Solving Cold Cases with Dr. Jim

James M. Adcock, PhD

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Cold Case Protocol: the design, operation and management of a cold case unit.

December 18, 2019

This protocol for detectives on how to design, operate and manage a cold case unit was written by Dr. Jim and is intended to serve as a supplement to the NIJ Best Practices guide that was discussed in a previous podcast. It is here that the steps needed to put in place, operate and manage a sound dedicated cold case unit are described. Phase I the design of the unit; Phase II the operational aspects of how the cold case unit should function; and Phase III the managerial responsibilities of the supervisor for the unit.

Equivocal Deaths

December 11, 2019

In this episode Dr. Jim will discuss the issues and concerns surrounding uncertain or equivocal deaths where the manner of death may be in question.  The most common one seen surround the cases where a suicide comes under scrutiny and families believe it is a homicide.  Other possibilities exist with Homicide versus Accident or Suicide versus Accident.

In a general sense Dr. Jim will describe how some of these cases, at least by perception if not fact, become questionable and how they can cause us more time and money then if due diligence had been seen from the onset of the investigation.  As a side note, one of the cases briefly discussed is the Sherman case come from Toronto, CA and while Dr. Jim is not an expert on that case, he is providing information gleaned from public sources where the truth of the matter still remains to be determined.  Nevertheless, an interesting death case where it is alleged that the initial label was a Murder/Suicide and now is a double Murder, still unsolved.  As part of this Dr. Jim is including an audio clip from a news conference that the family’s lawyer addressed about his findings in his investigation.  This information came from CTV News in Canada and can be viewed in this news briefing .

“The Forgotten Victims” (The surviving families of homicides and cold cases)

December 4, 2019

Dan Levey, an expert victim’s advocate, delves into the many issues the surviving families go through as they continue to live their lives after a tragic death from violence.

The Behavioral Aspects of Cold Case Investigations.

November 27, 2019

Dr. Adcock will be conducting a follow-up to the previous episodes with Steve Chancellor on Victimology and Gregg McCrary’s on behavioral issues and concerns.  The purpose of this is elaborate further on both topics and provide a couple of case examples to illustrate one element of the behavioral, interpreting the organized versus the disorganized crime scene.

Sexual Assaults – the Other Cold Case that we don’t always talk about.

November 20, 2019

In this episode, Sexual Assault expert and former Sexual Assault Cold Case Unit leader, Jim Markley, will discuss the nuances of the sexual assault problem and how the investigative process will vary from cold case homicides.

Victimology Assessments

November 13, 2019

Steve Chancellor describes the many characteristics of a victimology assessment that can help the investigator identify the perpetrator.

“The White Woman Syndrome” And The Effects Related To Violent Crimes Like Homicides And Cold Cases.

November 6, 2019

Dr. Sarah Stein will discuss the results of her research on the White Woman Syndrome and how it is reflected in our society through attitudes exhibited by the news media and others regarding homicides. She will also provide examples that are the direct result of her own personal experiences.

The Contributions of DNA To Cold Case Investigations

October 23, 2019

In this episode DNA Expert Samantha Spencer will talk to us about the beginnings of DNA and where we are today with the technology.  Included with this will be Familial DNA, Touch DNA, the utilization of Genealogy sites, and why the process takes so long to complete.

Project Cold Case With Ryann Backmann. The Fabulous Story Of A Survivor.

October 16, 2019

About ten years ago Ryann lost his father to violence and the investigation is still unresolved as a cold case. In this interview Ryann freely discusses the emotions and things he went through that occurred as a result of his father’s murder. And, how he has managed to move on in life helping other family members and the police through his non-profit Project Cold Case.

Forensic Anthropology And The Processes They Go Through With Our Cold Cases

October 9, 2019

In this episode, Forensic Anthropologist, Erin Kimmerle, PhD, from the University of South Florida, will tell us about the contributions she has made towards solving cold cases from around the country. In this session the listener will learn how these “bone” experts help the police and other forensic members of the team resolve cold cases.

