Former St. Paul police investigator Anita Muldoon says the work of her one-person office was valuable and should be a priority.
For the past three years, St. Paul police had one pair of eyes looking at unsolved -- "cold case" -- murders, day in, day out. But a big cut in federal funds is forcing the department to take a new tack.
The department's cold-case investigator, Sgt. Anita Muldoon, retired two months ago, shortly after the cold-case unit folded. The top 10 "moderate solvability" cases are now dispersed among seven homicide detectives.
"The police department needs to make [a cold-case unit] work," Muldoon said. "I think that it's just not a priority, and it's a shame because it's very, very valuable work."
Senior Commander Bill Martinez, head of the homicide unit, said that's a difficult prospect given the shrinking pool of federal dollars. The department was awarded about $260,000 to start the unit in 2008. That funding pool from the National Institute of Justice's Solving Cold Cases with DNA grant program has been steadily dropping since, from a high of $15.8 million in 2008 to just $4.3 million in 2011.
"Ideally, would it be nice to have two or three people working the cold-case unit with unlimited resources? Yes, but it's not hindering or jeopardizing the cases" not to have a cold-case unit, Martinez said.
The first grant expired in mid-2010. St. Paul was denied a second grant, and Muldoon said the department didn't back her wish to apply a third time in 2011. Muldoon's work was kept afloat with department funds before the unit closed earlier this year.
At the start, she looked at the department's 115 cold cases and identified about half as having potential to yield DNA evidence. Of those, she submitted 30 for testing at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Earlier this month a DNA hit led police to interview a "person of interest" in a 1998 case. In the unit's biggest break, charges were filed in the brutal 1977 slaying of Mark Shemukenas, but the suspect was acquitted at a trial. It was a blow.
"Was it disappointing? Oh, hugely," Muldoon said.
Muldoon, who previously worked on homicides, sex crimes and other major crimes, said homicide detectives are pulled in many directions because they investigate other crimes, including aggravated assaults.
"They can have sporadic time, but these cases need dedication," she said. "Nobody saw the challenges in working cold cases to begin with, because I couldn't do it as a one-person show. Successful investigations take collaboration, and I had a lot of collaboration with outside agencies ... but within the department I had virtually no help at all. You need that."
The department says it is committed to keeping up on cold cases.
"We are making progress," Martinez said.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib