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Adam Fondren, KSL

Utah launches new cold case database

By Pat Reavy, KSL | Posted - Jan. 29, 2019 at 1:12 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — For 32 years, the body of Patricia Barrett went unidentified.

The 45-year-old mother was found dead and wrapped in carpet near the old Salt Lake Beach near Saltair in October 1978. The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office investigated that case.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake police took a missing persons report in 1979 of a woman originally from Texas named Patricia Barrett who had been in the Salt Lake area for just a couple of months.

"For 32 years, we didn't talk to (the sheriff's office), and they didn't talk to us. It wasn't until 2011 — so 32 years that family wondered and worried, and finally they made the connection between those two cases," Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said Tuesday.

To make sure that failed connections like that don't happen again, state lawmakers, police chiefs and sheriffs from several agencies stood together at the state Capitol Tuesday to announce the launch of the Utah Department of Public Safety's new Cold Case Database.

The database is the result of SB160, which was passed during last year's legislative session. The new law makes it mandatory for Utah law enforcement agencies to enter their cold cases and missing persons cases into the database. Any case that remains unsolved for three years must be submitted to the database.

"Now we have to put the information in so connections will be made," Brown said.

There are more than 400 cold cases in Utah, according to the state, including homicide and missing people cases, and deceased people who have yet to be identified.

After testing the database for the last month, state officials said they are now ready to make it "live."

The new database will include both a public section and a private section for law enforcement use only. The public section will include just enough information, without revealing key evidence that has been collected, for the public to try and help with tips.

It was a member of the public who helped Utah investigators recently connect the dots between a missing person in Ohio and a 20-year-old cold case homicide in Utah.

In November, officials were able to positively identify a woman known for 20 years only as the "Maidenwater victim." The woman was the victim of a homicide on April 20, 1998. Her body was found wrapped in several layers of plastic and duct tape and rolled in a sleeping bag and a piece of carpet on the side of state Route 276 about 40 miles north of Lake Powell in Garfield County near Maidenwater Spring. The woman died of a gunshot wound.

In October, thanks to a series of separate events that happened about the same time, investigators were finally able to identify the body as Lina Reyes-Geddes, 37, who disappeared after leaving on a trip from Ohio to Dallas and then to Mexico to visit her family.

Reyes-Geddes' sister traveled from Mexico to attend Tuesday's press conference announcing the launch of the new database. She stood in the back of the room and listened, but declined to answer questions from the media.

The state already had a cold case and missing person website for many years. But Karra Porter, head of the nonprofit Utah Cold Case Coalition — a group dedicated to helping solve cold cases in Utah that was consulted during the formation of the new database — said the old state website hadn't been updated since 2007.

"Cases like Sherry Black are not mentioned on any publicly available website anywhere," she said.

On Nov. 30, 2010, Black, 64, the mother-in-law of former Larry H. Miller Group CEO Greg Miller, was found stabbed to death inside her bookstore, B&W Billiards and Books at 3466 S. 700 East. To date, there is no known motive for the killing, and police have not identified a suspect or a person of interest.

Porter said when talking with lawmakers when the database was proposed, she printed a list of cold cases that her group had compiled, and compared it to the state database.

"The first 14 on our list were not on a public database. So there was a signficant need for this," she said.

Now that the database is a reality, Porter said the result is "beyond my wildest hopes."

"This should prevent another Saltair Sally incident where you have remains found here, missing person here, and a decade goes by where the two are not connected. That shouldn't happen with this database," she said.

In 2000, human remains were found by duck hunters near Saltair along with a few items, including a blue choker-style necklace. The body was dubbed "Saltair Sally" by investigators because of where she was found. It wasn't until 2012 that she was identified as 20-year-old Nikole Bakoles.

The new cold case database will be supported by several divisions within the Utah Department of Public Safety, including the Utah State Crime Lab, the State Bureau of Investigation, the State Information and Analysis Center, and the Bureau of Criminal Identification.

Kathy Mackay, a criminal analyst, will help oversee the database. She said the goal is to get law enforcers to input as much information about their cold cases as they can.

"The database is only as good as we make it," she said. "They will also be able to enter all their cold cases, missing and any unsolved homicides into the database to share with other law enforcement agencies in an effort to connect and solve cases because we have so many — over 400 in Utah."

Once the information is in the database, investigators will be able to search key words to see if they match with any other cases in either Utah or the nation.

For example, Utah Department of Public Safety investigator Brian Redd said if a green car was seen leaving one crime scene, and a green car may have been involved in another case, an investigator could enter "green car" into the database to see if there are any matches. The same could be true for suspects or other pieces of evidence only known to law enforcers.

Mackay said a schedule to train officers on the new database is currently being prepared.

Pat Reavy

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