Searching for answers: Inside a secret meeting of RI’s Cold Case Task Force

Special Reports

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Every two weeks, detectives and scientists from around Rhode Island meet in secret at an undisclosed location with one mission: to solve the state’s most unsolvable cases.

This week, Eyewitness News was granted the first-ever look inside one of those meetings. The task force wanted viewers to know that when a case goes cold, they don’t give up – they keep pushing harder.

It all began last year with a deck of cold case playing cards. Each card outlines an unsolved homicide or missing person case in Rhode Island.

Calling themselves the Cold Case Task Force, the homicide detectives, forensic pathologists, DNA experts, odontologists, and crime lab leaders examine a different card from the deck each time they get together.

“The whole point of the task force is getting this from a fresh set of eyes from everybody on the team,” said Pawtucket Detective Sue Cormier, who spearheaded the project.

During this week’s meeting, the task force was looking at the murder of John Leatherwood, which Eyewitness News highlighted over the summer. The aide to Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci was found stabbed to death in Pawtucket’s Veterans Park back in June 1978.

Eyewitness News is unable to reveal much of what was discussed due to the sensitivity of the case but we can say pathologist Dr. Priya Banerjee explained the importance of the wounds to the detectives.

“You can get a sense of what the weapon is by those characteristics,” Dr. Banerjee said.

“My job is really to distill the autopsy findings,” she added.

Dr. Banerjee said every member of the task force understands the importance of these meetings.

“It’s always someone’s brother, sister, mother,” she said. “I obviously don’t know them but someone out there wants the answers so this, I think, is so unique, what we do here.”

Cumberland Detective Peter Sweet said the meetings allow investigators to re-examine the evidence and look for details that may have been overlooked in the past.

“It gives [Cormier] a chance to look at some of the things, check her notes again and look over a couple of suggestions,” he said.

Sometimes, the team spots something unusual like how Leatherwood’s wallet and glasses were found in an odd place.

“The evidence was on the top of the passenger side of the car, not on the driver’s side of the car, and that could be a key piece,” Cormier said.

It’s those moments, questions and suggestions that can change it all.

“We are very close to hopefully having resolution on three or four of these cases now,” Cormier added. “I don’t want to say ‘solved’ but we certainly have very strong suspects, some good information that we can move forward with.”

Cormier believes that wouldn’t be possible without the work of the task force.

“I truly believe what we’re doing is making a huge difference,” she said.

If you have information that could help solve any of these cold cases you’re asked to call 1-877-RI-SOLVE.

The Cold Case Cards » | Cold Case Cards: All In »

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