June 16, 2010
Pick a card, any card, and it details a case, most likely an unsolved homicide from years ago in Hampton Roads.
Here's the deal. The "Hampton Roads Crime Line Cold Cases" deck of cards features a photo and description of 52 unsolved crimes from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg. Fifty are homicides, one is a 1995 arson at Princess Anne High School, and one is a James City County resident who disappeared in 1987.
The cards are being distributed in prisons and jails in an effort to find leads. The oldest case dates to Jan. 16, 1973, when 17-year-old Gwendolyn E. Adkins was fatally shot in the head in Portsmouth.
"These cases were cases where all leads were exhausted, even in light of all the new technology and new DNA research," said Portsmouth police Detective Jan Westerbeck, vice chairwoman of Hampton Roads Regional Crime Line. "This is something else to do, another avenue."
Suffolk cold-case homicide detective Gary Myrick stressed that the smallest details can be significant.
"Any information is good information in cold cases," he said. "Many of these cases are as simple as getting one piece of information."
Those with information about a case on the card can call a crime line anonymously. The two Jokers note, "The victims depicted in this deck are someone's mother, father, sister, brother, wife husband or child. Please help solve these cases."
Shuffling through the deck reveals some of the grislier moments in Hampton Roads.
The 2 of diamonds tells the story of Lois Schmidt, who was found shot to death in 2004 in Virginia Beach. Her 7-year-old son and two dogs also were killed, and the home set on fire.
The 5 of spades recalls Doris Purser Warren, who was placing flowers on her parents' grave in 2001 when she was stabbed at Meadowbrook Cemetery in Suffolk. She died three days later.
The 3 of diamonds features Walter Zakrzewski, the security guard at Virginia Wesleyan College whose body was found near the student dining hall in 2006. It was the first homicide on the school's campus. His wife, Mary Ann, still wears his ring around her neck and keeps her husband's name on her home answering machine.
Investigators talked to all the family members they could locate before putting the faces and stories of the homicide victims on cards, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, Crime Line officials said.
"It definitely gives me hope," Zakrzewski said. "I haven't given up. Anything that would help solve this case is good."
Zakrzewski said she supports the cards going only to selected individuals, noting, "I wouldn't want them being sold in a store or sitting for sale in a flea market."
Crime Line is targeting distribution of the 10,000 decks of cards and doesn't plan to disseminate them to the general public. The $7,500 cost was covered by donations.
"No taxpayer money was used, and that's something we're proud of," said Ross Forster, chairman of Hampton Roads Regional Crime Line.
Florida produced cold-case card decks in 2005 and has since arrested two murder suspects and four fugitives following tips generated from them. The idea stems from the Pentagon's use of cards in 2003 to search for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his inner circle.