After three suspects were arrested in connection with the vicious murder of her daughter, Connie Elliott gained new respect for Colorado Springs police.
"It shows cold cases can be solved," she says.
The arrests of Christopher Allen, Ryan Krueger and Benjamin Gunvalsen in the murder of 19-year-old Patricia Elliott represent the first official victory for Detective Derek Graham, who since last year has focused part-time on cracking the city's 75 unsolved murders.
"I let [the family] know I was still working on it that it hadn't gone away," Graham says.
Just nine detectives in the department's Major Crimes Unit are responsible for investigating some 1,000 assaults each year, along with new murders and cold cases. Police in the past have said this workload has kept them from solving cold cases.
Graham no longer is required to investigate assaults and often plays a secondary role in taking on new murder cases. With the additional resources and time, he can re-question cold-case suspects and process forensic evidence.
It paid off in the Elliott case, which saw Graham traveling to Nevada and Ohio in recent weeks to question Allen and Gunvalsen, respectively. Police had been told Patricia Elliott was going to meet a guy named "Ryan" on April 11, 2001, the day she was beaten to death in her Colorado Springs townhome in a dispute allegedly involving drugs, Graham says.
Investigators had long wanted to zero in on Krueger, of Colorado Springs, Allen and Gunvalsen to determine what roles they played in the slaying, Graham says, but needed time to check and recheck their stories.
Finally, Gunvalsen, who is now cooperating with the district attorney in exchange for lesser charges, confessed. He was arrested on March 10, Graham says.
It's the second cold case the department has solved since 1999. Police also arrested Timothy Paul Nicholls last year, prior to Graham's reassignment. Nicholls, 35, stands accused of setting his Colorado Springs home ablaze in March 2003 and killing his three children, ages 3 to 11, who were trapped inside.
As of March 2005, Colorado Springs police had amassed 18 cold cases more than they had throughout the entire 1990s. With the arrests in the Nicholls and Elliott cases, the department has started to reverse the trend.
One group that often has spoken out about cold cases is Mothers of Murdered Youth, made up of local families affected by unsolved murders. (Visit csindy.com to read "Getting Away with Murder," March 24, 2005.) MOMY repeatedly has called on Chief Luis Velez to assign several investigators to a full-time cold-case unit, but to no avail.
Jennifer Romero, who leads the group, views the resolution of the Elliott case as an important and laudable first step toward the establishment of a cold-case unit. Her 13-year-old son Gino was killed in a 1997 drive-by shooting that involved suspects who remain at large.
"We could get justice for a lot of families that are out there in limbo," she says. "We could get these killers off the streets. What could the police do that is more important than that?"