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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > October 2013 > The “Reality” of Cold Cases

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The “Reality” of Cold Cases

With the craze of reality TV, shows like “Cops” have become a social phenomenon. Now reality TV has set out to solve cold cases with “Cold Case Files” on A&E and “Cold Justice” on TNT.

In Ohio, estimates put the number of unsolved homicides at more than 5,000, many of which are considered cold. These cases require time, money, skill, technology, and sometimes a little luck to solve. Once DNA technology became common in police investigations, many cold cases were solved by this new science. Today’s cold cases are often those with no evidence of DNA.

“This stuff is really hard. The science or evidence is just not there in these cases,” said Ben Suver, a special agent supervisor with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). Suver coordinates the Ohio Unsolved Homicides Initiative that Attorney General Mike DeWine launched last fall.

While reality TV shows can offer time, money, and resources for cold case investigations, a break is more likely to come from a new piece of evidence or witness. TV shows are looking for solvable cases that can deliver big drama and ratings. For example, in its first show, “Cold Justice” got a confession from a long-lost killer.

But before considering inviting cameras into an investigation, law enforcement should call the local prosecutor to discuss ethical and procedural implications.

“When bringing in the media, even to outline a case on the news, there are issues that should be discussed because of potential impact on the investigation,” Suver said. “The last thing an investigator wants is for a defense attorney to stand up and tell a jury that the police department made a mockery of the investigation because a TV crew was involved, even if everything was done correctly and by the book.”

With the help of local agencies, BCI maintains a database of unsolved homicides in Ohio at The database provides details and photos related to unsolved crimes and gives the public an opportunity to submit tips.

Since the initiative was launched last year, more than 1,640 cases have been added to the database. The Attorney General’s Office also routinely features a case from the database on its website, bringing increased visibility.

BCI also can be a second set of eyes on cold cases and help smaller departments review, clean up, and digitize case files. This process can include reviewing and retesting evidence, contacting and interviewing witnesses, and running old fingerprints.

“Even if a reopened investigation doesn’t solve the crime, the review is valuable to investigators to make sure the case is exhausted,” Suver said.

For more information: To request that an unsolved homicide be included in BCI’s statewide database, visit, contact BCI at 855-BCI-OHIO (224-6446), or e-mail

On Nov. 12–13, 2013, BCI will host a training on Unsolved Homicide Investigative Strategies and Resources at Bowling Green State University. For more information or to register, visit and search for “unsolved homicides.”

Additional Reading: National Public Radio profiles TNT’s “Cold Justice.”

Jennifer Anne Adair
Senior Assistant Attorney General
Deputy General Counsel for Law Enforcement Initiatives