Wyoming’s Statewide Cold Case Database Close To Be Launched In Coming Months

The commander of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation told legislators on Tuesday that a new statewide cold-case database will be launched in the coming months. There are approximately 150 cold cases in Wyoming with some dating back more than 50 years.

Leo Wolfson

June 18, 20245 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

More public light is about to be shone on some of Wyoming’s oldest and coldest unsolved mysteries when a new statewide database comes online.

During a Joint Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday, Ryan Cox, commander of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, said the database is already created and being tested internally before it’s released to the public, which should happen in a few months.

Cox said the system is already being used in beta testing with DCI internally and will be shared with Wyoming’s other law enforcement agencies in the coming weeks.

The database was created as a result of a pair of new laws signed by Gov. Mark Gordon during the latest legislative session that gives DCI more money and tools to solve cold cases, which number about 150, and some dating back more than 50 years.

Specifically, the new laws provided DCI with $300,000 to create and maintain a statewide cold-case database and launch a forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) pilot program.

The public-facing aspect of the database has been created and is operational, but is not viewable for the public yet at this time. Cox said he’s been receiving many inquiries about the program and open data submissions will begin shortly after July.

“That’s good news and good work being done,” said state Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee.

How Much Information?

Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, questioned what information will be provided to the public about ongoing investigations on the database, when considering the possibility that potential suspects could be alerted that they are exactly that.

Cox said the public side of the database will be much more limited and exclude information like the names of suspects. What will be included is the date of a crime, the general location it was committed and at times a victim’s name. In cases of sexual assault, Wyoming state law protects the release of a victim’s identity in most circumstances.

The cold case database will look similar to what DCI currently uses for its Missing Persons Database, Cox said.

Cara Chambers, director for Wyoming Division of Victim Services, said many more people became aware of the issue of missing persons when DCI created that database, although it also caused some panic for some when seeing how many people were missing.

“They always had been (missing people), but I think awareness has been increased and I hope the same will happen with this,” she said.

Cracking Cases

Although it will certainly provide interesting information and better documentation of Wyoming’s cold cases, Cox said one of the main reasons for the database is to generate more tips and information from the public to help solve them.

“For victims and victim’s families, it’s really important,” Chambers said.

Laramie County Sheriff Brian Kozak told Cowboy State Daily the database could make a difference in whether a case is solved or not.

“There may be some agencies that need help, and it could help to change investigators,” Kozak said. “It will at least remind people to keep these cases active.”

Kozak said there are two active cold-case homicides in Laramie County, each committed more than 20 years ago. He said the sheriff’s office already handed these cases off to DCI before the new laws passed.

Law Enforcement Too

Under the new laws, all law enforcement agencies throughout the state will be required to report unsolved homicides and felony sexual assaults two years or older dating back to 1972. The agencies will, however, retain investigative control over their cases unless they choose to reach out to DCI for help.

The database serves primarily as a better form of information compilation and is not designed to take cold cases away from local law enforcement agencies.

Kozak said there can sometimes be a tendency for law enforcement agencies to want to hold onto cold cases that they’ve already invested a significant amount of time and resources on.

“But it doesn’t hurt to give it up, or at least have a fresh set of eyes take a look at it,” Kozak said. “That can bring fresh thoughts, a new perspective.”

The private side of the database for law enforcement is still being developed. Cox said this aspect of the database will look similar to the public one, except it will contain sensitive personal information.

Cox didn’t discount the possibility that there could be some challenges for local law enforcement agencies in participating in this program due to the lack of uniformity in criminal investigations in year’s past.

“Things were done differently in the ’70s, and information was not as readily available as we do cases in today’s law enforcement work,” he said.

The database was developed in-house by DCI staff.

Cox said there also could be some updates and features added to the database in the future.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter