Following an Independent investigation that uncovered two unsolved murder cases that Colorado Springs police were as of yet unaware, the department has over the past two weeks scrambled to ensure its roster of cold cases is accurate.
James J. Gaughan Jr., slain in 1960, and Alfred Norris, beaten to death in 1954, were added last week to the city's list of unsolved homicides, which now includes 76 cases.
Following the March 24 Independent story, police pulled roughly 100 files involving dead people from a remote, private storage facility that houses tens of thousands of police documents. They are now sifting through those files to determine whether they were ever solved or if they should also be added to the unsolved list.
The oldest of the files spans back seven decades.
Because no standards previously existed for maintaining files involving deaths, police must sort through each file by hand to determine whether investigations should be reopened, said Richard Gysin, a homicide detective.
Gysin said he "wouldn't even guess" how long the process of going through the files would take. He will soon attempt to contact possible suspects, witnesses and family members in the Gaughan and Norris cases.
The cases, however, may be too old to solve, Gysin said. It has been so long that suspects and relatives might be deceased.
Advocates for murder victims were cautiously optimistic about the effort.
"It's definitely an important first step," said Jennifer Romero, who leads Mothers of Murdered Youth, a local nonprofit.
The dredging up of files suggests that police may need more resources to capture elusive murderers, she added.
MOMY recently protested, calling on police to create a cold case unit. But the department refused to discuss the idea.
Romero said the department would benefit from a cold case unit. This decade, the department is on track to tally 36 unsolved murders -- more than any other decade on record.
Howard Morton, executive director of the statewide nonprofit Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons Inc., applauded the effort.
His organization has assembled a list of more than 500 unsolved cases across Colorado. He says many were forgotten when institutional memory faded or when files were moved, which is what happened in Colorado Springs.
Morton said it appears that, in searching for files, the police department is taking a baby step toward creating a cold case unit like ones recently begun in Denver, Jefferson and Arapahoe counties.
Gysin said that isn't necessarily the case, but expressed hope that the department would receive a $78,000 federal grant to pay overtime to detectives investigating unsolved murders.
Lt. Mark Alumbaugh, who heads the department's records and identification bureau, where old files are stored, said efforts to locate missing murder cases had been informally afoot for about two years.
Police, he said, were perplexed by a gap between the first unsolved murder on the department's official list, that of police patrolman Richard Burchfield, who was shot to death in 1953, and Lloyd Samuelson, a schoolteacher who was slain in 1971.
Yet in the two years since the effort began, no cases were added to the list until this week.
Gysin said the project had frequently stalled because superiors were concerned the effort was too time-consuming. Such criticisms were quelled following the Independent's article, he added.
"Obviously, [the] article provided some impetus," Gysin said.
-- Michael de Yoanna