On November 24th, 2009 Defrosting Cold Cases (DCC) finally went live. It had been living in my head for quite some time. Then it migrated to notebooks before I dipped my toes into the waters of WordPress.
It started when I was law faculty in the US and worked with a police department. When I looked for cold case websites, I found a few that were noteworthy. All founded and spearheaded by women.
Now there are many cold case websites, podcasts, and television shows. But back then it started with just a few women: Jody Ewing (Iowa Cold Cases), Tricia Griffith (Websleuths), Jennifer Marra (The Doe Network), and Meaghan Good (The Charley Project) and I. And I am proud to say we are all still writing online.
DCC started as a small blog. I would briefly write down an overview of a case and add my thoughts. Never had I thought that my blog would become a research tool for others who use my case analyses and scan the database. I never expected a huge readership, social media following, or speaking at crime conferences, and everything else that happened in the past ten years.
I pondered whether to do an anniversary post. Not knowing exactly what to write about I turned to my followers on Twitter. They did not disappoint. Within a very short period of time I had enough suggestions. I’d like to thank Penny, Jennifer, Luis, and Andi for their comments. You helped shape this piece.
One of the suggestions for writing was to explain how I got started and why I still do this work. It isn’t making me rich and there’s no glamour involved. So why? Well, the easiest answer to both questions is: because I cannot let go.
I cannot stop wondering about people’s motives. Why did these things happen, what were people thinking at the time? Why do people raised in the same circumstances react differently to changing circumstances, and most importantly, what can I do now to make sure that the victims of decades ago are not forgotten today. Last, why are some old cases so much more popular than others?
To answer these questions we need to check which cases or books started this interest. Thinking about that took me back to my years at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. What got me interested in criminal law and criminology? It wasn’t my first choice but it did become my career.
During my years studying law (Dutch Law and the American Legal System) and reading many text books, two cases got me interested in criminology and forensics (even though I didn’t pursue that particular field of study): the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven.
The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven were arrested, convicted, and spent years incarcerated for bombings that the IRA carried out.
The bombing of the Guildford Pub on October 5, 1974 led to the arrests of Paul Michael Hill, Gerard “Gerry” Conlon, Patrick “Paddy” Armstrong, and Carole Richardson. They became known as the Guildford Four.
Anne Maguire, her husband Patrick Maguire, their two sons Patrick and Vincent, Anne’s brother Sean Smyth, family friends Patrick O’Neill and Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon, the father of Gerard “Gerry” Conlon, became known as the Maguire Seven.
Two groups of people who, during 1974 and 1975, were tortured and threatened during police interrogations. People, who, as a consequence confessed falsely, and were incarcerated for many years before they were finally given justice.
The Guildford Four were released on October 19, 1989 after their convictions were quashed. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, said that irrespective of evidence gathered by police “the level of duplicity meant that all the police evidence was suspect and the case for the prosecution was unsafe.” The convictions of the Maguire Seven were finally quashed in 1991.
There is a lot online about these cases so there is no need to rehash it here. What is crucial is that these people, suspected of Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombings, confessed falsely after immense pressure during long hours of interrogations mostly without a lawyer present. And even when, in 1977, four IRA men, on trial for other bombings, told their defense teams that four innocent people were incarcerated for bombings that they had executed, the Guildford Four remained incarcerated. Those four IRA men were never charged for the Guildford Pub bombing.
What remained with me after all these years was simply this: had these people been rich, or if they had a better social standing, if they had not used drugs, or if they were better connected, this would not have happened. They might not even have been arrested and even if they were, lawyers would quickly have put an end to it all. But they were not well-connected. Most people didn’t care what was happening to them. They were not treated equally as we all should be in the eyes of the law.
This led me to reading more books about wrongful convictions now clearly defining my criminology interest. Some of those wrongful convictions that are based on false confessions during police interrogations are featured here on my website. Just a few:
- Richard A. Lapointe (mentally handicapped and physically disabled) falsely confessed to the rape/murder of Bernice Martin. Her case remains unsolved.
- Christopher Abernathy falsely confessed to the rape/murder of Kristina S. Hickey. Her case remains unsolved.
