Cold-case squad tackles unsolved murders in Kosovo
May 22, 2003
PRISTINA, Kosovo — International police in Kosovo have taken a cue from metropolitan cops back home and created a special squad to tackle cold cases — unsolved murders that are years old.
In Kosovo, killings were commonplace after the NATO-led bombing in 1999 that led to the province’s protectorate status. Ethnic, political and organized crime assassinations — and just plain revenge — were frequent.
This Old West in Eastern Europe has since grown relatively calm, despite two killings in the last few days. On Friday, a Serb was found dead with multiple gunshots to the head in the Gnjilane region. A note discovered on the scene claimed it was the work of the Albanian National Army, an ethnically motivated terror group. Police say they haven’t verified the claim.
On Sunday, a construction warehouse worker was shot dead in the Pec region. Police have yet to announce a motive.
Nonetheless, the number of murders has nearly halved each year since peacekeepers arrived. That welcome breather and lapse of time may combine to allow international gumshoes to solve the backlog of killings from 1999 and 2000.
“Over the past decade or so, it has become a common practice for police agencies in the West to create a special squad to re-examine unsolved murders.…,” U.N. police spokesman Derek Chappell said during a press conference Tuesday.
“It is an effective tactic that allows a new investigator with a fresh perspective to examine the case, possibly also ... to use new technology or resources.”
Though exact figures weren’t available for how many cases remain unsolved, they likely number in the hundreds considering the total number of killings and the state of chaos that once reigned.
“In ’99, we must have had maybe 500 or 600,” Chappell said. In 2000, police records show 245 murders. Last year, there were 68.
Of the unsolved cases, some have been put on a high-profile list of crimes believed to be politically motivated and the result of dark forces rather than spontaneous passions. Those number about 60, according to local newspaper Koha Ditore.
“Most of them,” Chappell said, “are very well-organized and well-planned.”
Police also hope that, as the years roll by, witnesses will recover from the amnesia brought on by fears of gangsters or terrorists.
“A lot of people were scared to death,” Chappell said. “As time passes, fear passes.”
Technology may also prove a formidable ally.
According to a U.S. Justice Department report published last year, upgraded genetic testing techniques make it possible to identify suspects using smaller samples of DNA than were required in recent years.
“DNA has proved to be a powerful tool in the fight against crime,” the report read. “DNA evidence can identify suspects, convict the guilty, and exonerate the innocent. Throughout the nation, criminal justice professionals are discovering that advancements in DNA technology are breathing new life into old, cold or unsolved criminal cases.”