Officials in Florida introduce playing cards with cold case information in jails and prisons to ‘stimulate fresh leads’

The state Attorney General’s Office in Florida has recently announced the revival of an old initiative to solve cold cases. They plan to distribute thousands of playing cards in jails and prisons with the hope of generating new leads and insights from inmates. This innovative approach aims to breathe new life into stalled investigations and potentially bring closure to families affected by unsolved crimes.

Law enforcement officials announced on Monday that they will be printing and distributing over 5,000 decks of playing cards that feature photographs and details about unsolved homicide and missing person cases. The cards will be issued to correctional facilities in Florida, including more than 60 county jails and 145 sites overseen by the state’s Department of Corrections.

During a news conference, Frank Brunner, the President of Florida Association of Crime Stoppers, expressed his pleasure in announcing a unique initiative. He mentioned that it has been nearly 15 years since such an initiative has been introduced statewide in Florida. Brunner believes that this initiative has proven to be effective in the past and said, “This was the right time to create and distribute another deck of cold case homicide playing cards into Florida’s jails and prisons, and certainly we will also have them available online in some other media form as well.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody is taking steps to prevent violent crime and solve cold case homicides in Florida with the release of the new version of the cold case playing cards. According to Brunner, Moody has been working to enlist the public’s help in solving cold cases since 2019.

Last year, the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers, in partnership with Moody, introduced a confidential statewide tipline. The program offered a substantial increase in reward money for anonymous tips, specifically for tips related to unsolved homicides. Moody shared that this increase nearly doubled the amount of reward money available for these types of tips.

In February, the attorney general introduced a state cold case investigations unit aimed at aiding local agencies with limited resources in pursuing leads for cold cases.

Officials have announced a new partnership with the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers, the state Sheriffs Association, the state Department of Corrections, and Season of Justice, a nonprofit organization that works towards solving cold cases.

Project Cold Case and The Murder Accountability Project, both nonprofit organizations, have reported a decline in the rate of solved homicides in the United States over the last 50 years. The Murder Accountability Project analyzed the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and discovered that approximately 340,000 cases of homicide and non-negligent manslaughter have remained unsolved from 1965 to 2022.

For years, the brutal kidnapping and assault of three teenagers remained a cold case, known only as “Slasher.”

Cold-case playing cards have seen success in Florida before

Florida officials have reported that the cold case playing cards have been effective in the state.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, inmates were given approximately 100,000 decks of playing cards in July 2007. These cards featured an older version and contained 104 unresolved cases from various parts of Florida.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, in the previous edition, construction workers discovered the body of Ingrid Lugo, 34, in a retention pond in 2004.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, three inmates came forward and reported the murderer, who was later identified as Bryan Curry, Lugo’s boyfriend, after reading information on one of the cards. As a result, Curry was tried and found guilty of second-degree murder in March 2008.

In October 2007, Derrick Hamilton was arrested with the help of playing cards, as per a report from the Tampa Bay Times. The arrest was made possible after an inmate informed the police that Hamilton boasted about murdering James Foote, who was discovered dead with a gunshot wound in a parking lot in Fort Myers, Florida.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the seven of clubs featured a picture of Foote and information about his case.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement disclosed that in 2008, an updated version of a deck was released and circulated to 65,000 inmates in 67 county jails and 141,000 supervised offenders on state probation. The deck contained 52 unsolved cases of missing persons and homicide.

On Monday, officials announced that the latest edition now offers a reward of up to $9,500 for tips that result in an arrest.

Similar initiatives implemented in other states

According to the recent announcement made by the Massachusetts State Police, the distribution of unsolved case cards in correctional facilities was first initiated by law enforcement officials in Polk County, Florida. This method has now been adopted by the Massachusetts State Police to help solve unresolved crimes.

Massachusetts State Police revealed that the idea for the initiative was sparked by a set of playing cards depicting members of Saddam Hussein’s regime, which were distributed to U.S. soldiers during the Iraq War in 2003. A Florida Crime Stoppers group later followed suit by creating their own deck of cards in 2005, which featured unsolved cold cases in the local area. This was reported in a 2006 article from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service Virtual Library.

According to the article, officials distributed a deck of cards to approximately 2,500 inmates with the intention of generating fresh leads on cold cases. Massachusetts State Police reported that within just three months of launching the program in Polk County, authorities received over 60 tips, resulting in the resolution of four cases.

State and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have been utilizing cold case playing cards ever since. These types of decks have been instrumental in resolving 20 cold cases in Connecticut and no less than eight cases in South Carolina, as per the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

According to a report by CBS Minnesota in November 2023, a man played a significant role in identifying the remains of Deana Patnode, a 23-year-old woman who went missing in St. Paul, Minnesota in October 1982. This was made possible through the use of cold case playing cards.

According to a statement released by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension last November, Mike Doherty, Deana’s former neighbor, came forward to share his story for the first time. Doherty had recognized a clay representation of Deana on a Cold Case playing card, where she was listed as an unidentified Jane Doe and represented as the 4 of Diamonds.

According to the agency, Patnode’s remains were discovered 80 miles south seven years after the incident, but it wasn’t until 2009 that they were finally identified. The identification was thanks to a tip called in by Doherty, which ultimately led to the resolution of the case.

Florida officials have recently launched a new initiative to generate new leads on cold cases by distributing playing cards in jails and prisons. The cards feature the details of unsolved crimes, along with images of victims and suspects. The program has been successful in other states and has already resulted in leads being generated in Florida. By distributing the cards to inmates, law enforcement officials hope to gather information that may have been previously overlooked, ultimately leading to the resolution of these cold cases. This initiative is just one of the many ways that officials are working to bring justice to victims and their families.

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