Inmates playing cards could crack cold cases

Rachel Cooke playing card

DEL VALLE, Texas (KXAN) — About 3,000 inmates in the Travis County jail system are about to get new decks of playing cards. And the right card in the hands of the right inmate could help crack homicide or missing person cold cases.

The decks will include 52 cold cases on their face, cases submitted by detectives in Travis, Hays, Williamson and Bastrop counties.

Such cards are being distributed to inmates in 17 states and they’ve had some success.

“If we’re able to solve one case with this deck of cards then it’s a complete success,” said Travis County Sgt. Tom Szimanski, who heard about the idea through his wife. “I’ll be overwhelmed.”

Perhaps the highest profile case in the new decks is that of 19-year-old Rachel Cooke, who vanished in January 2002 while jogging near her parents’ Georgetown home.

Rachel’s mom, Janet Cooke, hopes the cards trigger just one memory, one conversation. “Inmates may talk with each other about things and maybe the cards will say, ‘hey let’s get something from this, let’s make something happen.'”

Janet Cooke knows this is a long shot, like hitting an inside straight, but she believes. “99.9 percent may say she departed, but there’s that .01 percent and as long as there is that, I want to know.”

In the past two years, the cold case cards have cracked 15 murder cases in South Carolina. In just three months the cards have prompted 60 tips and helped solve four homicides in Florida.

The sheriff’s office said 5,000 decks of cards will be available locally in the next four to six weeks, with the cold cases on them rotated occasionally. Each batch of 5,000 costs $6,000.

For the loved ones of the missing or dead it is a small ante for just one big jackpot.

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