CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Inside Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police headquarters, there is a small room where, from floor to ceiling, cold case files stack the walls.
They include 40 years’ worth of sexual assault cases, unsolved.
“We’ve started with our oldest and moved forward,” Detective Carol Owens says of the new testing of those cold case files.
Most of these assaults happened before the emergence of DNA testing, decades ago.
“They were doing blood typing,” Owens says. “[It] was all they could do.”
So, starting in 2006, with the opening of CMPD’s sexual assault cold case division, about 3,000 have been reviewed, once again. For many of them, that means re-testing rape kits, the samples collected from victims directly after the trauma happens.
“It’s a whole different animal,” Owens says of cold case assault investigations. “So, it takes time to move those cases forward.”
Three years ago, the division got grant money, sending, so far, 1,200 evidence kits back to the lab.
For most of them, this testing is round two - new technology, and hopefully, better results. But some are being tested for the first time, due to the nature of how cases were selected to be sent to the lab years ago. It was only used to identify suspects.
“A lot of times in sexual assault cases, the victim knew who had done it,” Owens says. “So, sometimes that evidence was not going to be beneficial to us, as far as identifying someone.”
Nowadays, testing is required on all new rape kits.
And since the grant-funded re-testing of decades-old cases began three years ago, CMPD has made 4 cold-case arrests. But it’s not always easy for the victims.
“You move forward 25 years of your life after a very traumatic experience, and then all of a sudden, a knock at your door, and, ‘Hello, we’re going to dump this back in your lap,’” Owens says.
Even though progress is being made on re-testing these cold cases, as WBTV has reported, some more recent kits still haven’t been tested at all. CMPD says right now, 154 rape kits remained back-logged, waiting for their turn in the lab. The wait time from when they’re turned in, to tested, can be up to 100 days.
Once they are tested, Owens says if new kits from new victims don’t yield results in the lab, CMPD will hold onto that evidence, like the others, possibly for decades, waiting for technology to continue to improve.