Lawrence Ryan Investigations

Lawrence Ryan Investigations Chicago Illinois
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Solving the Unsolvable: The Challenges and Rewards of Cold Case Investigations

A cold case is a criminal investigation that remains unsolved for an extended period of time, often years or even decades. These cases can be heartbreaking for the families and friends of the victims, who are left without answers or closure. But cold cases are not only emotionally difficult; they can also pose a threat to public safety. The perpetrator of a cold case may still be out there, free to commit other crimes. That’s why it’s important to investigate cold cases, even if they are decades old. 

History of Cold Cases

Cold cases have a long history that dates back several decades. The term “cold case” was first used in the early 1990s, but the concept of unsolved crimes that are reopened and investigated again is much older.

One of the earliest examples of a cold case investigation dates back to the 1950s. The murder of Elizabeth Short, also known as the “Black Dahlia” case, was a high-profile murder that took place in Los Angeles in 1947. The case remained unsolved for several years, but in 1950, the Los Angeles Police Department launched a massive investigation that included reinterviewing witnesses, reviewing evidence, and pursuing new leads. Despite these efforts, the case remains unsolved to this day.

Another notable example of a cold case investigation is the case of the Zodiac Killer. The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who operated in Northern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The case was never solved, but in 2007, the San Francisco Police Department and the FBI announced that they were reopening the investigation. They hoped that advances in forensic technology would help them solve the case, but to date, the killer’s identity remains a mystery.

Cold cases have become increasingly uncommon in recent years, in part due to advances in forensic technology. DNA evidence, in particular, has helped to solve many cold cases that were once considered unsolvable. The use of DNA evidence led to the arrest of the Golden State Killer in 2018, for example, more than 40 years after the crimes were committed.

Today, private investigation firms and law enforcement agencies alike specialize in cold case investigations, using a variety of techniques to help solve these long-standing mysteries. While not all cold cases can be solved, the efforts of investigators can provide closure for the families of the victims and help ensure that justice is served.

private investigator solving an old case

Types of Cold Cases

Cold cases can involve a wide variety of crimes, from murders and disappearances to robberies and fraud. Here are some of the most common types of cold cases:

Homicides: Homicide cases are some of the most common cold cases. These cases can be particularly challenging to solve, as the perpetrator may have left little evidence behind or may have had no known connection to the victim.

Missing persons: Cases involving missing persons are another common type of cold case. These cases can be heartbreaking for the families of the missing person, who may have little or no information about what happened to their loved one.

Sexual assault: Cases involving sexual assault are often difficult to solve, as they may have occurred in private or may not have been reported immediately. Advances in DNA technology have led to some breakthroughs in sexual assault cold cases in recent years.

Robbery: Cold cases involving robbery can be particularly challenging, as the perpetrator may have left few clues behind and may have had no known connection to the victim.

Financial crimes: Cases involving financial crimes such as fraud and embezzlement are also considered cold cases. These cases may involve complex financial transactions that can be difficult to unravel.

Historical cases: Historical cold cases refer to cases that took place many years ago, often decades or even centuries. These cases may involve crimes that were once considered solved, but new evidence or advances in technology have led to the case being reopened.

Current Technology Used

Advances in technology have revolutionized the field of cold case investigations, providing investigators with new tools and techniques to help solve long-standing mysteries.

Forensic DNA analysis is one of the most important technological advancements in cold case investigations. With this technology, investigators can extract DNA from samples left at the crime scene and compare it to a database of known offenders or family members. This has led to many breakthroughs in cold cases where traditional investigation methods have failed.

Another critical technology used in cold case investigations is geographic profiling software. This software uses data collected from crime scenes and other sources to create maps that show areas where offenders are likely to live or work. By analyzing these maps, cold case units can narrow down their search for suspects and increase the chances of solving a case. In some instances, this software has also helped solve crimes by identifying patterns that were not previously recognized by investigators. 

Facial recognition technology can now be used to compare images of suspects to existing databases or to identify unknown individuals in photos or videos, while advances in ballistics analysis have made it possible to link a particular weapon to a crime based on unique characteristics such as shell casings or bullet fragments.

Finally, social media has become an increasingly valuable tool in cold case investigations. Investigators can use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to reach out to witnesses who may have information about a particular case. They can also use these platforms to share information about unsolved cases with the public, which can lead to new tips and leads from people who might not otherwise come forward.

private investigator solving a cold case

The Role of a Private Investigator

The role of investigators in cold case investigations is highly crucial. In such cases, investigators need to have a thorough understanding of forensic science and crime scene investigation techniques.

