The concept is a good one. Give decks of playing cards to inmates in prisons and jails, and on each card print the photographs and facts having to do with unsolved homicides. Who better to ask for anonymous clues than criminals?
It has been a highly successful program thus far in Florida, with two homicide cases solved and six fugitives arrested. Other states have followed suit (so to speak) to implement the program, which is relatively inexpensive, in their correctional facilities to help with cold cases. Now, the state of New York has started to use the playing cards in the hopes of reviving some cold cases.
The New York State Sheriff’s Association is assisting in the distribution of more than 7,200 decks of cards from Effective Playing Cards, the company that has supplied cold case decks to other cities and states. Inmates at 57 county jails are currently in possession of these cards, which were partially paid for by a state grant. In addition, the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services is allowing its toll-free hotline to be used so that inmates can call free of charge and provide anonymous tips. Rewards of up to $1000 are being offered for helpful information.
One of the counties that have implemented the system is Onondaga, and County Sheriff Kevin Walsh is positive about the program. “This may seem whimsical and insignificant, but one little card, one little piece of information, could help solve any of these cases,” he noted.
The idea for the cards was pushed by Doug Lyall and his wife, whose daughter Suzanne disappeared from a New York college campus ten years ago. The couple founded the Center for HOPE and think the playing card project might net some results. “Inmates like to talk,” he said. “They have different motivations… They are in a unique position to know, hear and see things that may not reach the eyes and ears of law enforcement. When they play cards, they will be looking at pictures of missing people, victims of homicides, and unidentified deceased. We hope to spark a memory or spark some conscience.”
With the success of the program in other states, law enforcement officials, along with families of missing or murdered persons, hope that some answers will emerge as the cards become a regular part of the inmates’ routines.