http://www.chronicle-tribune.com/articles/2009/02/22/news/doc49a0c2dc7f030272327544.txtPolice stay sharp on cases gone cold
Program brings fresh eyes on investigations
By Mishele Wrightmdwright@chronicle-tribune.com
Published: Sunday, February 22, 2009 1:10 AM EST
Though it’s been years since two teenage girls went missing from the community, police haven’t forgotten about them — or any other cases that have gone cold over the years.
Law enforcement officials recently sent two cold cases files to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va. The center is a private, nonprofit organization that helps prevent child abduction and assists victims of child abduction and exploitation, their families and law enforcement officials who are working the cases.
The Marion Police Department sent the Tricia Reitler file to the center, and the Grant County Sheriff’s Department sent the Wendy Felton
Reitler, an Indiana Wesleyan University student from Ohio, disappeared in March 1993. She was 19 at the time. Felton
disappeared from her south Marion home in June 1987, while her sister was driving her parents to the airport in Indianapolis. She was 16 at the time.
Marion Det. Capt. Jay Kay said the center does age progressions on missing children and updates posters of them. The last time the center did an age progression on Reitler, someone from the center told Kay about a program there in which a team of investigators review old cases. Someone from the team is assigned to look at an old case to see if he or she can come up with new suggestions, leads or ideas that the original law enforcement agency may have overlooked. Since the cases have been idle for a long period of time, new technology, which wasn’t available in the late ’80s and early ’90s, may enable officials to learn something new about the case.
Kay said the Reitler file was sent Feb. 1, and the review begins next week. A New York City police detective is expected to arrive in Virginia on Monday and begin reviewing the case.
Deputy Chief Cliff Sessoms said the file consisted of 4,000 pages.
“Even when he gets a hold of this case, it will take a while to digest,” he said.
Kay said he hopes another set of eyes can find something the Marion police may have missed. The center also can assist the police department with financial issues, such as performing DNA tests if any DNA exists to be tested.
“We hope to resolve it and have some answers for Gary and Donna Reitler,” Kay said referring to Tricia’s parents. “They’re always glad to know there’s something going on. I can’t imagine being in their shoes.”
Sheriff’s Det. Lisa Himelick said the department sent the Felton case to the center at the end of last year. She hopes the detectives who review the case suggest new ideas so that it can be solved and the family can have closure.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like, not knowing,” she said. “Her family has never given up on finding her.”
Himelick said she told the Felton family when the department sent the case files, and family members were supportive. She tries to keep the family updated on the case as much as possible.
“They’re in support of anything that can be done to help locate Wendy,” she said.
The Reitlers were notified when Tricia’s file was sent to the center. Donna Reitler said it’s important for those who loved her daughter to know people haven’t forgotten about her.
“Obviously, to us, that’s like a gift from God,” she said about police sending the case to Virginia. “We’re grateful to know they’re still going at it.”
Reitler said she doesn’t fault the Marion police for anything because she knows they have worked extremely hard on the case and haven’t forgotten her daughter. But, she is still excited that somebody else is going to get a shot at cracking the case. She knows that one piece of evidence could solve the case, and she said it’s possible that a set of fresh eyes may find that piece of the puzzle that’s missing.
“We just want to find her,” Reitler said. “We don’t want revenge. We just want to find her.”
Local investigators are still working on other cases as well.
Sessoms said the Betty Payne murder case was taken to the FBI for review in 2005. Marion police have heard some feedback from the FBI, but the case has yet to be solved. Still, he said sending the case to another agency was worthwhile.
Local investigators decided five years ago to revisit cold cases, Sessoms said. Three murder cases have been solved recently — Rodney Duckworth, Jamie Smith and Terry Headley.
“We want to bring some resolution to these families,” Sessoms said. “We’re not above going to other people and asking for help with these types of cases.”
Sessoms said it’s important to keep revisiting old cases because of the seriousness of the crime; so families can have closure; and to bring justice to the perpetrators. He said it’s important that the families of victims, as well as community members, know that law enforcement officials don’t forget about crimes as time goes by.
Revisiting an old case can have advantages and disadvantages. Sessoms said the first couple of days after a crime has occurred are critical. As more time goes by, evidence can be lost and potential witnesses can forget what happened, move away or die.
On the other hand, technological advances with DNA can help solve a case today, where it might not have been available in the past.
Kay agreed that cold cases aren’t easy to solve, and they take a lot of time.
“You just have to keep at it, and someday, hopefully you’ll get that break,” he said.