(WPRI) — While gunfire rang out in Baghdad in March 2003, U.S. Central Command was working on way to familiarize troops with key enemy combatants. They wanted everyone to know the names and faces of the most important enemies in Iraq.
Their solution was a deck of cards.
“This deck of cards is one example of what we provide to soldiers and Marines out in the field with the faces of individuals and what their role is,” Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said during a news conference after the invasion.
In the years the followed, nearly every person in the deck had been captured or killed.
Two years after the war began, Florida Detective Tommy Ray interviewed an inmate at a Polk County prison about a drug case.
“He didn’t have the information on the drugs but I said, ‘do you know anything about cold homicide cases?'” Ray recalled. “He said, ‘well I know about an old murder that happened five years ago, but it’s been solved.’ I knew about the case and I knew it wasn’t solved. Even back then, I was thinking if there was just some way to interview all of these inmates about these cold case murders, there’s no telling how many cases we could solve.”
That idea launched the first deck of cold case playing cards. Ray pitched the idea to mixed reviews from his supervisors but went ahead with the plan anyway.
In 2005, the decks were given to inmates in Polk County. After six months, they had their first arrest.
A prison playing with the cards connected the dots between a story he heard from an inmate and the victim featured on the 3 of spades, Thomas Wayne Grammer.
Two men were arrested.
“Once we got that first case solved, it just kind of started snowballing,” Ray said. “I was getting calls from Queensland, Australia. They got a deck of cards.”
Decks then came to parts of California and Texas. In total, 17 states signed up.
In 2018, Rhode Island became the 18th state. Pawtucket Detective Sue Cormier heard about the project and reached out to Ray.
“I brought a sample deck of cards to the chief and to the command staff and showed them,” she said.
They were supportive. So Cormier said she reached out to every department in the state to see if they wanted to submit any investigations.
Fifty-two cases were submitted from across Rhode Island.
Burrillville Police Lt. Guy Riendeau sent in his investigation of Janine Callahan.
“I wanted to get involved in it because we weren’t generating any leads,” Riendeau said. “People assume these cases are done. They’re solved. They move on. People forget.”
Riendeau said he wanted the murderer to know he hasn’t given up.
“Somewhere out there, there’s a bad guy living comfortably,” he added. “He put this behind him and he’s able to adjust. We are actively looking at it and on any given day, I hope we get the right lead so we can close it.”
Jaclyn McKenna’s mom Cynthia is the 5 of clubs.
“I was like, ‘sign me up,'” she said. “Why didn’t we do this 11 years ago? There’s 52 families in this deck. That’s sad. There’s 52 families searching for answers every single day and I just happen to be one of them.”
The decks have helped solve more than 30 murders across the nation.
“I never dreamed that there would be this many cases that have been solved throughout the United States,” Ray said.
Cormier said they have made 5,000 Rhode Island decks: 4,500 are at the ACI while the other 500 are on sale to the public.
Each deck clearly states, if anyone has any information, call 1-877-RI-SOLVE.