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Cold Case Grant Received by Department of Justice, Half Million Dollar Grant Will Help Investigators And Scientists Take a Fresh Look at Cold Cases


Half Million Dollar Grant Will Help Investigators And Scientists Take A Fresh Look At Cold Cases


MADISON — As criminal investigations age, the likelihood of a successful outcome is dramatically reduced. Key evidence degrades or is lost, witnesses disappear and memories fade.At the same time, new technologies can provide a fresh look at a cold case. That is why the announcement today by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen that Wisconsin's Department of Justice has received a $500,000 federal grant from the United States Department of Justice is so significant.


“ Law enforcement agencies across Wisconsin have too many violent unsolved “cold” cases which may have the opportunity to be solved,” said Van Hollen. “Using improved investigative strategies, surveillance technology and most importantly DNA technology, there is new hope that crimes can be solved and justice can be served.”


Today, the Wisconsin Department of Justice was awarded $506,323 from the US Department of Justice to resolve cold cases in Wisconsin. The award will fund efforts in the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Division of Law Enforcement Services, the Rock County Sheriff's Office, the Dane County Sheriff's Office, the Madison Police Department and the Dane County Coroner's Office.


The majority of funding will be used to hire experienced retired homicide investigators and provide overtime funds for full time detectives to devote time to cold case investigations. The cases are selected based upon solvability factors. Grant funds will provide investigators with access to a project crime analyst who will create analytical product packages to spur lead development. Additionally, the grant will fund overtime for Crime Lab DNA analysts to ensure cold case priority testing. Funds will also be used to achieve innovative objectives include applying analytical tools to predict solvability, using DNA to assist in the identification of unidentified human remains, and creating an auxiliary team of retired, experienced homicide investigators to assist the Wisconsin Cold Case Unit.


“Investigators will partner with experts in DNA forensics, prosecution, victim/witness services, coroners, crime analysts and academic researchers to bring a well rounded approach and fresh perspective to these challenging cases,” said Van Hollen. Project success will be measured by various statistics, including but not limited to:


  • Number of violent crime cold cases reviewed
  • Number of cold cases reviewed in which biological evidence existed
  • Number of cold cases reviewed subjected to DNA analysis
  • Number of cases where useable DNA was obtained and entered into CODIS
  • Number of cases which are solved using DNA already in CODIS
  • Number of cases resulting in prosecution
  • Numbers of cases which are cleared or convictions are obtained


The grant is for 18 months beginning July 1st and running through December 31, 2011.


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In 2008 and 2009, the Wisconsin Task Force produced several successful investigations, all of which greatly impacted the community.


Walter Ellis

DNA analysts assigned to the Wisconsin Cold Case Unit established a link between DNA submitted in nine separate cases by the Milwaukee Police Department, a Wisconsin Cold Case Affiliate Agency. The dates range for these cases spanned from 1986 through 2007. Through persistent investigation by the Wisconsin Cold Case Unit and cooperating agencies, a suspect, Walter Ellis, was identified. Ellis was charged with multiple counts of first degree murder and first degree intentional homicide. Ellis' trial is scheduled for May, 2010. There are ten additional cases which fit Ellis' modus operandi awaiting testing with the crime lab.


Thomasina Dunivant

The body of Thomasina Dunivant, a young mother, was found in a rural highway ditch in 1980. A rape kit collected during the autopsy was resubmitted for analysis revealed the presence of foreign DNA. A community tip assisted in the identification of Otterback as the offender. Gregory Otterback, who is serving life in prison plus ten for the 1981 strangulation death of Jodi Bausman, pled no contest to second degree murder in the death of Dunivant.


Timothy Hack & Kelly Drew

Teenage sweethearts Timothy Hack and Kelly Drew were reported missing in the summer of 1980 and their bodies were located three months later. Pants worn by Kelly Drew on the night she went missing were recovered and held as evidence by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. These pants were submitted for analysis and revealed seminal fluid stains. A DNA profile was obtained and entered into CODIS, but no matches were found. A media campaign coincided with the investigation and a tip was received regarding Edward W. Edwards. Follow up investigation produced enough probable case resulting in a search warrant for Edwards' DNA. Analysis confirmed Edwards was the contributor of the seminal fluid.


These cases exemplify the stellar work product of the Wisconsin Cold Case Unit. The success of the unit can also be measured by the statistics captured on a monthly basis. As a result of NIJ funding in 2009, a dramatic increase in productivity and project related deliverables occurred compared to 2008 when funding was not available.


Category 2006 (Total) 2007 (Total) 2008 (Total) 2009 (Total)
Case Files Reviewed 39 36 29 124
Items of Evidence Reviewed 278 250 109 405
Items of Evidence Submitted/Resubmitted 97 87 39 267
Items of Evidence Tested 41 46 6 248
Items of Evidence with usable DNA 8 21 2 29
Items of Evidence that ID Suspect 7 7 1 18
Enter into CODIS: DNA 2 5 0 20
Witness Interviews 96 147 63 156
Reviewed by Prosecutors 3 12 12 23
Reviewed Cases Issued 1 1 2 22
Number of Arrests 2 1 0 15
Number of Convictions 4 2 1 6
Cold Cases Cleared       29
Minimum Number of Open DCI and Partnering Agency Cold Cases       178

(Figure 1)

Figure 1 provides a comprehensive statistical overview of the Wisconsin Cold Case Unit. While great strides have been made in the area of cold case investigation, without federal funding, the operating budgets of the Wisconsin Department of Justice and partner agencies can not sustain or grow the unit.