COLD CASE FOUNDATION: We talked to the Mindhunter guys who help crack the toughest cold cases


by: Maddie Rowley

You know that scene at the end of Mindhunter season 1 where (SPOILER ALERT) the weirdly likable yet still very creepy and evil serial killer Ed Kemper hugs Special Agent Holden Ford, thus sending Holden into a panic and then BOOM. The season ends?

I think I stared at the TV for a good five minutes after that unforgettable moment as I oscillated between shock and utter sadness that it was over.

You’d better believe that when Mindhunter Season 2 came out on Netflix, I tried to savor every moment of it and can confidently say that I liked it even BETTER than Season 1.

So when a coworker told me that John E. Douglas, the real-life FBI agent and profiler that Holden Ford was based off of, is Board Chairman of the Cold Case Foundation I practically fan-girled through the roof. Why? Because Hunt A Killer donates a portion of the proceeds from each box to the Cold Case Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that provides a network of personnel, access to technology, and expertise to law enforcement agencies all across the country as they work to solve cold cases in their precincts. 

That’s like, two degrees of separation IF that! Needless to say, I set up an interview with CCF’s Executive Director, Greg Cooper, and Deputy Executive Director Dean Jackson to talk more about the relatively young organization and the direct impact they’re making as they take on the toughest cold cases throughout the country.

“We provide services around the country for law enforcement, victims, and victims’ families in trying to resolve cold cases in the areas of homicide, missing persons, unidentified bodies, and also sexual assaults where there appears to be serial characteristics of a serial offender. Typically individuals who have been identified as serial killers have also been involved in serial sexual assaults,” said Cooper, who was a former FBI profiler and supervisor for the Behaviorial Analysis Unit (think Criminal Minds!).

According to Cooper, there’s an average of 5,500 unsolved homicides per year in the United States, and that has a compounding effect, which means that number builds on itself every year. The U.S. only has about a 64% solution rate when it comes to solving homicides.

“We have well over 100,000 unsolved homicides in our country and that’s disturbing,” said Cooper. “It’s not that police departments lose interest in solving these cases, but they run out of time and funding, as well as expertise.” 

The hardest cases to solve are obviously the unique ones, like for example, if a serial offender stranger comes through town and kills someone they have no connection to without any motive. The motive might be pure satisfaction for the offender—to have a sense of power, domination, and control over the victim. 

“We really see our organization as a resource to law enforcement so when a case comes that we’re asked to consult on, it’s a privilege to come alongside those who have been working a case for years,” said Jackson, who has worked with law enforcement agencies and in the nonprofit world for over 30 years. “Maybe they’re looking at it through a cultural or geographical lens, so when you bring people to look at a case with different expertise, it’s that by-product of everyone working on it together from different angles.”

One of CCF’s goals is to work more with the public and educate people in order to teach them the principles of victimology

“No victim, regardless of who they are or their lifestyle should be blamed for any crime that’s committed against them,” said Cooper. “The more we understand the victim, the more we begin to understand the offender.” 

CCF uses a continuum to determine if a victim lives a low, medium, or high risk lifestyle, which then leads to looking at the relationship between the victim and the offender. With high risk lifestyles, it’s more likely that the offender was a stranger to the victim, and is thus more likely that the crime was one of opportunity. 

A victim who lives a low risk lifestyle and statistically would never become the victim of a crime, could, however, unknowingly put themselves in a position or an environment that elevates their exposure. 

“The more the public is educated about these contributing factors to becoming a victim of crime, the more effective we can be in preventing crime and victims rather than having to respond and identify, locate and apprehend an offender,” said Cooper. 

The foundation provides training for people who work jobs that are higher-risk like real estate agents and brokers, as well as corporations with employees who do a lot of international travel.

In the last few months, the Cold Case Foundation is starting to see cases resolved that they’ve consulted on since the start of the organization five years ago. 

“The very first case we had was a case out in Montana, the Linda and Clifford Bernhardt case, which is about a 40-year-old case,” said Cooper. 

The couple was found murdered in 1973 but the case remained open because there were no CODUS matches from DNA found at the scene. The local department formed a cold case unit and received a snapshot DNA analysis from Parabon in 2016, which created an actual photo of what the offender looked like. 

“We felt like it was someone who knew the victims, there was a strong feeling that the wife was the primary target, and that the crime was sexually motivated,” said Jackson. “They took a suitcase filled with all of her underwear.”

“We felt like it was someone the victim knew, maybe someone who worked with her, and someone who had access to their brand new home,” said Cooper. “We suggested that the offender might have been a contractor or sub-contractor on building the home.”

Parabon identified two brothers based on new DNA, one of which was living and one was dead. 

“They got DNA off the living brother and interviewed the deceased brother’s wife to confirm that the living brother was not the offender, and were able to identify the offender as Cecil Stan Caldwell,” said Jackson. “They found out through employment records that Cecil and Linda (the victim) had overlapped in working at a warehouse in the community, so he was someone she knew.”

So what can we as everyday people do to help (besides donate to the cause?) Cooper says if you see something, say something.

“In a very large portion of successful cases, the big breaks come when somebody in the public calls in a lead or an observation about something they saw or heard, which then allows investigators to follow up on the leads. These types of calls can break the case wide open,” said Cooper. “So many of these cases are solved with public input.”

Moral of the story is call and give the detective on the case a tip if you see or hear something strange! You could be the missing link that detectives need to solve a case.