|Re: 7/8/08 - Hartford Courant: Slim Lead In Cold Case|
Slim Lead In Cold Case
July 8, 2008
In the TV crime drama "Cold Case," long unsolved murders are re-examined and wrapped up neatly by the end of the hour. Witnesses overlooked in the initial investigation are often the key to the outcome. At the close of the show, dramatic music and special effects give the viewer the impression that because of the always successful efforts of detectives, the long-dead victim and loved ones can rest at last.
So far, there is no such closure for Suzanne Jovin and her family. But there is a glimmer of hope.
The Yale University student was found dead — stabbed 17 times — on a street in New Haven on Dec. 4, 1998. Her brutal murder at age 21 has still not been solved. Lead after lead has grown cold or proved a dead end.
So it is promising that a team of retired state police officers is laying fresh eyes on what was a badly botched investigation. They have re-interviewed a witness in the area at the time of the murder who saw a man running from the direction where Ms. Jovin's body was found. They have released fliers with a composite sketch of the man based on the witness's description.
The man is not a suspect, they say, but someone they'd like to question. It is a long shot. After more than 10 years, memories grow fuzzy and descriptions less reliable. Door-to-door calls in the neighborhood where the man was last seen could turn up someone who remembers him.
It's infuriating, though, that this lead was not pursued to its fullest initially. A source told The Courant's Dave Altimari that police showed the woman a picture of James Van de Velde, Ms. Jovin's thesis adviser and a suspect in the case, to determine if he was the man she saw. He wasn't. Investigators didn't contact her again.
New Haven police had their sights set on Mr. Van de Velde, whose reputation they destroyed without any evidence to indicate he was involved, and plenty to show that he wasn't the killer. DNA under Ms. Jovin's fingernails didn't match his. He had no history of violence. His car did not match one described by witnesses as being in the area.
Instead of seeking Ms. Jovin's killer with open minds, police created a second victim in falsely focusing attention on Mr. Van de Velde. The university abetted the mistake by dismissing him from his teaching duties.
We don't expect that the latest lead in this puzzling case will by itself yield the killer, as happens on TV. But it's good that four experienced investigators are on the case and following through on information their predecessors failed to take seriously.
© 2008, The Hartford Courant