WEST WARWICK –– The West Warwick Police Department is participating in a new initiative to solve local cold cases such as homicides and missing persons using simple playing cards.
The Pawtucket Police Department Detective Division’s “Cold Case” unit, led by Detective Susan Cormier, in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, have teamed up to create “cold case playing cards.” The cards will be distributed primarily by the Department of Corrections to current inmates. Each card includes a photo and information regarding a local cold case that’s gone unsolved. Law enforcement officials say that all inmates potentially have knowledge or information relative to unsolved cases. Inmates can report information they may have, and it will be forwarded to the appropriate agency.
According to Detective Captain Donald Archibald of the WWPD, who spearheaded the effort locally, Cormier deserves most of the credit for initiating the effort in Rhode Island. In June of 2018 Cormier sent all of the police departments around the state, including the Rhode Island State Police, an informational packet about the program. Departments that wanted to were able to submit information on several local cold cases in their areas to be printed and included in a deck of 52 cards.
Archibald said the effort is very similar in nature to the playing cards that were produced during the Iraqi War, featuring different criminals and people the military was looking to capture. Numerous states have also implemented this program in an attempt to solve cold cases. Departments across Rhode Island submitted some of their cold cases which Cormier combined in a 52-card deck that is available for purchase at coldcaseri.com
“These are the only decks of cards the inmates can use in recreation,” said Archibald.
The cards include a special number inmates can call to report the information to police directly.
WWPD is release three different cards concerning local unsolved cases. One card details the unsolved homicide of 18-year-old Andrew Coit, who was standing by a roadside vigil for a friend who had been killed hours earlier in a separate single car accident. While at the vigil, which took place on Main Street in West Warwick, Cost was struck and killed by a hit and run driver who fled the scene.
Another card details a missing persons case for West Warwick resident Norman Baxter, whose mother reported him missing on February 15, 2017. Baxter had been transported to the hospital on February 5, 2017, but left a message for his mother saying that he had been discharged on February 6. He has not been seen since. His mother says he is bipolar, takes suboxone daily and has an alcohol addiction.
A third card describes the unsolved homicide case of Cynthia Kane. Kane was shot and killed at point blank range on November 9, 2002 while she was asleep on a couch in her Washington Street apartment in West Warwick. During the initial investigation, family and friends suspected drugs as a motivating factor and believed Kane knew the suspect.
“All three West Warwick police cases represent not only individual victims, but also grieving family members who seek justice and closure for their loved ones,” Archibald said. “All of these people have families that are obviously still grieving and are looking for closure and justice for their families, as any family would be. They’re all on board with the program. We personally delivered decks to them the other day.”
When distributed in jails and prisons, the cards can help to bring forward new tips on old cases. As cases are solved over time, the idea is that new cards with new cases will replace them in the deck.
“The theory is that some of the inmates may have information regarding one or more of these particular cases,” he explained. “On the playing card itself there’s an in-house number inmates can call anonymously.”
Inmates don’t want to be viewed by their fellow inmates as informants for the police, Archibald said, so the in-house lines adds a layer of privacy, further enticing them to bring forward information they may have. Depending on the quality of the information and where it leads, the inmates can receive a reward, such as a boost to their commissary account.
“There’s something in it for them,” he said.
No cold case is every truly closed, according to Archibald, and departments around the country are always waiting for the one tip that might bring closure to a family. Once leads are exhausted there’s typically nothing more to investigate until a new tip comes in. The statute of limitations on homicides never runs out, and so the cases are never forgotten about.
“Even if one case gets solved it was well worth the effort,” he said. “A lot of states have solved cold cases through the use of these playing cards. It’s quite a tool. It’s great that someone directed their energy into putting this into practice in Rhode Island.”
It’s not the only tool police departments have to solve cold cases, but it certainly helps.
Anyone with information regarding these cases is asked to contact the West Warwick Police Detective Division at (401) 827-9044 or at 1-877-747-6583. The urge anyone with information to call, even if they think the information will be irrelevant or already known to investigators.
“Even if you think what you know is really small, like the person was wearing a purple shirt, it could the missing piece of the puzzle that we need,” said Archibald. “They may know something we don’t know. Even if they think we already know.”
West Warwick Interim Chief of Police Mark Knott said the project is a great way to bring the cases back to the forefront of people’s minds.
“We continue to strive to find the truth, successfully prosecute the offenders, and offer justice and closure to the victims and their loved ones,” said Knott in a statement.
Tips can remain anonymous. All cases can be viewed at coldcaseri.com. Decks of the playing cards can also be purchased for $5 in addition to shipping costs.
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