What is a cold case?

By Paul Gottlieb

Special to the Peninsula Daily News

A cold case is defined by the National Institute of Justice (nij.ojp.gov) as “any case whose probative investigative leads have been exhausted,” including cases that are a few months old.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force “sounds like a great use of resources, said Deputy Chief Jason Viada. “We have people in our state that have been murdered and their killers have not been brought to justice. Obviously, we need to do something about that.”

But the definition of a cold case remains unclear.

“We don’t know definitively how many cold cases exist, in part because different agencies define that differently, and in part because we don’t have the current status of every case in our system,” Brionna Aho, Attorney General’s Office spokesperson, said in an email.

“Generally speaking, a common definition of a cold case is a case that is at least five years old and not currently being worked due to lack of leads.”

John Hillman, the division chief for the AG’s Office Criminal Justice Division, said there is no definition in the Revised Code of Washington, the compendium of state statutes, suggesting it’s simply a case that’s no longer being worked on.

“I do want the unit to be as open as it can be, keeping in mind the limited resources it has here in its infancy, but to be open to assisting any agency that has an unsolved violent crime involving an indigenous person, so we will be liberal there as best we can,” he said.

Aho said there are 116 unsolved murder cases in Washington involving indigenous persons, and 11 unsolved murdered persons cases in Clallam County, including the 2019 murder of Valerie Claplanhoo, 57, the only one listed on the Homicide Investigation Tracking System.

Legislation creating a cold-case unit for missing and murdered indigenous persons “does not require an agency [to] identify a case as cold in order to request assistance from the unit,” Aho said in an email.

“The unit will, however, prioritize cold cases.”


Legislative Reporter Paul Gottlieb, a former senior reporter at Peninsula Daily News, can be reached at cpaulgottlieb@gmail.com.

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