PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — This is the transcript of an exclusive interview with Pawtucket Detective Sue Cormier covering the Cold Case Cards, the hopes of victim’s families, and the future of these investigations.
EYEWITNESS NEWS REPORTER STEVE NIELSEN: “Detective Sue Cormier, Pawtucket Police — how long have you been a cold-case detective now?”
DETECTIVE SUE CORMIER: “Well I’ve been with the police department for a little over 25 years and I started the cold case in 2013, but it’s only since 2018 that my department implemented the Cold Case Unit that I am working with now in conjunction with the major crime unit.”
NIELSEN: “You spearheaded the movement to have the cold case cards in Rhode Island which launched at the end of 2018. How did that project get started here?”
CORMIER: “So, as I said, I had worked a cold case and that kind of started my passion for cold cases. It renewed my interest for things and I went to my bosses at the beginning of 2018 with somewhat of a mission statement and asked them if they would allow me to work on some of the department’s historical cases.
“One of the ideas that I brought up was not my own idea, but it was the use of the cold case playing cards that I had learned about through some research online and in some books about cold cases, and I brought a sample deck of those cards to the chief and to the command staff and showed them this was something that I would like to implement in Rhode Island to help showcase these cases and really generate some new leads, and the command staff really liked the idea and they gave me permission to move forward.”
NIELSEN: “Do you think cases could be solved in Rhode Island because of this deck of playing cards?”
CORMIER: “I certainly do. You know, a lot of people have said to me since this project started, ‘wow I thought that case was already solved,’ and that’s one of the biggest sentiments that we hear from people is they thought the case was already solved because it was no longer in the public eye. They weren’t seeing it on the news, they didn’t see anybody really prosecuting, they just kind of felt that it was resolved and that was the end of it. But now that we’ve brought that back out to the public again and we’ve started some dialog, people are starting to talk and people knew something about it back then, whether they were just a friend of the victim or they lived next door. They knew something.”
NIELSEN: “And it’s not just for the public, these cards. Inmates at the ACI, they can also buy them, correct?”
CORMIER: “That’s correct. So I had 5,000 decks made and 4,500 decks were put into the prison. They were bought by the company that supplies the commissaries, so the inmates have the ability to go on the kiosks and purchase items, and one of these items is the cold case playing cards.”
NIELSEN: “Why is it important for inmates to have access to these cards?”
CORMIER: “Well it seems that sometimes they have a lot more knowledge than the average citizen, and whether they were in prison at the time or they were out on the street at the time of one of these murders and have since… either they may have knowledge from another cellmate at one point years ago, or someone they knew out on the street that may have been responsible for one of these crimes, so sometimes they’ll come forward with information to us.”
NIELSEN: “We reached out to viewers to see if they had any questions for a cold-case detective like yourself. You’re someone that often the public often doesn’t get a chance to talk to, and we see things like Investigation Discovery and all these channels online or on television and people are just so interested in cold cases. I think it’s fascinating these are all in Rhode Island because I think people at home feel like they can really help. Especially if you’ve lived in Rhode Island for a long time, you know a lot of people, you absolutely think that you can help, and you can — 1-877-RI-SOLVE, that’s the number, right?”
CORMIER: “That’s correct.”
NIELSEN: “We reached out to see if anyone had any questions for you. First question here: ‘How many cases are you actively reexamining DNA using new technologies?'”
CORMIER: “Just about all of the cases in the deck. There’s 30 different detectives that are involved in this deck from 19 different cities and towns throughout Rhode Island. So every investigator is going through their cases, going through their evidence, seeing what could possibly be resubmitted that either was never submitted because of the age of the case and DNA technology wasn’t really being used at the time, so just about anything that we could draw some DNA off of, if it’s possible, we’re certainly going to submit it.”
NIELSEN: “And DNA technology has changed so much, just in the last year.”
