Are you a quarantined Sherlock Holmes? Officials revamp cold case website to solve Utah’s oldest cases

Composite image | Photo by Digicomphoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Department of Public Safety announced a newly-renovated cold case site that is now available to all quarantined crime fighters out there who may have information that could solve any one of Utah’s 400 unsolved cases – or at least move them from deep freeze to the front burner.

Infographic showing a portion of Utah’s missing, murder or unidentified listed on the agency’s cold case website | Image courtesy of the Utah Department of Public Safety, St. George News

Law enforcement agencies across the country have shown increasing interest in attempting to solve homicides and other serious crimes that seemed impossible to crack during initial investigation, and experience has shown that cold case programs can solve a substantial number of violent crimes and missing persons cases that remain unsolved.

To that end, the Utah Department of Public Safety spearheaded a program to renovate the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation cold case website, which features about 400 cases across the state that remain unsolved.

The featured cases include homicides, missing persons and unidentified deceased persons, Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Nick Street told St. George News.

There has never been a better time to showcase the renovated site, he said, with so many potential Sherlock Holmes-types out there who are quarantined and may have some extra time on their hands that could provide information to help solve these cold cases.

The site followed in the wake of Senate Bill 160, which required all law enforcement agencies across the state to enter their cold and missing persons cases into the database. The cases that are required to go on the list are those that remain unsolved at least three years after the crime occurred, or any homicide that has gone unsolved.

The State Bureau of Investigation then received funding to hire a criminal analyst who was tasked, in part, with overhauling the old site to make it more user-friendly in the agency’s efforts to solve some of Utah’s oldest crimes, some of which date back to the 1970s.

Street said that one major change to the site involved creating an intuitive design, or one that is so easy to navigate that when a user lands on it, they don’t have to think about anything – they know exactly what to do. The design is invisible and also directs a user’s attention to areas that are important without interruption and thought.

As the individual navigates the site they will find a brief summary of the case and can click on a link just below a featured individual, for example, that then redirects them to a tip form where they can submit information relating to that crime or individual in a process that is seamless.

The agency’s efforts appear to be working. In fact, authorities have received a dozen “descent leads” within the last 24 hours alone, Street said, which is remarkably higher than the number of tips received before the changes.

Utah’s unidentified, lost and murdered

The youngest homicide victim listed was seven months old when they were killed, and one “Jane Doe” case in Washington County involved an unidentified woman who’s body was discovered Oct. 1, 1970 buried five feet from the road by a county road crew as they bulldozed the area to clear a section of the roadside.

“The decedent could have been buried for months or even years,” authorities noted in the summary.

Steven Thell Koecher, of St. George, reported missing Dec. 12, 2009 is featured on “Cold Case” site | Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Public Safety, St. George News

A number of other Washington County cases are listed on the site, including a man’s remains found in 2014 that are still unidentified, and a 1991 unsolved homicide of 32-year-old Ermalinda Garza is also listed, who’s remains were found April 7, 1991 out in the desert south of St. George.

Additionally, a number of missing persons cases have yet to be solved, including a 2009 St. George missing person case – that of Steven Koecher, a man who was working in St. George but his vehicle was located abandoned in Henderson Nevada.

The site also features the highly-publicized 2015 missing person case involving Macin Smith, who was last seen leaving for school September 1, 2015 wearing basketball shorts with a t-shirt.

Four Iron County cases are listed, including Timothy Scott Parry, who disappeared from his home in Cedar City in July 1989, and another case involving Debra Carver who also went missing from her home in Cedar City in 2015.

A 1974 missing persons case involving Jennifer Klein was showcased on the site, a little girl who was last seen playing in the sand while camping with her family several miles south of Moab.

Overall, the development of the database was a collaborative effort between the Department of Public Safety, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, Salt Lake City Police, Unified Police Department, the Chiefs and Sheriffs Association, the Utah Cold Case Coalition and the Statewide Association of Prosecutors among others.

The site can be reached by clicking here and the number to reach the Cold Case tip hotline is 833-DPS-SAFE. 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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