NEW YORK, NY — The arrest of the Golden State Killer suspect after 37 years has shown once again that there is no denying the power of DNA evidence when it comes to cracking cold cases. But how can an investigator solve a murder — and catch the bad guy — in cases where there is no DNA?
Saturday, May 19, 2018, hundreds of ID Addicts gathered together to meet their favorite ID hosts and crime fighters. A full day of presentations and panel discussions ensued, with one of the most fascinating featuring experts discussing the challenges of working and solving cold cases. Called “Cold Case Confidential,” the panel was moderated by journalist Diane Dimond who spoke with Garry McFadden, Chris Anderson (above), Derrick Lavasseur, and Dr. Kris Mohandie.
“I have a unique take on the progression of technology when it comes to DNA and things like that,” retired homicide detective Chris Anderson, who cohosts Reasonable Doubt, told CrimeFeed.
“When it comes to cases, I actually think it makes us detectives kind of lazy, because you know when you have DNA samples, some detectives will sit back and wait for that sample to come back or see if they can get a match compared rather than being out working the case. I come from a long line of those gumshoe detectives who like to get out and knock on doors and talk to people,” Anderson said. “I’m still going to work the case as hard as I would have if I had it.”So in the absence of DNA, what type of evidence does an investigator need to successfully prosecute a case? “You need a confident and reliable witness, and you need a confession,” Anderson said. “It’s really just that simple.”
He went on to explain that the confession should be “a corroborating confession.” “Some investigators don’t understand about the corroboration that comes along with the confession. Just because the person says ‘I did it’ doesn’t meant that they actually did it,” he points out. “They have to have some corroborating statements that you know are factual that corroborates what happened in the scene.”
In this way, he said, investigators can help ensure that they aren’t dealing with a false confession.
In a case where the suspect has confessed to friends, Anderson said that he would talk to the friends, and see if the information the suspect gave them matches the physical evidence that he found on the scene. “Then I’m going to talk to the suspect,” he said. “I’m going to be as nice as possible, but I’m going to get them to tell me what they know.”
Former Rhode Island police detective Derrick Levasseur, who cohosts Breaking Homicide with forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie, said that re-examining the DNA can pay off. “At the time, investigators may not have had the technology to get a match,” Levasseur told CrimeFeed. “But today, with mitochondrial DNA and other advances, it can definitely be worth taking a second look at the evidence.”
The investigators discussed the challenges they face during the Cold Case Confidential panel at IDCon 2018 — and said that missing persons cases can be the hardest cases to solve, because is no body.
Mohandie said that time is a factor in cold cases — but not always in the way that that one would expect. In fact, he said that in some cases the passing of time can work in the investigator’s favor. “The passing of time is our ally in cold cases,” Mohandie said.
“It works against us with some evidence, but it terms of human intelligence — people coming forward that maybe originally were terrified to speak, maybe they felt like they didn’t want to say anything, they didn’t want to get involved — now their conscience is bothering them after all these years. Or the bad guy, the big bad wolf they were living with, isn’t there to keep them quiet anymore.”
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Main photo: Chris Anderson at IDCon 2018 [Investigation Discovery]