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“Cold case” investigation team new to King County

“Cold case” murder investigations aren’t just for television.

The King County Sheriff’s Office announced April 1 it has a “Cold Case Squad” of its own, now up and running.

The newly-formed group is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice, an arm of the Justice Department. The focus of the unit will be on investigating and resolving unsolved homicides and missing person cases.

Detectives have identified 193 homicides and missing person cases believed to be homicides, dating back to 1942. Due to the high number, individual cases will face an initial review for solvability factors, including the status of possible suspects, witnesses and evidence, especially the possibility of DNA evidence.

Prior to forming this unit, unsolved homicides were investigated by “major crimes” detectives, along with their normal case load which includes robberies, kidnappings and serious assaults. That unit was reduced by three positions as part of the 2009 budget cuts to the Sheriff’s Office.

The grant is for 18 months and covers the costs of two detectives, an analyst and miscellaneous expenses associated with those investigations. After the initial 18 months the grant can be renewed but only after a review to determine if the unit was productive and the likelihood of continued success.

Once a case passes the initial review, it will face a priority screening where it will be reviewed again and presented to a team of people, including cold case detectives, a prosecutor and, depending on the case, other colleagues and experts in a particular field. Screening criteria will include, in addition to solvability factors, threat to the community, likelihood of successful DNA or other forensic testing, repeat offender, cost/benefit analysis of other investigative options, and the general strength of the case.

The two detectives assigned to the Cold Case Squad are Det. Scott Tompkins and Det. Jake Pavlovich, both experienced homicide detectives. The civilian analyst is Tom Jensen, a retired Sheriff’s Office detective with more than 20 years experience investigating the Green River homicides.

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