Are 'cold cases' ever contracted out to private individuals?

Pretty much what the title says.

Sometimes old cases are solved by bringing in a fresh perspective…etc…

It’s always dangerous to say ‘never’, but it’s unlikely it has happened very often.

That doesn’t mean that private citizens haven’t help crack difficult or cold cases before, and perhaps even receive a reward for their effort, but that’s different than being contracted out by law enforcement for the sole purpose of solving cases.

Cue someone coming along and proving me dead wrong…

Only in fiction.

“Cold” cases are cases in which all available leads are exhausted and thre is no additional evidence or testimony to collect or reduce. Although it is a common trope in crime fiction that police detectives will pull out a “hobby case” on a rainy day, discover some clipping or note that someone overlooked decades ago, and suddenly crack open The Case of the Missing Earring, the reality is that most poilce investigators have a full roster of relatively straighforward crimes that are under various stages of investigation and prosecution, and most detective work consists of questioning witnesses and suspects and then documenting what they find rather than the more clever bits of “getting into the mind of a criminal” or decyphering out some cryptic clues left by a serial killer taunting the police. Spending valuable time and budget investigating “cold” cases is generally discouraged unless there is significant new information, and paying outside consultants to reinvestigate is almost never done unless the cold case is believed to be linked to a recent and currently under investigation crime.


Vanity Fair reported on a cold case where the widow of the deceased hired a private detective (retired cop) who solved a puzzling death, proving it was a reckless homicide: “The Body in Room 348.”

I’d think any extra funds in the hands of law enforcement would be used to solve “hot cases”. If there was a murder yesterday, I doubt anyone would want money spent on a murder twenty years ago.

Does the Police Department have a fund for contracting out special investigations? Not likely. I can imagine the amount of red tape and liability involved there. But some government somewhere has probably done it.

As far as I know, Yavapai County has a cold case room and a pretty dedicated investigator. I haven’t been there for over a year, but last time I was there, there were 4 names on the door plate under his.

During the 8 years I was there, they closed 3 cases. The other thing they did more often was to use modern techniques to be able to inform the families that the bones and parts they had belonged to a missing family member.

Local law enforcement in my area has sort of a sporadic tendency to use retired officers as volunteers on cold cases. They’ve had a few successes over the years.

I have never heard of anyone contracted out by the police to look at cases. I have seen private investigators contracted by the family. Cold cases rarely get solved. Witnesses die or move. Memories fade. Evidence gets destroyed. When DNA came into play we did look into each of our cold cases to see if there was any evidence that could be tested. None did but it has happened from time to time across the country.

The Vidocq Society kinda fits what you’re asking.

We have a 30-year unsolved murder that was so horrifying retired detectives have kept investigating, but it’s all done by volunteers.

I only ask cause you’ll find crimes solved after a long time because the local investigators will literally say, “It can’t hurt to consult a (Usually an FBI profiler)” The profiler will bring a fresh perspective and NOT solve the case, but say something that gives the investigators an idea they overlooked.

By the way…I looked into the main case (The Curry murder case) submitted before the Vidocq Society. 3 years after the article, prosecutors assembled all the circumstantial evidence they had and got a conviction of Michael Curry. Aside from the fact that he probably did it…I was amazed they got a conviction pretty much based on “It couldn’t have been anyone else”. There was no hard evidence linking him. I’m not invoking the trope “Well, it was circumstantial”. I’m just surprised they got the conviction.