Hiring a private investigator for a cold case investigation can provide several advantages over relying solely on law enforcement agencies. Here are some of the benefits of working with a private investigator:

Access to specialized tools and technology

Private investigators often have access to specialized tools and technology that are not available to the general public. This can include advanced forensic analysis equipment, surveillance equipment, and databases of public records.

Expertise in investigative techniques

Private investigators have extensive training and experience in investigative techniques. They know how to gather evidence, interview witnesses, and analyze information in a way that can help solve cold cases.

Ability to work independently

Private investigators can work independently on a case, without the bureaucracy or red tape that can sometimes slow down law enforcement investigations. This can allow for a more efficient and effective investigation.


Private investigators understand the importance of discretion when working on sensitive cases such as cold cases. They know how to gather information and conduct interviews without attracting unwanted attention, which can be particularly important in cases where the perpetrator may still be at large.

Fresh perspective

Private investigators can bring a fresh perspective to a cold case, which can be particularly valuable if the case has been open for many years. They may be able to identify new leads or see patterns in the evidence that were overlooked during previous investigations.

Greater focus

Private investigators can often focus exclusively on a single case, which can allow for a more intensive and thorough investigation than law enforcement agencies that may have many cases to juggle.

Steps to Follow in a Cold Case Investigation

Cold case investigations are complex and often require a multi-faceted approach. Here is a brief overview of the steps involved in a typical cold case investigation:

  1. Reviewing case files: The first step in any cold case investigation is to review the cold case files thoroughly. This includes reading through police reports, witness testimony, and any other documentation related to the case. This helps cold case investigators understand the nature of the crime, the evidence that was gathered at the time, and any potential leads that were pursued.
  2. Reinterviewing witnesses: Witnesses can provide valuable information that was not uncovered during the initial investigation. Reinterviewing witnesses can help investigators get a better sense of what happened, who was involved, and whether there were any new developments since the crime was committed.
  3. Collecting new evidence: Advances in technology may make it possible to uncover new evidence that was not available at the time of the crime. For example, DNA evidence may now be available that was not tested previously. Investigators should consider any new methods of forensic analysis that may help them collect and analyze new evidence.
  4. Re-examining old evidence: In addition to collecting new evidence, investigators should re-examine old evidence that was collected at the time of the crime. This can include physical evidence such as fingerprints, hair, or fibers, as well as any other evidence that may have been overlooked or dismissed during the initial investigation.
  5. Collaborating with other agencies: Cold case investigations often require collaboration between different agencies and departments. Investigators should reach out to other law enforcement agencies, as well as any other organizations or experts that may be able to provide assistance.
  6. Using social media: Social media can be a valuable tool for investigators when it comes to solving cold cases. Posting information about the case on social media can help generate tips and leads, as well as reach a wider audience.
  7. Following up on leads: As new information is uncovered, investigators should follow up on any leads that may help them solve the case. This may involve reinterviewing witnesses, analyzing new evidence, or conducting surveillance.

By taking a thorough and systematic approach, investigators can increase their chances of solving a cold case and bringing justice to the victims and their families.

investigator working on the clues of a case

Challenges in Solving Cold Cases

Solving a cold case can be an incredibly challenging and complex process. Unlike a regular case, where there may be fresh evidence and witnesses, cold cases are often many years old and may have little to no evidence. As such, investigators may face a range of challenges when attempting to solve these cases.

One of the primary challenges in solving a cold case is the limited evidence. Over time, physical evidence such as DNA samples, fingerprints, or other forensic evidence may have degraded or become contaminated, making it challenging to obtain useful information from the evidence. This can be further compounded by a lack of witnesses or unreliable testimony, which can make it difficult to build a case.

Another challenge is the difficulty in locating suspects. In some cases, the suspect may have moved away or may be difficult to locate. They may have changed their name or appearance or may have gone into hiding. Even if a suspect is located, obtaining their cooperation can be a challenge. They may refuse to talk to investigators or may have legal representation that makes it difficult to obtain information.


Solving a cold case can be incredibly challenging, but the rewards of finding answers and closure for the families of the victims make the effort worth it.

The challenges that investigators face require unique skills and resources, and investigators must remain vigilant and persistent in their efforts to solve these cases. Despite the challenges, there is always hope that even the oldest and most difficult cold cases can be solved.

If you have a cold case that you would like to see solved, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We will work tirelessly to uncover new leads, gather new evidence, and bring closure to families and loved ones. 

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