Effort aims to heat up cold cases with playing cards for prisoners

A special deck of playing cards featuring unsolved homicide and missing persons cases will be distributed in Kansas prisons and jails.
Updated: Apr. 25, 2022 at 5:00 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Authorities hope to heat up cold cases by pitching playing cards to prisoners.

The Kansas Dept. of Corrections debuted its Cold Case Deck Monday. It is a deck of real playing cards, but each of the cards features an unsolved homicide or missing persons case.

The idea is to get the decks in front of people already in jails and prisons, and spark conversations that could lead to the tip needed to crack the case.

“The case really is never closed until it is solved,” Kirk Thompson, Director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said.

Thompson and Kansas Secretary of Corrections Jeff Zmuda hope a special the Kansas Cold Case Deck deck might deal the next round of tips.

“Our population plays cards quite frequently.” Zmuda said. “As they’re sitting there playing cards, it’ll create some awareness of these instances that need to be resolved and maybe generate some conversation or some thought amongst that population, many of whom have either witnessed something, overheard a conversation and may have some information that can ultimately bring resolution to those circumstances.”

The idea for Cold Case Decks started in Florida, where tips led to arrests in three of the featured cases in the first three months. More than 20 states now have them, including Oregon, South Carolina, Minnesota, and Connecticut. The latter state has solved 20 cases since their cards debuted a decade ago.

“Every case that we could get a resolution to, to get into the system for prosecution - that’s a win. It’s a win for the families; it’s a win for the communities where the offenses took place,” Thompson said.

Inmates will be able to give information anonymously. Zmuda said many factors might motivate them to come forward.

“There is segments of our population, that incarcerated population, that wants to do some good,” he said. “They maybe want to atone for what they’ve done in their past and see an opportunity to help the community, or to give back.”

The KBI and Corrections Dept. took case submissions from law enforcement across the state. A committee reviewed the more than 100 suggestions and considered a number of factors to select 52, to represent a range of geographic areas and backgrounds. They include 46 unsolved homicide cases, 5 missing persons cases, and one case of unidentified remains - a man found in 1989 on a sandbar of the Smoky Hill River in Junction City. Also includes are the 2013 killings of four people in Topeka’s Central Park neighborhood, and the case of Margaret Tighe, who went missing from Manhattan in 1998.

Victims’ families were consulted and granted permission for their loved ones’ case to be included.

“Their reaction (was) very grateful that people still have have their loved one in mind, and that they’ve not gone forgotten,” Zmuda said.

While it’s important for families, there’s a message to the perpetrators, too.

“They’re always gonna be looking over their shoulder and waiting for that knock on the door when we’ll come visit them and hold them accountable for any of these cases,” Thompson said.

The Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriff’s Association, and Kansas Peace Officers Association also partnered on the project.

Funding for the first decks is through Kansas Correctional Industries. Over the next month, the cards will be distributed through the public areas of Kansas prisons and made available to local jails. Inmates also will be able to buy their own decks.

Details on the Deck

The 52 cards represent 59 individual cases (some crimes had more than one victim)

• Oldest Case: 1976

• Most Recent Case: 2020

• Cases by County:

Unsolved Homicide: Cherokee; Dickinson; Doniphan; Finney; Ford; Franklin; Geary; Johnson (2); Leavenworth; Mitchell; Montgomery; Osage; Saline (3); Sedgwick (24); Shawnee (5); Wyandotte

Missing Persons: Leavenworth; Lincoln; Pottawatomie; Saline; Sedgwick

Unidentified Remains: Geary

• Gender of Victims: 37 male, 22 female

• Race of Victims: 17 Black males; 5 Black females; 14 White males; 17 White females; 5 Hispanic males; 1 Asian male

• Age of Victims: 55 age 18 and older; 4 under age 18

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