In April 2003 the Pentagon created decks of playing cards featuring wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. The Pentagon gave the cards to soldiers and we often saw the cards displayed on television, particularly after one of the wanted men were captured or killed.

Two years later, a state law officer in Polk County, Florida made his own deck of cards, each bearing information about a different local criminal case that had gone cold. He distributed the decks in the Polk County jail. He hoped that prisoners would talk about the cases during card games, and somehow clues or breaks would emerge and make their way to the authorities. The plan worked. Two months later, as a result of a tip from a card-playing informant, two men were charged with a 2004 murder in a case that had gone cold. All state inmates in Florida were then given access to two different decks of cards. Soon states across the country began producing their own decks to solve cold cases.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension took the idea and produced a deck of playing cards with photos of cold cases going back nearly forty years. Thirty-three of the cards were murder victims and eighteen were missing people. More than 10,000 decks have been distributed to prisoners, jails and to the state’s police departments and sheriffs’ offices. The deck has yielded seventy tips, dozens of which the BCA calls credible.

Last November, the BCA received an e-mail message from a man who’d seen a card on the Internet that he thought bore a striking resemblance to a twenty-three year old neighbor woman who’d disappeared when he was ten. The woman, Deanna Patnode, vanished after leaving her house in South St. Paul, Minnesota on October 26, 1982. In 1989, hunters stumbled across a skeleton south of Wabasha, Minnesota. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner ruled that the female victim had died of homicidal violence but could not identify the remains.

Following the lead provided by the Internet tip, the BCA tracked down the woman’s sister in Iowa. Using the skeletal remains still held by the Ramsey County Medical Examiner, the BCA made a genetic link between sisters confirming that the skeleton had been that of Deana Patnode.

The FBI also produces a Most Wanted Playing Deck featuring fifty-five pictures from across the world of the FBI and Interpol’s Most Wanted Fugitives, as does the popular America’s Most Wanted Fox television show hosted by John Walsh. The company producing this deck continually updates the playing cards so that consumers always have the fifty-four most–wanted criminals.

There are currently 200 cases of unidentified remains in Minnesota. The hope is that playing cards can help identify these remains and bring perpetrators of murder to justice.
The current deck is online at www.bca.state.mn.us/ColdCase/UnsolvedCards.asp.

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Comment by Benjamin Sobieck on March 23, 2009 at 11:43am
I heard about the Minnesota cold case you mention. The playing cards seem a bit schlocky, but they peak the public's curiosity. Thanks for getting the word out about these cases.

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