A Cold Hand for Old Cases

By Dianne Frazee-Walker  Image courtesy kpho.com

Maricopa County Sherriff Arpaio has a new approach up his sleeve for solving cold cases.  

Who could be better to help solve cold cases than an inmate? After all, they have plenty of time on their hands and plenty of available card playing buddies.

Silent Witness is a resourceful program that uses playing cards to publicize cold cases. The cards reveal pictures and details about 52 local unsolved cases.

Phoenix Police and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office are joining forces with Silent Witness handing out 3,000 of these decks to Maricopa County inmates in hopes that some of the prisoners will have helpful information that will help solve some of these cold cases. 

One good hand in the right inmate’s hands could be a lucky draw for a grieving family.

The program is graciously funded by an anonymous individual who was fortunate enough to have their case solved by a Silent Witness card that was dealt to the right hand.

Silent Witness, Sgt. Darren Burch pronounces how each card has significant importance.  

The two of diamonds represents Ed Frost, a prominent local businessman, whose murder has gone unsolved for over six years. Police are baffled and his family is desperate for answers.

Frost’s son, Mike, is devastated by his father’s untimely death and still can’t believe it happened. Since the unusual circumstantial event, he has been on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

The only information the police have confirmed is that Frost was shot while driving his car, lost control of the car and crashed into an all-night gas station near some propane tanks. 

If luck will have it, an inmate could be a possible silent witness if dealt the two of diamonds and recognizes Frost’s picture and information about the case featured on the card.

Draw another card and it’s the 2 of clubs. That's Jermain Johnson, a Phoenix father of two who was killed near 40th Street and McDowell in 2006.  His killers remain on the loose.

The King of Hearts pictures Irwin Miller, who was gunned down outside of a Phoenix restaurant in 2004. The gunman has never been caught.

Since 2008, Indiana's prisons have been replacing the normal playing cards sold to inmates with decks featuring unsolved murders, hoping some inmate’s memories can be jarred.

The state of Indiana had 26,000 inmates in the system in 2008 and most of them passed the time playing cards. Randy Koester, the Indiana Department of Correction spokesman when the program began was hoping that as they play, one of the inmates might realize they know something about one of the cases and speak up.

Indiana Prison commissaries began selling the decks statewide for $1 a deck. Some of the cold case information on the cards dated back as to the early 70s.   

One of the decks included four cards featuring Indiana's most prominent unsolved slayings - the November 1978 killings of four young Burger Chef Restaurant employees. Their bodies were found in a Johnson County forest a day and a half after they were abducted from the restaurant in Indianapolis.

Koester said the Indiana DOC Commissioner J. David Donahue got the idea for the cards from the Florida prison system, which printed similar decks with at least one successful result.

Florida police arrested a suspect in the November 2004 slaying of a man found shot to death in a Fort Myers parking lot.

An inmate at a Florida prison told authorities the suspect had bragged about killing the man, whose picture and the details of his death were featured on one of the playing cards.

Sometimes just a small tip can be the bit of information that cracks the case.

If officials continue to play their cards right, these playing cards could potentially, in the hands of inmates, provide justice for many unsolved cases.