New police unit established to dig up cold cases

The Tacoma Police Department established a new unit last week, dedicated to investigating unsolved mysteries, known as cold cases, full-time.

Veteran Tacoma Police Detective Gene Miller was assigned to the unit on March 14 to investigate homicides and suspicious missing person cases that were never closed. Miller has begun prioritizing all of the Department’s cold case information and seeking assistance with DNA and other forensic evidence from the Washington State Patrol crime lab.

A police investigation is considered “cold” after all possible leads have been exhausted, all evidence has been assessed and no arrests can be made. The Tacoma Police Department has nearly 190 unsolved cases from the past 50 years.

Assistant Police Chief Mike Ake elected to cut the Tacoma Police Criminal Investigations Bureau from two detectives to one, in order to put a detective on the Department’s cold cases full-time. Although they were able to do this under their existing budget, the Tacoma Police Department is seeking federal funding to improve their cold case unit.

In past years, the Tacoma Police Department has twice been turned down for federal grants for work on unsolved cases. Currently, the Department is working with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in pursuit of a $500,000 grant to put toward local cold case investigations.

The two departments have submitted a joint application to the National Institute of Justice, the Tacoma News Tribune reported last week, in hopes that a collaborative effort by their two agencies will get better results.

During his career with the Tacoma Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Bureau, Detective Miller often investigated cold cases, in addition to his full workload of current ones, and is recognized within the Department for having a talent in following evidence, conducting thorough investigations and establishing strong cases.

Last year, working on a separate case, Miller solved a mystery from 1986 of the strangulation of two area teens. Through extensive investigation and with the help of the more modern forensic technology, Miller determined the murderer to be serial killer Timothy Ray Burkhart. Burkhart was under investigation in connection with the deaths of two other local women when he committed suicide in 2001, according to the July 2010 report on the resolution of the case in the Tacoma News Tribune.

The same News Tribune article quoted Miller saying: “The families deserve justice, and sometimes it just doesn’t come from a courtroom.” It was his passion for seeking justice, even after several decades, that made the Tacoma Police Department designate Miller as it’s cold case unit detective.

Among Detective Miller’s first projects in his new position will be trying to solve the disappearance of eight-year-old Ann Marie Burr, who was kidnapped in North Tacoma in 1961. He is also following a case involving Stanley Guidroz, who was recently convicted in Louisiana for stabbing his wife to death. Guidroz’s three-year-old son Wallace went missing at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma 28 years ago. Neither of the two children’s bodies were ever found.