- Ayako Haraguchi was found guilty of killing of her then brother-in-law for insurance money. This was based on the false confessions of others.
- Kevin Fox falsely confessed to the murder of his daughter Riley Fox. Riley’s killer was eventually found.
In many of these cases, you keep wondering who really committed these crimes and how much time was lost pressuring the wrong people. And something else that still bothers me, is the selective attention from the mainstream media for cases and victims.
Many cases do not make the headlines, many victims do not have a campaign behind them, no TV show is interested, and no book is written about their case. There is definitely discrimination here. We know some of us get less attention. We still consider some people expendable, undesirable. We still think that some victims called their fate upon themselves. We don’t have the same compassion for everyone. Some people are still not worthy of our empathy. Some people’s cases are considered more marketable (read: pleasing outward appearances) than others. Some people don’t even want to write about an unsolved case if the victim was anything less than a saint!
I made it my goal to write about all the victims whose cases were suggested to me by their families and friends. Yes, the majority of all these victims are women and girls. But I don’t apply any filters. My mind is closed to discrimination. All names are written down in long lists (read: notebooks) and I work down that list. Line by line, notebook after notebook. Nobody’s case gets taken off my lists. In case you are wondering, I still have over 285 cases on my lists right now.
In some cases it is easier to find information, yes, so those stories are easier to compose. That does influence the weekly posting rhythm. If the writing isn’t done yet, or if what I have found so far online is repetitive, I wait with posting until I can add more details. That is the only shifting in the order.
Over the years, some posts have been deleted and consolidated into a few bigger posts. Cases that went on trial for example, were summarized in a new post. The older ones with daily trial updates were then deleted.
I still wonder if there’s anything that we can do now for these victims, all the victims. I am still hoping that if just one piece of information pops up in certain people’s news feeds that someone will remember something, and pick up the phone.
Will I keep writing? Yes, but changes will have to be be made. Writing about true crime takes a toll. After ten years of posting on a weekly basis, I need to slow down. It isn’t just the writing but everything else that precedes it. Reading victims’ families stories, reading what the victim had to go through, I am not immune to that. And I haven’t touched on issues such as abuse or hate mail.
For now, I don’t foresee any drastic changes to the format of my website. This means no ads in either roll or pop-up form (I find them annoying myself), no newsletters (just check the website), no pop-up windows holding the latest case you are reading hostage until you hand over your email address (if I see those myself I leave that website), no vlogs (I don’t do camera), no podcasts (I am better with the written word), no YouTube channels (that is not me), etc. DCC will continue to be just me writing about unsolved cases and posting book reviews here.
Thank you to all who shared the story of their loved ones with me. I appreciate it that you reached out to me and trust me to write an objective case analysis. Thank you for helping me gather the newspaper articles that I could not find, for the pictures you allowed me to use on DCC, for adding details about the victims such as hobbies and nicknames, and for your patience. I work off my to-do list and all cases will be reviewed in the order in which they were received by email. I cannot think of another way that treats all victims equally fair. I do wish to point out here that all email contact with victims’ families or their friends, is initiated by them.
Thank you to all my readers and followers on social media. Sharing case analyses helps to raise awareness that many cases remain unsolved. Thank you for helping by commenting and brainstorming. You enhance victims’ digital footprints and in doing so improve their SEO results. But most importantly, you help to show to victims’ families and their friends that we have not forgotten their loved ones.
No anniversary post is complete without thanking those behind the scenes. To all prosecutors, defense attorneys, police officers, and others in serving capacities, I thank you all for trusting me. You know who you are.
Thank you to all the guest bloggers and those who allowed me to interview them over the years. You have made a huge contribution to this site’s unique content. Your take on matters, your cases, and your knowledge, have benefitted us all.
Thank you to my family, close friends, and my writing group for your support, your encouragements, your grammar and spelling corrections, your friendship, and for the many coffee refills, and all the case suggestions. You keep me going!
Last but not least, a huge thank you to Jacques Soudan. More than ten years ago he listened to my ideas. Then he built this site and he has watched over it ever since. Thank you for hosting, thank you for tech support, thank you for corrections, thank you for keeping DCC safe, for keeping me sane, but most importantly, thank you for being a friend.
On to the next decade!