How to Get a Cold Case Reopened

There are 13,486 unidentified victim deaths on file in the United States, according to the DNA Initiative. Many of these deaths have information and leads available, but about 1,000 victims remain unidentified each year. For the victims that are identified, the cause of death and suspects of some crimes are elusive. If a family member feels that the evidence warrants a closer look, there are ways to get a cold case reopened.

Meet with the investigator that originally worked on the case. This officer will have the most information about the evidence and investigation that was originally completed. Ask the officer to re-evaluate the case.

Present the case data and files to a cold case unit that works with the department in the appropriate jurisdiction, if available. If the original investigator is cooperative, he can turn over the information to such a unit. If the original investigator feels opening the cold case is unwarranted, you may need to personally meet with the cold case unit or a supervisor and ask for a new examination of evidence.

Provide valid and concrete reasons why the cold case deserves a closer look. Police departments will only reopen cold cases if investigators can determine the availability of witnesses, motives and suspects. In addition, new evidence or new technology that can better interpret evidence provides justification for reopening a cold case, so keep up with technological advances and present that to the team.

Encourage the cold case unit or investigator to share the details of your case with other officers at specialized trainings. This will bring the expertise of various officers and agencies to your situation and may expose potential information that can lead to the case being reopened.


  • It could take a while for the investigator, cold case team or department to determine whether the cold case warrants reopening or if there is still not enough evidence for another look. Keep in touch with the investigator or team during the examination process. Having a name and face to put on the case data can encourage officers to reopen the case.

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