A Cold Case Detective and the Obstacles S/He Faces In Our Society Today

October 2, 2019

Tommy McAndrew, a retired Pennsylvania State Police Homicide Detective will talk with us about the many obstacles that he and others across the country are facing as they diligently work to solve cold cases. A view from behind the scenes of the reality of the situation.

Cold Case Initiatives from the National Institute of Justice’s with guest speaker Chuck Heurich

September 25, 2019

In this episode, Guest Speaker, Chuck Heurich, from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), will talk to us about the ongoing cold case initiatives from NIJ. For many years Chuck and NIJ and have been sponsoring numerous government programs geared to help our communities and law enforcement agencies combat the problem of unresolved homicides. The contributions by NIJ have significantly raised the bar and our listeners will learn about some of those successes.

Crime data and the Murder Accountability Project

September 18, 2019

The intention of this episode is to explain how the crime data in the USA is collected and reported to the FBI through the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and the Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR). Our guest speaker Thomas Hargrove, CEO of the Murder Accountability Project (MAP), will discuss the importance of these data and how we should interpret them. He will also talk about his project of tracking unsolved homicides in the USA while directly relating to the research he has done for police agencies around the country.

One such study called “Are Murders Worth Solving? A New Analysis by MAP“, reflects what to some may be obvious but until now not supported by research. Simply stated, the more homicide cases a homicide unit does not resolve the more incidents of homicide will occur in that jurisdiction, increasing the workload exponentially.  The inverse is: the more you solve, less will occur in the future to become cold cases.

Cold Case Best Practices Guide by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)

September 11, 2019

In 2015 the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) formed the NIJ Cold Case Working Group consisting of 30+ cold case experts from around the country in an effort to formulate a Best Practices Guide for cold case investigations in the USA. After nearly 4 ½ years the working group settled on the NIJ “National Best Practices for Implementing and Sustaining a Cold Case Investigation Unit” published in July 2019.

With the limited time available in one podcast session, we will highlight and attempt to explain the twenty-three (23) recommendations that are made. There is no doubt that this guide should be the leading document regarding cold case investigations in the USA.

Please keep in mind that these are “recommendations” or suggestions, and cannot be mandated by NIJ, DOJ or any other federal government entity. However, individual law enforcement agencies may, at their choosing, make certain recommendations compulsory within their own individual departments.  Thus – a “guide” of Best Practices for our agencies to consider, incorporate into their police operations and follow so as to reduce the mounting number of unsolved homicides.

Staged Crime Scenes with Steve Chancellor, co-author of the book “Crime Scene Staging”

September 4, 2019

Staged Crime Scene Expert Steve Chancellor will define the elements of a staged crime scene and how it affects not only the initial investigation in a hot homicide, but how it can also affect the investigation and outcome of a cold case.

Crime Scene Processing with Crime Scene Expert Grant Graham

August 28, 2019

Certified Crime Scene Specialist Grant Graham will join the podcast to discuss the processes and effects of crime scene investigation as it relates to homicides and the nuances of evaluating a cold unresolved case for further investigation.

The Preliminary Investigation, Plus Homicide And Those Who Kill!

August 21, 2019

In this episode we will discuss the responsibilities of the first responders to the scene of a death; what the assigned detectives need to know and the information to gather; learn about the classifications and the four phases of homicide; and you will be introduced to the “Cold Case Rules” that I put together for investigating unresolved homicides.

Understanding Death And Our System That Addresses It

August 14, 2019

Death Investigation Systems By State

In this new episode the listener will learn about how our death investigation system functions. There are two very strong entities involved with this. One is the police and their pursuit to investigation violations of the law; and in this case violent acts against people, many becoming homicides. While the other entity are the Coroners and Medical Examiners who are basically the Medico-legal death investigators, but with a different process and set of rules or guidelines to follow.

Generally speaking Coroners are elected and Medical Examiners are appointed. There are approximately 2,200 Coroner offices in the USA while we only have about 450 Medical Examiner offices. Medical Examiners are usually Forensic Pathologists, while a Coroner can be an MD, most are not and the education level could be as low as just a high school diploma, depending on the state you live in.

