some departments added only a selection of their unsolved cases. Dayton Police Department contributed 370 cases while Cleveland police added just three.
Additionally, the quality of the information varies. In some cases, not even a date of birth or date of death is listed. In others, a rich synopsis of the case is available. Because the picture is incomplete, it is difficult to see patterns or draw conclusions about commonalities in the cases.
Dayton Det. Patricia Tackett, who has been assigned to work cold cases since 2005, said the database is a “work in progress.” Pulling old files, finding photos, reading material and writing a synopsis of each case is time consuming, particularly since Dayton has more than 400 cold cases, she said.
DeWine said the cases weren’t solved because they’re tough: no witnesses or no one willing to come forward, maybe no DNA samples were collected, and no apparent motive. A handful of the 1,200 cases date back to the 1950s and 1960s.
Nonetheless, families of the victims want answers and justice.
“There are a lot of families out there. One thing I can say is: I don’t care how long it has been, to these families, it is like it was yesterday. They will never rest,” Tackett said.
The Dayton Police Department and Montgomery County Crime Lab have dedicated resources to working the cases, she said.
“Their loved ones are not forgotten and we are investigating what happened to them,” Tackett said. “We want to solve them.”
DeWine said, “Losing anybody in your family is tough. To a murder, it must be much more tough. But add to that you don’t know who committed the murder or why it is very, very difficult. And frankly, it’s one of the reasons we wanted to do this because we wanted to assure families that we can’t guarantee we’re going to solve your crime – your husband’s death or your daughter’s or whoever it is – but we want people to know we still care and we’re still interested and we’re trying.”
And Ohioans ought to care about these long forgotten cases because killers may still be roaming free, he said.
“There should be some indignation in regard to that. It should upset people, I think. I think people should worry more about their personal safety – we got a murderer out there and we never did catch him. Is he a serial killer?,” DeWine said. “We ought to continue as much as we can to put resources into it to deal with it, understanding that some cases are simply never going to be solved. And that’s the sad truth but that is the truth.”
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