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Could statewide database help solve cold cases?

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lewine Tapia has been looking for answers to her daughter's murder for more than two decades.

Rosie Tapia, 6, was taken from her bedroom at the old Hartland Apartments, 1616 W. Snow Queen Place (1675 South), early on the morning of Aug. 13, 1995, assaulted, and her body dumped in a nearby canal. There has never been an arrest in the case nor a suspect named, and it has become one of the state's most infamous unsolved murders.

"You think it would get easier after 22 years, but it don’t, because to me it still feels like yesterday. We were up at the cemetery yesterday celebrating her 29th birthday, and just looking back I wondered what she would look like. Would she be married? Would she have kids? And I don’t get that answer,” Lewina Tapia said Thursday.

That's why Tapia is in full support of legislation being drafted by Utah Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, for a centralized state database to be created so information on all of the state's cold case murders and missing people can be collected and shared with law enforcers throughout the state.

Often, detectives investigating a case will say that information can't be released publicly because it might compromise an investigation. But after 22 years of getting no information, Tapia believes it's time for investigators to talk more.

"All we want is more answers to help solve her case,” she said.

"Get off their office chairs and get busy and do some of this work to help us. I feel in 22 years I haven’t received any information from them and what they’re doing on my daughter’s case. So this is an awakening for them to get up and do something to help all of us — not just me — but all the people who are listed on the cold cases, and help every one of us."

Salt Lake attorney Karra Porter agrees.

"To a family that has wanted answers for 22 years, it becomes less and less satisfying to hear, ‘Well, we wouldn’t want to give out too much information.’ At some point maybe you should let loose a little bit,” Porter said.

More on the Rosie Tapia investigation:

In November, Porter announced the formation of the Utah Cold Case Coalition, dedicated to solving the two-decade old mystery of Rosie Tapia.

On Thursday, Porter and other members of the coalition, along with Rosie's parents, announced their support of Weiler's legislation for a new and improved cold case database in Utah. They are calling it "Rosie's Bill."

The state already has a website for cold cases. But Porter noted, "It is way lacking. Our list is much better and we just got started on this."

Porter said her group's list is currently at 201 cold case, unsolved homicide and missing persons cases in Utah dating back to 1961, and is still growing. The state's current website is so outdated that the high-profile 2010 murder of Sherrie Black, 64, in South Salt Lake isn't on it, she said.

And some Salt Lake cases that are listed tell the public to "call Chief Chris Burbank" with tips, she added. Burbank hasn't been the city's police chief since June of 2015.

"Saltair Sally" case:

Porter would also like the new state database to include more precise details about the circumstances surrounding a person's murder or disappearance to give law enforcers something to compare to other cases.

Currently, local law enforcement agencies are not required to submit cold case information into a central database. Porter doesn't believe that requiring agencies to do that would be a burden.

"There’s a disturbing amount of unsolved cases, but not so much that it would drain the resources of a local agency to provide the information,” she said.

Even if some information is only accessible to law enforcement, Porter said there needs to be a central location for police departments to communicate with each other and share information on these types of cases. Because right now, "I really think they’re not sharing information,” she said.

Private investigator Jason Jensen, one of the coalition's co-founders, believes a centralized database would have resulted in the case of "Saltair Sally" being solved faster than it was.

To a family that has wanted answers for 22 years, it becomes less and less satisfying to hear, ‘Well, we wouldn’t want to give out too much information.'

–Karra Porter, Salt Lake attorney

In 2000, human remains were discovered by duck hunters near a frontage road off I-80 near Saltair. The unidentified remains became known as "Saltair Sally." Three years after the remains were found, Nikole Bakoles was reported missing. But it wasn't until 2012 that investigators, using DNA technology, linked the two cases.

Porter pointed to a centralized database recently started in Colorado. In addition to law enforcers sharing information, she said the public has a fascination with old murder mysteries. Some cases that have been out of the public eye for years are now being talked about again in Colorado. That alone, she said, is reason enough to update Utah's database.

"Even if the only benefit that came from this was having one place people could look for cold cases, that’s a benefit,” she said.

Sherry Black murder case:

Jensen said he commonly hears people say that they weren't even aware some cold cases aren't solved yet.

"We have, as a community, a problem with getting the message out about this person or that person. Typically it’s a bulletin thumb-tacked somewhere in a post office. If people don’t frequent that location they’ll never see the information,” he said.

Just before Thursday's press conference, Porter said she received a call from a person who was looking for information on another cold case, and came across the Tapia case. Porter said the caller, who used to live near the Tapias, remarkably wasn't even aware of her case. That person immediately called and provided new information, she said.


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