Sask. cold cases warmed by fresh eyes

A cold case is never closed. For investigators in the Major Crimes unit of RCMP F Division in Regina, these words have become something of a motto.

A cold case is never closed. For investigators handling open and unsolved old cases in Saskatchewan, these words have become something of a motto.

RCMP Cpl. Dale Rockel of F Division in Regina fills his days combing through boxes and boxes of information containing interviews and research into cold cases.

There are 238 open cold-case files currently in the hands of RCMP or city police forces in Saskatchewan. 

A case goes "cold" after being open and unsolved for six to 24 months after an initial disappearance or death. As a cold case, the file will receive a fresh pair of eyes.

Long-term missing-persons files make up the majority of the cases, but they also include unsolved homicides and unidentified human remains.

Because of the volume of historical cases, each major crimes investigator with F Division handles some of the work.

Rockel said working this way allows police to bounce ideas around that could lead to a resolution of a case.

"There's obviously lots of theorizing that goes on, and foul play is obviously one of those theories that pops up," Rockel said. "And us, as investigators, we have to make sure we keep an open mind, ensuring all investigative leads are followed up on."

Common threads

Sgt. Brent Shannon heads up the Regina City Police cold case unit.

Shannon said there are common threads in a lot of the cases he oversees, including alcohol and drug use or a combination of the two. Mental health issues also run through many cases, he said.

"Seems to be those three things or maybe a combination of two of the three, or maybe all three seem to stand out in my mind," Shannon said.

Rockel said historical investigations depend on the flow of information. Investigators need to keep the word out, contact media and create posters and TV re-enactments.

"Obviously, [cases] can stall or stagnate just because of a lack of information or lack of leads to go on," Rockel said.

The passage of time isn't usually considered a benefit, Rockel said, but a ticking clock can sometimes compel people to come forward.

And new technology and advances in DNA identification science are improving the chances of solving the mysteries in cold-case files.