Cold Case Research Resources for Unidentified, Missing, and Cold Homicide Cases: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Cold Case Research Resources for Unidentified, Missing, and Cold Homicide Cases

1st Edition

By Silvia Pettem

CRC Press

333 pages | 71 B/W Illus.

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Cases in which all investigative leads appear to be exhausted are frustrating for both investigators and victims’ families. Cold cases can range from those only a few months old to others that go back for decades. Presenting profiles and actual case histories, Cold Case Research: Resources for Unidentified, Missing and Cold Homicide Cases illustrates how investigators can successfully apply resources that will enable them to reopen and solve cases gathering dust in the file room.

Today’s investigators have found that, to solve cold cases, they need to be internet savvy and make the best use of the rapidly changing methodologies of the twenty-first century, but they also have to be time travelers and open the door to the past. This volume weaves together the nearly forgotten skill sets of traditional historical researchers with the latest online tools, including TLO, a premier investigative system; and NamUs, the revolutionary database for missing persons and unidentified remains. Along with practical applications, Cold Case Research gives investigators the tools they need to save time and money and to jump-start their cold cases, while keeping others from going cold in the future.

Topics discussed include:

  • Implementing cold case units
  • People searches and working with databases
  • Overlooked DNA in PKU cards
  • The plight of the missing and unknown
  • Applying historical and geographical context
  • Online and off-line newspaper research
  • Public and published records
  • The use of volunteers
  • Contact with co-victims
  • Cold-case review teams and information-sharing resources
  • Taking advantage of the media

Using a thinking-outside-the-box approach, this volume helps fill major gaps in traditional cold case investigation training and techniques, enabling investigators to confidently reopen and crack the mystery of cases long thought unsolvable.


Silvia Pettem was quoted in a January 29, 2012 article on missing persons in the Colorado Springs Gazette.


"Revolutionary. Reads like a page-turner yet will educate even the most experienced investigator—cold case or otherwise."

—Richard H. Walton, Ed.D., author of Cold Case Homicides: Practical Investigative Techniques

"For the investigator, Pettem’s work will undoubtedly jump-start many a stalled investigation and keep others moving forward. For cold case unit managers, it opens up a world of new opportunities––the opportunity to expand the capacities of their units, take advantage of free resources, and to institute changes that address the outdated attitudes, policies, and procedures that, in the past, prevented some cases from being solved. At the same time, Cold Case Research promises to keep others from going cold in the future."

—From the Foreword by Detective James Trainum, Metropolitan Police Department (Retired), Washington, D.C.

"WOW! The book reflects the compassion of the author - smart and fascinating! This is the "textbook" for missing, unidentified and homicide investigations. A valuable addition to any investigating agency's library as a resource and training tool. A wise and informative guide for advocates and volunteer organizations. Well done!"

—Todd Matthews, Media Relations / & Communications and Outreach Manager for NamUs @ UNTHSC

"The literature on cold case investigations tends to fall into two genres; practical resources for cold case investigators or true crime public interest books dramatically depicting unsolved murders for an interested public. While this book falls firmly into the former category, designed to be a useful resource for cold case detectives, it nevertheless also manages to successfully straddle the latter camp, by providing interesting case study examples of cold case investigations and investigations into missing persons and the unidentified dead. It is this mix of practical resources and vivid case study examples that sets this book apart from other similar texts."

—Cheryl Allsop, Lecturer of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Glamorgan

Table of Contents


Challenges and Checklist

Time as an Ally

Checklist: To Help in Navigating the Chapters

Agency Organization: Cold Case Units

Miami-Dade Police Department’s Cold Case Squad

Metropolitan Police Department’s Cold Case Squad

Additional Cold Case Squads and Units

Current Practices and Good Investigators

TLO: The Latest Online Investigative System

TLO’s Beginnings

TLOxp User Tips

Additional Options for People Searches


Some Additional, and Helpful, People Search Options

Social Security Death Index

Fee-Based Law Enforcement Websites

Dealing with Databases



NamUs: Connecting the Missing and Unidentified

NamUs: An Investigative Tool

Special Circumstances

Entering and Searching in the NamUs System

NamUs-MP: Creating a Missing Persons Case

NamUs-UP: Creating an Unidentified Persons Case

PKU Cards Retain Overlooked DNA

PKU/Guthrie Card Information, by State

The Plight of the Missing and Unknown

One Scenario: The Missing Person Is Presumed Dead

Prosecuting No-Body Homicides

Other Scenarios: Cold Missing Persons Cases

The Unidentified Remains of John and Jane Does


Historical and Geographical Context

Gaining Historical and Geographical Perspectives

Newspaper Research: Online and Off

How Newspaper Research Can Help

Newspaper Research Options

Understanding Obituaries

Published and Public Records

Federal Public Records

State Public Records

Local Public Records

Published Local Records

Public Records Can Be Missing

Public Records Can Be Inaccurate

Recorded Document Offices

Volunteers: How They Can Help

Volunteers in Cold Case Research

Specialized and Independent Volunteers

Contact with Co-Victims

Co-Victims and Law Enforcement

Co-Victim Resources (A Sampling of Some Volunteer and Nonprofit Organizations)

Victim Rights Act: Colorado As an Example

Need for Kindness


Cold Case Review Teams and Information-Sharing Resources

Cold Case Review Teams: A Sampling

Information-Sharing Resources: A Sampling

Cold Case Review Teams

Information-Sharing Resources

Taking Advantage of the Media

Print and Broadcast Media (Augmented with Websites)

Web-Based Media: Agency Use of Cold Case Websites and Social Media


Section I Tools and Techniques

Section II Missing, Murdered, and Unidentified

Section III Resources for Expanded Research

Section IV Review Teams and the Media

Selected References


Documents and Reports


Magazine and Journal Articles

Newspaper Articles and Radio and Television Broadcasts



About the Author

Silvia Pettem is a longtime historical researcher, newspaper columnist, and author of more than a dozen books. After decades of work for individuals, businesses, and governments, her life took a new turn in 1996, when she stumbled upon the gravestone of a Jane Doe, a murder victim from 1954. A few years later, Pettem applied her research skills to both old-fashioned detective work and the power of the Internet by entering into a successful partnership with her local sheriff and forensic experts of the Vidocq Society to determine the young woman’s identity. Pettem chronicled their work in Someone’s Daughter: In Search of Justice for Jane Doe.

In 2008, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office gave Pettem a Sheriff’s Commendation Award for doing the "lion’s share of the research" on the Jane Doe case. Two years later, the Vidocq Society presented her with its Medal of Honor.

While continuing to volunteer for the Sheriff’s Office, Pettem is now an associate member of the Vidocq Society, a volunteer in the detectives section of the Boulder Police Department, a NamUs Academy graduate, and a NamUs instructor in classes sponsored by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, expanding her expertise and working with colleagues all over the country.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Forensic Science