CORMIER: “It’s growing every day, with new advances and new technologies. I’m constantly in contact with our Department of Health that does a lot of our testing with the Rhode Island state crime lab. I talk with them a lot in seeing what we can do.”
NIELSEN: “I think, and a lot of people at home probably don’t realize, I’ve realized this through our conversations and interviews covering these cold cases: it’s expensive and time-consuming to submit DNA evidence. You can’t just take DNA and get an answer right away.”
CORMIER: “Yeah it isn’t TV, where we don’t get DNA back in time for the commercial, you know, or in 30 minutes. Sometimes the turn-around time is a very long time, at least in the state of Rhode Island, and it is not for a lack of trying or anyone dragging their feet in the crime lab because, in addition to the cold cases, we’re working everyday cases and submitting things to the lab, whether it’s a breaking and entering today or a bank robbery, so there’s a lot of evidence for the entire state that gets submitted.
“It is time-consuming. You can’t overwhelm the lab. Usually, we only submit about five pieces at a time so they have an opportunity to run those tests and it does take quite some time for it to come back.”
NIELSEN: “And trying to figure out which one of those five you’re going to submit.”
CORMIER: “That’s exactly it—what could be the most beneficial and what we think that we could get the most evidence from.”
NIELSEN: “Another question here from a viewer: ‘Has there ever been a time you knew the case was unsolvable and you felt you had to withhold that from a family so that they didn’t lose hope or confidence in the detectives involved?'”
CORMIER: “I can only speak for myself on that, and absolutely not. I would never give a family any false hope. If I thought that the case was unsolvable I would certainly sit down with them and explain to them what we had and what we lacked. I would never want to give somebody false hope but truly in the cases that I can speak for, just the city of Pawtucket—we have 13 cases in the deck—there’s myself and two other different detectives that are working cases for Pawtucket and I think that they all have a good chance of solvability. We take a look at them, kind of look at what factors of what evidence we have, are there witnesses still around, alive, is the crime scene still around? So there’s a lot of factors that come into it.
“It’s not just as simple as people think, but I think that all of the Pawtucket cases there is a good chance that we can come up with some things and move forward and we have to give it a try. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by helping these families get an answer.”
NIELSEN: “I would imagine, too, even a case that feels unsolvable today, one phone call can completely change the outcome of that case.”
CORMIER: “It can. I got a phone call yesterday on the tipline and a woman who was offering some information on not just one but two cases, where she happened to be around at the time and she knew at least one of the victims and she kind of put together something that could be a tie to both of them, and in two different cities.
“Things like that, you never know where it’s going to lead to, and we have to investigate every angle of that and every piece of information that we’re given from the public. I said previously at the press conference back in December when the cards were released, when I spoke to the families, there are times when the families call and they look for information or updates and we’re not able to give them that information, as much as I’d like to, because you want to be able to give them that little piece, that there is something moving forward, but you can’t because of the integrity of the case and you don’t want to give them that false hope. I may have something being submitted to the lab, but if I tell the family that and it comes back with no results, it’s heartbreaking all over again. So things like that we can’t tell them for many reasons.”
NIELSEN: “Another question here: I know there was a lot of cities and towns that were a part of this but other cities and towns that weren’t. This is someone who wished that Providence would get involved in the cold case deck of cards. There’s 52 cases in this deck, unfortunately, there’s a lot more cold cases in this state outside of those 52. To continue off of this question here, do you hope to have future decks outside of this first launch?”
CORMIER: That’s kind of a catch-22 question, Steve, because you certainly hope that there wouldn’t be any other unsolved murders that we would have to add to the deck, but there are cases out there. Some cities and towns only were able to submit so many cases by the deadline last year for us to be able to have these cards in production, so there are some cities and towns that still have some cases that they would submit if we did have a second edition of the deck, and I would certainly be open to any police agency that wanted to submit some cases to us and get that out to the public, and we could certainly just run another edition of this deck, and hopefully with some solved cases in them.”