Police officers are using a smart technique and prison gossip to get info on murders that have gone unsolved for years
In 2003, during the US-led invasion of Iraq, troops in Baghdad were handing out decks of playing cards, each one bearing the face of one of the most wanted members of Sadaam Hussein’s regime.
The ace of spades was Hussein himself, the aces of clubs and hearts were his sons Qusay and Uday.
The aim was to track down the key players for capture.
Hearing about this, Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent Tommy Ray had an idea.
He could use playing cards to solve crimes – with each of his 52 cards bearing the faces of unsolved murder victims and missing persons in his county.
He’d create cold case playing cards.
The packs were made and distributed to local prisons, where it was hoped that seeing the cases would jog the memory – or trigger the conscience – of the inmates who use them.
The thinking was to make the most of prison gossip and encourage the inmates to come forward and share what they’d heard about the unsolved cases dating back to 1970s.
It paid off – after just one month.
One prisoner called the tipline after recognising the three of spades – a man named Thomas Grammer.
Grammer, 36, had been shot in his home in Polk County, Florida, in May 2004, but the case had gone cold.
Information provided by the prison inmate led to the conviction of Jason Seawright, who pleaded no contest to armed burglary, attempted armed robbery, and second-degree murder with a firearm.
He was sentenced to 12 years.
The cards continued to be a success – so much so they were rolled out Statewide.
Now it’s believed 17 other US states have taken up the scheme, and it’s spread overseas to Australia.
It’s unknown how many murders the cold case playing cards have helped solve. But what is for sure is the scheme has given closure to grieving loved ones – some of whom have waited a long time for justice.
In 1979, Susan Schwarz, 24, from Washington State, had been snatched from the shower in her own home, tied up, and fatally shot in the head.
It was 32 years later when information came in that led to the conviction of her killer.
In March 2010, an inmate in the Washington prison system spotted Susan’s case on his cold case playing cards. She was the queen of hearts.
Information from the prisoner led detectives to the former girlfriend of Gregory Johnson, 57. The woman told police she’d witnessed him kill Susan.
Susan had been an old friend of Johnson’s ex wife, who she’d helped escape from his violence. She’d been murdered in revenge for this act of kindness.
Johnson was arrested and sentenced to a minimum of 24 years after admitting the murder.
After a painful three decades not knowing who killed their sister, Susan’s siblings, Gary and Valerie, were in court to see Johnson jailed. Behind them were the officers who put him behind bars.
‘We all wanted justice for Susan and her family,’ one cold case detective said. ‘Today, after 32 years, we finally got some of that justice.’
And it’s all thanks to a pack of playing cards.