Unique international collaboration leads to new findings in German high-profile cold case

For the first time, police officers, researchers, and students worldwide are working hand in hand to discover new evidence in unresolved criminal cases. The International Cold Case Analysis Project is a result of a collaboration between the Police Expert Network on Missing Persons (PEN-MP), AMBER Alert Europe, Locate International, the Police Academy of Lower Saxony and several British and Australian Universities. Besides enabling young police officers and students to establish a close link between theory and practice in cold cases, the participants ultimately aim to help families across Europe to find closure after the disappearance of a loved one.

“I have been working on cold cases for many years, ranging from homicides to missing person cases”, says Mr. Karsten Bettels, Detective Director at the Police Academy of Lower Saxony (DE). “This is the first time that educational organisations across the world join forces to work on unresolved cases. Not only does this allow students to gain practical experience but most importantly it shows families their loved ones have not been forgotten.”

Involved in this unique project are the Police Academy of Lower Saxony, where cold case analyses have been taking place since 2014, as well as the universities of South Wales, Leeds Beckett, Staffordshire, Winchester and Central Lancashire (UK) and Murdoch and Newcastle (AUS). The universities were invited to participate in the project by Locate International (UK), an organisation working in partnership with universities in the UK and Australia to develop a cold case system for missing persons and unidentified bodies.

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 analyse an attempted homicide and a long-term missing person’s case. The cases are selected by the public prosecutor’s offices of the participating countries.

New findings in German cold case
Bettels: “We previously worked on a German homicide committed in 1991. As a result of the evaluation of the complete file carried out by the students, new findings were obtained that started a manhunt on German television. A total of around 6 million people watched the feature in prime time, leading to more than 200 tips.”

That new findings like these give families and friends of missing or deceased persons a shot in the arm, is something Frank Hoen, AMBER Alert Europe Chairman and Founder, knows first-hand. “I was still in college when one of my fellow students went missing. The fact that she was never found continued to haunt me for a long time. Even after all these years, her parents still draw hope from every new lead that trickles in. That is why I am so thrilled to be part of this project.

Expansion in the near future
By sharing their experiences, the initiators of the International Cold Case Analysis Project hope to encourage other professionals in the field to join. “We have received a tremendous amount of positive reactions to this project. As a matter of fact, yesterday, over 300 professionals from all over the world participated in a digital conference in which we presented this unique project. As many cold cases have a cross-border dimension, we welcome all universities, police academies, public prosecutors, police agencies and relevant stakeholders to take part in this project”, Hoen concludes.