King County Detectives using creative ways to get tips on teen girl's cold case murder

KING COUNTY, Wash. -- Detectives with the King County Sheriff’s Office have had great success this year with solving some highly complex cold cases, despite not actually having a cold case unit. Now the department is using the momentum from their recent arrests to try to generate leads in more cases, including the haunting murder of a teenage girl.

It was a cold January morning 47 years ago. Sixteen-year-old Nancy Jane Liptrap did something she did every day. She left her Des Moines home to head to Mt. Rainier High School. She never made it there.

“She was abducted a short distance away from her house and she was drug into a field where she was found, dead,” said King County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Ryan Abbott.

The teenage girl had been brutally assaulted and shot.

Nancy Jane’s case is one of over 300 cold cases at the sheriff’s department. While Major Crimes Detective Johnny Hawkins is working the case, it’s one of many he’s juggling. And he’s not alone. Because the department's cold case unit was cut years ago, cold cases are now only worked by major crimes detectives in their downtime, which isn’t much.

Sgt. Abbott says detectives in the major crimes unit are worked to the bone as is.

“They do all of the homicides, all violent crimes, robberies, and assaults. They also work on missing persons cases.”

The major crimes unit is made up of 11 detectives that any given time are working roughly 30 recent cases each, on top of one or two cold cases. It’s a tremendous amount of work, but somehow they’re managing. In this year alone detectives made arrests in four cold cases, all of which had huge challenges.

In one case, the victim’s body was never recovered. In another, the suspect’s DNA wasn’t in the criminal offender database and investigators had to turn to genealogy.

Abbott says the department is constantly amazed at the work detectives are able to do on decades-old cases in between working new cases.

He attributes some of the detectives' recent breakthroughs with cold cases to the lower rate of new homicides investigators have had to work. Last year county investigators had 29 homicides. This year so far they have 14, about half.

Abbott says the ultimate goal is to get the funding necessary to form a cold case unit, but until then detectives are getting creative when it comes to bringing in new tips on cases.

One tool they’re using is a deck of cards highlighting 52 of their cold cases. The details on many of the cards are harrowing, not really what you’d imagine would go hand in hand with playing a game.

But the idea behind the cards is to distribute them to inmates in prison, in hopes that maybe someone, perhaps during a game of blackjack, will realize they know something. Detectives have also taken to social media to ask for help on Nancy Jane’s murder.

As detectives renew the hunt for her killer, Nancy Jane’s family remembers her for much more than the horrific details of her death. They like to think about her love for playing the guitar, and what a skilled writer she was. She had dreams of pursuing a career as a newscaster and was working hard in school to make it happen before her life was ripped away.

You could hold the information that will finally give Nancy Jane’s family the answers they so badly need. Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound is offering a cash reward of $1,000 for tips that lead to an arrest in Nancy Jane Liptrap’s murder. You will remain anonymous. Submit what you know on the P-3 Tips app on your cell phone. You can also call 1-800-222-TIPS.