For some years, students have been introduced to the analysis of cold cases and long-term missing persons cases at police academies and various universities worldwide. Now, the Police Expert Network on Missing Persons (PEN-MP), AMBER Alert Europe and Locate International have succeeded for the first time in connecting educational organisations working on these cases with one another across national borders.
Involved in this unique project are the Police Academy of Lower Saxony from Germany (Polizeiakademie Niedersachsen), where cold case analyses have been taking place since 2014, as well as the universities of Staffordshire, South Wales, Leeds Beckett, Winchester and Central Lancashire (GB) and Murdoch and Newcastle (AUS).
The primary objective of this international collaboration is to enable young police officers and students to establish a close link between theory and practice in cold cases. It also enhances their investigative mindset by drawing on and learning from students from a variety of disciplines including criminology, policing, forensic science, psychology, forensic archaeology and anthropology.
Two Staffordshire University students are involved in the cold case investigation under the supervision of Professor of Conflict Archaeology and Genocide Investigation Caroline Sturdy Colls, Lecturer in Policing Emma Tilley and Professor of Forensic Science Education John Cassella.
Professor Sturdy Colls explained: “This initiative is a unique opportunity for our students to collaborate with specialists and students in Germany, Australia and the UK on an active cold case investigation and to gain real-world experience.
“The team is very interdisciplinary and we hope this will lead to new insights and new lines of enquiry with regards an unsolved crime that happened decades ago. We are delighted to have been invited to participate and to share our expertise and work alongside our colleagues from across the world.”
After being given a theoretical introduction to the basics of cold case analysis, in particular in understanding the victim and the crime scene, four multidisciplinary teams from the participating academies and universities, consisting of forty-five students, are now analysing an attempted homicide of a child and a long-term missing person’s case.
Final year BSc (Hons) Forensic Investigation student Dani Chew and Alex Haycock, who is studying for a PhD in Holocaust Archaeology, bring expertise in autopsies, forensic archaeology and anthropology to the investigation.
Dani said: “As it is a cold case, we are looking decades ago, before we were even born. As a result, we are educating ourselves on technologies which were available then as well as what the forensics were like and the demographic. The case is in another country in Europe with different systems to the UK, so we are regularly learning new laws and protocols which is brilliant.
“It is broadening our knowledge of international investigative strategies and helping us see how fast paced and adaptive you have to be in a real-world environment. This is definitely preparing us for our future careers.”
Alex added: "Working on this cold case project has had its share of challenges such as coordinating between multiple time zones but has been a very enjoyable experience and I have gained so much from it. I have loved working with so many people with a vast variety of backgrounds. I will not hesitate to participate in projects like this again."
The results obtained will be made available to the investigating authorities responsible for cold cases in Germany. The public prosecution offices, including the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Verden (Germany), which provided the cases, attach great importance to having well-trained young academics in the police, and hope that this will lead to more institutions working together on cold cases internationally.
In addition, the outcomes of the cold case analysis project also serve as an incentive to set up similar fixed structures to be established from 2021.