Many years ago I worked in police records at the Law Enforcement Support Agency. I spent my day transcribing police records and deciphering handwriting on police reports usually written on clipboards in a squad car. At the office, there were aisles of folders from all sorts of cases. However, at the end of the aisles, on a bookshelf, there were a group of accordion files bigger than most of the other ones. Many of them were red. I asked what they were. Someone told me that those were the unsolved homicide cases. Thinking how each one of those represented a human life that had been taken by someone who was still out there haunted me. It’s one of the reasons that when I started my first website about Tacoma, I started writing about every homicide that happened in Tacoma.
Detective Gene Miller is in charge of the Tacoma Police Department’s Cold Case Unit. Many cities don’t even have a Cold Case Unit. Tacoma just started this unit last April. Detective Miller keeps these cases from just being folders on a shelf and he took time out of his day to join me for 5 Question Friday.
1. How did you get started in the Tacoma Police Department?
I was born and raised in Tacoma. I became interested in law enforcement while at WSU and was hired by the Enumclaw Police Department after college. When the opportunity presented itself in 1985, I transferred here to Tacoma which is where I ultimately wanted to be.
2. You now head up the Cold Case Unit of the Tacoma Police Department. What interests you in Cold Cases in particular?
I firmly believe that someone needs to continue to speak for the victims of these cases and for the families left behind to deal with the loss. The citizens of Tacoma need to know these cases are not forgotten and the killers yet to be caught need to know that as well.
3. What tools are now available that give you advantages in solving Cold Cases?
The keys to solving cold case homicides are technology and time. The scientists at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab are my best friends. What they bring to the table is HUGE in the resolution of many of these cases. Time is a big thing as well because I have the benefit of seeing who people are today. Bad guys may have been able to hide under a rock back then but, more often than not, they will have raised their heads and gotten caught being who they are. That historical perspective is effective in rooting out the suspect in many investigations.
4. What is one of the biggest misconceptions that the public has about homicide investigations?
The biggest misconception is that we live in a CSI (television) world. The reality is just because someone touches something doesn’t mean they are going to leave a useable print. Suspects do not always leave DNA and even if they do, it can take months before we get any lab results. Also, some of the technology people see on TV only exists in some writers mind. A good percentage of the other technology only exists at the state level where it is shared by several agencies, all of which are competing for its time.
5. What Cold Cases are you currently working on?
The unit has 192 cases that date back to 1961. All of these cases are open for investigation and varying levels of work occur on each case throughout the year to include the submittal of evidence etc. The unit also actively pursues certain investigations more vigorously based on a variety of factors. Due to the sensitive nature of law enforcement investigations I am not in a position to give you any particular details. Ultimately, you’ll know the answer to this question shortly after the person responsible for the murder finds out.
Thanks to the Tacoma Police Department and Detective Gene Miller for participating in 5 Question Friday.
As always if you or someone you know is interested in doing a 5 Question Friday interview, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org