Florida cold case playing cards launched in hopes of producing leads


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Florida officials are reviving an old initiative to solve cold cases by distributing thousands of playing cards in jails and prisons hoping it will help “generate new leads and insights from inmates,” the state Attorney General’s Office announced Monday.

More than 5,000 decks of playing cards that contain photographs and information about unsolved homicide and missing person cases will be printed and issued to correctional facilities across Florida, law enforcement officials said at a news conference Monday. The cards will be distributed to over 60 county jails overseen by local sheriff’s offices and 145 sites overseen by the state’s Department of Corrections.

“We’re pleased to announce a special initiative, which hasn’t been done here in the state of Florida statewide in about 15 years, but it’s something that we know (works),” Florida Association of Crime Stoppers President Frank Brunner said at the news conference. “This was the right time to create and distribute another deck of cold case homicide playing cards into Florida’s jails and prisons, and certainly we will also have them available online in some other media form as well.”

The new version of cold case playing cards is part of Attorney General Ashley Moody’s efforts to prevent violent crime and solve cold case homicides in Florida, according to Brunner. Since 2019, Moody said her office has been working to enlist the public’s help in solving cold cases.

In 2020, Moody and the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers launched a statewide anonymous tipline. Officials then significantly increased reward money for anonymous tips, “nearly doubling the amount for tips on unsolved homicides,” Moody said.

The attorney general announced in February a new state cold case investigations unit that assists resource-constrained local agencies to follow up on leads for cold cases.

The latest effort is in collaboration with the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers, the state Sheriffs Association, the state Department of Corrections and Season of Justice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to solving cold cases, officials said.

According to nonprofits Project Cold Case and The Murder Accountability Project, the rate at which homicides are being solved in the United States has been declining over the past five decades. In its analysis of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, The Murder Accountability Project found that nearly 340,000 cases of homicide and non-negligent manslaughter between 1965 and 2022 have gone unsolved.

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Cold-case playing cards have seen success in Florida before

According to Florida officials, versions of cold case playing cards have been successful in the state.

In July 2007, state officials distributed about 100,000 decks of an older version of playing cards to inmates, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The two editions contained 104 unsolved cases from across Florida.

The older version featured a 2004 case in which construction workers found the body of Ingrid Lugo, 34, in a retention pond, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“After seeing the information on one of the cards, three inmates reported the murderer, found to be Lugo’s boyfriend, Bryan Curry,” the Attorney General’s Office said. “Curry ended up being tried and found guilty of second-degree murder in March 2008.”

The playing cards also led to the arrest of Derrick Hamilton in October 2007 after an inmate tipped off police, the Tampa Bay Times reported at the time. The inmate had told authorities that Hamilton had bragged about killing James Foote, who was found dead with a gunshot wound in a Fort Myers, Florida, parking lot.

A photograph of Foote and details on his case were featured on the seven of clubs, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

In 2008, state officials released another version and distributed it to 65,000 inmates across 67 county jails and 141,000 supervised offenders serving on state probation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said. The deck featured 52 unsolved homicide and missing persons cases.

For the newest edition, officials said Monday that tips that lead to an arrest are eligible for a reward of up to $9,500.

Similar initiatives implemented in other states

Law enforcement officials in Polk County, Florida, were the first to distribute unsolved case cards in correctional facilities, Massachusetts State Police said in its announcement of unresolved crime cards in 2022.

The initiative was inspired by playing cards showing Saddam Hussein’s regime members that were given to U.S. soldiers in 2003 during the Iraq War, according to Massachusetts State Police. A Florida Crime Stoppers group then designed a deck of cards in 2005 that contained local cold cases, a 2006 article from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service Virtual Library said.

The deck of cards was distributed to about 2,500 inmates “with the hope of generating new leads on cold cases,” the article said. In less than three months after Polk County officials launched the cards, authorities received more than 60 tips and solved four cases, according to Massachusetts State Police.

Since then, cold case playing cards have been used across the U.S. by state and local law enforcement agencies. Similar decks have helped solve 20 cold cases in Connecticut and at least eight cases in South Carolina, according to the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

CBS Minnesota reported in November 2023 that a man helped identify a woman’s remains through cold case playing cards. The remains were of Deana Patnode, who was 23 when she was last seen in St. Paul, Minnesota, in October 1982.

“Deana’s former neighbor, Mike Doherty, recently shared his story for the first time. He recognized a clay likeness of Deana on one of our Cold Case playing cards,” the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a statement last November. “Deana was the 4 of Diamonds, listed as an unidentified Jane Doe.”

Patnode’s remains were found about 80 miles south seven years later but weren’t identified until 2009, according to the agency. Doherty had called in the tip, which led to Patnode’s identification, the agency said.



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