Cold case database: Crime-fighting computer program helping heat up unsolved child killings

TACOMA -- What do you get when you add technology that can help investigate cold cases to a computer program designed to help manage emergencies? You get a breakthrough crime-fighting system called WebEOC -- and it's helping a Tacoma Police detective heat up two of her coldest cases. In 1986, two young girls from Tacoma were sexually assaulted and murdered. 12-year-old Michella Welch and 13-year-old Jenny Bastian were killed just five months apart. Tacoma police think the same man killed both girls and have been searching for him for almost 30 years. But now, this cold case is going high tech. “The system has been in use for quite a few years so its been used in big disasters, floods, the Oso slide” explains Michael Payne, the developer for WebEOC.

Then in 2009, when four Lakewood Police officers were murdered, Tacoma Police Detective Lindsey Wade was in the emergency operations center. Wade recalls, " A tip line was set up, the call takers were stationed in the building and then as people called in with information that was put into the WebEOC program  and then the information that came in was reviewed by detectives like myself.” That’s when she realized how valuable it could be in identifying a suspect in the murders of Michella and Jenny. Wade continues, “I’ve been able to enter, so far, over 600 records into this cold case that I’m working on and each one of those records is a person and I’m able to not only track that person, but I can prioritize them on my list of collecting DNA, figuring out where they are and I can also add documents to each record.” It’s a lot faster than sifting through almost a dozen binders and boxes full of papers. “The top priority for me at this point is identifying who my top suspects are at this point and then going out and contacting them and the best way for me to track those people is to be able to look on here and say, 'I just want to see my top ten suspects' and I can do that just by the click of a button,” Wade says. Thanks to Michael’s work the system now allows for DNA and CODIS information to be tracked as well. “The other thing that’s great,” Wade explains, “ is that it’s keyword searchable, so because I have 668 people in my brain and I can’t always remember everything about each person, but I remember some particular detail about him like he worked at the zoo, I can type in zoo and his record will pop up.” Right now, WebEOC is specific to Pierce County, but Det. Wade hopes more agencies will be able to use a program like it to speed up an otherwise sluggish process. She adds, “I’ve talked with cold case detectives and with other cart teams around the country, and two of the things that both those groups struggle with is lead management for CART teams and what to do with all your paper files on cold cases."