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Cold Cases Go Unsolved

Posted by Steve Karimi | Mar 09, 2016 | 0 Comments

Seattle police recently identified the remains of a woman after more than two decades. The victim was identified as Celia Victor, who disappeared in 1989. Victor's body was found in Seattle that same year. The remains were skeletal by the time she was found. According to the Seattle Times, she was found "by a construction crew behind the old Honolulu Freight shipping warehouse on Airport Way South on Oct. 3, 1989." An anthropologist did a facial reconstruction from Victor's skull. Detective Tom Jensen connected it to a woman named Rita Lang. Rita Lang turned out to be an alias for Celia Victor. The alias was connected to a FBI fingerprint coding number and showed arrests in Portland and Sacramento. The police knew of other aliases Victor had used as well.

It was the connection to Northern California that led to her identification when a local news station ran a story about the unidentified woman from Seattle. Victor's older sister, Donna Vasquez, saw Victor's picture and recognized her. She, as well as another sibling Arlene Seuell, called the station to identify her little sister. The last time Vasquez had heard from Victor was a birth announcement Victor sent before her disappearance. Victor's identity was confirmed through DNA samples. Now that the police know who she is, the hunt is for her killer.

An unsolved homicide is not all that uncommon. Unlike criminal cases on television that are always neatly wrapped up by the end of the show, in real life some cases are never solved. NPR reports that, according to the FBI, just 64.1% of homicides are "cleared" today. This is down from over 90% in 1965. But this "clearance rate" means cases resulted in an arrest or cases "in which a culprit is otherwise identified without the possibility of arrest — if the suspect has died, for example." Also according to the NPR article, since the 1960's there are at least 200,000 unsolved homicides. The local rates vary from the national statistics, with some areas of the country reporting worse numbers. For example, reports Denver 7 News, in Detroit, of 386 homicides in 2012, only 34 arrests were made. That's a clearance rate of just 9%. In New Orleans in 2012, there were 193 homicides and just 15% of those were solved. Police departments may also have a number of cold cases. For example, Phoenix has about 2,400 cold cases, Cleveland has around 2,100, and Atlanta has an estimated 1,800.

This doesn't mean that no cold cases get solved. New technology and new witnesses can solve cases decades later. For example, in the murder of Carol Morrison in Virginia Beach, a suspect was finally identified last year, almost 30 years after she was killed. 53-year old Morrison was raped and murdered in 1986. Her rape kit was sent to the state crime lab for testing but detectives got no DNA match. Nor did they get a match in 2000 and 2003. In 2015, Detective Angela Curran of the Cold Case Homicide Unit in the Virgina Beach Police Department decided to collect cheek swabs from "every single person that was ever mentioned in the investigation." The strategy worked, one of the swabs was a match. 51-year old Andrew Wactor, who would have been 22 at the time of the murder, was the culprit. An arrest could not be made, however, as Wactor committed suicide shortly after giving the cheek swab.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.

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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.