Mystery in the Mountains: New tool rewrites cold cases

New England

When a homicide case goes cold, the odds of it being solved are slim.

According to Alex Baber, director of Cold Case Consultants of America, since 1980, just one percent of more than 250,000 cold cases, have been solved and resulted in a conviction.

“Let that sink in for a moment,” said Baber, who launched Cold Case Consultants of America during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, he says, the organization has been years in the making.

“We’re being told that we’re literally rewriting history as we know it,” Baber said.

Baber and his wife, J-Lynn, created a first-of-its-kind linguistic database of letters written by suspects in cold cases covering more than five decades.

“I had this thought like six years ago,” he said. “I had the old software, and one day I just said, ‘Look what if I put all these in and then run the spectrum,’ and now that we’ve created this database we can cross-reference all of this and it’s at the touch of our fingers,” Baber said. “Whatever is mentioned in the letters has substance or they wouldn’t put it in there right?”

Cold Case Consultants’ database has been used on a number of cases, including an Ohio case that dates back to the 1970s. Over the course of two decades, hundreds of threatening letters were sent anonymously to people living in Circleville, just outside Columbus. One woman, Vicki L. Koch, ended up dead.

“The database is what directed us to look at that file to find the letters,” he said. “And the letters, once we put them in, is what directed us to the evidence.”

Baber is also using the database to investigate the disappearance of Maura Murray, a University of Massachusetts student who went missing in 2004 after a car crash in Haverhill, New Hampshire.

Police said Murray left campus after withdrawing $280 from an ATM. She had told her professors she wouldn’t be in class due to a death in the family. Instead, Murray packed a bag of clothes, toiletries and make-up and headed-off. No one knows where.

No one has yet been charged in Murray’s disappearance, and police have not named a suspect in the case.

“With the available technology on our end, I think we will be able to find Maura,” Baber said. “I really believe that.”

A team from Cold Case Consultants is planning a trip to the crash scene with a machine created by Dr. Arpad Vass, a forensic anthropologist and research scientist. The device picks up evidence of decomposition in the air.

“Say they’re under debris or brush or even buried decomposition of the cells releases this gas that his machine actually picks up,” Baber said.

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