The Pawtucket Police Department detective who created playing cards with the faces of cold case victims on the back recently spoke at the Forensic Science Seminar and shared information with the audience regarding cases she has worked on.
The seminar, given by Detective Susan Cormier, was held last Friday at the University of Rhode Island and was titled “Cold Case Investigations.”
The definition of a cold case is up to the discretion of individual law enforcement agencies. According to Cormier, most agencies consider an investigation to be a cold case after there is a failure to identify and arrest a suspect in a criminal investigation after one, three or five years.
According to Cormier, cases can go cold because of a lack of suspects, leads, evidence or witnesses. Another reason for investigations to go cold is the simple lack of resources.
“New cases come in and detectives are needed to move on to newer cases,” said Cormier. “This happens pretty much overtime for us. Sometimes it may be another big case, a homicide a bank robbery and pretty much that [original] case goes on your back burner.”
Cormier came up the idea for the cold case cards because she realized that some investigations could benefit from having new life injected into the case.
Cormier modeled the cards after decks of cards the U.S. Government sent to service members during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which included the faces of Sudam Hussain, high-ranking members of the Ba’ath Party and high-ranking members of the Revolutionary Command Council. This was to familiarize soldiers with the faces of enemies of the U.S.
This idea led to 52-card decks in Rhode Island, as well as 18 other states, being disbursed throughout prisons to familiarize prisoners with these cases. This was done to see if any information could be found out about the cases, according to Cormier. Each card in the deck has one unsolved case and includes the face of the victim and a description of their case.
“Who knows more about these cases than the inmates, more than the average citizen,” Cormier said.
Michelle Norris, Bryan Nisenfeld, Kimberly Morse and Carl Seeback are just four of 52 cold cases featured on the cold case cards that Cormier created.
Norris was seven years old when she was murdered in May of 1998, according to the Rhode Island Cold Case website. Her case has still not been solved.
Nisenfeld is another unsolved case included in the cards. Nisenfeld disappeared in February 1997 after he left class at Roger Williams University, according to the Rhode Island Cold Case website. A foot that was later identified as his was found on Hogs Beach six months later but Nisenfeld’s body was never found.
These cases are investigated by a special task force that Cormier created in January 2019. The task force is known as the Cold Case Unit at the Pawtucket Police Department.
“It’s comprised of all of the detectives in the deck,” said Cormier.
This task force was created to get the different people involved in the investigations in the same room. These people include forensic scientists, detectives and state crime lab personnel, among others.
Dr. David Keatley, a professor of criminology at Murdoch University School of Law in Australia, travels 30 hours to Rhode Island seven times a year to discuss cold cases with Cormier. These two work together to re-examine evidence and profile possible suspects for the cases.
There are different types of methods that can be used to profile a suspect. These include behaviors of suspect analysis, sequence of action analysis and statement analysis.
According to Keatley, behaviors of suspect analysis is done through profiling life sequences of a potential suspect.
“Can I then go back to an investigator base and say the person is more likely to have this sequence of events in their past, and it’s the sequence that is important,” said Keatley.
This helps to identify what kind of person might have committed the crime.
Sequence of action analysis is largely aided by forensic science. The order in which events occur during a crime are extremely important in identifying a suspect, according to Keatley.
Statement analysis includes examining the statements of suspects by listening to questioning to see if they are trying to avoid lying. This is done by not directly answering questions or by not giving a clear answer.
Keatley said that this analysis can help indicate whether a suspect committed a crime, but it is not conclusive.
Although the cold case cards were originally only distributed in prisons, they can now be purchased by the public. Rhode Island is the only state that sells its cold case cards to the public, according to Cormier.
“Why not sell them to the public?” said Cormier. “You might know something, you might have gone to school with one of these people who mentioned something to you. Let’s get it out there as much as we can.”
For anyone interested, these cards are available for purchase at www.coldcaseri.com for $5.