Medical Examiners and Coroners make cause and manner of death determinations. The cause of death is the medical reason for the death such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or stab wound to the chest. But when it comes to determining the manner of death (a legal term) the Coroner/Medical Examiner is tasked to label the death as either a Homicide, Suicide, Accident, Natural or in some cases, Undetermined. These determinations are based on the international standard for the coding of deaths and should be pretty much the same worldwide.

The most critical aspect of this death investigation system is that both the police and the Coroner or Medical Examiner, while separate entities, must work together and communicate their findings to each other so that a proper and accurate determination is made and if needed, justice is served.

The image/map shown of the USA illustrates the different systems in our country. If you are more interested in seeing the details visit the CDC interactive map.

What is a cold case and how did we get here?

August 7, 2019

Homicides Per Year and the Percentage Cleared or Solved

In this episode, definitions for “Cold Cases” will be provided along with how the problem of cold cases has become a crisis. To accomplish this a piece of research and a historical perspective of homicides during the past decades will be provided.

In research conducted by Dr. Jim, he learned from the police agencies who responded to his survey that, 73% of the agencies would declare a case a cold case when there were no more investigative leads; that 20% of them felt that it should be determined bases on the passage of time; while 7% stated that once the original detective had been reassigned or retired, the case would officially then be classified as a cold case. In actuality it all depends on where you live as each jurisdiction tends to follow different reasoning.

As depicted in the below table, one can see that while the number of homicides decreased from 1993 to 2007, the solving of those cases basically remained the same in the 60 percentile range. So we had about a 40% decrease in the number of homicides with little change in the number solved. This always begs the question, why?

Introduction – Information about the hosts and discussion of future episode topics.

August 7, 2019

The Top 23 Cities for Homicides in 2017 Ranked by Rate per 100,000In this episode the listener will learn about the structure and content of this podcast.

A full introduction of the hosts will be provided so as to establish credibility and reliability of the content they provide. Besides learning about the homicide/cold case problem in America, specific data concerning the Mid-South will also be addressed.

In one part of this introduction to the problem there is a discussion about homicide rates and clearances (or solving) of these cases. Specific mention of this is referenced by an Op-ed written by Dr. Adcock, called “Fixing America’s Cold Case Crisis”, which was published in the Crime Report, November 28, 2018. A review of the Op-ed can be found in Publications or the Crime Reports web site .

To ease your way through the data with the listing of the cities mentioned in the podcast please review to the table on the right for a better understanding.


July 22, 2019

Since 1980 the USA has accumulated over 250,000 unsolved homicides while the city of Memphis, TN has over 1,800. Various studies and the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Best Practices guide for Cold Cases has determined that we are in a “Cold Case Crisis”.

According to the FBI crime data for 2017, the homicide clearance or solve rate was about 61%, leaving four out of every ten homicides unsolved. And in 2016 the solve rate figure dropped to its lowest of 59.4%. On average this adds 6 – 7,000 unsolved cases to the cold case mix each year.

The national consensus of cold case experts, who were part of the NIJ Cold Case Working Group who contributed to the best practices guide, have confirmed that the forming of dedicated cold case units will reduce the not only the number of cold cases, but will help increase the solving of new homicides as they are reported.

Additionally, if the proposed process with a solid commitment and sustainment of cold case investigations are integrated into the system, we will reduce violent crime, regain public confidence in our criminal justice system, solve more cases and provide information to the forgotten victims, the surviving families. It’s not how much it will cost us to have these units in place, but rather what it will cost us if we don’t!

This podcast, “Surviving Cold Cases with Dr. Jim”, will address the cold case issue, how we got here and what we can do about it. Through weekly episodes it will discuss the problem and the nuances of conducting cold case investigations. The listener will hear about some of the many steps involved in a homicide/cold case investigation, revealing the reality of the situation and what we can do about it to make our communities a safer place to live and work.