Criminal Forensics and How They Apply to Cold Cases

One the TV show CSI, cases wrap up neatly within 45 minutes, plus commercial breaks. In real life, crime can go unsolved for years. They can remain open indefinitely. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department defines a cold case as a “murder, missing person, or suspicious death… not actively investigated by the original assigned investigators.”

Cold Cases Categorized

The city investigates three categories of cold case deaths: unresolved, unidentified, and unsolved. Investigators mark a cold case unidentified when the victim remains a Jane Doe or John Doe. They consider it unresolved when they have suspects but have not successfully prosecuted them. They consider a case unsolved when it has no known subjects.

How Evidence Finds a Case

While cases get reassigned or temporarily tabled, closed cases continue to have information added to them. Years ago, that process worked slowly because it occurred manually. Today, evidence finds the case via complex national databases like the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP). For example, somebody arrested for rape in North Dakota might get swabbed for DNA. Their DNA sample gets entered into VICAP and matches to a cold case in Nevada.

Criminal forensic science helps solve many cold cases. The leads can take years to develop. Sometimes, it takes waiting for a new science to develop as occurred when police and prosecutors used the then new field of forensic odontology and its dental matching capabilities to catch serial killer Ted Bundy in 1979. At the time, the emerging field of criminal forensics was only accepted in six states, Florida being one of them.

Learn More

You and your family can learn more about how police work together using forensic science to solve crimes at one of the most original kids exhibits Las Vegas offers. Learn the skills of a CSI as you play the role of one to solve crime on the Las Vegas Strip.


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