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—Photo by Sarah Boyum

Cold-Case Playing Cards Are a Thing…And They Work

The card decks, which are distributed to prison inmates and have helped solve crimes in several states, have come to Colorado. 

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There are plenty of card-playing analogies to describe when you need a fresh start (cue: Kenny Rogers singing in your head for the rest of the day). Many of which would be apt to describe a new effort by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to solicit information in cold cases by distributing card decks to inmates that include stories and photos from unsolved crimes.

The hope is that in the middle of, say, a poker game, an inmate might recognize a case and provide a fresh lead. It may seem far-fetched, but the effort has been used in other states—Florida, South Carolina, and others—and even led to some convictions. After just a few weeks, Colorado’s project has helped bring in more than five-dozen calls that are currently being vetted.

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The 52 cards (provided free-of-charge for now at detention facilities) represent just a small fraction of the state’s Cold Case Database, which includes 1,603 unsolved crimes that are three or more years old. This effort helps keep investigations alive by reaching different populations, says CBI criminal intelligence analyst Audrey Simkins. “Sometimes, you are doing everything you can. This is just another way to get the case out there.”

Not surprisingly, with so many cold cases, CBI already has plans for more decks. “There’s a different victim on every card,” Simkins says. “Each one is someone’s father, someone’s brother, or someone’s sister who has been missing or gone for a long time.”

While the cards are not available to the public, here’s a sampling of the unsolved cases in the deck:

3 of Clubs | Donna Sue Wayne, 18-year-old white female

On the Card: “On 06/14/1986, Donna Wayne attended a party with multiple friends. She told her friends that she was going to Shag Nasty’s Bar at E. 4th Ave. and Havana St. in Aurora, CO. She drove her own car to the party and to the bar. Donna was seen later leaving the bar with three males. On 06/26/1986, Donna’s vehicle was found on N. Uvalda St. in Aurora. On [07]/14/1986, Donna’s body was found at E. 38th Ave. and N. Picadilly Rd. in Aurora. She may have been seen trying to escape from a vehicle, but a male kept pulling her back inside the vehicle.”

King of Spades | Harold Murphy Cohen, 38-year-old white male

On the Card: “On 11/03/1949, Harold Murphy Cohen, who went by ‘Murph’ or ‘Murphy’ was reported missing. Mr. Cohen was a known gambler and fight referee. He had attended a ceremonial dinner at Gaetano’s in Denver. Mr. Cohen was found on 02/11/1950 in Blue Lake (South of Hwy 58 and Indiana St.) weighted down.”

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Ace of Hearts | Jane Doe, female

On the Card: “On 09/19/1982, the remains of Jane Doe were located on a small island in the San Juan River near the Colorado/New Mexico border. She was about a half mile up river from Stewart Simmons, whose body was found a month later on 10/22/1982. Jane Doe was wearing a purple halter top, blue jeans, a red quilted peasant-type jacket with floral design and a necklace with an Italian love horn and open heart ornaments.”

To learn more about these, or any of Colorado’s cold cases, click here.

Follow senior editor Natasha Gardner on Twitter or Instagram.

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