There’s something about unsolved murders, “cold cases,” especially real-life crime,  that’s almost more intriguing than any other kind of crime mystery. I confess  to being addicted to the British series, “Waking the Dead.”  Some  of these old cases can be resolved now through modern forensics---at least that’s the premise of that show, whether it’s actually feasible or not to analyze some of those ancient DNA samples!  (Is it?)   

But even if you know the HOW, you want to know the WHO, and the WHY.   You’ve probably been reading about all the bodies that are being exhumed in Florida, at the Dozier School for Boys, where, according to some who once attended the school, and are still living,  atrocities were committed during the 1950s and 60s: beatings, torture, possibly murder.  Imagine how many cold cases there are, right there!  And there may be more than one cemetery, since black and white were segregated. Without a doubt this school was a place of evil. And somehow, those in charge managed to cover up their crimes for a very long time. But why? 

OK, all you writers!  Would you, could you  ever write about such a thing?  If so, how would you use this kind of material to write a gripping crime novel?   This is your assignment.  :) Come up with a story-line  based on this kind of discovery, one that will reveal who, how, why.

Were staff involved?  If so, how many? For a cover-up of this magnitude there must have been collusion. Was there a motive other than shear sadism? Racism? Homosexuality? Politics? How did the revelation of these horrors affect not only the families of the victims, but of the perpetrators?  How would you approach this difficult subject---of crimes committed against children by persons entrusted with the responsibility for their wellbeing and rehabilitation.  What characters do you need from the past and from the present, to flesh out your story?  


Or, if you don't want to touch that one---how about the unsolved case of 5 year old Jon Benet Ramsay, the baby beauty queen?  Was it a parent or relative---someone in the house? Or a stranger?  Anyone?  But maybe we shouldn't open more than one can of worms at a time!

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I'm not familiar with the case. Much depends on what sort of school it was and who the boys were. For a novel, such a case may be too complex since it will involve many victims and perpetrators. But cold cases are in just now among mystery writers. Michael Connelly's Bosch works in the L.A. cold case division now. Ian Rankin has resurrected Rebus and given him a cold case. Michael Robotham had a cold case novel recently. I've used a cold case myself (a number of years ago).


The point really is that sometimes writers have to change the kind of case they are dealing with. Nothing worse than being stuck in the same groove. 

Did I forget to mention---this was a reform school.

So the boys weren't there to learn Latin.

Reminds me of my earlier interest in cold cases of homicides and missing persons, when, in 1982-83, I founded the small International Crime Study Club for the express purpose of looking into the older, colder cases. After a year or so, with no internet, and the logistics, not to mention running a business 90 hours a week, we folded; I, a couple retired cops, a physician, et al. There was absolute no cooperation from the police or news media. The cops wouldn't talk to me, and the media would lie to me, or try to charge outrageous fees for "research." But I did get some coverage from the wire service, several newspaper features, and one live radio interview. A couple years later, around 1985, Bob Stack hosted t.v.'s first cold case special series. Well, they had more resources than I and my small band folks.

Not familiar with the Florida cases you speak of, but if resources weren't a problem, or if this was just a novel, I's start with reading the files of the victims--the Dozier School & the police--then track down any surviving employees of the school, and their relatives, and learn all I could about each, to the extent possible. That's a start.

But it happens because nobody's watching, and it's the fox guarding the chicken coop.

The Florida case  has been in the news---CNN online anyway. Perhaps not even the most "mysterious" of cold cases---just something that got suppressed while it was happening. 

But check out this link. In Chapel Hill, NC alone---all these cold cases!   The most recent, the murder of Faith Hedgepeths a year ago. No information released by the police, nothing of substance.

They solve cold cases here all the time. I think they must have a special department for it. They just cleared another in Norfolk, the killing of a barber, for which another man went to jail. Frankly, one should give the police more credit. They do work conscientiously and in an hostile environment.

I've actually pretty much lived this. I was a reserve sergeant with the local sheriff's search and rescue unit. We were called in to search for a missing black toddler. The toddler had been living with his mother's boyfriend while she, a Navy sailor, was at sea. The boyfriend said he took the child to a park and the child wandered off. We could find no evidence the child had been at the park. However, neighbors reported seeing the boyfriend leave his apartment with a heavy, large trash bag and walk down the street with it even though the apartment complex had trash bins.


The cops were pretty certain  the bag contained the child's body, so they had all the trash gathered in the area sequestered and searched. Nothing. Then they found out the neighborhood was right on the dividing line for two garbage dumps. The trash from the block where the apartment complex was went to one dump; trash from right across the street went to another. They had the wrong trash sequestered. Since no body was every found, the boyfriend went free.


That was just months after we were called into help with a case involving a little girl who was a competitive beauty contestant. She was kidnapped from her bedroom while her parents were allegedly having a wife-swapping orgy in the living room. The freaking next door neighbor did it, raped and killed her. Creeps abounded in that one. At least in that case, the murderer went to prison.


This is probably why I love animals and hate people....<g>

I recall hearing a talk by retired Lieutenant John Dove, who headed the Brooklyn cold case squad in the 1990s. He told us that the golden age of cold case investigation is already over, and it was brief. In the 1990s crime rates dropped drastically across the country, and police were able to go back and pick the low-hanging fruit, meaning cases that just needed a detective to put in the time it took.

The low-hanging fruit was picked, and then 9/11 and terrorism gave police departments new responsibilities.

Of course, this does not mean the cold case investigations have ceased. New tools such as DNA produce new evidence, and the passage of time often loosens the tongues of witnesses who didn't speak up the first time around.  


Yes, but that suggests there are and will be no more unsolved cases. The physical sciences don't solve everything. DNA is greatly overrated by its constant presentation on dramatic programs, fiction and non-fiction. The human behavior factor, as you suggested also, plays a role in investigations.

Isn't it true that most people who are murdered are killed by someone they know? If a young woman is murdered, the boyfriend or husband is usually the first suspect, and the motive is often jealousy. Or the husband wanting out but not wanting to pay for a divorce, child support, etc.

 Maybe not in the case of certain serial killers, although they also may be familiar with their victims in some way. 

The human behavior factor is, to me, the most interesting thing. Of course you can't prove cases using only that factor. Having hard evidence is usually crucial! 

The existence of cold cases would prove that not all murderers were known to the victims. The investigations broke down either because the obvious suspects were cleared or because evidence was lacking.

Cold cases are very good material for mystery writers. There is a challenge there, and also a way to show one's protagonist is smarter and more caring than the original team. 

 Lack of evidence would certainly be a factor---as in the Jon Benet Ramsay case, where the crime scene had been tampered with by the parents (as I recall).  A lot of people thought one or the other of the parents did do it----but the mother died of cancer, and we will never know the truth, most likely. Too much press! How could those people ever lead a normal life again, whether or not they were guilty or innocent? 

Or in the Peterson case---although the jury convicted Michael Peterson anyway, even though no weapon could be found. But there was a LOT of circumstantial evidence.

And yes, even if the "golden age"  ?? of cold cases is over ??? it's still good grist for the mystery writing mill! Definitely a challenge. One of the fun ones is the unsolved "historical" murder. 

I was thinking that all you writers might come up with some plot ideas. :)  Based on the case I mentioned----or some other case that has been of interest. 




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