Turning up the heat on cold cases

Law enforcement solicits tips, even years after the crime

Elizabeth Collins
Elizabeth Collins

CEDAR RAPIDS — The two-year anniversary of the July 13, 2012, disappearance of Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins — a case which gripped the state for months — quietly passed for most of this year.

Behind the scenes, however, Evansdale authorities continue to painstakingly walk through every piece of evidence and every tip — detailed in 19 four-inch binders — with hopes of successfully solving the case.

“We have one person go through every single document and try to put things together and see if there are connections,” Evansdale Police Chief Kent Smock said. “While the number of new leads coming in has definitely slowed, we continue to generate more. Every single lead gets reviewed.”

Lyric and Elizabeth were reported missing on July 13, 2012, after going for a bike ride in Evansdale, a community near Waterloo in Black Hawk County. Their bodies were found on Dec. 5, 2012, in Seven Bridges Wildlife Park in Bremer County.

No arrest has been made in the case.

Last month, in an effort to keep open the flow of information regarding the case both to and from the public, the Evansdale Police Department launched a page on its website dedicated to the missing girls investigation.

“There were several things we wanted to do,” Smock said. One “was trying to keep information out to the public. I know we haven’t been in the news for the past several months. It’s not that we haven’t been working. There’s been nothing we have been able to put out ...

“We wanted to keep the information out the public.”

Evansdale is not alone in its efforts to keep information coming in on a case that has gone without an arrest or the trail appears to have gone cold.

Active pursuit

One of the most oldest and well-known cold cases in Cedar Rapids is the December 1979 murder of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko, who was found stabbed to death on Dec. 20 after going to Westdale Mall on Dec. 19 to shop for a coat.

Although the case will turn 35 years old this year, the Cedar Rapids Police Department continues to receive tips in the case. In fact, police said earlier this year they received a tip in December 2013 that law enforcement officers believe came from someone with credible information about the murder.

“We continue to actively pursue that (case),” said Sgt. Kent Choate, who runs the crimes-against-people unit in the Cedar Rapids Police Department’s investigations division. “There are some things we’re looking at. You turn over one rock and you have to talk to one or two more people. You continue to do that.”

Generally speaking, major crime and, particularly, homicide cases, are “front loaded,” Choate said. Investigators are bombarded with an initial deluge of information from the crime scene, evidence collection and interviews. That flow of information eventually starts to taper off, however.

“At that point, we’re sorting through what’s good information, what’s not good information and trying to focus on the most important leads to follow up on at that point,” Choate explained.

Police use a variety of sources to keep those cases from going cold. Choate said sometimes the department will put out information to the press about an old case. They’ll also talk to previous witnesses.

As time goes on, attitudes and feelings change, and a witness might have something new to add, Choate said.

The department also relies on a couple of retired investigators who regularly pour over old cases, Choate said.

Cedar Rapids has had recent success on another cold case. Last August, police arrested Deshaun L. Phillips for the 1999 murder of Judith Weeks. She was found dead of multiple injuries behind an apartment building at 1319 Second Ave. SE.

‘Did we miss something?’

The Iowa City Police Department joined Cedar Rapids in its cold case success last year. In November, the police department announced it had arrested John Bloomfield for the 1997 murder of his wife, Frances Bloomfield.

John Bloomfield, a former University of Iowa research scientist, is accused of strangling his wife in their Iowa City home. Her body was discovered in Illinois.

Bloomfield had been living in Saint Paul, Minn., at the time of his arrest.

Iowa City investigator David Gonzalez said a murder or other violent crime initially can produce hundreds of leads. However, sometimes those leads don’t turn into an arrest, he said.

“If all that stuff becomes exhausted — which has happened — and we may not have enough to charge somebody or we don’t have enough to identify a suspect at that point, then you relook through all that stuff again,” Gonzalez said. “Did we missing something?”

Gonazlez said when the information well goes dry, police will turn to other police departments, the media or the CrimeStoppers organization in hopes of soliciting more information.

“We use the whole gamut out there, especially when those leads start to slow down,” he said.

Gonzalez said it ultimately all comes down to having an eye on those old cases. If no one is reviewing the case, chances are new leads aren’t going to surface.

“That part to me is the most important part,” he said. “Without somebody looking at that case ..., how do you know if there’s not a piece of evidence there?”

In Evansdale, Police Chief Smock said he remained confident that an arrest will be made in the disappearance and deaths of Lyric and Elizabeth.

“We’re waiting for one piece of information to come in that will tie everything together,” he said. “That just hasn’t come in yet.

“Certainly, it’s easier the fresher the trail is ... I have no doubt that we eventually will make an arrest on this.”